Our Mutual Friend

Our Mutual Friend

Cover of serial No. 8, December 1864
Author Charles Dickens
Cover artist Marcus Stone
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Novel
Publisher Chapman & Hall
Publication date
Serialized 1864–5; book form 1865
Media type Print
Preceded by Great Expectations (1860–1)
Followed by The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870)

Our Mutual Friend, written in the years 1864–65, is the last novel completed by Charles Dickens and is one of his most sophisticated works, combining psychological insight with social analysis. It centres on, in the words of critic J. Hillis Miller, "money, money, money, and what money can make of life." In the opening chapters a body is found in the Thames and identified as that of John Harmon, a young man recently returned to London to receive his inheritance. Were he alive, his father's will would require him to marry Bella Wilfer, a beautiful, mercenary girl whom he had never met. Instead, the money passes to the working-class Boffins, and the effects spread into various corners of London society.


Major characters

Minor characters

Plot summary

Having made his fortune from London's rubbish, a rich misanthropic miser dies, estranged from all except his faithful employees Mr and Mrs Boffin. By his will, his fortune goes to his estranged son John Harmon, who is to return from where he has settled abroad (possibly in South Africa) to claim it, on condition that he marries a woman he has never met, Miss Bella Wilfer. The implementation of the will is in the charge of the solicitor, Mortimer Lightwood, who has no other practice.

Before the son and heir can claim his inheritance, he goes missing, presumed drowned, at the end of his journey back to London. A body is found in the Thames by Gaffer Hexam, a waterman who makes his living by retrieving corpses and robbing them of valuables, before handing them over to the authorities. Papers in the pockets of the drowned man identify him as the heir, John Harmon. Present at the identification is a mysterious young man, who gives his name as Julius Handford and then disappears.

By the terms of the miser's will, the whole estate then devolves upon Mr and Mrs Boffin, naïve and good-hearted people who wish to enjoy it for themselves and to share it with others. They take the disappointed bride of the drowned heir, Miss Wilfer, into their household, and treat her as their pampered child and heiress. They also accept an offer from Julius Handford, now going under the name of John Rokesmith, to serve as their confidential secretary and man of business, at no salary. Rokesmith uses this position to watch and learn everything about the Boffins, Miss Wilfer, and the aftershock of the drowning of the heir John Harmon. Mr Boffin engages a one-legged ballad-seller, Silas Wegg, to read aloud to him in the evenings, and Wegg tries to take advantage of his position and of Mr Boffin's good heart to obtain other advantages from the wealthy dustman. Having persuaded Mr Boffin to move to a larger house, he himself takes possession of their former home, in the yard of which stand several mounds of "dust" remaining from Mr Harmon's business. Wegg hopes to find hidden treasure there.

Gaffer Hexam, who found the body, is accused of murdering John Harmon by a fellow-waterman, Roger "Rogue" Riderhood, who is bitter at having been cast off as Hexam's partner on the river, and who covets the large reward offered in relation to the murder. As a result of the accusation, Hexam is shunned by his fellows on the river, and excluded from The Six Jolly Fellowship-Porters, the public house they frequent. Hexam's young son, the clever but priggish Charley Hexam, leaves his father's house to better himself at school, and to train to be a schoolmaster, encouraged by his sister, the beautiful Lizzie Hexam. Meanwhile, Lizzie stays with her father, to whom she is devoted.

Before Riderhood can claim the reward for his false allegation against Hexam, Hexam is found drowned himself. Lizzie Hexam becomes the lodger of a doll's dressmaker, a disabled teenager nicknamed "Jenny Wren". Jenny's alcoholic father lives with them, and is treated by Jenny as a child. Lizzie has caught the eye of the work-shy barrister, Eugene Wrayburn, who noticed her when accompanying his friend, the Harmon solicitor Mortimer Lightwood, to question Gaffer Hexam. Wrayburn falls in love with her. However, he soon gains a violent rival in Bradley Headstone, the schoolmaster of Charley Hexam. Charley wants his sister to be under obligation to no one but him, and tries to arrange lessons for her with Headstone, only to find that Wrayburn has already engaged a teacher for both Lizzie and Jenny. Headstone quickly becomes enamoured with Lizzie, and makes an unsuccessful proposal. Angered by Wrayburn's dismissive attitude towards him, Headstone comes to see him as the source of all his misfortunes, and takes to following him around the streets of London at night. Lizzie, fearing a violent quarrel between them, and unsure of Wrayburn's intentions toward her (Wrayburn admits to Lightwood that he himself doesn't know either), flees both men, getting work up-river from London.

Mr and Mrs Boffin attempt to adopt a young orphan, previously in the care of his great-grandmother, Betty Higden, but the boy dies before the adoption can proceed. Mrs Higden minds children for a living, assisted by a foundling known as Sloppy. She has a terror of the workhouse. When Lizzie Hexam finds Mrs Higden dying, she meets the Boffins and Bella Wilfer. In the meantime Eugene Wrayburn has obtained information about Lizzie's whereabouts from Jenny's father and has tracked the object of his affections. Bradley Headstone attempts to enlist the help of Riderhood, now working as a lock-keeper, to find Lizzie. After following Wrayburn up river and seeing him with Lizzie, Headstone attacks Wrayburn and leaves him for dead. Lizzie finds him in the river and rescues him. Wrayburn, thinking he will die anyway, marries Lizzie to save her reputation. When he survives, he is glad that this has brought him into a loving marriage, albeit with a social inferior. He had not cared about the social gulf between them but Lizzie had and would not otherwise have married him.

