Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens - LizzieD and lyzard get their thoughts in order

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Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens - LizzieD and lyzard get their thoughts in order

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Jun 30, 2012, 7:08pm

    "By-the-bye, ma'am," said Mr Boffin, turning back as he was going, "you have a lodger?"
    "A gentleman," Mrs Wilfer answered, qualifying the low expression, "undoubtedly occupies our first floor."
    "I may call him Our Mutual Friend," said Mr Boffin. "What sort of fellow is Our Mutual Friend, now? Do you like him?"
    "Mr Rokesmith is very punctual, very quiet, a very eligible inmate."
    "Because," Mr Boffin explained, "you must know that I am not particular well acquainted with Our Mutual Friend, for I have only seen him once."

Edited: Jun 30, 2012, 7:27pm

Hello, all! Welcome to the discussion thread for Our Mutual Friend!

A few months ago, Peggy (LizzieD) and I had a difference of opinion over some aspects of this novel - and then realised that both of us were arguing from fuzzy memories, as neither had read it for some considerable time. A re-read was clearly in order!

This thread, therefore, is where the two of us will be finishing that interrupted debate.

We very much hope that others will join us for our journey through Charles Dickens' last completed novel. However, it should be stressed that this will not be a conventional group read.

In the first place, there will be no pre-set pacing or assigned chapters per thread. All participants are free to go at their own pace, however fast or slow that may be. This is a long and complex novel, and the best way to read it is to take as much time as you need, without any external pressure.

Secondly---as mentioned, for Peggy and myself, and several others who have declared their intention of joining in, this will be a re-read. Some of the discussion may therefore be from a position of pre-knowledge, and constitute spoilers for those coming new to the novel.

We therefore ask that when posting, everyone clearly identifies by bolding what chapter is being referred to, with a second bold tag if there are any spoilers for a later section of the novel. By these means, people should be able to avoid all posts discussing aspects of the novel ahead of their own reading.

Finally, we hope that there will be lots of comments and questions from our fellow travellers. If you will be joining in or following along, please post and let us know, and whether this is a new read or a re-read for you!

Edited: Jul 16, 2012, 10:21am

Thank you for getting us going, Liz. I've sort of started and will soon be sucked right back in.
Welcome, welcome fellow Dickens Disciples!!!


(I don't know how long I'll be able to keep this up, but I thought that since we do meet so many characters so quickly, some first-readers might find a list helpful.) Here they are in order as I come to them.

Jesse "Gaffer" Hexam - a Thames scavenger
LIZZIE HEXAM - his daughter
Charley Hexam - his son
Rogue Riderhood - once Gaffer's partner
Pleasant Riderhood - his daughter; keeper of a Leaving shop and sailors' rooming house
Mr and Mrs Veneering - newly rich (Hamilton and Anastatia!)
Mr Twemlow- first cousin to Lord Snigsworth, a peer (Melvin)
Mr and Mrs Podsnap and GEORGIANA
Lady Tippins
EUGENE WRAYBURN - his friend, also a lawyer
REGINALD "RUMTY" WILFER - not a very rich man but father of ---
BELLA WILFER - once "engaged" to ---
John Harmon, heir to the dustman's fortune, drowned
Julius Handford - a mysterious gentleman
JOHN ROKESMITH - a mysterious gentleman, lodger with the Wilfers
SILAS WEGG - street vendor of balladsheets and a literary man WITH a wooden leg
NICHOLAS (NODDY) and HENERIETTY BOFFIN - old servants of Harmon, Sr. and newly wealthy
MR VENUS - articulator of human skeletons and general taxidermist
Rev. Frank and Mrs Margaretta Milvey - a very good, very poor couple working among the London poor
Miss Abbey Potterson - sole proprietor of Six Jolly Fellowship Porters
BRADLEY HEADSTONE - Charley's teacher
Miss Peecher - teacher
Betty Higden - an old, very poor woman
Little Johnny - her grandson
Sloppy - her "helper"
JENNY WREN - (Fanny Cleaver) - a crippled 12 year-old friend of Lizzie, who makes clothes for dolls
FASCINATION FLEDGEBY - Alfred Lammle's choice as a suitor for Georgiana Podsnap
Mr. Riah - a Jewish employee of Fascination and friend of Lizzie and Jenny Wren

Edited: Jun 30, 2012, 10:09pm

A few random thoughts:

It is often asserted that the novel as a whole is about "rebirth". This ties into the most important use of imagery - water, water, everywhere - rivers play an important role in the story; look out in particular for characters who emerge from the water - and those who don't; rain and hailstorms also recur; even on dry land, references to water are pervasive.

Another important theme is "dust" - which (as perhaps we need to clarify for those not familiar with 19th century euphemisms!) is not merely dust as we know it, but a polite term for refuse of all sorts.

Tied to this is the novel's examination of the corrupting power of money. One major plot deals with a fortune built on "dust", and what happens to the people touched by this literally dirty money.

Many of this novel's characters may also be regarded as "dust" - that is, as society's discards. Even more than most Dickens novels, OMF deals with the lonely, the marginalised, the misfits, the crippled - people on the fringes fighting for a toe-hold.

There is also a central conflict between the people who will stoop to anything to hold their place in society and those who find their proper place in the world by rejecting society's norms and expectations ("rebirth" of a particular kind).

Jun 30, 2012, 10:46pm

I'm looking forward to this. This will be my first time with OMG. I've read Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, and, of course, A Christmas Carol, but all many years in the past.

Jul 1, 2012, 8:17am

Thanks Peggy and Liz for setting this up! This will be a reread for me although I can't remember how many times I've read OMF before, I've definitely read it at least once.

#3 Peggy, am I right in remembering that Lizzie Hexam is where the first part of your screen name comes from, with the D being Dickens?

Jul 1, 2012, 3:42pm

I've added this to the Group Reads section of the group wiki for easy access.

Jul 1, 2012, 3:45pm

Thank you, Jim! I was going to ask for that!!!
Oh yes, Heather, my Lizzie is to honor Lizzie Hexam, and the D is for Dickens!
Thank you, Liz, for the very non-random thoughts about thematic concerns. I'm off to try for my 50 pages today. We'll see!!!

Jul 1, 2012, 7:49pm

O.K. I read my 50 for today. The only thing that strikes me on rereading, especially coming straight from *D&S* is that in Lizzie and the Gaffer and Bella and Rumty, we have two more devoted daughter to father combinations. Of course, these two fathers - even Gaffer - are more worthy of filial affection than Dombey. Of CD's daughters, Katy was probably the most intelligent of his children and was most critical of him and eager to get away from him. Mamie worshiped him, never married, and kept house for him until he died. (from Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens).
And, Liz? This early Bella is the one that I remember --- biting her curls, playing with her father's hair.

Edited: Jul 1, 2012, 8:01pm

This book is FULL of father / daughter combinations - it's another of the things to look out for.

Possible spoilers re: Bella Wilfer

Yes, the early Bella is pretty awful - but my memory (which of course I'm here to check!) is that of all Dickens' girls, Bella is the only one who is neither one extreme or the other, but believably flawed, and who grows and changes. (Up to a point - the other thing I'm here to check!)

What I'm mostly noticing is that with Bella it's obviously a case of her having picked up some very bad habits from her dreadful mother. Yet when she sees her mother doing those same things, she objects. Funny how the things that are worst about ourselves are what we find annoying in other people! :)

Jul 1, 2012, 8:00pm

Chapters 1 - 3

This re-read is about noticing things I haven't particularly noticed before - like the preponderance of J.H.-es - not only John Harmon and Julius Handford, but also Jesse Hexham - and all of them tied to the river.

Edited: Jul 2, 2012, 2:50am

I read chapter 1-3 yesterday (which is only 30 pages), and while I already feel drawn into the story (and especially liked the beginning of ch. 2 Peggy quoted on her thread), it needed some effort to get back into those long-winded sentences CD uses. Especially in ch. 2 there were so many sections I had to reread more than once.

Thanks Peggy for listing the characters - this helps me a lot!

Jul 2, 2012, 9:57am

11 Great catch on the JHs, Liz! What suddenly hit me over the head was Eugene Wrayburn/Gene Rayburn. Does anybody else remember the talk show host with the teeth, Gene Rayburn? His real name was Eugene Rubessa; I just have to wonder whether he was a closet Dickens reader. Nothing else for today. Nathalie, I'll continue the character list a little later in the day, and I appreciate your saying that it's helpful.

Jul 2, 2012, 10:32am

I have also started my re-read. Same speed as Nathalie - first three chapters.
Good spot on the preponderance of JH's Liz - I honestly hadn't spotted that.

Don't want to steal Peggy's clothes as she does it so much better than I could ever hope to but this caught my notice early in chapter three and I thought it a very keen observation:

No one who can read, ever looks at a book, even unopened on a shelf, like one who cannot.

Jul 2, 2012, 11:58am

I also finished three chapters last night. I was surprised more by the idiosyncrasy of Dicken's grammar in those first two chapters especially, not recalling such abrupt sentences. And Paul stole one of my quotes, but the other is this:

Perhaps it is enhanced by a certain yellow play in Lady Tippin's throat, like the legs of scratching poultry

Jul 2, 2012, 12:20pm

I also finished three chapters last night (though I was so dismayed by the tiny type in my paperback copy that I switched to a free version on my iPad. Now I can read it in the dark, too.)

I too noted Paul's quote about books and thought about stashing it away for future use.

Gene Rayburn--game show host, right?

I enjoyed Dickens' descriptions of the dinner guests.

Podsnap: prosperously feeding, two little light-coloured wiry wings, one on either side of his else bald head, looking as like his hairbrushes as his hair


a certain 'Mortimer, another of Veneering's oldest friends; who never was in the house before, and appears not to want to come again

Jul 2, 2012, 3:38pm

Paul, you scooped the DD!!! I'll just say for the record that tomorrow's will be the description of *Decline and Fall Off the Rooshun Empire* - except that I'll learn how to spell Rooshun before tomorrow.
Yes, Anne, I meant "game show host." I don't know how "talk" sneaked in. Bad fingers!
He's just so quotable!!!! I loved Podsnap's hair too, and really all the descriptions of those guests. CD was a mean observer! And now I'm going to read!!

Jul 2, 2012, 3:51pm

I might try joining in, depending on how long this thread is active. :) I haven't read it yet, but I'm trying to get through all of Dickens' novels right now and that's one I haven't read...so I guess it's a good time to have at it!

Edited: Jul 2, 2012, 5:35pm

I'd have to find a pic. of Eugene Rayburn..... and I will, to see if I can remember him.

All I've read is Ch 1 because I'm going the Gutenberg route for now - my spousal unit has hidden the Kindle someplace (it's his, so he's entitled) so I'm presently reading off the computer..... ugh. Anyhow, I'm going to find a copy in proper book form somehow or other, I've combed the house and storage unit. 6 Dickens, Pickwick, Chuzzlewit, Two Cities, and several more, but no OMF. Boo hoo.

ANYHOW - How cinematic it is - you can just hear the oars dripping as she rows, smell how rank the river is at low tide.

Oh yes indeed -- he was The Match Game host, and I watched that rather avidly for awhile there, gawd knows why, and I shouldn't be admitting it, should I????

