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Our Mutual Friend (Modern Library Classics)…

Our Mutual Friend (Modern Library Classics) (original 1865; edition 2002)

by Charles Dickens, Richard Gaughan (Introduction)

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3,869621,331 (4.18)2 / 364
Title:Our Mutual Friend (Modern Library Classics)
Authors:Charles Dickens
Other authors:Richard Gaughan (Introduction)
Info:Modern Library (2002), Paperback, 880 pages
Collections:Read, Fiction, Your library
Tags:Acquired 2011, 2012, Classic fiction

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Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (1865)



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This was Dickens’s last completed novel, originally published in serial form in twenty episodes during 1864 and 1865. Though not as long as Bleak House, it contains more complexities of plot and is peopled by a vast cast of characters: perhaps rather too many for even a novelist of Dickens’s calibre to choreograph capably.

The opening scene shows Dickens at his best, with Gaffer Hexham, a waterman from Rotherhithe, out in his small boat on the Thames with his beautiful daughter Lizzie, retrieving a corpse form the water. We soon learn that this is not as unusual an occurrence as might be supposed, and that Hexham is known as a finder of corpses. Papers on this particular corpse suggest that it is John Harmon, heir to the estate of his father, ‘the Golden Dustman’, who had made a fortune out of marshalling and removing the capital’s rubbish. John Harmon had been estranged from his father who had, as a consequence, attached some unconventional conditions to his will, including the unexplained requirement that, to inherit his legacy John Harmon would have to marry Miss Bella Wilfer, daughter of a nearby clerk. In the apparent absence of John Harmon, the whole estate reverts to Mr and Mrs Boffin, former servants of the Golden Dustman

Interleaved with the developing story of the corpse in the river is an account of the Veneerings, a wealthy family with a complacent circle of acquaintances. Dickens uses the Veneering sand their circle to lampoon social mores among the caste of newly prosperous businessmen and their families, and also to compare the comfort and ostentation of their existence with the poverty rife around the city. They indulge in prurient discussion about the disposition of the estate of the Golden Dustman, and enjoy a good laugh at the prospect of the Boffins struggling to adjust to their new found wealth. In fact, the Boffins seem surprisingly unaffected by their good fortune, and are principally concerned at how they might help Miss Wilfer, and what other good works they might undertake.

Dickens always tries to provide hefty doses of light relief (most notably to my mind in the person of Jerry Cruncher in ‘A Tale of Two Cities’). In ‘Our Mutual Friend, the comedy derives from Silas Wegg, a one-legged purveyor of fancy goods, whom Mr Boffin, recognising his own lack of education, commissions to read Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ to him. Wegg is a great opportunist, and drives a hard bargain, eager as he is to earn sufficient money to buy back his missing leg which has been preserved by Mr Venus, a prolific taxidermist.

The plot is far too complex for me to attempt a synopsis here. There are, however, some of Dickens’s more common themes such as the gulf between the rich and poor, social pretension, the redeeming power of education and also rebirth and reinvention. I feel that Dickens let the gravity of his themes overwhelm him to the extent that he lost control of the plot. There are more unresolved threads than is usual for Dickens, and a lack of coherence within some of his principal characters. I enjoyed the book over all but felt that this was Dickens slightly overreaching himself. ( )
  Eyejaybee | May 30, 2016 |
I liked the story, although it moves slowly as all Dickens's serials do, and it has his trademark witticisms and off-beat characters in abundance, but I just couldn't make it past page 163 (of 850) and have no real incentive to continue. This is his last completed novel, and he pulls out all the stops in his satirical treatment of money, greed, snobbery, rigid class distinctions, and miserliness; while greatly sympathizing with those forced to live in poverty (especially those who might have fared better if not for the evil o others.
The plot (in its basics) is transparent, and the endless machinations that keep boy from getting girl make up most of the story, with numerous sub-plots, of course.
The foreword does indicate that the book still has "a quality of joy and optimism" that represents the quality most beloved in Dickens.
Cover blurb claims it was dramatized on television.
NOTES: p. 105 "And this is the eternal law. For, Evil often stops short at itself and dies with the doer of it; but Good, never."
(perhaps a tad over-optimistic, but basically sound). ( )
  librisissimo | Apr 4, 2016 |
Too long. Wikipedia descriptions of characters was useful ( )
  Lylee | Apr 3, 2016 |
Whew! Epic, amazing, messy book. I'm glad I re-read it, and I'm glad I've finished re-reading it.

  TheEditrix | Jan 13, 2016 |
One of my favorites. First read it on a train. Beginning of my love affair with Dickens. Read it this time on my kindle.
( )
  idiotgirl | Dec 25, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (67 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Dickensprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Davies, E. SalterIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Egg, AugustusCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miller, J. HillisAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Poole, AdrianEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stone, MarcusIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ward, LyndIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winterich, John T.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This book is inscribed by its author to Sir James Emerson Tennent as a memorial of friendship
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In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no need to be precise, a boat of dirty and disreputable appearance, with two figures in it, floated on the Thames, between Southwark bridge which is of iron, and London Bridge which is of stone, as an autumn evening was closing in.
"Why not possible, deary, when so many things are possible?" ~Mrs. Boffin
"You could draw me to fire. You could draw me to water. You could draw me to the gallows. You could draw me to any death." ~Bradley Headstone
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375761144, Paperback)

Our Mutual Friend was the last novel Charles Dickens completed and is, arguably, his darkest and most complex. The basic plot is vintage Dickens: an inheritance up for grabs, a murder, a rocky romance or two, plenty of skullduggery, and a host of unforgettable secondary characters. But in this final outing the author's heroes are more flawed, his villains more sympathetic, and the story as a whole more harrowing and less sentimental. The mood is set in the opening scene in which a riverman, Gaffer Hexam, and his daughter Lizzie troll the Thames searching for drowned men whose pockets Gaffer will rifle before turning the body over to the authorities. On this particular night Gaffer finds a corpse that is later identified as that of John Harmon, who was returning from abroad to claim a large fortune when he was apparently murdered and thrown into the river.

Harmon's death is the catalyst for everything else that happens in the novel. It seems the fortune was left to the young man on the condition that he marry a girl he'd never met, Bella Wilfer. His death, however, brings a new heir onto the scene, Nicodemus Boffin, the kind-hearted but low-born assistant to Harmon's father. Boffin and his wife adopt young Bella, who is determined to marry money, and also hire a mysterious young secretary, John Rokesmith, who takes an uncommon interest in their ward. Not content with just one plot, Dickens throws in a secondary love story featuring the riverman's daughter, Lizzie Hexam; a dissolute young upper-class lawyer, Eugene Wrayburn; and his rival, the headmaster Bradley Headstone. Dark as the novel is, Dickens is careful to leaven it with secondary characters who are as funny as they are menacing--blackmailing Silas Wegg and his accomplice Mr. Venus, the avaricious Lammles, and self-centered Charlie Hexam. Our Mutual Friend is one of Dickens's most satisfying novels, and a fitting denouement to his prolific career. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:03 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

John Harmon returns to England as his father's heir. Believed drowned under suspicious circumstances--a situation convenient to his wish for anonymity--John evaluates Bella Wilfer whom he must marry to secure his inheritance. The story is filled with colorful Victorian characters and incidents -- the faded aristocrats and parvenus gathered at the Veneering's dinner table, Betty Higden and her terror of the workhouse and the greedy plottings of Silas Wegg. A comprehensive and penetrating account of Victorian society stiffled by materialism.… (more)

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18 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140434976, 0141199806

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