Rokesmith has clearly fallen in love with Bella Wilfer but she cannot bear to accept him, having insisted that she will marry only for money. Mr Boffin appears to be corrupted by his wealth and becomes a miser. He also begins to treat his secretary Rokesmith with contempt and cruelty. This arouses the sympathy of Bella Wilfer, and she stands up for Rokesmith when Mr Boffin dismisses him for aspiring to marry her. They marry and live happily, in relatively poor circumstances. Bella soon conceives.

Meanwhile, Bradley Headstone has tried to put the blame for his assault on Wrayburn onto Rogue Riderhood, by dressing in similar clothes when doing the deed. Riderhood realises this and attempts to blackmail Headstone. Headstone, overcome with the hopelessness of his situation, especially after discovering that Wrayburn has survived and has married Lizzie, is seized with a self-destructive urge and flings himself into the lock, pulling Riderhood with him so that both are drowned.

The one-legged parasite Silas Wegg has, with help from Mr Venus, an "articulator of bones", searched the mounds of dust and discovered a will subsequent to the one which has given the Boffins the whole of the Harmon estate. By the later will, the estate goes to the Crown. Wegg decides to blackmail Boffin with this will, but Venus has second thoughts and reveals all to Boffin.

It has gradually become clear to the reader that John Rokesmith is the missing heir, John Harmon. He had been robbed of his clothes and possessions by the man later found drowned and mis-identified as him. Rokesmith/Harmon has been maintaining his alias to find out more about Bella Wilfer before committing himself to marry her as required by the terms of his father's will. Now that she has married him, believing him to be poor, he can throw off his disguise. He does so and it is revealed that Mr Boffin's apparent miserliness and ill-treatment of his secretary was part of a scheme to test Bella's motives and affections.

When Wegg attempts to clinch his blackmail on the basis of the later will disinheriting Boffin, Boffin turns the tables by revealing a still later will by which the fortune is granted to Boffin even at young John Harmon's expense. The Boffins are determined to make John Harmon and his bride Bella Wilfer their heirs anyway so all ends well, except for the villain Wegg, who is carted away by Sloppy. Sloppy himself becomes friendly with Jenny Wren, whose father has died.

A sub-plot involves the activities of the devious Mr and Mrs Lammle, a couple who have married one another for money, only to discover that neither of them has any. They attempt to obtain financial advantage by pairing off their acquaintance, Fledgeby, first with the heiress Georgiana Podsnap and later with Bella Wilfer. Fledgeby is an extortioner and money-lender, who uses the kindly old Jew, Riah, as his cover, temporarily causing Riah to fall out with his friend and protégée Jenny Wren. Eventually, all attempts at improving their financial situation having failed, the Lammles leave England, Mr Lammle having first administered a sound beating to Fledgeby.

Themes and analysis

Rebirth and renewal

One of the most prevalent symbols in Our Mutual Friend is that of the River Thames, and the river is linked to major themes of the novel, rebirth and renewal. Water is seen as a sign of new life, and associated by the Christian Church with the sacrament of Baptism. Characters like John Harmon and Eugene Wrayburn end up in the waters of the river, and come out reborn as new men. Wrayburn emerges from the river on his deathbed, but is ready to marry Lizzie to save her reputation. He surprises everyone, including himself, when he survives and goes on to have a loving marriage with Lizzie. John Harmon also appears to end up in the river through no fault of his own, and when Gaffer pulls his "body" out of the waters, he adopts the alias of John Rokesmith. This alias is for his own safety and peace of mind; he wants to know that he can do things on his own, and does not need his father's name or money to make a good life for himself.[17]

Throughout Our Mutual Friend, Dickens uses many images that relate to water. Phrases such as the "depths and shallows of Podsnappery,"[18] and the "time had come for flushing and flourishing this man down for good",[18] are examples of such imagery. Some critics see this as being used excessively[19]

Expectations of society

In Our Mutual Friend Dickens also explores the conflict between doing what society expects of a person and the idea of being true to oneself. Much of what society expects of a person may be shown through the influence of their family. In many of Dickens's novels, including Our Mutual Friend and Little Dorrit, parents try to force their children into arranged marriages, which, although suitable in terms of money, are not suitable in other ways.[17] John Harmon, for example, was supposed to marry Bella to suit the conditions of his father's will, and though initially, he refused to marry her for that reason, he later married her for love. Harmon goes against his father's wishes in another way too, simply by taking the alias of John Rokesmith. By taking this new identity, he refuses his inheritance.[17] Bella is also swayed by the influence of her parents. Her mother wishes her to marry for money to better the fortunes of the entire family, although her father is happy with her marrying John Rokesmith for love. Bella's marriage to Rokesmith goes against what is expected of her by her mother, but eventually her mother accepts the fact that Bella has at least married someone who will make her happy. However, later on in the novel, Bella accepts the everyday duties of a wife, and seemingly gives up her independence.[20] Yet she refuses to be the "doll in the doll's house";[18] and is not content with being a wife who rarely leaves her home without her husband. Furthermore, Bella reads up on the current events so that she can discuss them with her husband, and is actively involved in all of the couple's important decisions.