Edited: Jul 2, 2012, 6:18pm

In the collection of short stories I read recently, The Pleasantries Of Old Quong, one of the stories had a minor character called "Harold Skimpole".

Conversely, I can't help wondering whether in creating an orphan called "Sloppy" for OMF, Dickens was influenced by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, who in The Trail Of The Serpent (published five years before) gave us an orphan called Sloshy. FWIW, Braddon justifies the name better than Dickens! :)

Heather, any thoughts??

Edited: Jul 2, 2012, 10:43pm

Chapter 2 onwards - not really spoilers

Ah, yes - the adjective boys.

I know that some people, when reading 19th century literature, struggle with the fact that for "gentlemen", work is often treated like a dirty word; and yet the same gentlemen are shown to be living empty lives consisting of social activities they don't enjoy in company with people they don't like.

And no-one, surely, ever exemplified this particular contradiction better than Mortimer Lightwood and Eugene Wrayburn - both qualified lawyers (one a solicitor, the other a barrister), yet neither one of them having ever done a lick of paid work until the day Mr Boffin stumbled across Mortimer.

And just look at the language Dickens uses - uses repeatedly - when referring to these two:

disconsolate, buried alive, languid, unmoved, indolent, gloomy, trifling, placidly, weariness, bored, idle, negligent, monotony, lassitude, lazily, indifference, careless, disinterested, melancholy...

Jul 2, 2012, 11:19pm

I'll be joining in, on audio, which is how I've been taking in CD for the past year so far with Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol and David Copperfield. I'll be starting some time during the week, though I might want to slip in something shorter just before beginning on this long trek. That being said, "reading" via audio means it takes much less time to get through massive works like this of course! Which is a major part of the appeal...

Jul 2, 2012, 11:25pm

Hi, Ilana! Welcome! Let us know when you get under way.

Jul 3, 2012, 9:21am

Chapter 2 - At the Veneering's table. I loved gloomy servant beckoning in the guests to their Doom, and the Analytical Chemist serving them swill.... the servants know what sort of person they are working for. I always marvel at writers who capture the ebb and flow of the social nuances (granted they aren't subtle here) of a dinner party. A bit melodramatic and engineered, Mortimer's 'story' but intriguing and already we have a strong idea of where the story must be headed.

Jul 3, 2012, 12:35pm

I've read the first 4 chapters today (which takes you to the end of the first monthly instalment) and have really enjoyed rediscovering the Veneerings, the Hexams and the Wilfers so far.

#20 "Conversely, I can't help wondering whether in creating an orphan called "Sloppy" for OMF, Dickens was influenced by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, who in The Trail Of The Serpent (published five years before) gave us an orphan called Sloshy. FWIW, Braddon justifies the name better than Dickens!"

Ooh - maybe! I haven't got to Sloppy yet in OMF. I checked the Tomalin bio of Dickens as well as the Cambridge Companion but there's no mention of Elizabeth Braddon in either. But Dickens was quite involved with the theatre and was friends with Wilkie Collins who also wrote sensation novels. And didn't Braddon write some plays early in her career? Their paths could have crossed...

Jul 3, 2012, 4:03pm

Hmmm. I don't see her in my *Dickens Companion* either. Then I tried to see whether there's a CD legacy library, and I can't find it. Surely that's a wrong that needs a-rightin'!
In fact, unless I did it wrong, I didn't find ME Braddon in any 19th century legacy library!
I haven't read any today, so I guess I should get to it. So far I have no insights at any level except to say that I laughed myself silly yesterday. People who say that CD is depressing or grim just haven't read him! Or have read only Hard Times...

Jul 3, 2012, 6:35pm

Thinking about it, Dickens and Braddon were really of different generations. She was just getting started when he was towards the end of his career; Lady Audley's Secret, which made her reputation, was published in 1862.

I have my issues with Dickens, but I can't say grimness is one of them.

Jul 3, 2012, 9:58pm

I just read the first 2 chapters. I'm very glad for this GR. It's just the push I needed to pick this up.

Jul 3, 2012, 10:00pm

Welcome, Laura! This is your first time with OMF? Please feel free to chip in with any comments or questions.

Jul 3, 2012, 10:18pm

YAY, Laura! Glad you're jumping in!
I just found a phrase that stopped me for the moment. It's in a description of early spring in Chapter 12 --- No Spoiler
He's talking about "That mysterious paper currency which circulates in London when the wind blows," and says that it is "caught flying by the electric wires..." He's talking about telegraph wires?????
I'll certainly quote a bit of that passage in a later DD because it's great writing.
And that reminds me --- Does everybody have a copy with notes? Nathalie, if you're reading on your Kindle, I suspect that you don't. Without help a lot of this is awfully obscure. Do ask and let us try to track down what you need when you have questions if we can.

Edited: Jul 4, 2012, 3:14am

I bought a second Kindle edition, because the one in the 'Complete Works' had too many conversion/scanning mistakes ('he' instead of 'be' and similar things which can be confusing and annoying with those long sentences). But the new one doesn't have notes either.

I read up to chapter 10 yesterday, and some future developments are now becoming obvious. So far my main problem is that I don't understand the old Harmon's business yet, but maybe this will be explained in more detail later?

Edited to add that I love (so far) the chapters about the Veneerings!
What does (in the 1st sentence of ch. 10) "powder and all" mean? It's not important for the story, but it seems to be sth funny.

Jul 4, 2012, 5:43am

Hi, Nathalie!

Back in Chapter 2, when the Veneerings' oldest friends were being described, there were references to "the mature young lady", aka Sophronia Akershem, wearing a great deal of powder, no doubt to disguise how "mature" she really is!

Edited: Jul 4, 2012, 6:52am

#32: Thank you Liz! I must have missed that, I had some problems in chapter 2 (although I loved it) with getting into the writing.

not a real spoiler for ch. 11
Edited to add: I am getting a lesson in English pronounciation and English superiority in chapter 11! This is so great - I am totally in love with this book!!

Edited: Jul 4, 2012, 7:52am

To my amazement I can confirm that the wires were for telegraph -- earlier this year I read McCullough's book about Americans in Paris in the 1830-1840's and Samuel Morse (also a painter) somehow or other was one of the big movers and shakers of the technology - and this was back in 1837 - London would have gotten wires up quickly, I imagine. One of the books I'm reading currently is about time - and I'm amazed really - even well into the 19th century time-keeping was very relative, 70 time zones just in the USA in the mid-century! It was trains and metereology that made 'exact' time a priority with scientists -- and governments and businesses etc. began signing up with various observatories starting around this time for regular notifications of the exact time so they could set their clocks 'accurately' - it is EXTREMELY creepy how the industrial age was so dependent on making time an exact thing. Not that this has anything to do with anything here - but writers of this period - or slightly earlier - I'm thinking of Eliot in Middlemarch - were struggling to figure out the import of these changes (trains in her case). I'm just rambling, but thinking that that moments like paper being stuck to wires is a 'new' image at that time and is more 'evidence' (if we needed it) of CD's alertness........

I have read Ch 3, still on-line. Bummed to hear of all the typos in the on-line version. So far the worst thing I've encountered was stationery for stationary...... Hope to pick up a copy tomorrow when I pass by MY FAVORITE USED BOOKSTORE!!!! Yay!

Here's another funny and truly random observation. Dust. Phillip Pullman uses 'dust' so differently in His Dark Materials. Dust to dust. Dust is a v. flexible concept. Both nothing and everything.

Edited: Jul 4, 2012, 1:43pm

>19 sibylline: Lucy, I can also confess to having watched The Match Game quite enthusiastically back in the day--though without Google I would never have been able to recall it to mind. I guess with only three TV channels options were somewhat limited.

Here's a passage I highlighted yesterday because it made me laugh:

'Never was an obstinate person yet, who would own to the word!' remarked Miss Potterson, rubbing her vexed nose; "I'm sure I would, if I was obstinate; but I am a pepperer, which is different.'

Thanks for the reminder about notes, Peggy--I ditched my paper copy because the print was discouragingly small but I should keep it at hand for the notes, which are useful. (Off to research any notes that I may have missed.)

I've just completed Chapter 8.

Jul 4, 2012, 1:24pm

Anybody have advice on loading a Gutenberg book on to a Kindle..... I know nothing about them and spouse's K seems very reluctant to have anything to do with it! Of course, I may just give up on the whole thing because tomorrow I'll be going by my fave used book store which is likely to have it.

Edited: Jul 4, 2012, 2:13pm

#36 Lucy, this is the guidance from the UK site - I assume it's the same for US kindles. I couldn't find the help/support page on amazon US.

Scroll right down to the bottom: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=hp_k4_200727700_ksup_r...

Attach kindle to computer with USB. On my computer the kindle folders open automatically but if not look under 'My Computer'. Then you want to copy the files you've downloaded from Gutenberg into the Documents folder of your kindle.

If that's still not working maybe check whether you definitely downloaded the kindle version of the file from Gutenberg?

The Gutenberg editions I've read are normally 99% typo free. The problem is (I think) that people take those editions and then sell them on amazon 'indexed with contents' and don't update those files when gutenberg updates their edition for typos.

Jul 4, 2012, 3:39pm

Thank you Heather I am going to try this!

Edited: Jul 4, 2012, 7:22pm

I'm a good distance into OMF now and I'm finding the experience of re-reading with a purpose is crystallising my feelings about Dickens, who (she said, with a quick mea culpa towards Peggy) I read and re-read, and admire, and enjoy - but never completely warm up to. It's a matter, I think, of an individual tolerance of his idiosyncracies, and for me they just---create a bit of a barrier.

It's nothing original to say that I have issues with Dickens' female characters. I enjoy OMF largely because I have less trouble with that here than any other of his novels. My position on starting this re-read was that Bella Wilfer is as close to a real, believable girl as Dickens ever got, and I'm still finding that - but I'm also remembering some of my problems with Dickens, namely (i) what he finds cute and adorable I invariably find irritating, and (ii) he can never, ever leave well enough alone. He will not let his characters just speak for themselves; there has to be editorialisation, and there have to be mannerisms.

Book 3, Chapter 9 - possible spoilers

For example, the conversation between Bella and John Rokesmith: this is a serious, character-defining, character-developing moment for Bella, but she can't be allowed to just talk---instead, we have to get half-a-dozen separate reports of what her dimples are doing.

Sigh. It's enough to make me tear my hair out. Or chew my curls. (Yes, that isn't cute either, Charles!)

End spoilers

However, the fact that she is "at war with herself", that she recognises her faults but often can't be bothered to correct them, still makes her interesting and credible to me.

Jul 5, 2012, 9:28am

Book 1 - 4 - Rokesmith takes a room...... we meet Bella's Hair.

I'm there with you Liz - No present-day writing workshop would allow it!

