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Our Mutual Friend

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A satiric masterpiece about the allure and peril of money, Our Mutual Friend revolves around the inheritance of a dust-heap where the rich throw their trash. When the body of John Harmon, the dust-heap’s expected heir, is found in the Thames, fortunes change hands surprisingly, raising to new heights “Noddy” Boffin, a low-born but kindly clerk who becomes “the Golden Dustman.” Charles Dickens’s last complete novel, Our Mutual Friend encompasses the great themes of his earlier works: the pretensions of the nouveaux riches, the ingenuousness of the aspiring poor, and the unfailing power of wealth to corrupt all who crave it. With its flavorful cast of characters and numerous subplots, Our Mutual Friend is one of Dickens’s most complex—and satisfying—novels.

801 pages, Paperback

First published November 1, 1865

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About the author

Charles Dickens

13.5k books27.2k followers
Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-1870) was a writer and social critic who created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime, and by the twentieth century critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius. His novels and short stories enjoy lasting popularity.

Dickens left school to work in a factory when his father was incarcerated in a debtors' prison. Despite his lack of formal education, he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lectured and performed extensively, was an indefatigable letter writer, and campaigned vigorously for children's rights, education, and other social reforms.

Dickens was regarded as the literary colossus of his age. His 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, remains popular and continues to inspire adaptations in every artistic genre. Oliver Twist and Great Expectations are also frequently adapted, and, like many of his novels, evoke images of early Victorian London. His 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities, set in London and Paris, is his best-known work of historical fiction. Dickens's creative genius has been praised by fellow writers—from Leo Tolstoy to George Orwell and G. K. Chesterton—for its realism, comedy, prose style, unique characterisations, and social criticism. On the other hand, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf complained of a lack of psychological depth, loose writing, and a vein of saccharine sentimentalism. The term Dickensian is used to describe something that is reminiscent of Dickens and his writings, such as poor social conditions or comically repulsive characters.

On 8 June 1870, Dickens suffered another stroke at his home after a full day's work on Edwin Drood. He never regained consciousness, and the next day he died at Gad's Hill Place. Contrary to his wish to be buried at Rochester Cathedral "in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner," he was laid to rest in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. A printed epitaph circulated at the time of the funeral reads: "To the Memory of Charles Dickens (England's most popular author) who died at his residence, Higham, near Rochester, Kent, 9 June 1870, aged 58 years. He was a sympathiser with the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England's greatest writers is lost to the world." His last words were: "On the ground", in response to his sister-in-law Georgina's request that he lie down.

(from Wikipedia)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,794 reviews
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
October 27, 2021
Our Mutual Friend (In Two Volumes), Charles Dickens

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 savage satire with social analysis.

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. ...

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: پانزدهم ماه ژوئن سال 1992میلادی

عنوان: دوست مشترک ما - دورۀ دوجلدی؛ نویسنده: چارلز دیکنز؛ مترجم: عبدالحسین شریفیان؛ تهران، نگاه، سال1369؛ در دو جلد، در1031ص؛ چاپ جلد دوم سال1370؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان بریتانیا - سده 19م

داستان کتاب، درباره ی زندگی مرد جوانی، به نام «جان هارمون» است، که به تازگی از سفری دور، به «لندن» بازگشته، تا ارثیه کلانی که از سوی پدرش، برای او به جا مانده را، تصاحب کند؛ در این میان، تنها دو مشکل هست: یکی آنکه: پدرش شرط برخورداری از ارثیه را، ازدواج او با دختری به نام «بلا ویلفر» قرار داده؛ که پولکی بودنش شهره ی آفاق است؛ و دیگری اینکه، خبر مرگ «جان هارمون»، زودتر از خودش، به «لندن» میرسد؛ جسد فردیکه لباسهای او را، به سرقت برده، در رودخانه ی «تیمز» پیدا میشود، و هویت وی را به اشتباه، همان فرزند سفر کرده ی آقای «هارمون» تشخیص میدهند؛ در اثر این رویداد، طبق وصیت، آنچه که به ارث مانده، به دو خدمتکار وظیفه شناس پدر، یعنی خانم و آقای «بافین»، میرسد؛ و به این ترتیب، فرصت ویژه ای در اختیار «جان»، قرار میگیرد، تا بی آنکه شناسایی شود، با «بلا ویلفر»، و وارثان پدرش، از نزدیک آشنا شده، و اثر مرگ خود را، بر زندگی دیگران بسنجد؛ به راستی هم این مرگ، و رسیدن پول هنگفت، به خانواده «بافین»، سرنوشت افراد بسیاری را، زیر تاثیر قرار میدهد، و ماجراهای بسیاری را، در گوشه و کنار شهر «لندن»، سبب میشود...؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 02/10/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 04/08/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.5k followers
October 12, 2019