Lizzie Hexam also objects to her marriage to Eugene Wrayburn. She does not aspire to marrying Wrayburn even though she loves him and would be elevated in society simply by marrying him, which almost any woman would have done at the time. Lizzie feels that she is unworthy of him. Wrayburn, however, feels that he is unworthy of such a good woman. He also knows that his father would disapprove of her low social status.[17] Therefore, both of them end up going against expectations by marrying each other.

Lizzie also ends up going against her brother Charley's wishes, when she refuses to marry Bradley Headstone. He would have been an excellent match for her, according to norms of the time, however, Lizzie does not love him.[17] She unselfishly does what others expect of her, doing things like helping Charley escape their father to go to school, and living with Jenny Wren. Marrying Wrayburn is the only truly selfish act Lizzie commits in Our Mutual Friend, and even that is debatable, since she only did it because Wrayburn appeared to be on his deathbed.

Original publication

Our Mutual Friend, like most Dickens novels, was published in 19 monthly instalments, each costing one shilling (with the exception of the nineteenth, which was double-length and cost two). Each issue featured 32 pages of text and two illustrations by Marcus Stone.





Historical contexts

Dickens and Our Mutual Friend

In writing Our Mutual Friend, Dickens was possibly inspired by the essay "Dust; or Ugliness Redeemed" by Richard Henry Horne, published in Household Words in 1850, which contains a number of situations and characters that are found in the novel. These include a dust heap, in which a legacy lies buried,[21] a man with a wooden leg, who has an acute interest in the dust heap, Silas Wegg, and another character, Jenny Wren, with "poor withered legs".[22] In 1862 Dickens jotted down in his notebook: "LEADING INCIDENT FOR A STORY. A man—young and eccentric?—feigns to be dead, and is dead to all intents and purposes, and ... for years retains that singular view of life and character".[21] Additionally, Dickens's longtime friend John Forster was a possible model for the wealthy, pompous John Podsnap.[23]

Our Mutual Friend was published in nineteen monthly numbers, in the fashion of many earlier Dickens novels, for the first time since Little Dorrit (1855–57).[24] A Tale of Two Cities (1859) and Great Expectations (1860–1) had been serialised in Dickens's weekly magazine All the Year Round. Dickens remarked to Wilkie Collins that he was "quite dazed" at the prospect of putting out twenty monthly parts after more recent weekly serials.[25]

Our Mutual Friend was the first of Dickens's novels not illustrated by Hablot Browne, with whom he had collaborated since The Pickwick Papers (1836–37). Dickens chose instead the younger Marcus Stone and, uncharacteristically, left much of the illustrating process to Stone's discretion.[26] After suggesting only a few slight alterations for the cover, for instance, Dickens wrote to Stone: "All perfectly right. Alterations quite satisfactory. Everything very pretty".[27] Stone's encounter with a taxidermist named Willis provided the basis for Dickens' Mr. Venus, after Dickens had indicated he was searching for an uncommon occupation ("it must be something very striking and unusual") for the novel.[28]

Staplehurst rail accident

Dickens, who was aware that it was now taking him longer than before to write, made sure he had built up a safety net of five serial numbers before the first went to publication for May 1864. He was at work on number sixteen when he was involved in the traumatic Staplehurst rail crash. Following the crash, and while tending to the injured among the "dead and dying," Dickens went back to the carriage to rescue the manuscript from his overcoat.[29] With the resulting stress, from which Dickens would never fully recover, he came up two and a half pages short for the sixteenth serial, published in August 1865.[30] Dickens acknowledged this close brush with death, that nearly cut short the composition of Our Mutual Friend, in the novel's postscript:

On Friday the Ninth of June in the present year, Mr. and Mrs. Boffin (in their manuscript dress of receiving Mr. and Mrs. Lammle at breakfast) were on the South-Eastern Railway with me, in a terribly destructive accident. When I had done what I could to help others, I climbed back into my carriage—nearly turned over a viaduct, and caught aslant upon the turn—to extricate the worthy couple. They were much soiled, but otherwise unhurt. [...] I remember with devout thankfulness that I can never be much nearer parting company with my readers for ever than I was then, until there shall be written against my life, the two words with which I have this day closed this book:—THE END.

Dickens was actually travelling with his mistress Ellen Ternan and her mother.

Sales of Our Mutual Friend were 35,000 for the first monthly number, but then dropped, with 5,000 for the second number and 19,000 for the concluding double number.[31]

Jews in Our Mutual Friend

The Jewish characters in Our Mutual Friend are more sympathetic than Fagin in Oliver Twist. In 1854, the Jewish Chronicle had asked why "Jews alone should be excluded from the 'sympathizing heart' of this great author and powerful friend of the oppressed." Dickens (who had extensive knowledge of London street life and child exploitation) explained that he had made Fagin Jewish because "it unfortunately was true, of the time to which the story refers, that that class of criminal almost invariably was a Jew".[32] Dickens commented that by calling Fagin a Jew he had meant no imputation against the Jewish faith, saying in a letter, "I have no feeling towards the Jews but a friendly one. I always speak well of them, whether in public or private, and bear my testimony (as I ought to do) to their perfect good faith in such transactions as I have ever had with them".[33] Eliza Davis, whose husband had purchased Dickens's home in 1860 when he had put it up for sale, wrote to Dickens in June 1863 urging that "Charles Dickens the large hearted, whose works please so eloquently and so nobly for the oppressed of his country ... has encouraged a vile prejudice against the despised Hebrew." Dickens responded that he had always spoken well of Jews and held no prejudice against them. Replying, Mrs. Davis asked Dickens to "examine more closely into the manners and character of the British Jews and to represent them as they really are."[34]