Jul 5, 2012, 10:00am

Vos absolvo, Liz and Lucy. CD simply had a thing about young women, and he was apparently incapable of seeing them as human.
*Possible Spoilers for Chapter 9*
If you take away the shake of the curls and Mrs. Boffin petting her dimpled shoulder (and honestly, that's the only dimple I see, Liz), I have to confess that Bella comes off pretty well here. She does see the goodness of the Boffins and she is conscious of being a bit unjust to Rokesmith. I'm not sure why I can't allow her to change when I can accept the eventual change in the young man - not JR, another young man.....
For my money, Lizzie, who is just Bella's age, is much more acceptable as a serious character. We'll see. We'll see.

Jul 5, 2012, 6:27pm

The dimples are like a gathering storm... :)

CD simply had a thing about young women, and he was apparently incapable of seeing them as human.

And that's the barrier I always hit. I'm reading a Dickens novel and I'm getting immersed in the world and then suddenly---BLAM!---something that strikes me as so false, and even dishonest, that it jerks me right out of the book.

But as I say, it's a matter of individual tolerance. I can accept that for you it's not a "deal-breaker", but for me it's just something I can't get past.

I love Lizzie as a character, but I'm not sure I believe in her the way I do Bella; she's a little too perfect for the life she's led---particularly when compared to Bella and that other person, who have both been corrupted by a far less corrupting environment.

Jul 5, 2012, 10:06pm

Hi Everybody,
I am working my way through Bleak House right now, but I plan to lurk in the distant background because I love all the information and associations that you are making. I too watched Gene Rayburn on "The Match Game" in the 70's. It is hard to imagine that a man who started his questions with "Dumb Dora is so dumb that ..." could ever have read Dickens, but we all have to make a living.

Jul 5, 2012, 10:12pm

I don't know - I'd say that proves he'd read David Copperfield, anyway. :)

Hi, Anita! Good to have you here!

Edited: Jul 6, 2012, 5:00am

Book 3, Chapter 4

And really, perhaps the remarkable thing about Bella isn't that she's so bad, it's that considering her upbringing, she isn't a lot worse.

Here is Mrs Wilfer, celebrating her wedding anniversary:

"It was one of mamma's cherished hopes that I should become united to a tall member of society. It may have been a weakness, but if so, it was equally the weakness, I believe, of King Frederick of Prussia... Mamma would appear to have had an indefinable foreboding of what afterwards happened, for she would frequently urge upon me, 'Not a little man. Promise me, my child, not a little man. Never, never, never marry a little man!'... Within a month," said Mrs Wilfer, deepening her voice, as if she were relating a terrible ghost story, "within a month, I first saw RW..."

Jul 6, 2012, 4:41am

I finished book 1! :-)

As much as I like it, my concentration is not at its best, maybe it's the heat. If I remember well, I read most of my other Dickens in winter, except for Great Expectations, but that was during a rainy August in London. The rich language in CD's books always reminds me of luxurious chocolates, and those are best savoured in the cold season. And here in OMF the language is especially rich!

I have some problems with the change of setting and characters in every new chapter. I see how it is all related and will come together in the end, but it makes the reading more difficult for me.

I've started looking for dimples, and there are indeed many. Little Johnny is dimpled all over.

Jul 6, 2012, 8:51am

The scary part is I bet someone has written a dissertation on the significance of dimples in the works of Dickens......

Jul 6, 2012, 10:38am

I'm shaking my curls at both of you!
Liz, a plea for the realism of Lizzie.... She is perfect, but that's Dickens. On the other hand, both she and Charley have something that sets them apart from their background. I'm going to suggest that their mother might have been extraordinary, and that Lizzie is stronger than Charley because she actually knew her. That's not an argument, I realize, but a suggestion growing out of a very forgiving love.
I'm interested that we talk about Bella as though she were a real person rather insensitively used by CD. We aren't willing (I don't think) to do that for Dolly Varden or Ruth Pinch or Dora Spenlow, for example. Did CD actually grow a little over the years?

Edited: Jul 6, 2012, 6:27pm

No! Not the curls!! :)

Peggy, I think what you've outlined here is exactly the issue. There's no point in debating characters like Florence and Ruth, because there is (as they say) no there there; and at the other extreme there's no point in debating Lizzie, because she is what she is.

But with Bella and "that other person" - do we have to keep saying "that other person"? :) - because they strike us as more realistic, because they have good points and bad points, we respond by arguing pro and con, criticising or making allowances.

The crux of the matter is that Dickens creates his own vision of the world, bizarre and idiosyncratic, and populates it with characters who are believable in that context but - usually - could not exist outside of it. (From the perspective of modern readers, I've compared 19th century literature to dystopian fiction before, in terms of the need to grasp the "world-building" in order to appreciate it - and surely with Dickens more than any other writer!) So while we appreciate and enjoy his characters, I think we we don't generally react to them in quite the same way as we do to the characters of, say, Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope, whose novelistic worlds are real to the tiniest detail.

With respect to Bella, I can't help wondering if she might be the result of Dickens' relationship with Ellen Tiernan. Wasn't she about Bella's age? Perhaps being involved with a real girl made him more accepting of real girls generally.

I tend to place Lizzie in the same category as Edith Dombey: I fully accept both of them in the context of the novels that hold them, but I don't quite believe in them.

On the other hand, I do believe in poor Georgiana Podsnap, and Sophronia Lammle (and her one moment of compunction), and Mrs Boffin, and Mrs Milvay, and to an extent Pleasant Riderhood and Betty Higden. This is one of the major attractions of OMF for me: perhaps as many believable female characters as in the rest of Dickens' novels put together.

I have now finished re-reading OMF, and I have to say that what struck me most this time was how much Bella and that other person are spiritual twins---both of them corrupted by the life they've been living, and both of them needing a tremendous shock to bring their better natures to the forefront.

Edited: Jul 7, 2012, 6:32pm

Well, I started "reading" (listening, actually) OMF two nights ago now. Am not very far in, just at the beginning of chapter 5, but I'm enjoying the humorous tone. Thanks Peggy for that list of characters, I've already referred to it a couple of times. I keep coming up with questions but don't note them down, so now they're all gone. I can't believe you read this so fast Liz! How many pages per minute to you read??? I'm so sloooowwww... takes me two minutes each, which is exactly the speed of delivery for audiobooks.


***Spoilers for Chapter 7***

I listened on this afternoon and got to chapter 7 just a little while ago, when Wegg goes to visit Mr Venus in his shop. I happened to have just started eating a delicious salad and almost spit out my bite when I got to "preserved Indian baby in a jar". I thought I'd still continue with both the eating and the listening, though my appetite was seriously compromised. Then a boy comes to pick up a stuffed canary and there's the business of the tooth among the coins and that did it. Now I've quit both salad and audiobook and am feeling seriously nauseous. It'll pass and I'll eventually return to both, but separately next time...

Jul 7, 2012, 7:18pm

Uh oh, Ilana. We didn't know to warn you! You obviously are quite a sensitive reader.
Nathalie, you asked about dust a long, long time ago. As well as I can tell, dust refers to all domestic refuse beginning with ashes and cinders from heating London's houses. Through the 1840s the dustmen were able to sieve the finest dust for sale to --- brick makers, maybe? I've assumed that the big money was in the stuff that was tossed away by mistake, but I don't know that that's true.
Liz, when you said that you read fast, you meant it! If this had been the only thing I read this week, I wouldn't have finished - and it wasn't. I guess that I'm going to have to retract and rethink my Bella abomination. She does already have more depth than I remembered, shaking curls, dimples, and all. As to the influence of Nelly Ternan, I don't know. I'm guessing that CD didn't really know her either. He can't, for instance, have known that she referred to him as "the old man." He didn't get along with Kate, his smartest daughter - or she didn't get along with him. How much the real woman knocked his preconceptions away is a question I'll think about as I read The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin. I've started it a little, and I think the world of CT as a biographer, but she has very very little to go on.
As to "He Who Has Not Been Named," I don't guess we'd be spoiling a lot to call him by name. His fate is pretty obvious if you know that he reforms. That's my favorite plot line though, so I was delaying a bit.

Jul 7, 2012, 8:13pm

Peggy, I'm not really that sensitive, it was just the combination of the reading while eating that did it. Who wants to be thinking about loose teeth and pickled babies while eating, I ask???

Jul 7, 2012, 8:17pm

>>#51 I had Friday off this week, so I read late on Thursday and then knuckled down to finish up on Friday; it took a week all up. I always prefer to have the whole picture when I'm trying to gauge my reaction.

He can't, for instance, have known that she referred to him as "the old man."

Uh, no. I would say definitely not. :)

Jul 7, 2012, 8:25pm

speaking of "old men" I was quite confused about what sort of age Wrayburn and Wilfer, the two lawyers first encountered at the Veneering's dinner would be. Weren't they described as old young men or some such?

Jul 7, 2012, 8:32pm

Wrayburn and Lightwood?

We hear that they've been professionally qualified for seven or eight years, so that would make them about thirty.

The "mature young man" and "mature young woman" - aka Alfred Lammle and Sophronia Akershem - are, it is later hinted, both about forty but trying to pass themselves off as much younger.

Jul 7, 2012, 8:34pm

ah. Lightwood? Oh yes, I'm such a dumb dumb. Tried to refer to Peggy's list but wasn't focusing properly. And I got confused about the "mature" stuff on the audio for some reason. I'm very easily distracted, so it's a wonder I retain anything at all when I'm reading, regardless of the format!

Jul 8, 2012, 4:03am

#50: Should you ever read Ulysses: don't eat while reading the Bloom chapters! I also learned that the hard way...
But re. OMF if I remember well (I read 2 ch. of book 2 now) the next chapters are not dangerous in that respect.

#51: Thanks for the explanation, Peggy. I thought "dust" was standing for something else and I just didn't get it, but then dust is just dust and you could make money with it. Which book was it with that horrible shop with bones and fat and what else (DC or BH?)? So all that refuse was reusable and could be sold.

Jul 9, 2012, 1:32pm

I've just reached the end of book 2 today (halfway through - woo!) so although I still haven't reached the much discussed chapter 9 of book 3, I've been enjoying the conversation about Bella (and her curls and dimples!)

#47 "The crux of the matter is that Dickens creates his own vision of the world, bizarre and idiosyncratic, and populates it with characters who are believable in that context but - usually - could not exist outside of it. (From the perspective of modern readers, I've compared 19th century literature to dystopian fiction before, in terms of the need to grasp the "world-building" in order to appreciate it - and surely with Dickens more than any other writer!) So while we appreciate and enjoy his characters, I think we we don't generally react to them in quite the same way as we do to the characters of, say, Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope, whose novelistic worlds are real to the tiniest detail."

Very well put Liz. I don't think I'd say that all of Jane Austen's characters quite meet this standard (although the only exceptions I can think of are minor characters) but I'd agree that it's the exception rather than the rule in Miss Austen's work rather than the other way round in Dickens' books.

For some reason I'm quite happy to read and love Dickens' books and characters on that basis and even his female characters aren't deal-breakers for me (although some of them come close!)

I was wondering if Bella's character might have been influenced by his daughters. Katey and Mamie would have been in their twenties by the time he started writing OMF. Is it possible he got to know his daughters as real people in a way he never managed to with his wife or mistress?

#51 "He didn't get along with Kate, his smartest daughter - or she didn't get along with him" Peggy, I thought Kate/Katey was his favourite amongst his children? I think I've also read that she was the most critical of his children but I got the impression that they still got on very well.

