Known as one of Charles Dickens’ most sophisticated works, "Our Mutual Friend" is a satirical, yet complex novel about the desires and failings that revolve around money. Though praised by literary critics in the 1860s as Dickens’ best novel, it was not until the early 21st century that it was recognized as a true, albeit contemporary, look at the Victorian class society. Dickens is celebrated for his social criticisms, credited as a literary genius of the Victorian era.
John Harmon, an estranged son heir to a London fortune, is found murdered in a river outside the city. The inheritance he was promised now falls into the hands of two naïve servants, Mr. and Mrs. Boffin. The Boffins take in John Harmon’s wife-to-be, Bella Wilfer, treating her as the new heiress of the estate as though she were their daughter. At the same time, they hire a lad named John Rokesmith as Mr. Boffin’s secretary, who is dead set on learning more about the murder of John Harmon. "Our Mutual Friend" is a thriller, a romance, and a mystery all in one novel.
Composed of four different books that Dickens wrote over a year, "Our Mutual Friend" not only captures its readers with its riveting storyline and unsuspecting twists, but with its sharp, savage wit. As Dickens’ last complete novel, "Our Mutual Friend" is a captivating read you don’t want to miss out on.
About the Author
Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, in Landport, Portsea, England. He died in Kent on June 9, 1870. The second of eight children of a family continually plagued by debt, the young Dickens came to know not only hunger and privation,but also the horror of the infamous debtors’ prison and the evils of child labor. A turn of fortune in the shape of a legacy brought release from the nightmare of prison and “slave” factories and afforded Dickens the opportunity of two years’ formal schooling at Wellington House Academy. He worked as an attorney’s clerk and newspaper reporter until his Sketches by Boz (1836) and The Pickwick Papers (1837) brought him the amazing and instant success that was to be his for the remainder of his life. In later years, the pressure of serial writing, editorial duties, lectures, and social commitments led to his separation from Catherine Hogarth after twenty-three years of marriage. It also hastened his death at the age of fifty-eight, when he was characteristically engaged in a multitude of work.
Adrian Poole is a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.
Date of Birth:February 7, 1812
Date of Death:June 18, 1870
Place of Birth:Portsmouth, England
Place of Death:Gad's Hill, Kent, England
Education:Home-schooling; attended Dame School at Chatham briefly and Wellington
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Excerpted from "Our Mutual Friend"
Copyright © 2002 Charles Dickens.
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Table of Contents
BOOK THE FIRST (THE CUP AND THE LIP)
I. On the Look-out
II. The Man from Somewhere
III. Another Man
IV. The R. Wilfer Family
V. Boffin's Bower
VI. Cut Adrift
VII. Mr. Wegg Looks after Himself
VIII. Mr. Boffin in Consultation
IX. Mr. and Mrs. Boffin in Consultation
X. A Marriage Contract
XII. The Sweat of an Honest Man's Brow
XIII. Tracking the Bird of Prey
XIV. The Bird of Prey Brought Down
XV. Two New Servants
XVI. Minders and Reminders
XVII. A Dismal Swamp
BOOK THE SECOND (BIRDS OF A FEATHER)
I. Of an Educational Character
II. Still Educational
III. A Piece of Work
IV. Cupid Prompted
V. Mercury Prompting
VI. A Riddle without an Answer
VII. In which a Friendly Move is Originated
VIII. In which an Innocent Elopement Occurs
IX. In which the Orphan Makes his Will
X. A Successor
XI. Some Affairs of the Heart
XII. More Birds of Prey
XIII. A Solo and a Duet
XIV. Strong of Purpose
XV. The Whole Case so Far
XVI. An Anniversary Occasion
BOOK THE THIRD (A LONG LANE)
I. Lodgers in Queer Street
II. A Respected Friend in a New Aspect
III. The Same Respected Friend in More Aspects than One
IV. A Happy Return of the Day
V. The Golden Dustman Falls into Bad Company
VI. The Golden Dustman Falls into Worse Company
VII. The Friendly Move Takes up a Strong Position
VIII. The End of a Long Journey
IX. Somebody Becomes the Subject of a Prediction
X. Scouts Out
XI. In the Dark
XII. Meaning Mischief
XIII. Give a Dog a Bad Name, and Hang Him
XIV. Mr. Wegg Prepares a Grindstone for Mr. Boffin's Nose
XV. The Golden Dustman at his Worst
XVI. The Feast of the Three Hobgoblins
XVII. A Social Chorus
BOOK THE FOURTH (A TURNING)
I. Setting Traps
II. The Golden Dustman Rises a Little
III. The Golden Dustman Sinks Again
IV. A Runaway Match
V. Concerning the Mendicant's Bride
VI. A Cry for Help
VII. Better to be Abel than Cain
VIII. A Few Grains of Pepper
IX. Two Places Vacated
X. The Dolls' Dressmaker Discovers a Word
XI. Effect is Given to the Dolls' Dressmaker's Discovery
XII. The Passing Shadow
XIII. Showing How the Golden Dustman Helped to Scatter Dust
XIV. Checkmate to the Friendly Move
XV. What was Caught in the Traps that were Set
XVI. Persons and Things in General
The Last. The Voice of Society
Postscript. In Lieu of Preface
What People are Saying About This
The fact that Dickens is always thought of as a caricaturist, although he was constantly trying to be something else, is perhaps the surest mark of his genius.
‘The great poet of the city. He was created by London’
Adrian Poole writes in his introduction to this new edition, ‘In its vast scope and perilous ambitions it has much in common with Bleak House and Little Dorrit, but its manner is more stealthy, on edge, enigmatic’.
I would always prefer to go get another Dickens off the shelf than pick up a new book by someone I've not read yet
Reading Group Guide
1. Many of Dickens’s contemporaries thought the world of eccentrics depicted in Our Mutual Friend went too far. Do you think this conceit got away from Dickens, or did he have a purpose?
2. Henry James, in his review of Our Mutual Friend in The Nation, says “In all Mr. Dickens's stories, the reader has been called upon . . . to accept a certain number of figures or creatures of pure fancy. . . . He was, moreover, always repaid for his concession by a peculiar beauty or power in these exceptional characters. But he is now expected to make the same concession with a very inadequate reward.” Does Dickens offer little reward?
3. Do you think Dickens originally meant to have Boffin have a change of heart?
4. Some scholars characterize Dickens’s work as giving a voice to the masses that, in his society, were never heard. Is this true of his Jewish characters? Consider the character of Riah and the role he plays in Our Mutual Friend. Do you think Dickens was anti-Semitic?
5. Consider Bella Wilfer and John Harmon/John Rokesmith’s relationship. Was Dickens making the novel neat when the betrothed couple truly falls in love, or was he creating a plot twist? Is this a comment about marriage?
6. Could it be said that Jenny Wren and the life she leads is the true heart of this novel?