In his article, "Dickens and the Jews," Harry Stone claims that this "incident apparently brought home to Dickens the irrationality of some of his feelings about Jews; at any rate, it helped, along with the changing times, to move him more swiftly in the direction of active sympathy for them."[35] Riah in Our Mutual Friend is a Jewish moneylender yet (contrary to stereotype) a profoundly sympathetic character, as can be seen especially in his relationship with Lizzie and Jenny Wren; Jenny calls him her "fairy godmother" and Lizzie refers to Riah as her "protector", after he finds her a job in the country and risks his own welfare to keep her whereabouts a secret from Fledgeby (his rapacious—and Christian—master).[36]

Women's power in the household

Because of the rapid increase in wealth generated by the Industrial Revolution, women gained power through their households and class positions. It was up to the women in Victorian society to display their family's rank by decorating their households. This directly influenced the man's business and class status. Upper-class homes were ornate, as well as packed full of materials,[37] so that "A lack of clutter was to be considered in bad taste." Through handcrafts and home improvement, women asserted their power over the household: "The making of a true home is really our peculiar and inalienable right: a right, which no man can take from us; for a man can no more make a home than a drone can make a hive" (Frances Cobbe).[38][39]


In the middle of the Victorian Era, the earlier conduct books, which covered topics such as "honesty, fortitude, and fidelity," were replaced with more modern etiquette books. These manuals served as another method to distinguish oneself by social class. Etiquette books specifically targeted members of the middle and upper classes, and it was not until 1897 that a manual, specifically Book of the Household, by Casell, addressed all the classes. Not only did the readership of etiquette manuals show class differences, but the practices prescribed within them became a way by which c a member of the lower class could be identified.[40]

Most etiquette manuals addressed such things as calling cards, the duration of the call, and what was acceptable to say and do during a visit. One of the most popular etiquette books was Isabella Beeton's Book of Household Management, which was published in 1861. In this book, Beeton claims that a call of fifteen to twenty minutes is "quite sufficient" and states, "A lady paying a visit may remove her boa or neckerchief; but neither her shawl nor bonnet."[40] Beeton goes on to write, "Of course no absorbed subject was ever spoken about. We kept ourselves to short sentences of small talk, and were punctual to our time."[41]

Etiquette books were constantly changing themes and ideas, so this also distinguished who was an "insider" and who was an "outsider."[42]

Critical reaction

Dickens's contemporary critics

Our Mutual Friend was not regarded as one of Dickens's greatest successes at the time of its original publication. During Our Mutual Friend's first round of publishing, fewer than 30,000 copies were sold.[43] Though The New York Times 22 November 1865 article concerning Our Mutual Friend conjectured, "By most readers...the last work by Dickens will be considered his best,"[44] direct evidence of how readers responded to Dickens's novels is scarce. Because Dickens burned his letters, the voices of his nineteenth-century serial audiences remain elusive.[45] Thus, evidence of the reactions of his Victorian era readers must be obtained from reviews of Our Mutual Friend by Dickens's contemporaries.

The first British periodical to print a review of Our Mutual Friend, published 30 April 1864 in The London Review, extolled the first serial instalment, stating, "Few literary pleasures are greater than that which we derive from opening the first number of one of Mr. Dickens's stories"[46] and "Our Mutual Friend opens well".[47]

Dickens had his fans and detractors just like every author throughout the ages, but not even his most strident supporters like E.S. Dallas felt that Our Mutual Friend was perfect. Rather, the oft acknowledged "genius" of Dickens seems to have overshadowed all reviews and made it impossible for most critics to completely condemn the work, the majority of these reviews being a mixture of praise and disparagement.

In November 1865, a review in The Times by E.S. Dallas lauded Our Mutual Friend as "one of the best of even Dickens's tales,"[48] but was unable to ignore the flaws. "This last novel of Mr Charles Dickens, really one of his finest works, and one in which on occasion he even surpasses himself, labours under the disadvantage of a beginning that drags ... On the whole, however, at that early stage the reader was more perplexed than pleased. There was an appearance of great effort without corresponding result. We were introduced to a set of people in whom it is impossible to take an interest, and were made familiar with transactions that suggested horror. The great master of fiction exhibited all his skill, performed the most wonderful feats of language, loaded his page with wit and many a fine touch peculiar to himself. The agility of his pen was amazing, but still at first we were not much amused."[49] Despite the mixed review, it pleased Dickens so well that he gave Dallas the manuscript.


Many critics found fault with the plot, and in 1865, The New York Times described it as an "involved plot combined with an entire absence of the skill to manage and unfold it".[44] In the London Review, in the same year, an anonymous critic felt that "the whole plot in which the deceased Harmon, Boffin, Wegg, and John Rokesmith, are concerned, is wild and fantastic, wanting in reality, and leading to a degree of confusion which is not compensated by any additional interest in the story"[50] and he also found that "the final explanation is a disappointment."[50] However, the London Review also thought, that "the mental state of a man about to commit the greatest of crimes has seldom been depicted with such elaboration and apparent truthfulness."[51]


Many reviewers responded negatively to the characters in Our Mutual Friend. The 1865 review by Henry James in The Nation described every character as "a mere bundle of eccentricities, animated by no principle of nature whatever",[52] and condemned Dickens for a lack of characters who represent "sound humanity".[53] James maintained that none of the characters add anything to the reader's understanding of human nature, and asserted that the characters in Our Mutual Friend, were "grotesque creatures",[52] who did not represent actual existing Victorian types.