Although not quite the equal of those great late works Bleak House and Little Dorrit, this last completed novel of Charles Dickens has much to recommend it. It is particularly memorable for its symbolism, the way it uses a series of "dust mounds" (huge heterogeneous piles of waste, primarily of cinders and ash, waiting to be recycled as bricks) owned by the "Golden Dustman" to represent great fortunes, their barrenness and avarice, and their harmful effects on an increasingly money-mad society.

It also contains--as does all Dickens--a range of vivid scenes and memorable characters: harrowing glimpses of riverfront lowlife contrasted with wonderful comic scenes of nouveau riche display, a particularly vicious pair of married grifters, an ambiguous young lawyer and dandy who turns out to be something like a hero, and (perhaps a late apology for Fagin) an evil goy moneylender who uses a kindly Jew as a front.

One reason this novel has gained in popularity during the last century is that it is as close as Dickens ever gets to a meta-fiction. The reading and interpretations of various texts--exemplified by Silas Wegg's oral reading of Gibbon's Decline and Fall to the illiterate Noddy Boffin, and their subsequent discussions--is an important metaphor here.
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,470 reviews9,633 followers
October 17, 2017
I listened to this for the first time on audio. And I know!!! I'm not supposed to do that with first time books because I can't comprehend audio as the first read. I already have the book in my Amazon wishlist.

But! I couldn't stop listening to it because the marrator (Simon Vance) was freaking amazing!! His voice was perfect for the book. Um, I have it in my audible wishlist too 😂 He gets all the stars.

Now I'm hoping my re-read will bring this up to 5 stars when I can use my brain!

Just another book I would never have read if it weren't for Goodreads, friends and challenges!

Mel ❤️

Profile Image for Piyangie.
519 reviews416 followers
February 21, 2023
Our Mutual Friend is the last complete work by Dickens, and is much criticized as being "less Dickensian". There is probably some truth in it, for while thematically relying on social commentary and preserving his natural wit, satire, and critical sense, Dickens has departed from his comfortable and established zone into a matured, complete and elevated level. While it may not appeal to those who preferred the established "Dickensian" style, for my part, I found it really amazing and fascinating. It is really a pity that Dickens couldn't complete any more work after this, for I loved this new turn in Dickens and would have loved to see its progress.

Money plays a major role in Our Mutual Friend so one can easily say that it is the main theme. A man fakes his own death to avoid an inheritance straddled with a bride and the bride, in her disappointment, seeks another money-match. Then there is a fortune seeker and an adventurer whose deception of each other unites them in marriage only to learn their own deception. Stuck together, however, they unite and scheme (not very successfully) to advance their financial position. Then there is also the greedy and corrupt Christian money lender who hides in the coat of a gentle Jew and who he represents to the world as being the principal while in reality, he is his employee.

Love is equally a strong theme here. Not being satisfied creating one love story to expound on the theme, Dickens weaves two different beautiful love stories. I said they are different, for while in one the male influence works miracles to rescue and bring up his love morally upright, in the other, female influence works a similar miracle to save and uplift morally her love from aimless wondering. If I'm to be quite honest, this theme was what attached me downright to the book. The stories themselves coupled with passionate, emotional, and sentimental writing bring out two delightful classical love stories and undoubtedly best by Dickens I have read so far. And to add to the allure, Dickens uses a jealous and maniacal villain who would have almost turned one love story into a tragedy.

Class difference is yet another major theme. Dickens expounded on this theme through one of the love stories. A barrister's love and admiration for a working-class girl is checked by the difference in their social status. And when irrespective of this obstacle their union is finally made, Dickens expresses the "voice of the society" and their eagerness in casting their votes in condemnation.

Dickens also touches on mistaken identity, a little on mystery, and on discrimination (Feldgeby's treatment of Riah) making the novel thematically rich.