#57 I've always found the dust-heaps quite difficult to picture in my mind too. There's a long note in my Penguin edition which starts by saying that there have always been disputes about what Dickens meant by the dust-heaps. It then goes on to look at other contemporary references to 'dust' including a Privy Council report from 1865:

"....a succession of dust-heaps, on to which were thrown all slops, garbage, and refuse, and the emptying of such chamber utensils as are used..."

So, I suppose they contained anything and everything that people threw away and some of it could be sorted and sold for money? In texture, The dust-heaps must have been more slimy than dusty though? Yuck.

Jul 9, 2012, 2:24pm

I'm just up to Chapter 5. I found the character list posted earlier very helpful - thank you. I'm reading a free version on my kindle and I have an audio version that I shall start as soon as I have finished my current audio. I can keep any number of print books on the go at once but can't manage more than one audio book at a time.

Edited: Jul 9, 2012, 3:28pm

Hi, Heather! Great to have you chime in! As to dust heaps, I did skim a bit in my Mayhew abridgement (London Labour and London Poor), and he says that there really wasn't much human waste in the dust piles --- the night soil gatherers took care of that. I'd think that with food waste, they were pretty noisome. Funny that CD doesn't make any mention of the smell around the Bower in that case. Now that I think about it, does he write about smell at all? Hmmmm. Something to research.
I'm getting the information about Katey and CD mostly from Claire Tomalin, I think, in The Invisible Woman. Or, no. Here's what my *Dickens Companion* has to say: "Of the two {daughters}, Katey was her father's favourite, nicknamed 'Lucifer-Box', yet she was the one most anxious to leave home, and she married the writer Charles Collins in 1860, said not to be a marriage made for love...." Tomalin interprets that to mean that she was eager to get away from him. She also says that she was the favorite and most like him but also the most critical.
I have to get cracking, having deserted Our Mutual Book for several days!

Edited: Jul 9, 2012, 6:16pm

One of the great taboos in Victorian literature was references to bad smells - of any kind - which were certainly very prevalent considering the state of hygiene and sanitation. Writing about dust heaps (not necessarily composed of dust!) would be daring enough; Dickens would never have mentioned the smell attached to them.

On the subject of euphemisms, I would suggest that the "mud-truck" into which one character is thrown late in the novel isn't just carrying mud...

It has very persuasively argued that one (only one!) of the things that upset the critics about The Picture Of Dorian Gray is Wilde's insistence in the text about odours - even basically pleasant ones like flowers.

Jul 9, 2012, 8:32pm

So... the sense of smell in and of itself was taboo to the Victorians—who knew?

Jul 9, 2012, 8:36pm

Not I! Thanks, Liz. I was wondering whether they were so accustomed to outside smelling bad that they didn't really notice.......... Glad that's not true.

Jul 9, 2012, 8:38pm

Even Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton, which talks quite openly about the appalling living conditions of the poor in Manchester mid-century, and is quite frank about things like sewers overflowing into the street, refrains from mentioning the smell.

Jul 10, 2012, 2:18am

#63: I was wondering whether they were so accustomed to outside smelling bad that they didn't really notice

I don't think it was just the outside smelling bad. That guy in Pickwick Papers who only spoke in incomplete sentences for example (as usual I forgot the name). When he met the Pickwicks he was already wearing the same dirty clothes every day (he had no luggage, so he can't even have changed his linen). Then later he sells them to wear even more dirty and ragged used(!) clothes. I guess almost everyone and everything smelled bad and I'm sure we modern people would all faint if we put just one step into Dickens' world.

Edited: Jul 10, 2012, 10:26am

I've often thought about that - how bad was it - I mean - and what a mark of social class NOT smelling TOO bad must have been. I recently read about this in the context of rereading Mercutio's Queen Mab bit: on elflocks, otherwise known as a polish plait ----- efllocks It's actually kind of nauseating, so don't be eating lunch while you read this. I had NO idea.

Jul 10, 2012, 12:05pm

#66 I read that Wikipedia entry on efllocks. Gag! That is unimaginable.

Jul 10, 2012, 3:34pm

Oh gag again. I missed out on that too. I think I was happier when I was missing out on that. I also think that I was within real gagging distance of a person with elflocks the day I filed for my Social Security.

Jul 10, 2012, 9:24pm

It's truly one of the gaggiest things I've read about 'the past' - - sort of the way a small detail kind of thing that slams any 'romance' right out of it, not that I've ever felt much!

I'm reading Book 1 Ch 8 at the mo'.

Jul 10, 2012, 9:36pm

A common indication that someone has "made it" in social terms in Victorian literature is the owning of multiple shirts, and the capacity to change clothes several times a day. It wasn't just about showing off your wardrobe. :)

Jul 11, 2012, 5:19pm

I would like to join in for this discussion about smells because in Bleak House, Dickens is very focused on the fog and Mr. Krook's recycling center. He has not gone beyond rather vague descriptions, but he indicates that it is not at all pleasant and down right horrid in Tom-All-Alone's. I have also read a quotation from the spontaneous human combustion scene which is actually somewhat graphic. Mr. Guppy is so offended by the slime on his hand that if he cannot get something to wipe it off with, he is thinking about cutting off his arm.
BTW, I am not even going to click on the link for "elflocks". I don't think I could take it.
I plan to read OMF after Bleak House.

Jul 11, 2012, 7:08pm

Is anybody else as far behind as I am......? I should read through 9-10 (Book One) this evening, I expect.

Jul 11, 2012, 7:43pm

There's no hurry, Lucy, and no "behind", either - everyone's free to go at their own pace. We just hope you're enjoying it!

Jul 11, 2012, 8:33pm

I'm definitely behinder than most, but I did finish East of Eden today. That frees me up for more time with OMF.

Jul 11, 2012, 8:36pm

I've had laughable problems trying to load the lovely free Amazon Kindle copy onto my husband's Kindle, but it just won't. It IS on my computer at least, so I'm stuck reading it here unless I break down and actually PAY for a copy. But I am SURE I OWN a copy and it is somewhere.

Jul 12, 2012, 12:12am

Lucy, download the free program Calibre. It's an ebook manager and will allow you to convert (if necessary) and transfer ebooks from your computer to your Kindle, Kobo, iPad, etc.

Jul 12, 2012, 3:59pm

I'm glad there's no behind, because that's where I am at the moment. (This will be the one time in my life when somebody has told me that I don't have a "behind." Thank you, Liz.)

Jul 12, 2012, 4:27pm

Lucy, I don't know how you do it, reading from the computer. I don't have an e-reader (unless you count my iPhone) but refuse to read from here because I spend so much time in front of my laptop as it is! I'm' not so very far ahead either—am at book 2 chapter... 4 maybe? But I'm on the audio version, so if I decide to tackle a few chores I could jump ahead with a few sustained hours of listening. But it's too hot to do chores, so for now, just plodding along.

This Polish braid business truly is disgusting. You'll forgive my ignorance, but aren't dreadlocks sort of related? I mean, the idea is you don't wash the hair for it to clump up like that right? I can't imagine them being all that hygienic either... ewww!

Jul 13, 2012, 8:57am

I'm just chuckling a bit to myself as I do every time I get to the part where Little Johnny calls Bella the "boofer lady." When I first read Dracula, I was clueless as to what a boofer lady was when the female vampire was preying on the children of the London poor. Bella as Vampire.....

Jul 13, 2012, 9:05am

I've downloaded Calibre - what a fine app - it will take a little time to master it, but I think it will be very useful, esp as spousal unit and I are sharing a kindle.

I HATE reading a book on the computer, but I was suffering along just to keep up - no more than one or two chapters a day with the print enlarged..... HAPPILY I did succeed yesterday in getting OMF loaded onto the Kindle.

I don't really know how you get dreadlocks, but I think it is mainly by not brushing your hair rather than not washing it - everyone I know who has had them keeps them extremely clean, possibly because folks make the assumption that they don't wash it to get it that way???? But what do I know. Years ago,when my Mom used to rent a house at the shore, a Norwegian girl was staying with us and she had dreadlocks, and my nieces who ranged from 7 to 11 decided to comb them out. Ina sat like a queen (she was very pretty) and the girls worked on them for about four solid days...... got it all out, but my impression throughout was of squeaky cleanliness throughout.

All I succeeded in yesterday was loading the book - no reading! so I'm still at Ch 11, Book One.

Jul 13, 2012, 9:13am

Yep, I'm pretty sure that that is the scoop on dreads, Lucy. You twist to lock, but you definitely wash!
GLAD you are now set with the Kindle!

Jul 16, 2012, 10:19am

Wow! We all seem to be taking a bit of a break - maybe to let the thought of those fairy locks fade. And, uh oh. I just brought them forward.
Anyway, I was interested in C. Tomalin's take on the Dickens Young Woman: "...the most alluring of his heroines is Estella (in Great Expectations, not written until 1861), who is made frigid by her upbringing as part of the plot. All the others, are inoculated against sexuality by their creator before their stories begin; they are about as tempting as wax fruit." She also quotes our guy as saying to John Forster about the "unnatural portraits" he had to make of young women that it was the fault of "the tyranny of, 'your morality.'"
The other thing I want to say is that I'm still fascinated by Bradley Headstone. He is a character of some depth if you can get beneath his wild gesticulations and forehead knots. What say you all?

Jul 16, 2012, 5:33pm

I agree - I find Bradley rather frighteningly convincing. There is a grim dovetailing, too, of his worst qualities and Eugene's - his neurotic over-sensitiveness and Eugene's cultivated indifference - that makes their clash almost an act of predestination.

Jul 16, 2012, 6:47pm

I'm also reading a book called A Geography of Time - sort of a social history/examination of how our perception of time has changed over the millenia. What is of particular interest here is that this period, where England was becoming industrialized was made possible by the synchronizing of time, for purposes of running trains 'on time' and for reporting weather with some accuracy.... businessmen jumped at the innovations of wristwatches and cheaper wind-up clocks - by telegraph you could link up your business to an official time-keeper and thus have the 'real' time...... all this made 'standards' possible - it's quite incredible really. I feel that Hardy, Eliot.... many of the writers of this period struggle to figure out the implications of the 'freer' time - still holding steady in more rural areas - but fast changing in the urban areas. Anyhow Dickens is all over this with his detestable Podsnappery. 1 1/2 chapters and I will be done Book One which feels like a huge achievement!

Jul 16, 2012, 10:03pm

In the notes for my book, it says that Headstone is based on a real character. I'm almost done with book 3. The action is heating up.

Jul 18, 2012, 12:02am

I'm in chapter 12 of book 3 now, and as much as I enjoy it, I am still having some problems with the constant change of setting and with the sheer number of story threads and characters. My concentration is not at its best, so I can't do more than 4-5% a day, but I should get through it by the end of the month.
It's the most complex CD I've read so far, with the most believable characters.

The only bits I really don't like are the Riderhood chapters, because I just can't understand that guy, so I only have a rough idea what his plot is about.

Jul 18, 2012, 10:10am

I finished Book 1 last night. Now that everyone has finally been introduced, we have some definite plot movement. The poor Lammle's, will be interesting to see what they do.