Like James, the 1869 article "Table Talk" in Once a Week did not view the characters in Our Mutual Friend as realistic. The article asks: "Do men live by finding the bodies of the drowned, and landing them ashore 'with their pockets allus inside out' for the sake of the reward offered for their recovery? As far as we can make out, no. We have been at some trouble to inquire from men who should know; watermen, who have lived on the river nigh all their lives, if they have seen late at night a dark boat with a solitary occupant, drifting down the river on the 'look out,' plying his frightful trade? The answer has uniformly been 'No, we have never seen such men,' and more, they do not believe in their existence."[54]

The reviewer in the London Review in 1865 denounced the characters of Wegg and Venus, "who appear to us in all the highest degree unnatural—the one being a mere phantasm, and the other a nonentity."[55] However he applauded the creation of Bella Wilfer: "Probably the greatest favourite in the book will be—or rather is already—Bella Wilfer. She is evidently a pet of the author's, and she will long remain the darling of half the households of England and America."[56] E.S. Dallas, in his 1865 review, concurred that "Mr Dickens has never done anything in the portraiture of women so pretty and so perfect"[57] as Bella.

Dallas also admired the creation of Jenny Wren—who was greeted with contempt by Henry James—stating that, "The dolls' dressmaker is one of his most charming pictures, and Mr Dickens tells her strange story with a mixture of humour and pathos which it is impossible to resist."[58]

In an Atlantic Monthly article "The Genius of Dickens", in 1867, critic Edwin Percy Whipple, he declared that Dickens's characters "have a strange attraction to the mind, and are objects of love or hatred, like actual men and women."[59]

Pathos and sentiment

In October 1865 an unsigned review appeared in the London Review stating that "Mr Dickens stands in need of no allowance on the score of having out-written himself. His fancy, his pathos, his humour, his wonderful powers of observation, his picturesqueness, and his versatility, are as remarkable now as they were twenty years ago."[60] But like other critics, after praising the book this same critic then turned around and disparaged it: "Not that we mean to say Mr Dickens has outgrown his faults. They are as obvious as ever—sometimes even trying our patience rather hard. A certain extravagance in particular scenes and persons—a tendency to caricature and grotesqueness—and a something here and there which savours of the melodramatic, as if the author had been considering how the thing would 'tell' on the stage—are to be found in Our Mutual Friend, as in all this great novelist's productions."[55]

Edwin Whipple in 1867 also commented on the sentiment and pathos of Dickens's characters, stating, "But the poetical, the humorous, the tragic, or the pathetic element is never absent in Dickens's characterization, to make his delineations captivating to the heart and imagination, and give the reader a sense of having escaped from whatever in the actual world is dull and wearisome."[61]

However, in 1869 George Stott condemned Dickens for being overly sentimental: "Mr Dickens's pathos we can only regard as a complete and absolute failure. It is unnatural and unlovely. He attempts to make a stilted phraseology, and weak and sickly sentimentality do duty for genuine emotion."[62] Still, in the manner of all the other mixed reviews, Stott states that "we still hold him to be emphatically a man of genius."[63]

The Spectator in 1869 concurred with Stott's opinion, writing "Mr Dickens has brought people to think that there is a sort of piety in being gushing and maudlin," and that his works are heavily imbued with the "most mawkish and unreal sentimentalism",[64] but the unsigned critic still maintained that Dickens was one of the great authors of his time.

Later criticism

In his 1940 article "Dickens: Two Scrooges", Edmund Wilson states, "Our Mutual Friend, like all these later books of Dickens, is more interesting to us today than it was to Dickens's public. Certainly the subtleties and profundities that are now discovered in it were not noticed by the reviewers."[65] As a whole, modern critics of Our Mutual Friend, particularly those of the last half century, have been more appreciative of Dickens's last completed work than his contemporary reviewers. Although some modern critics find Dickens's characterisation in Our Mutual Friend problematic, most tend to positively acknowledge the novel's complexity and appreciate its multiple plot lines.

G. K. Chesterton, one of Dickens's critics in the early 20th century, expressed the opinion that Mr. Boffin's pretended fall into miserliness was originally intended by Dickens to be authentic, but that Dickens ran out of time and so took refuge in the awkward pretence that Boffin had been acting. Chesterton argues that while we might believe Boffin could be corrupted, we can hardly believe he could keep up such a strenuous pretence of corruption: "Such a character as his—rough, simple and lumberingly unconscious—might be more easily conceived as really sinking in self-respect and honour than as keeping up, month after month, so strained and inhuman a theatrical performance. ... It might have taken years to turn Noddy Boffin into a miser; but it would have taken centuries to turn him into an actor." However, Chesterton also praised the book as being a return to Dickens's youthful optimism and creative exuberance, full of characters who "have that great Dickens quality of being something which is pure farce and yet which is not superficial; an unfathomable farce—a farce that goes down to the roots of the universe."

