Our Mutual Friend

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Our Mutual Friend
By Charles Dickens
Oh Dickens, I’ve missed you! I used to read one Dickens novel each year, but it’s been four years since I last picked up a new one of his tomes. It took me a minute to get into the novel, but once I got to know the characters I was completely hooked. 

Dickens creates stories with a huge cast of supporting characters and half a dozen overlapping plots. His work was originally serialized, so imagine watching a complicated television drama. Each week there’s new twists and turns, but rarely are things resolved or revealed until those final chapters. His work is the same. You spend the first third of the book just trying to keep everyone straight and it was slow-going for a bit. 

This novel, more than his others, starts off with an incredibly gripping scene. Lizzie and her father are rowing around the River Thames looking for dead bodies. They find a drowned man named John Harmon who is the heir to his grandfather’s fortune. From that moment on things become much more complicated.

There are the Boffins, an older couple that inherits the money when Harmon is declared dead. Then we meet Bella, the young lady who was destined to marry Harmon, even though they had never met. There’s a little crippled woman named Jenny Wren who makes clothes for dolls and a shady man named Silas Wegg with a wooden leg and a pile of schemes to get his hands on the inheritance.

When John Rokesmith’s true identity was revealed I was so surprised! What an impossible situation to find yourself believed to be dead and then to  realize that the woman you were supposed to marry didn't want to marry you. Then to fall in love with her without meaning to, even though you know she won’t love you because you’re “poor” now. If you tell her who you are she’ll marry you, but she won’t love you. Or you can walk away and lose your love forever.
The scene where Mr. Boffin tells him off and humiliates Bella was such a great one. I loved that they fell in love and he knew that she truly loved him and not his money. At the same time, I couldn’t believe he took so long to tell her who he was. I understand that she had seen something nasty in herself that scared her, but at some point you have to be honest with your spouse. I loved watching her transformation. She was such a frivolous creature and she found out what was really important to her when it was almost taken away. 

A Few Highlights:
- The friendship between Lizzy and Bella, I love that relationship.
- I was so glad the Boffins were in on it and that he hadn't really turned miserly.
- The sweet scene towards the end with Sloppy and Jenny Wren was just the best.
- How perfect that the novel comes full circle for Lizzie. In the beginning she finds the dead body in the river and at the end she saves Eugene by pulling him from the river. No one does a full circle like Dickens!
- The schoolmaster was such a creepy stalker. That whole love story was sad an twisted. Eugene is so selfish and oblivious, Lizzie so hopeless, and Bradley is just aggressive and awful.

BOTTOM LINE: In Our Mutual Friend Dickens explores social classes, the dangers of greed, a  twisted love triangle, and so much more. It was definitely one of my favorites of his books. This was his final completed novel, but I still have quite a few left to read. I’m sure I’ll pick a new one next year when the weather turns cold. There’s something about the first snow that always makes me want to curl up with his work.
"There's no royal road to learning and what is life but learning."

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