Jul 18, 2012, 11:50pm

I crossed over into book 3 today, am now ready to start Chapter 9 in it. I can see how the readers of the periodicals hung breathlessly awaiting the next month's publication.

Jul 19, 2012, 9:54pm

I'm in book 4 chapter 4 now, but I loved that whole part in book 3 (some spoilers) when we see Mr Boffin undergoing a change. I thought it was hilarious how he became fascinated with misers and took his cues from them. Wegg is really a detestable character, but considering how far Boffin changed as he became obsessed with his fortune, he really had it coming. Now as I write this, I'm wondering if Wegg will go through a change of some sorts? which seems unlikely as he has all the makings of a complete villain. The transformation Bella goes through is wonderful and I'm dying to see whether Rokesmith will or will not reveal his true identity. (end of spoilers).

Jul 20, 2012, 9:52am

At last I have finished Book 1 and have begun Book 2. I'm not sure this is quite the 'right' read for me at the moment (if there is such a thing) but there are some delicious moments. - When my paper copy shows up I might be able to find one or two of them, although Peggy catches many of the best ones on her Daily Dickens.

Jul 20, 2012, 5:56pm

Book II, Chapter 13

Since Ilana has helpfully turned the talk back in this direction, I wanted to consider this speech from Bella:

"At least, sir," retorted Bella, with her old indignation rising, "you know the history of my being here at all. I have heard Mr Boffin say that you are master of every line and word of that will, as you are master of all his affairs. And was it not enough that I should have been willed away, like a horse, or a dog, or a bird; but must you too begin to dispose of me in your mind, and speculate in me, as soon as I had ceased to be the talk and the laugh of the town? Am I for ever to be made the property of strangers?"

Again I'm struck by what a credibly mixed character Bella is. She always says more than she should - more than she means - and for what she later says to Mrs Lammle, she should be slapped - as she realises herself, as soon as she's said it! - but there is a genuine grievance, a profound sense of humiliation that's fuelling most of her worst behaviour.

Jul 20, 2012, 6:42pm

I just read the Bella/Sophronia episode, and she knows before she says it that she should keep her mouth shut. It comes out anyway. That's very human, and I give CD full props for getting it right.
I haven't read much today - but I'm with Betty Higden and thinking about CD's real social concern. He gets poverty, I guess, because he experienced it.

Jul 22, 2012, 2:56pm

I've just finished Book 3 and there sure is a lot going on! I am relying on CD to provide an ending where everyone gets their just deserts and I hope I am not disappointed!

Jul 22, 2012, 7:55pm

Read on, friend Anne, read on! I'm not quite as far along as you, but I'm closing in on it!
I wanted to come back and give you one more look at Bella by C. Tomalin..... She is considering which of CD's last heroines might draw on Nelly Ternan for inspiration.

"...capricious but fundamentally cosy Bella Wilfer in *OMF*.... Bella may be the best candidate, because she represents the interchangeability of daughter and mistress, always powerfully seductive to Dickens. She makes us think of him dancing through the whole evening with Kate in the last year of his life, and of Kate's interest in becoming an actress; she reminds us that Kate and Nelly were born in the same year and were in some respects conscious rivals for Dickens's affection and attention. Some of Nelly's charm no doubt lay in her daughterliness, and Bella is at her most erotic with her father; yet nothing about Bella's background, and nothing about the development of her character from mercenary girl to good little wife who wants nothing better than to sit poring over her copy of The Complete British Family Housewife, answers to Nelly."

Edited: Jul 22, 2012, 8:49pm

yet nothing about Bella's background, and nothing about the development of her character from mercenary girl to good little wife who wants nothing better than to sit poring over her copy of The Complete British Family Housewife, answers to Nelly.

It doesn't answer to Bella, either, which is one of my problems with OMF! :)

Thanks for that quote, though, that's great.

Jul 23, 2012, 11:43am

Just finished Book 3 at bedtime last night!

Jul 23, 2012, 4:26pm

I just read the chapter where Bella takes her father out - after reading about Nell and Charles that chapter certainly had a different 'resonance'.

Jul 23, 2012, 6:03pm

Roni, that's me. I'm at least going to start Book 4 right now when I put my keyboard down.
Liz, I've decided that we are both right about Bella: she is almost so much more than she is allowed to be. It's a sad flaw, CD, a sad flaw.
Lucy, it becomes a bit creepy, doesn't it?

Jul 23, 2012, 6:24pm

You put it well there, Peg - the good bits of Bella are where it feels like she escapes CD's control.

Jul 23, 2012, 7:05pm

Yes -- but it was already creepy - all that hair fluffing. But Dickens has a bit of a hair thing I've noticed.

Jul 23, 2012, 7:25pm

Hair and dimples.

Jul 24, 2012, 8:28am

Dimples - yes -- those sort of went out, didn't they..... I'm sure someone has written a thesis on the coming and going of the dimple.....

I'm reporting that I got engaged with OMF from one flick of the pen to the next - about where John Harmon has his 'soliloquy' (awkward bit of writing that). Headstone's pursuit of Lizzie is/was also very entertaining. Just got through Helen Graham having to turn down Mr. Borham in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - So many men clearly believed that if they wanted you as a wife, well then, you should simply jump for joy at the privilege. With everyone from Austen to Dickens writing up these proposals, one can only conclude that bombast abounded!

Edited: Jul 24, 2012, 8:54pm

I would say that the idea that a woman's primary function is to facilitate the happiness of others, rather than to pursue her own happiness, is still fairly prevalent today, while in the 19th century it was a given that a man's wants and needs took precedence at all times. It was a common practice for mothers and sisters to live in poverty while sons / brothers received all of a family's money and opportunities.

The enforced financial dependence of women in the middle- and upper-classes dictated most marriages; ironically working-class women had more freedom in this respect, since they could work to support themselves.

The idea that a woman should be free to choose for herself, and that her wants and needs were as important as the man's, was slow coming into existence and strenuously fought against (partly because of the religious necessity for a wife's submission - when did people start leaving "obey" out of their vows?) The shifting views of marriage across the century and the tensions between marriage for gain and marriage for love (or, very commonly, mercenary marriage not acknowledged as such) is a dominant theme throughout 19th century literature. with many famous and important scenes of a marriage proposal being refused.

It was often taken for granted that the only reason a woman would refuse a marriage proposal is if she was in love with someone else - and it was also taken for granted that was the only reason why she should / could refuse. The notion that a woman could be single and heart-free and refuse a man anyway was a shocking one for a lot of people.

As Lucy mentions, Jane Austen wrote some of the best marriage refusals ever - and I would contend that much of the reason for the popularity of Pride And Prejudice is the dismissal of the rich man by the poor woman - her demand to be treated as his equal - another of Austen's revolutionary scenes. :)

Jul 24, 2012, 10:32pm

Book IV, Chapter 5


She always walked with her husband to the railroad, and was always there again to to meet him; her old coquettish ways a little sobered down (but not much), and her dress as daintily managed as if she managed nothing else. But, John gone to business and Bella returned home, the dress would be laid aside, trim little wrappers and aprons would be substituted, and Bella, putting back her hair with both hands, as if she were making the most business-like arrangements for going dramatically distracted, would enter on the household affairs of the day. Such weighing and mixing and chopping and grating, such dusting and washing and polishing, such snipping and weeding and trowelling and other small gardening, such making and mending and folding and airing, such diverse arrangements, and above all sucjh severe study!

Yup - THAT is what I remembered between readings.

Edited: Jul 25, 2012, 7:52am

What makes it so jarring (and maddening) is partly that Dickens has it so right about so many other things so much of the time - as mentioned above, the effects of poverty. He had one foot in the door of 'modernity' and the other most distinctly sunk in the dimpled muck.

Jul 25, 2012, 9:18am

#104: I read that bit today and found it very 'yeccchhh' as well - although the tea scene at the Wilfers' home and every mention of the cherub make me cringe even more. I like Bella and John a lot, at least I did so in book 1-3. But this is just too much!

#105: "dimpled muck" - I love the expression!

Jul 25, 2012, 6:27pm

I'm just jumping into this thread, a bit late, but I can read thread posts along with the book, which I find quite enjoyable :) I'm currently at the 4th chapter of book 2, so I still have some catching up to do.
I generally like Dickens, but I do feel this book is somewhat more complex than books I've read before, like Great Expectations and Oliver Twist; I found the large number of characters at the beginning a bit confusing, but I'm getting more into it by now.
Also, I have the feeling that this novel is much more sarcastic and reliant upon charicatures of types of people than the previous Dickens' novels I've read. Though in a way many of his characters are charicatures, and not so much 'real humans'. Anyways, I'm enjoying it so far, will be continuing on and reading up on the thread...

Oh, and on dreadlocks: I think the difference is between 'natural' dreads, and dreads that are 'made'. If you want to have dreads for fashion you usually get someone to make them (or make them yourself), by sort of twisting your hair into dreads. This indeed doesn't have to be dirty. However, if you stop washing and combing your hair and simply wait long enough, you also get dreads, which are sometimes referred to as 'natural' dreadlocks, and which I guess is pretty much the same as elflocks. And yes, that is pretty dirty and smelly...

Jul 25, 2012, 10:43pm

Britt, you're very welcome AND I think you're right about the caricatures.........but if Mrs. Wilfer is one, it's one I love!
Liz, you stole tomorrow's DD. Obviously, the man never did a minute's housework for himself - goes without saying....but how he imagines that a full-fledged human being could be wrapped up in "dusting and washing and polishing, such snipping and weeding and trowelling and other small gardening, such making and mending and folding and airing" is beyond me. I suppose that if a person were very very creative, she could think about her novel or her music or whatever as she went about her daily grind. I also suppose that such thinking would be detrimental to the grinding. Also obviously, I have a lot of muck around, but none of it is dimpled.

Jul 25, 2012, 10:51pm

Oh, Peggy, that's exactly what I was just about to say: this is housework from the point of view of a man who never had to do any! :)

We can say he should have known better about the rest, but it was a 19th century "given" that her house and her children was all a woman needed to think about.

Jul 26, 2012, 5:56pm

Well, I think in those days thinking was considered to be detrimental to women anyway, not just to the housework, but to women as a species. Like, we aren't made for thinkin, so we shouldn't, it's a man's business to think.
I actually come from a family where this is still considered to be true, and members of my family consider me to be some sort of alien for being in university, because really, why would a woman want to learn something? Women don't need knowledge and they don't need to think, they just need to obey their husbands and that's all...

Jul 27, 2012, 4:44pm

Lord love us all, bless our hearts. Aren't we dear little things - except when we never have been or aren't anymore or need to be real people? Britt, I'm sorry about your situation, but there's still a lot of it left in 2012.

Jul 27, 2012, 7:36pm

I'm ok, you don't have to feel sorry :) My parents and brother fully support me and that is the most important thing ever... :)

Speaking of brothers: This Charley character is just soooooo annoying. He really makes my skin crawl, he's just so completely blind and selfish and bad! I guess this ties in to what was said earlier (post 103) that women should mainly look out for the happiness of their male relatives, but really, Charley tops it all!