Form and plot

In his 2006 article "The Richness of Redundancy: Our Mutual Friend," John R. Reed states, "Our Mutual Friend has not pleased many otherwise satisfied readers of Dickens's fiction. For his contemporaries and such acute assessors of fiction as Henry James, the novel seemed to lack structure, among other faults. More recently, critics have discovered ways in which Dickens can be seen experimenting in the novel."[66] Reed maintains that Dickens's establishment of "an incredibly elaborate structure" for Our Mutual Friend was an extension of Dickens's quarrel with realism. In creating a highly formal structure for his novel, which called attention to the novel's own language, Dickens embraced taboos of realism. Reed also argues that Dickens's employment of his characteristic technique of offering his reader what might be seen as a surplus of information within the novel, in the form of a pattern of references, exists as a way for Dickens to guarantee that the meaning of his novel might be transmitted to his reader. Reed cites Dickens's multiple descriptions of the River Thames and repetitive likening of Gaffer to "a roused bird of prey" in the novel's first chapter as evidence of Dickens's use of redundancy to establish two of the novel's fundamental themes: preying/scavenging and the transformative powers of water. According to Reed, to notice and interpret the clues representing the novel's central themes that Dickens gives his reader, the reader must have a surplus of these clues. Echoing Reed's sentiments, in her 1979 article "The Artistic Reclamation of Waste in Our Mutual Friend," Nancy Aycock Metz claims, "The reader is thrown back upon his own resources. He must suffer, along with the characters of the novel, from the climate of chaos and confusion, and like them, he must begin to make connections and impose order on the details he observes."[67]

In his 1995 article "The Cup and the Lip and the Riddle of Our Mutual Friend", Gregg A. Hecimovich reaffirms Metz's notion of reading the novel as a process of connection and focuses on what he sees as one of the main aspects of Dickens's narrative: "a complex working out of the mysteries and idiosyncrasies presented in the novel."[68] Unlike Dickens's contemporary critics, Hecimovich commends Dickens for Our Mutual Friend's disjunctive, riddle-like structure and manipulation of plots, declaring, "In a tale about conundrums and questions of identity, divergence of plots is desirable."[69] Hecimovich goes on to say that in structuring his last novel as a riddle-game, Dickens challenges conventions of nineteenth-century Victorian England and that the "sickness" infecting Dickens's composition of Our Mutual Friend is that of Victorian society generally, not Dickens himself.


Hecimovich refers to Jenny Wren, Mr. Wegg, and Mr. Venus, all seemingly minor characters in Our Mutual Friend whom Henry James dismissed as "pathetic characters" in his 1865 review of the novel, as "important riddlers and riddlees."[70] Hecimovich states, "Through the example of his minor characters, Dickens directs his readers to seek, with the chief characters, order and structure out of the apparent disjunctive 'rubbish' in the novel, to analyze and articulate what ails a fallen London... Only then can the reader, mimicking the action of certain characters, create something 'harmonious' and beautiful out of the fractured waste land."[71]

Harland S. Nelson's 1973 article "Dickens's Our Mutual Friend and Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor" examines Dickens's inspiration for two of the novel's working class characters. Nelson asserts that Gaffer Hexam and Betty Higden were potentially modelled after real members of London's working class whom Mayhew interviewed in the 1840s for his nonfiction work London Labour and the London Poor. Unlike some of Dickens's contemporaries, who regarded the characters in Our Mutual Friend as unrealistic representations of actual Victorian people, Nelson maintains that London's nineteenth-century working class is authentically depicted through characters such as Gaffer Hexam and Betty Higden.[72]

However, not all modern critics of Our Mutual Friend regard the novel's characters in a positive light. In her 1970 essay "Our Mutual Friend: Dickens as the Compleat Angler," Annabel Patterson declares, "Our Mutual Friend is not a book which satisfies all of Dickens's admirers. Those who appreciate Dickens mainly for the exuberance of his characterization and his gift for caricature feel a certain flatness in this last novel..."[73] Deirdre David claims that Our Mutual Friend is a novel through which Dickens "engaged in a fictive improvement of society"[74] that bore little relation to reality, especially regarding the character of Lizzie Hexam, whom David describes as a myth of purity among the desperate lower-classes. David criticises Dickens for his "fable of regenerated bourgeois culture"[75] and maintains that the character Eugene Wrayburn's realistic counterpart would have been far more likely to offer Lizzie money for sex than to offer her money for education.


Aside from examining the novel's form and characters, modern critics of Our Mutual Friend have focused on identifying and analysing what they perceive as the main themes of the novel. Although Stanley Friedman's 1973 essay "The Motif of Reading in Our Mutual Friend" emphasises references to literacy and illiteracy in the novel, Friedman states, "Money, the dust-heaps, and the river have been seen as the main symbols, features, that help develop such themes as avarice, predation, death and rebirth, the quest for identity and pride. To these images and ideas, we may add what Monroe Engel calls the 'social themes of Our Mutual Friend—having to do with money-dust, and relatedly with the treatment of the poor, education, representative government, even the inheritance laws.'"[76]

According to Metz, many of the prominent themes in Dickens's earlier works of fiction are intricately woven into Dickens's last novel. She states, "Like David Copperfield, Our Mutual Friend is about the relationship between work and the realization of self, about the necessity to be 'useful' before one can be 'happy.' Like Great Expectations, it is about the power of money to corrupt those who place their faith in its absolute value. Like Bleak House, it is about the legal, bureaucratic, and social barriers that intervene between individuals and their nearest neighbours. Like all of Dickens's novels, and especially the later ones, it is about pervasive social problems—poverty, disease, class bitterness, the sheer ugliness and vacuity of contemporary life."[77]

