Our Mutual Friend Paperback
Edited by Michael Cotsell
Part of the Oxford World's Classics series
Following his father's death John Harmon returns to London to claim his inheritance, but he finds he is eligible only if he marries Bella Wilfur. To observe her character he assumes another identity and secures work with his father's foreman, Mr Boffin, who is also Bella's guardian.
Disguise and concealment play an important role in the novel and individual identity is examined within the wider setting of London life: in the 1860s the city was aflame with spiralling financial speculation while thousands of homeless scratched a living from the detritus of the more fortunate-indeed John Harmon's father has amassed his wealth by recycling waste.
This edition includes extensive explanatory notes and significant manuscript variants.
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- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 880 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press
- Publication Date: 13/11/2008
- Category: Literary studies: c 1800 to c 1900
- ISBN: 9780199536252
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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.
Review by gefox
This is a ridiculously long, complicated serial novel (originally published in 19 monthly installments) with some vivid scenes of London's nouveaux riches and its toujours pauvres. Characters are simplified like cartoon characters -- with the possible exceptions of three minor ones. Much of the dialogue is ridiculously long-winded, though in places very effective. Plotting takes bizarre implausible turns but does eventually tie almost all the threads. The book's greatest single merit is its descriptions of physical settings --the Thames, Venus's "articulation" shop, the Veneering table settings, the London streets, etc. Its most irksome features are Dickens' frequent interjections of preachments, and --far, far worse --his maudlin sentimentalizing of such a ninny as Bella Wilfer, who gets the full Dickens treatment of loving attention to the details of speech, dress and grimace.The only characters with a little complexity are (1) Sophronia, the wife of Alfred Lammle and his accomplice in con games, but with qualms of conscience; (2) Mr. Venus, the "articulator" (he assembles miscellaneous bones to construct whole skeletons of men and beasts), who also finds he has scruples after having allowed himself to be dragged into a nefarious plot; and (3) Twemlow, a poor relative of an aristocrat, who never understands what is going on and is frightfully timid, but who acts on an independent code of honor in the end. I was glad when Dickens finally got so enraged at one of his ineffectual characters, Eugene Wrayburn, that he broke him to pieces. It was distressing to learn later that Wrayburn had survived and was likely to recover. But Wrayburn was not the most annoying character. I would have preferred that Dickens commit some mayhem on obtuse, saccharine-sweet Bella Wilfer and shut her up -- but that was too much to hope. The author seems actually to have liked that character. The key to Dickens' clumsiness is the medium he chose: Monthly installments over 19 months, the author keeping only a little ahead of his readers. Thus, by the time he had sickened of Wrayburn, a professional failure who becomes a stalker of a pure-hearted poor girl (daughter of a river scavenger), it was too late to go back and rewrite his story to make him more interesting or attractive; all of London (the novel-reading part of it, that is) had read those earlier chapters, and Dickens was stuck with him. The author's only recourses were either to let Wrayburn's ineffectualness continue to slow down the story, or to do him violence. The violence is stunning, and quite a bit more than would be necessary for the plot. The villain -- another stalker, more infuriated by Wrayburn's behavior than even I was -- doesn't merely knock him out and try to drown him; he cudgels him, breaks his arms and wrists and cracks his skull before hurling his limp, barely pulsating body into the river. Dickens was really pissed off.But then, to please his sentimental readers (he could hardly have had any other kind), he lets Lizzie Hexam (the stalkee) rescue him and nurse him back to life. She even marries him! And all the nasty bad guys (who all dress badly) are duly punished, and the sweet-natured good gals and guys (they're the ones who have good grooming) live happily ever after. Ugh.
Review by pgchuis
It took me a good 100 pages to get into this book, but then I was hooked. I enjoyed certain characters more than others: the scenes involving the Veneerings, Lammles and poor Mr Twemlowe were very entertaining, also those involving Mrs Wilfer.. On the other hand, I struggled with the Wegg/Venus and Riderhood/Gaffer chapters, especially as their speech was often rendered phonetically. Miss Jenny Wren did not appeal to me AT ALL and the way she treated her father was very disturbing, but I am pleased to say that I saw the romance with Sloppy coming a mile off. This was, of course, cleverly plotted - the reader believes he is in on the Harmon/Rokesmith secret, only to find there are more layers of plotting to be revealed at the end. Bella seemed to have to wait in the dark unnecessarily long for everything to be explained to her and seemed more accepting than I would have been of what her husband and the Boffins had been up to. Also, was she even legally married and was their baby legitimate, given that John married her under a false name?This may just be my stupidity, but did we ever really find out why John was attacked and left for dead and by whom? Was it connected to the fact that he was the heir to a fortune or just bad luck? Some of the aspects of the novel were very "Victorian" - the saintly toddler Johnny, the way Bella spoke to her father, the way every single person in the novel was connected to all the others by a series of coincidences etc.