I've finished the second book, and am going off into the third. I am sort of hoping to finish it before the end of the month because I listed it for this month's TIOLI challenges, but I'll have to see if I'll make it, because I don't want to rush through it :)

Jul 27, 2012, 7:50pm

I've been a bad girl and haven't commented at all, even if only to say I finished the book sometime this week (or was it last week? I can't keep track of time!)

However I have been lurking and reading all the comments here with interest. I'll be reviewing the book soon, that is, as soon as I can figure out what I thought about it. It was a good story, yet I couldn't say whether I merely liked the book or actually loved it. Kind of strange. That makes a big difference in my ratings and I'm stumped. I did for once appreciate that it was such a very long novel, because for the first time with a Dickens, I noticed that after spending all that time with the characters, one really cares that much more about their fates (or I did, anyway) and their presence became sort of comforting, even that of the detestable Wegg, somehow.

It's strange how I take certain things for granted though. Because the novel was written by a man in the 19th century, I sort of don't notice the sexism because it was just how things were in those days. That being said, I was really offended by his treatment of Fagan in Oliver Twist and the anti-semitic sentiments he expressed really decreased my enjoyment of that story, whereas here, I couldn't help but notice how sympathetic Dickens was toward Mr Riah. So on the one hand, Dickens did try to be sensitive to minorities but he just couldn't get in the heads of women. Which really, when one thinks about it, is still the case for most men today, right?

Edited: Jul 27, 2012, 8:03pm

I spoke a little bit about this with Madeline when we were doing Northanger Abbey - there was a sort of ongoing battle in this regard in 19th century English novels - reflective of the society where anti-Semitism was so ingrained that a lot of writers didn't even seem to recognise that they were being anti-Semitic until they were criticised for it.

Dickens was criticised for Fagan (the old and still cogent argument of "you show good Christians and bad Christians, but only bad Jews"), and Mr Riah seems to have been a response to that, but not a completely successful one, I think. To me it's a great shame that we don't see the "good Jews" who help Lizzie in the country, only the city Jew who is still involved in money-lending, albeit reluctantly; as if Dickens couldn't actually envisage a Jew who wasn't. :(

Jul 27, 2012, 10:00pm

Has anybody ever read Daniel Deronda? I'm reading it now, and I've gotten so used to the anti-semitism in old books that I find the treatment of Jews in Daniel Deronda very surprising... The Christians in the book do have prejudices against Jews, but the Jewish people we meet are very kind and good people, and they actually take away a lot of the prejudice. The main character, Daniel, even becomes very close with two Jewish characters and is very pleased when he finds out that his biological parents were also Jewish. It's so strange to find this in a book from the 19th century that I'm just really amazed, and I must say, I already loved George Eliot before, but this really raises her in my esteem...

Edited: Jul 27, 2012, 10:42pm

Liz, I did look up the claims of anti-semitism regarding Oliver Twist (eta: when I had read it a couple of years ago) and found that Dickens had apologized for depicting a Jew so negatively and subsequently stopped referring to Fagan as "the Jew", but simply by his name. Which didn't take away from the caricature he'd built all along. Since I know OMF was written later, I assumed this was his response to those earlier accusations. I guess I didn't react to Riah being a money lender because, once again, it's Dickens and it's 19th century thinking and there was only so far he could go I guess. But you're right of course, why not show Jews who were NOT involved in money-lending. That being said, I think I remember reading somewhere that most Jews lived in cities. Something to do with professions they were allowed and not allowed to practice which precluded country living. Though don't quote me on this as I often get my facts wrong.

Britt, I haven't read much George Eliot yet, though I do intend to fix that eventually. So far I've read Silas Marner and have both Middlemarch and The Mill on the Floss on the tbr. I've just added Daniel Deronda to the wishlist based on your comments, thanks!

Jul 27, 2012, 10:40pm

I'm not sure about the situation in the UK, but here in the Netherlands you had to be part of a guild to be allowed to practice a profession; since Jews weren't allowed into the guilds, there were only very few professions left to them. Moneylending was one of them, and diamant cutting and jewellery making (Jews in Amsterdam and Antwerp were famous for that). So indeed, they weren't allowed to choose any profession. In Holland, this meant that there were a few rich Jews involved in the professions just mentioned, but most Jewish people were jobless and very poor, scraping a living of odd jobs and begging...

Jul 27, 2012, 10:49pm

Yes Britt, once again I don't have all my facts straight, but I do know that in many parts of Europe Jews were barred from most professions which is one of the reasons, as you say, so many did make a living as moneylenders.

I guess I should have said before that it wasn't so much with the depiction of Riah himself I noticed Dickens's sympathy toward Jews, but rather with how ridiculous he makes Fascination Fledgeby seem in his mistreatment of the poor old man and his own obvious prejudice, which I found a more powerful commentary than making Mr Riah sympathetic in any way.

Jul 27, 2012, 11:07pm

Here's what My *Dickens Companion* has to say about Dickens and Jews.
"Dickens experienced a change of heart thanks to Eliza Davis, the wife of the Jewish banker to whom Dickens had sold the lease on his residence Tavistock House, and with whom he had had very congenial dealings. She pointed out to him that the portrait of Fagin did 'a great wrong' to Jews, and though Dickens tried to defend his representation, he was also evidently sufficiently troubled to take positive steps to correct it (Johnson 2:1010)....Riah both belies the stereotype and speaks eloquently about prejudice...."

Jul 27, 2012, 11:50pm

Lizzie, I love your Dickens companion... I have for some time been thinking that I should read all of Dickens (that's gonna take a while), but maybe I should first get myself a companion as well :)

Jul 28, 2012, 12:26am

>>#117 Britt, that's exactly how it was in England, too. The restrictions on Jews were progressively rolled back over the course of the 19th century, but naturally just because they had the right to do something theoretically doesn't mean it happened in practice.

I'm disappointed here because Dickens seems to be positing a Jewish community as factory-owners, and I'd like to see that, not just Riah's money-lending activities.

Jul 28, 2012, 4:45pm

Peggy, I think I read that bit on wikipedia if I'm not mistaken, or something based on it in any case.

I'm disappointed here because Dickens seems to be positing a Jewish community as factory-owners, and I'd like to see that, not just Riah's money-lending activities.

Could it be that Dickens actually had to cut out some sections of his stories, say, if an editor thought they would be of little interest to the readership, as he was published in periodicals? If so, it's possible that more content about the Jews wouldn't have been all that popular. Just a thought.

Jul 28, 2012, 5:09pm

It's possible. Certainly Eliot got numerous "Who wants to read a novel about Jewish people?" reactions to Daniel Deronda.

Jul 28, 2012, 6:18pm

Yes, I'm not surprised she did. Wonderful that things have changed so much in some ways isn't it?

Jul 28, 2012, 11:20pm

I finished OMF a couple of days ago but haven't had a chance to comment here.

I was struck by the Riah character and the contrast with Fagan, so I'm glad Ilana brought it up. What I was wondering as I read was whether Dickens was criticized in his own time for his portrayal of Fagan (obviously he gets criticized now, but I wasn't sure what the contemporary response would have been). Besides making Riah a sympathetic character, I thought it was interesting that he has Riah directly bring up the subject of anti-Semitism in Chapter 9 of Book 4 For it is not, in Christian countries, with the Jews as with other peoples. Men say, "This is a bad Greek, but there are good Greeks. This is a bad Turk, but there are good Turks." Not so with the Jews. Men find the bad among us easily enough--among what peoples are the bad not easily found?--but they take the worst of us as samples of the best; they take the lowest of us as presentations of the highest; and they say "All Jews are alike." Anyway it felt even a tiny bit preachy, but also as if Dickens had evolved over time.

I have to say I find many cringe-worthy moments when I read Dickens including in OMF, and I guess I find the good outweighs the bad.

On housework--I'm not sure Dickens' ideas about the happy homemaker differed terribly from attitudes to women in, say, the 50s. Still cringe-worthy but I'm not sure it's quite as dated as it ought to be!

Jul 29, 2012, 3:26pm

I completely lost track of this thread and missed some great discussions - I don't really think I have anything to add but I wanted to at least say that I enjoyed reading them.

There's one key bit of the ending of this book which has always annoyed me and made it the least favourite of my favourite Dickens' novels (it's a complex ranking system) which I'd like to rant about discuss but it's a really, really big spoiler so I wanted to wait until most people had finished.

Edited: Jul 29, 2012, 6:34pm

On that subject---

Can I please get a show of hands from the people who are still reading this novel?

I want to post some final comments dealing with the novel as a whole, and open it up for general discussion, but I have been putting it off so as not to spoil things for anyone.

Don't feel rushed - I'd just like to get a feel for where we are up to.

Jul 29, 2012, 10:08pm

I just finished tonight and also would like to talk about it as a whole when appropriate!

Jul 29, 2012, 11:35pm

I am still reading! But am planning to finish it today (Monday, that is)...
I had a bit of a question though, but it might lead to spoilers... I was wondering about Bella and John getting married, because, if you get married but don't use your own name, then it isn't legal, right? Or at least, it isn't if you get married for the law, and I don't know how it works if you get married in church, but, well, I'd see that technically they're not married yet...

Edited: Jul 29, 2012, 11:41pm

Technically it doesn't matter what name was used; it's still legal. Only things that would actually render a marriage invalid, do in fact render it invalid.

(You're certainly not the first person to worry about that point, though!)

Jul 30, 2012, 3:14am

Ok, like said, I didn't really know how these things work in church-marriages :)

And I am finished! So if there's nobody else that's still reading, people can start doing spoilers...

Jul 30, 2012, 4:10am

I am still reading but I don't mind spoilers, in fact I quite like them. I'm not enthralled so far - about chapter 12 - but I think that's partly the audio I'm listening to. The reader is David Troughton and, although he's good his tone of voice has a faux-innocence to it, which might be used for a children's book. I assume he is trying to pretend that Dickens's pointed comments should be taken at face-value, whereas we 'clever' readers know better!

Jul 30, 2012, 9:07am

I am still reading, but like CD above I have no problem with spoilers.

Jul 30, 2012, 11:12pm

Permission notwithstanding, I think I will start this by saying---

This post contains major spoilers!

---just in case. :)

When Peggy and I decided to have a joint re-read of Our Mutual Friend, it was to clear up our fuzzy memories of several aspects of the novel. One of them was the character of Bella Wilfer, which has been widely discussed in this thread.

The second main issue was the mechanics and timing of the plot involving Mr Boffin's corruption after his inheritance of the Harmon fortune.

I have (as I'm sure you'll be astonished to hear) a LOT to say on this point, but I thought it would be more seemly to throw this open for discussion bit by bit.

It has been debated over many years whether this was Dickens' original idea for the novel, or whether he changed his mind about having Mr Boffin genuinely corrupted by his new wealth, to pretending to have been so as a lesson to Bella.

So my first question is---how does everyone feel about Mr Boffin's fakery?

My problem here is, I don't believe it! We spend the first part of the novel hearing about Mr Boffin's "high simplicity", yet suddenly he's not only maintaining a false character, but out-plotting and out-manoeuvring Wegg. I just don't find it convincing - how do others feel?