Adaptations and influence






  1. 1 2 3 Thurley, Geoffrey. The Dickens Myth: Its Genesis and Structure. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1976.
  2. 1 2 Ihara, Keiichiro. "Dickens and Class: Social Mobility in Our Mutual Friend." 17 April 2009 <http://wwwsoc.nii.ac.jp/dickens/archive/omf/omf-ihara.pdf>
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Romano, John. Dickens and Reality. New York: Columbia University Press, 1978.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Hawes, Donald. Who's Who in Dickens. London: Routledge, 1998.
  6. 1 2 Swifte, Yasmin. "Charles Dickens and the Role of Legal Institutions in Moral and Social Reform: Oliver Twist, Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend." 16 April 2009. <http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/bitstream/2123/409/2/adt-NU2000.0013main.pdf>
  7. Watt, Kate Carnell. "Educators and Education in Our Mutual Friend." University of California. 17 April 2009. <http://dickens.ucsc.edu/OMF/watt.html>
  8. 1 2 Ihara, Keiichiro. "Dickens and Class: Social Mobility in Our Mutual Friend." 17 April 2009 <http://wwwsoc.nii.ac.jp/dickens/archive/omf/omf-ihara.pdf>
  9. Morse, J. Mitchell. "Prejudice and Literature." College English 37:8 (Apr. 1976): 780–807.
  10. 1 2 3 Collins, Philip. Dickens and Crime. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968.
  11. 1 2 Collins, Philip. Dickens and Education. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1964.
  12. Dark, Sidney. Charles Dickens. T. Nelson & Sons, Ltd., 1919. 16 April 2009 <https://archive.org/stream/charlesdickens00darkuoft/charlesdickens00darkuoft_djvu.txt>
  13. Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens. New York: Harper-Collins Publishers, 1991
  14. 1 2 Adrian, Arthur A. Dickens and the Parent-Child Relationship. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1984.
  15. 1 2 Slater, Michael. Dickens and Women. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1983.
  16. Schlicke, Paul. Dickens and Popular Entertainment. London: Unwin Hyman Ltd., 1988.
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 Dabney, Ross H. Love & Property in the Novels of Dickens. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.
  18. 1 2 3 Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.
  19. Reed, John. R. "The Riches of Redundancy: Our Mutual Friend". Studies in the Novel 38 (Spring 2006): 15–35. Academic Search Complete. College of Wooster Libraries, Wooster, OH. 10 April 2009. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=20709011&site=ehost-live
  20. Shuman, Cathy. "Invigilating Our Mutual Friend: Gender and the Legitimation of Professional Authority". Novel: A Forum on Fiction. 28 (Winter 1995): 154–172. Literary Reference Center. College of Wooster Libraries, Wooster, OH. 10 April 2009.
  21. 1 2 Kaplan, Frank (1988), Dickens: A Biography, New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 467
  22. Ackroyd, Peter (1990), Dickens, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 939
  23. Ackroyd, Peter (1990), Dickens, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 944
  24. Kaplan, Frank (1988), Dickens: A Biography, New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 468
  25. Ackroyd, Peter (1990), Dickens, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 941
  26. Ackroyd, Peter (1990), Dickens, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 941-43
  27. Storey, Graham, ed. (1998), The Letters of Charles Dickens, Volume Ten: 1862–1864, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 365
  28. Ackroyd, Peter (1990), Dickens, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 943
  29. Ackroyd, Peter (1990), Dickens, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 961
  30. Kaplan, Frank (1988), Dickens: A Biography, New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 471
  31. Ackroyd, Peter (1990), Dickens, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 952
  32. Howe, Irving. "Oliver Twist – introduction".
  33. Johnson, Edgar (1 January 1952). "4 – Intimations of Mortality". Charles Dickens His Tragedy And Triumph. Simon & Schuster Inc. Retrieved 8 February 2009.
  34. Stone, Harry. Dickens and the Jews. Indiana University Press. Vol. 2, No. 3 (Mar, 1959) 245–247.JSTOR.<http://www.jstor.org/stable/3825878>.
  35. Stone, Harry. Dickens and the Jews. Indiana University Press. Vol. 2, No. 3 (Mar,1959) 247. JSTOR.<http://www.jstor.org/stable/3825878>.
  36. Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Pages 434 & 405.
  37. Langland, Elizabeth. Nobody's Angels: Domestic Ideology and Middle-Class Women in the Victorian Novel. Modern Language Association. Vol. 107, No.2 (March,1992): 290. JSTOR.<http://www.jstor.org/stable/462641>.
  38. Home is where the Art is. Clive Edwards, Journal of Design History, Oxford University Press, 10. <http://jdh.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/19/1/11>.
  39. Upper Class Victorian Homes. Rachel Romanski. 10.<http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/agunn/teaching/enl3251/vf/pres/romanski.html>.
  40. 1 2 Langland, Elizabeth. Nobody's Angels: Domestic Ideology and Middle-Class Women in the Victorian Novel. Modern Language Association. Vol. 107, No.2 (March, 1992) 293. JSTOR. 15 April 2009 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/462641>.
  41. Langland, Elizabeth. Nobody's Angels: Domestic Ideology and Middle-Class Women in the Victorian Novel. Modern Language Association. Vol. 107, No.2 (March, 1992) 290–304. JSTOR15 April 2009 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/462641>.
  42. Langland, Elizabeth. Nobody's Angels: Domestic Ideology and Middle-Class Women in the Victorian Novel. Modern Language Association. Vol. 107, No.2 (March,1992) 290–304. JSTOR. 15 April 2009 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/462641>.