Social commentary is a fixed feature of all Dickens's work, and there is no exception here. Using a wider range of characters, Dickens works on the upper-class hypocrisy, the lower class deception, and middle-class salvation. Dickens saw and believed that the future of England lay in the hands of the rising middle class. Eugene's marriage to Lizzie despite her low class and John Harmon's decision to use his new wealth for the benefit of those unfortunate but deserving fellow men places faith in the middle class to uplift England socially and economically.

And all these themes are expounded, and engaging plots are created with the use of a set of interesting characters. Here too, Dickens is at novelty in introducing more than one hero and heroine. And interestingly, there is more than one villain too. Almost all the characters are interesting in their own way. But my interest was very much captivated by one heroine (Lizzie Hexam) and one villain (Bradley Headstone).

Dickens's writing here is absolutely beautiful. It is rich, fascinating, dramatic, and complete. I was utterly amazed at Dickens's skill at writing, for in this work most of his satire he has achieved figuratively. It is utterly awesome.

Our Mutual Friend is doubtless the best of the Dickens that I have read so far. And all though I have read only about half of his work, I doubt whether the place this work has taken in my heart can be replaced by any other. David Copperfield was my most loved until now but no longer. I'm really glad that Dickens produced such great work, even though his literary journey was cut before his elevated mind and writing could produce another completed work. However, for producing this beautiful work that I would cherish for the rest of my life, I'm very much grateful to him.
Profile Image for Lisa.
977 reviews3,327 followers
December 26, 2018
Well, well, well, my dear Dickens!

It is time for my Christmas letter to you, which I impose on your powerless spirit like a Marley not quite as dead as a doornail, if you please?

Unsurprisingly, I show my consistent inconsistency by telling my son that this is my favourite Dickens. Do I even bother to justify my choice anymore, suspecting that it will be replaced the moment I take on Little Dorrit or The Pickwick Papers?

Yes, I do care to elaborate. For one thing I have learned from Dickens and contemporary world leaders is that you have to state your shakiest cases as absolute truths and then stay cool if your friends dig up "old", aka "fake" reviews that say exactly the opposite of your current opinion. Just bear with me as long as Our Mutual Friend is my eternal favourite.

Why, then, repeats the likeness of Marley, yet not quite as dead?


We see a play in the play, where a Buffoon plays Scrooge with more conviction than Scrooge himself ever could, and with a visible result in the change of heart in a lost little mercenary soul. Standing ovations, Boffin - I was so mad at you, I would have strangled you on stage!


There is a social message embedded in the story, speaking up for those who are systematically mistreated by the so-called Voice Of Society (oh, that evil croaking, - nobody imitates it quite as well as Dickens!). If your heart doesn't feel the sad monologue of Riah, describing the antisemitic reality of his life, or the self-examining inner turmoil of Bella, who realises that she is not for sale, then I don't know...

If you don't laugh out loud at The Chase, or bite your nails during The Murder(s) (for there are several to choose from, even though very few of them are actually fatal) or during the appearance of The Will(s) (for there are several, even though none of them are followed properly by the obstinate and headstrong characters), then I don't know...

If you don't fall helplessly in love with Dickens' notoriously lovely minor characters, such as Miss Wren and Mr Sloppy, or even THE VENEERINGS (we don't speak about the Lammles after their big smash!), then I don't know...

The only thing that separates Dickens' magnificent storytelling from real life is his comforting habit of flogging the villains and tucking up the heroes nicely in the end! You can rely on it - it is a tradition!

And it leaves me to the point why I find it so rewarding to read Dickens in December: if you happen to spend a month, almost 800 tightly filled pages, with Mr Fledgeby, and you happen to feel he resembles all those real hateful hypocrites who play society like a fiddle while enjoying their own misogyny, antisemitism and general evil power, you thoroughly indulge in the poetical justice of his treatment in the end - as a metaphorical fall for all those who excel in villainy, or Weggery, and don't land in a dungheap by themselves.

So, same procedure as every year, my dear Dickens, I thank you kindly for the splendid company. Tears were shed, from laughing mostly, and the heart felt tight at times, from compassion and anger, mostly, and what more can I expect of a book?