Jul 30, 2012, 11:21pm

Well, I have to say it was a huge surprise to find he had been just pretending! I was really disappointed by him 'going bad', because I really liked him in the first part, and was sad to see him changing, so I was rather pleased to find out it had all been a game and to see everything end well.
But I do agree it is somewhat unlikely... I agree with you that the way he is in the first part doesn't really seem to go with making up such an elaborate plan, and sticking with it so long, even when it's obviously painful to Bella. The same counts for mrs Boffin keeping her silence so long. Like you said, they were 'simple' in the beginning, but also good and honest people, and I don't think they would lie to Bella for such a long time.
That being said, I did think it was a really big twist and really 'made' the story; I loved the ending, it was surprising, and wonderful, and really made me very happy...

Edited: Aug 1, 2012, 7:32pm

Thanks for that, Britt - although I have to say, for me it's the ending that spoils the novel. (As I will explain at completely unnecessary length!)

Even more spoilers!!

The other plot point I couldn't remember before re-reading Our Mutual Friend was when John got involved in Mr Boffin's plot to teach Bella a lesson - and I was disappointed to realise he was in it right from the start. (I think I'd blocked that out.)

I don't believe that Mr Boffin could have maintained the miser act, and I also don't believe that - at that point, at his lowest emotional ebb, when Bella has rejected him, and he has decided to bury John Harmon permanently - that John would have agreed to go along with it.

But my big concern here is the long-term implications of the situation, because what this means in effect is that every day for the next two years, John is lying to Bella. He lies to her every day of their marriage. He lies to her every time he "goes to work" in the morning and when he "comes home from work" in the evening and when he mentions "the China house". And no-one seems to have a problem with that, not even Bella.

And not Dickens, although my suspicion is that he did change his mind about Mr Boffin's corruption, but then didn't think the fallout from that all the way through.

To me, this fakery undermines the novel. I don't like sacrifices that aren't really sacrifices in stories, and I don't like that the Harmon fortune is there any time that John decides to let Bella in on it. Nothing has actually been given up. The little house that Bella maintains is a farce with a mansion behind it. She gets her lesson about not desiring wealth - and is rewarded for learning it with wealth!

I find all this unsatisfying; hollow. And you can tell I do, because I've mentally re-written the last third of the novel, which with me is never a good sign. :)

Here's my version:

John is so despondent over his rejection by Bella that he not only "buries" John Harmon, he destroys any evidence he is John Harmon - and then watches Mr Boffin corrupted by the fortune he gave up. Mrs Boffin realises who he is, but it is too late, and she keeps his secret. Bella gets her lesson, and she and John are married; but the China house is real, the slender income is real, and the necessity for Bella to learn to manage the household economically is real. John gets ahead in his profession and his salary is increased, but he and Bella have several children, so there's never much money to spare; but they love each other and are happy.

Meanwhile, Mr Boffin goes from bad to worse. He eventually dies intestate, and Mrs Boffin inherits. Mrs Boffin invites John and Bella and their children to live with her in her mansion. Perhaps at this time, John reveals his identity to Bella; perhaps he doesn't. But Mrs Boffin shares the fortune with them, ostensibly to thank them for their company, and makes them her heirs in her will. So many years after the event, after having had to support themselves by their own efforts, John and Bella do inherit John Harmon's fortune.

See, here's the problem: as it stands, the moral of Our Mutual Friend is "everyone would be better off if they had more money"; and while that may be true in practical terms, is it really what Dickens was going for? It's all very well for the "good people" of a novel to be rewarded, but do we really want that reward to be money? - because that's how it works here. The good people end rich, and the bad people end poor. (Okay, or dead.)

In this respect, I'm even worried about the resolution to the Eugene / Lizzie plot, where we hear that Eugene's father looks like "forgiving him" for his marriage. I don't want Eugene forgiven: I want him doing the right thing by Lizzie because he's all she's got, and because he owes her - and because he loves her; I want him to knuckle down and work hard to support her, not to start receiving an allowance from his father, so he can go back to being "a gentleman of leisure".

It may not sound like it at this point, but I really do like and enjoy Our Mutual Friend, particularly on the level of character; but I find that it's a novel that doesn't bear thinking about too much - if only I could teach myself how not to! :)

Aug 2, 2012, 8:36am

#136: The resolutions in part 4 were where the book lost half a star in my rating. As much as I liked good Mr Boffin, his 'going bad' was believable and added complexity to his character. I was looking forward to see how CD would put him back on track, so I found the whole 'it was just an act' thing disappointing.

And yes, it sounded to me like CD had changed his mind. If he was writing the novel while it was being published he might have been influenced by the reactions of his readers?
It felt a bit like the "Pam wakes up from a bad dream and finds Bobby Ewing alive and well in the shower" moment.

And I also agree on your thoughts re Bella/ John. I liked her development so much until book 3, but after the marriage it was like she had lost her spine. Okay, those were different times, but she could have been so much more.

I finished the book a week ago and absolutely can't remember what happend to Bradley Headstone in the end. Re. Lizzie/ Eugene: I was both happy and disappointed about his survival and reform. But Lizzie deserves some happiness, so that's okay with me.

Aug 2, 2012, 9:11am

I fear I'm just a sucker for happy endings, I was just really happy that all ended well :P
I kinda like lyzard's ending better though; like I said, I agree the 'act'-thing was unlikely, and I think you solve it quite well. It does seem like he started writing, then decided he had to find a way to nd the novel, and decided he'd just give it a twist and end on a happy note, disregarding whatever happened earlier on in the novel.
And I was happy that Lizzie and Eugene did end up together. I'm sure he'll be a better person for it, and hopefully she'll be happy too. And Venus and Pleasant (now that's an interesting name combination), and then in a couple of years we can have a nice wedding for Sloppy and Jenny, and everybody will be oh so happy! And there will be many pretty little babies *nods*....

Bradley Headstone jumped in the river, and took the old Riderhood with him... And good riddance of the both of them, I'd say.

Gosh, I really am a sucker for happy endings... Maybe I should start reading cheap romance novels ;)

Aug 2, 2012, 10:02am

I spent last night hoping that my subconscious would give me some brilliant insight into what I really think of the whole Bad Boffin thing and Liz's very percipient disappointment in wealth being the reward for virtue. It didn't come.
So here's what I feel, not what I think..... I suspect that CD had the great Bad Boffin planned ahead of time, but it doesn't really matter to me. I can't see him and the Missus as characters real enough to merit much analysis although I can see him taking a childish delight in his act. The Boffins really are ancient children, aren't they? Good and innocent, maybe even wise, but children.
John Harmon is a different story. I can only figure that Victorian men (including CD and, therefore, John Harmon) had such a skewed understanding of women as something less than human beings that a deception that would be anathema to act out against one's equal might be perfectly acceptable against a woman. I didn't like it. I still don't, and I don't like JH very much or find him particularly convincing.
As to the Lizzie and Eugene connection, I still think that is one of CD's more brilliant creations. CD was a self-made man himself, and the expected plot would have been to make Headstone the sympathetic character and Eugene the indulged monster of selfishness. I love CD for giving us the twist.
The riches as reward is the unsettling moral problem. Again, I think that it grows out of the lack of clarity that CD had in his own life. Riches were the reward. A good person would refuse to be controlled by them, but money affirmed CD's worth for himself, and he just seems to have had a blind spot about the whole thing. So I'm willing to let *OMF* be an imperfect book by an imperfect author, who nevertheless encompassed so much life in the writing that I'll read it again and maybe even again if I'm given a normal lifespan.

Aug 2, 2012, 5:13pm

What an interesting discussion.

I hate to pick the book apart because I really did enjoy it.

Mr. Boffin's fakery really threw me for a loop. (I also thought of the Pam Ewing dream season from Dallas, Deern!) I originally thought that Mrs. Boffin was going to turn out to be the problem by going "too much in for fashion" so I was surprised by the miser turn, and then by the fakery. Although it made for great reading, I didn't like the Bad Boffin turn, I think I believe in him as a good and incorruptible character, and so I have to say that in my heart of hearts I'm glad he was faking, even though I agree that it isn't very plausible. But it did make for dispatching with Wegg in a satisfying way.

I would have preferred it if JH/JR wasn't in on the plot.

Something that bothered me throughout was that -- while I approve somewhat of JH's idea of wanting to make sure he wasn't forcing himself on Bella (hence the initial deception over his identity), and wanting her to choose him for himself and not his fortune--I kept flipping the scenario around and thinking "But how does Bella know that JH isn't pursuing her just because of his father's will, and wouldn't she also want to know that he loved her for herself and not for his father's fortune?" After all, he knew all along who she was, even while his own identity was secret. It seems to me that it would have been consistent with her character (at least her character in Book 1) to want to know that--but she doesn't end up even knowing this could be an issue until they've been married for years.

I thought that the version of the will giving everything to the crown was going to end up as a twist that brought this to the forefront, and showed that they were happy in each other's company, with or without any fortune. But, that didn't happen.

I don't think I really have too much of a problem with the "riches as reward" resolution. It seems to me that it is not an uncommon story device for someone to earn a reward by proving in some way that they won't be corrupted by it. It doesn't bother me that they end up rich (and, if they weren't rich, all Mrs. Wilfer's digs at the Mendicant would be somewhat lacking in irony.)

I also was expecting Riah to get blamed for (among other things) revealing Lizzie's location (when it was Jenny's father), but that loose end was just left hanging--maybe CD forgot.

Edited: Aug 2, 2012, 6:58pm

I hate to pick the book apart because I really did enjoy it.

That's how I feel, too - truly! I've probably dwelt too much on my issues with it and not given enough weight to the parts that I enjoy and admire - but I guess that's partly because it was reassessing my issues that made me want to re-read it.

Peggy, I agree with you about the Boffins being some of Dickens' unreal characters. If the point of Mr Boffin's miser act was simply to have him battling and defeating Wegg, another unreal character, it would be fine; but because the Boffins are unreal and yet impact upon the John / Bella plot so strongly, it creates an issue.

And really, John does nothing but lie from the moment he shows up in the novel almost to the end. It's disturbing in itself and more so that no-one in-novel has a problem with it. Bella's lack of anger or resentment or hurt feelings is unbelievable.

But on the other side of the fence, I find the Eugene / Lizzie plot much more successful and credibly worked out. I find Bradley terrifyingly convincing. I wonder if he actually works better for modern audiences, who might be more familiar with the signs of sociopathy? The escalation of the conflict between him and Eugene is beautifully done - and all the more frightening because we can see what Eugene can't - you just want to shout at him, "My God, Eugene, don't!" He's poking a tiger in a cage with a pointy sticky - and the cage is unlocked.

I think the strongest and bravest part of the novel is that for so much of it, Eugene is so thoroughly in the wrong - that right up to the last instant, he's walking on a knife-edge of doing what their respective social standing demands and ruining Lizzie, even though he loves her - giving us the marvellous overriding irony of it being Bradley's attack that saves both Eugene and Lizzie. And on top of that we have Bradley's realisation of why he is not being pursued by the law - that Eugene is being forebearing towards him, for Lizzie's sake - and this being the final bitter gall that drives him to his suicide.