  43. Robert L. Patten, "The Composition, Publication, and Reception of Our Mutual Friend," Our Mutual Friend – The Scholarly Pages, http://dickens.ucsc.edu/OMF/DandOMF.html (accessed 8 April 2009).
  44. 1 2 "New Books," The New York Times, 22 November 1865.
  45. Jennifer Poole Hayward, Consuming Pleasures: Active Audiences and Serial Fictions from Dickens to Soap Opera, (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1997), 33.
  46. "Mr. Dickens's New Story," The London Review, (April 1864), 473.
  47. "Mr. Dickens's New Story," The London Review, (April 1864), 474.
  48. E.S. Dallas. Rev. in The Times 29 November 1865: 6. Dickens: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Philip Collins. (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1971), 464.
  49. E.S. Dallas. Rev. in The Times 29 November 1865: 6. Dickens: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Philip Collins. (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1971), 464–5.
  50. 1 2 Unsigned Rev. in London Review 28 October 1865. Dickens: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Philip Collins. (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1971), 456.
  51. Unsigned Rev. in London Review 28 October 1865.Dickens: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Philip Collins. (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1971), 457.
  52. 1 2 Henry James, "Our Mutual Friend," The Nation, (December 1865), 786.
  53. Henry James, "Our Mutual Friend," The Nation, (December 1865), 787.
  54. "Table Talk," Once a Week, (September 1869), 152.
  55. 1 2 Unsigned Rev. in London Review 28 October 1865. Dickens: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Philip Collins. (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1971), 455.
  56. Unsigned Rev. in London Review 28 October 1865. Dickens: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Philip Collins. (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1971), 458.
  57. E.S. Dallas. Rev. in The Times 29 November 1865: 6. Dickens: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Philip Collins. (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1971), 468.
  58. E.S. Dallas. Rev. in The Times 29 November 1865: 6. Dickens: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Philip Collins. (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1971), 467.
  59. Edwin P. Whipple. "The Genius of Dickens." Atlantic Monthly May 1867 xix: 546–54. Dickens: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Philip Collins. (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1971), 481.
  60. Unsigned Rev. in London Review 28 October 1865. Dickens: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Philip Collins. (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1971), 454.
  61. Edwin P. Whipple. "The Genius of Dickens." Atlantic Monthly May 1867 xix: 546–54. Dickens: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Philip Collins. (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1971), 482.
  62. George Stott. "Charles Dickens." Contemporary Review January 1869 x: 203–25. Dickens: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Philip Collins. (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1971), 497.
  63. George Stott. "Charles Dickens." Contemporary Review January 1869 x: 203–25. Dickens: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Philip Collins. (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1971), 492–3.
  64. R.H. Hutton. "Mr Dickens's Moral Services to Literature." Spectator 17 April 1869 xlii: 474–5. Dickens: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Philip Collins. (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1971), 490.
  65. Edmund Wilson, "Dickens: Two Scrooges." The Wound and the Bow (New York: Library of America, 2007), 66.
  66. John R. Reed, "The Richness of Redundancy." Studies in the Novel 38.1 (Spring 2006), 15.
  67. Nancy Aycock Metz, "The Artistic Reclamation of Waste in Our Mutual Friend." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 34.1 (Jun. 1979), 62.
  68. Gregg A. Hecimovich, "The Cup and the Lip and the Riddle of Our Mutual Friend." ELH 62.4 (Winter 1995), 955.
  69. Gregg A. Hecimovich, "The Cup and the Lip and the Riddle of Our Mutual Friend." ELH 62.4 (Winter 1995), 967.
  70. Gregg A. Hecimovich, "The Cup and the Lip and the Riddle of Our Mutual Friend." ELH 62.4 (Winter 1995), 962.
  71. Gregg A. Hecimovich, "The Cup and the Lip and the Riddle of Our Mutual Friend." ELH 62.4 (Winter 1995), 966.
  72. Harland S. Nelson, "Dickens's Our Mutual Friend and Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 24.3 (Dec. 1970), 207–222.
  73. Annabel M. Patterson, "Our Mutual Friend: Dickens as the Compleat Angler." Dickens Studies Annual. Vol. I. (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970), 252.
  74. Deirdre David, Fictions of Resolution in Three Victorian Novels: North and South, Our Mutual Friend, Daniel Deronda. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), 54.
  75. Deirdre David, Fictions of Resolution in Three Victorian Novels: North and South, Our Mutual Friend, Daniel Deronda. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), 55.
  76. Stanley Friedman, "The Motif of Reading in Our Mutual Friend." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 28.1 (Jun. 1973), 39.
  77. Nancy Aycock Metz, "The Artistic Reclamation of Waste in Our Mutual Friend." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 34.1 (Jun. 1979), 59.
  78. John Glavin, Dickens on Screen (Cambridge University Press, 2003), p 215
  79. BBC Radio 4 Our Mutual Friend: Adaptation by Mike Walker of Charles Dickens's classic novel
  80. "Live Together, Die Alone Recap". Retrieved 2014-04-27.


Wikisource has original text related to this article:

Online editions


Other links

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/17/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.