Nothing, my dear friend, and I remain your 'umble (not competing with Uriah, of course!) servant,

The Affectionate Reader
Profile Image for Ruby Granger.
Author 2 books45.6k followers
February 18, 2021
This isn't my favourite Dickens book, but I did grow to like it more and more as it continued. I particularly enjoyed the narrative of Betty Higden and her wards Johnny and Sloppy. Such a warming subplot!
Profile Image for Baba.
3,563 reviews862 followers
July 12, 2022
Dickens's last finished novel featuring the tale of John Harmon's (after his supposed murder) search for love. Combining many of the themes he has previously featured, this is one of Dickens most complex novels, but I found that ii wasn't that compelling a read, from the viewpoint of someone who has read many of his other works. Still, it was a nice epitaph to his formidable legacy. 6 out of 12.

2009 read
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
458 reviews3,242 followers
January 20, 2023
John Harmon is found dead in the polluted Thames River one of many but wait a minute, since he's the main character of the book, this would be a very short novel (it is 800 pages long !). Don't worry ladies and gentlemen of course not really him, the body identified as John and thought to be a murder victim was a friend and Harmon is heir to his wealthy but cruel father's estate, the miser estranged from his son made a fortune in the dust business (they make bricks from ). John had to marry a woman he's not seen since childhood, Bella Wilfer in order to collect his inheritance when he was legally alive, so he waited to claim his birthright rather impatiently...Things become more complicated as Harmon disguises himself, not one but two different men John Rokesmith and earlier Julius Handford. However for all the efforts the unlikely Mr. Noddy Boffin a poor but kindly clerk for his late employer Mr. Harmon the original, eventually inherits it. John Harmon becomes Rokesmith , gets a job as the secretary to "The Golden Dustman," Boffin a servant in his own mansion kind of sad and amusing at the same time. The illiterate, also hires Silas Wegg with a wooden leg, to read to Mr. and Mrs. Boffin, Silas chooses the long, long did I say lengthy "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire". No one follows the lives of these ancient Romans like the former good-heart clerk, he becomes concerned about their safety the eons ago deceased people. Wegg is always scheming to get rich too, ( he envies the opulent ) lawfully or not. As Bella Wilfer his intended
bride to be once, a beautiful woman from a family without any money comes to live in the house an awkward situation obviously, Harmon had rented a room in her parent's home where he had met her. He offers Bella his love, yet she only wants to marry a prosperous man ironically. Things become interesting when Wegg finds another will, which says if Harmon's son John is dead or doesn't fulfill the wills directions, all would go to the state. Blackmailing Boffin, Silas thinks finally, he'll reach the promised land...This novel from the always superior Charles Dickens gives the reading public another glimpse into his world, a place no one else can describe so well but the writer, his vision looks at people and they come alive not just words...they breathe and struggle like all the rest of humanity.
Profile Image for Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.).
483 reviews296 followers
June 15, 2019
In completing Our Mutual Friend, I believe that I may well have just finished reading the finest book written in the English language. One could perhaps argue that the prose of Austen in her novel Emma is more perfect; but the plotting and characters of Dickens in Our Mutual Friend is exquisite. Our Mutual Friend rivals Tolstoy’s War and Peace in breadth, scope, scale, and number of characters; but while War and Peace proceeds forward majestically in a linear fashion; Our Mutual Friend, like Dickens’ “Circumlocution Office” (Little Dorrit) proceeds circuitously, bobbing and weaving, exposing its mysteries and delights, one-by-one, like peeling back the layers of an onion.

In Our Mutual Friend, Dickens plumbs the deep and dark depths of humanity’s soul with the creation and actions of some of fiction’s most horrifying villains. At the same time Dickens balances the novel’s darkness and depravity as we meet, and fall in love with, some of the kindest, noblest, and most good-natured saints and souls that ever graced the pages of his novels. One cannot but be completely taken with little Jenny Wren (“my back is bad, and my legs are queer”), and the beautiful Bella Wilfur and Lizzie Hexam, and kindly Betty Higdon. One must admire and respect the steadfastness and resolute nature of John Rokesmith, Eugene Wrayburn, and Mortimer Lightwood. One cannot help but laugh and smile at the comical goodness of Our Mutual Friend’s saints: the Boffins, Mr. Twemlow, “Rumty” Wilfur, and Mr. Riah. Then there are the multitude in the gray ambiguity between light and dark; the Veneerings, and those of “Podsnappery” like the Lammles. But it is the grotesque evil of the novel’s villains that makes the good characters shine so bright. There’s “Weggery”, an awful tasting dose of “Fascination” Fledgeby, all horrifyingly blended with “Rogue” Riderhood and the Dark Prince himself – Bradley Headstone.