I don't want Eugene having it too easy at the end, though; he needs to earn his happiness. So my mental re-write here is that his father does not immediately forgive him - but maybe a year or two later (perhaps surprised at not having been asked for financial assistance in the meantime) Wrayburn Sr seeks him out. He finds Lizzie just as good and beautiful as he has heard, and Eugene a better man for having married her. And then he forgives.

As I said at the beginning, I see Eugene and Lizzie as spiritual twins in this book - both products of a corrupting society that encourages the worst in their natures, but both of them finally redeemed. Eugene certainly gets the better part of the deal, though. :)

Aug 2, 2012, 11:17pm

Lovely, Liz. Eugene gets the better part of the deal, though --- except that Lizzie loves him, so she might disagree with you.
Anne, I love your thought that JH could have been insuring his future as heir by marrying Bella. That never occurred to me!

Aug 2, 2012, 11:30pm

Oops! I meant Eugene and Bella! Lizzie doesn't need redeeming. (We Lizzies are perfect the way we are!)

Aug 3, 2012, 12:49pm

Funny - I read it as Eugene and Bella even though that wasn't on the page.

Aug 3, 2012, 2:11pm

For some reason as I approach the finish line, I've been very struck by certain pairings of characters. Lightwood and Wrayburn, Lizzie and Jenny, Venus and Wegg, among them.

Aug 3, 2012, 5:25pm

It's a book of father-daughter combinations, although the only one that's positive (and we may still have certain qualms about it) is Bella and RW. It's also a book of emotional pairings - people finding support elsewhere when their own family has let them down.

We talked about Bella in terms of Dickens' relationship with Ellen Tiernan, but perhaps this book is best seen through the prism of his relationship with his daughter Katie.

Aug 3, 2012, 11:25pm

In a way, the pairings also change in the course of the book, often leading to better pairings: Lizzie goes from being paired with her dad, to pairing with Jenny, to pairing with Eugene; Eugene is first a pair with Lightwood, then with Lizzie; Bella is a pair with her father, then with John; Pleasant is first a pair with her father, then with Venus. Seems like good people make a change for the better, and women need to abandon the pairing with their fathers to become wives, and this re-pairing is all for the best.
Significantly, the only pair that is not positive is the new pair of Riderhood and Headstone, two bad men who cannot pair up with anybody else, and in the end this leads to destruction...

I really like reading all your comments and analyses... I'm still thinking about things, I'm afraid I'm not so deeply into the book and so good at analysing things as some of you, but it's nice to read about your ideas...

Edited: Aug 4, 2012, 9:32am

Yes! Very good insight! I also have found myself thinking a lot about the title. This seems to suggest the pairing theme as well. And perhaps a sly wink at money, of course.

I've just finished, and also have enjoyed this gr very much.

Aug 4, 2012, 9:54am

Me too! Me too!! You have all added a great deal to my enjoyment of one of my CD favorites, and I think with all my shuddering this time through, that it will still be high (#3 maybe) on my favorites list. (Henry James, btw, hated it.)
My only additional comment right now is that I'm not sure that CD was all that clear on his relationship with Katie as opposed to his relationship with Ellen - or at least, that each one fed on and bled into the other. I'm recalling C. Tomalin's insight that Bella was at her most seductive (not CT's word, but I can't recall her word) in her relationship with her father.
(Venus's passion for Pleasant is just quirky enough to ring true!) (Just thought I'd say.)

Aug 4, 2012, 12:05pm

I just knew that someone named Venus wouldn't turn out to be all bad.

Aug 4, 2012, 3:07pm

#136 "what this means in effect is that every day for the next two years, John is lying to Bella..... And no-one seems to have a problem with that, not even Bella."

Yes! This is exactly the problem I've had with this book every time I read it. And the proof that Mr Boffin is still a good person is that he's been lying to Bella - how does that make sense? The scene where Mr and Mrs Boffin and John tell Bella the truth and she's so happy with them all - I would have been FURIOUS!

The testing of love and eventual reward theme reminded me a lot of various fairy tales - the princess is expected to kiss the frog out of the goodness of her heart but is then rewarded when the frog turns into a prince, Beauty has to fall in love with the Beast without knowing that this is the only thing that will break the magic spell and turn him into a handsome prince. Except, in the fairy tales there's no choice - secrecy is normally written into the spell whereas John Harmon chose to lie to Bella for two years.

#139 Helpful insights Peggy. I agree that Dickens relationship with money seems to have been... complicated at least. He did seem to depend on money (and reader approbation) for his worth and I thought Claire Tomalin did a really good job of exploring that in her biography (sorry, I know I keep going on and on about her biography)

#140 "-I kept flipping the scenario around and thinking "But how does Bella know that JH isn't pursuing her just because of his father's will, and wouldn't she also want to know that he loved her for herself and not for his father's fortune?" After all, he knew all along who she was, even while his own identity was secret. It seems to me that it would have been consistent with her character (at least her character in Book 1) to want to know that--but she doesn't end up even knowing this could be an issue until they've been married for years. "

Ooh, yes!

#146 & 147 Interesting comments about pairings, Liz and Britt.

#149 I need to get a copy of The Invisible Woman don't I?

Aug 4, 2012, 3:43pm

Well, I can understand why Bella is also happy; I mean, she was really shocked when Boffin turned bad, so it must have been such a relief to find out he wasn't really bad. I would sort of think that she was happy at the moment itself, just because it was a happy moment and she was back with the Boffins and rich and everything turned out alright, but that she might have had a somewhat more serious word with John at a later time :P

I think in those days money counted a lot more in determining somebody's worth. I mean, the society was much more classist and money was very important in that. So from that point of view, I would say that money is sort of a logical reward, because in those days it really meant a lot to have money and be able to reach a different class and have a different life. That being said, it is a bit of a strange reward in a novel in which there is such an emphasis on not doing things only for money's sake... But I can imagine somebody in those days feeling that money really shouldn't matter, but still being so much part of that society that he is also unable to think of a better kind of reward...

Edited: Aug 4, 2012, 4:33pm

I'd been lurking here for a while, and now just came to catch up on the last 16 posts—fascinating stuff!

I've been thinking about this novel since I finished it and wondering all along what I could possibly say about it in my review and how I would rate it, and was truly stumped. But Liz's comments in #136 made a lot of sense to me and effectively put the finger on some of the issues that had been bothering me.

Personally, I found the ending to be too tidy to be believed, but since, as has been discussed here, Dickens created worlds that could only exist in his novels, I thought I was willing to accept everyone getting their just desserts simply because it's clear to me Dickens manipulates his characters as best suits him, as opposed to say, let them evolve in their own way, to best suit his own agendas. The ending did satisfy that part of me who likes seeing the bad guys meet a bad end and the ones who've proved themselves to be of good moral fiber to be rewarded. I think it's the kind of wish fulfillment we all yearn for as human beings.

I had meant to comment here when I got to the part about Boffin discovering his inner miser. I thought that whole section was just brilliant; him going around and seeking out works on famous misers and so obviously being inspired by their corruption and tricks; I found it was an interesting and likely development and showed a complexity of character that was yet in keeping with a "simple" man. After all, one doesn't need to be especially smart to be a miser, just motivated by the obsession to amass great sums of money. I supposed it's just another form of hoarding which is further complicated by all the implications money has in terms of the power it procures and other considerations. I'll get back to this theme in a little bit.

Like Liz, I was immensely disappointed with the revelation at the end that it was all one giant machination to teach Bella a lesson. Disregarding Bella as a person with feelings and motivations of her own here, from a plot point of view, it just seemed so contrived that it just didn't bear up to examination. I wasn't a regular Dallas viewer back in the day, but I think I know what Nathalie means about Bobby Ewing alive in the shower. If, as has been observed before, the Boffins were such simple people, they surely could not have kept up this kind of farce for so long, and poor Mrs Boffin especially couldn't possibly have deceived anyone if we are to believe how she has behave and been described throughout.

I do think it's a fascinating novel, and that this whole issue some of us are having with the ending is precisely part of makes this such an intriguing story. I can see that I too might be tempted to read it again and see what stands out for me next time, and maybe once again after that.

Back to the miser theme, I just finished Eugénie Grandet by Honoré de Balzac a couple of days ago. It's a very short work, but considered one of Balzac's masterpieces, and apparently the work that inspired him to construct his giant La comédie humaine project. Miserliness is the main theme of the story and Monsieur Grandet is probably one of the most well observed and developed misers in French literature. I'm tempted to say in 19th century literature as a whole. Of course I kept thinking about OMF and Mr Boffin through it all, and even about A Christmas Carol and couldn't help but wonder throughout if Dickens might perhaps have been influenced by Balzac. But when I did a bit of searching online, I found that probably couldn't have been possible, as Balzac was seemingly translated into English after Dickens's time, though Dostoyevsky did translated EG into Russian in 1843...

Aug 4, 2012, 4:43pm

Great comments one and all -- I'm always fascinated by the idea of influence. But perhaps, to expand on what Britt suggests, money is enough now to lift your status (formerly you had to be connected or else....but that is eroding fast) and people were quite avid to improve their lot. One of the poignant pieces of the Bradley Headstone's fall is how high he had risen on his steady efforts. Dickens implies, in fact, that he had somehow reached beyond himself (talking always about how slow he was as a thinker) - almost as if the strain of it all is part of what made him so unable to stop himself, that he was, in fact, rather stupid but utterly determined. - I read utterly absorbedly whenever he was on stage. What a character!

Edited: Aug 4, 2012, 5:58pm

#152 Mmm, perhaps I should give Bella more credit for generosity of spirit and relief about Mr Boffin.

#153 I wouldn't discount Dickens from having read Balzac because the books hadn't been translated - I think he read and wrote pretty good French and, as far as I remember, loved French culture - he was very jealous of the freedom French writers had to write frankly about things (and I always read that as sex but that could just be me).

I was racking my brains to try and remember whether the Tomalin bio mentioned Balzac and then remembered it had an index and found the following:

"he {Dickens} wrote to Forster grumbling about the constraints placed on English novelists compared with the French - he named Balzac and Sand - who were able to write freely and realistically, while 'the hero of an English book' was 'always uninteresting - too good'. Dickens went on to tell Forster that 'this same unnatural young gentlemen (if to be decent is to be necessarily unnatural), whom you meet in those others books and in mine, must be presented to you in that unnatural aspect of your mortality, and is not to have, I will not say any of the indecencies you like, but not even any of the experiences, trials, perplexities, and confusions inseparable from the making or unmaking of all men!'"

(Tomalin goes onto note that it was Thomas Hardy who eventually challenged these constraints. Forster was Dickens' best friend)

So, that's a long winded way of saying Dickens could have read the French original of Eugenie Grandat and you've certainly made me want to (although, for me, it would be in translation).

#154 "I read utterly absorbedly whenever he was on stage." Yes, but with shudders the whole time! He's so creepy.

Edited: Aug 4, 2012, 6:10pm

There's an irony here, though, because whatever he thought as a (male) novelist, as the editor of Household Words Dickens kept a very firm hand on his authors, particularly his female authors, and repeatedly steered them away from controversial subject matter or insisted upon contentious passages being cut before publication.