From Dickens’ pen, Our Mutual Friend falls forth onto the printed pages like the brush strokes on the canvas of the grandest painting of an old master. Our Mutual Friend depicts the freshness and rawness of human emotions in all of its attendant forms, including: joy and happiness, pain and sorrow, anger and hatred, and love and tenderness. Like looking too closely at a painting of Hieronymous Bosch, we have an almost macabre fascination as we follow the novel’s characters through life’s stages – life, death, rebirth, and even resurrection. Primary roles and responsibilities are switched too; with children ‘raising’ parents, the disadvantaged aiding the advantaged, and the poor enriching the well-off.

In Our Mutual Friend things are never as they appear or ought to be. On some levels, Our Mutual Friend is the quintessential detective novel or mystery; but it is really more a series of mysteries nested inside a larger mystery. The reader must pay close attention to the seemingly slightest detail, for all does truly come together in the march to the grand, and most satisfying, conclusion. Through it all, however, there is one overarching and unifying theme, one thread that connects all – The River Thames. The Thames is the source of life, of death, of rebirth, and even resurrection; it infects and purifies; it is the source of depravity, horror, and hope and prosperity. The river is always there, relentlessly rushing onward, carrying the flotsam and jetsam, and the hopes and desires, of the novel’s characters, and even those of the reader. All I can say, upon turning the last page with a sigh, is that this is a novel for the ages; and one that I shall visit and revisit; setting forth again in my little boat upon the river of Our Mutual Friend.
Profile Image for Katie Lumsden.
Author 1 book2,822 followers
May 25, 2020
As amazing as ever. I love this book so much.
Profile Image for El.
1,355 reviews503 followers
June 30, 2010

Anyone familiar with LOST understands where I'm coming from here, but just in case you're stuck under a rock and have never watched the show (looking at you, Josiah) the above cupcake image is the character, Desmond Hume. Our Mutual Friend is associated with him on the show - it's the one book he claims he will read before he dies and we find later he has named his boat - wait for it - Our Mutual Friend.

With that said, this connection to LOST is absolutely not the reason why I decided to read this book. At least it's not the whole reason. Actually I've been meaning to read some Dickens for a while and I figure this is a good place to start again. It's also the last completed novel by Dickens which I guess in some morbid way I was drawn to when I decided to pick it up. So there we are. (It didn't hurt that sex-pot Desmond Hume also toted it around with him which I'm certain has some deeper meaning than I'm able to comprehend right now.)

All of the LOST references aside, Our Mutual Friend was freaking fantastic. I don't wanna hear anyone's tears (looking at you, Rhonda) about how boring Dickens is, and OMG, he writes for paaaaages without really saying anything... You all are wrong (respectfully). Oh, sure, I get it. There are a lot of words and lots of pages and sure, it seems like he's not really getting anywhere, but that's his freaking genius. And, well, I like big books and can not lie.

This is the darkest Dickens I have read so far, and I wonder how much of that has to do with the fact that he was older when he wrote it (already in his 50s), was probably spending a lot of time contemplating his life and the fact that he never got that sports car he always wanted, had an anorectal fistula (ahem, a different sort than the fistulas we deal with, Rhonda), and whatever. He was probably just an old curmudgeon by that point anyway. I'm sure he had to deal with a lot of people saying all the time, "Why can't you write a nice story about that sweet little Oliver Twist again? He was so darling." That's gotta be a lot of pressure. It's like Arthur Conan Doyle not being able to stop writing about Sherlock Holmes. Or J.K. Rowling not being able to stop writing about that pesky Harry Potter.

So this book is darker, but it's also about money. As opposed to his other books which deal largely with the lack of money, this book actually focuses on people with money. This leads to a different dynamic than his other books.

There are a lot of effing characters, but they're all really well-written characters. (Note: Wikipedia references 19 major characters and 16 minor characters.) Jenny Wren is probably the most fascinating characters in literary history, for example, but I could probably babble on about everyone else as well. Apparently Henry James had a problem with the characters not being realistic or something. Whatever, Hank, suck it. No one cares what you think anyway and you're just jealous.

The one real complaint I have is Bella's father who is referred to as "cherubic" multiple times on several pages. The book is almost 1,000 pages long. That's a lot of words. That shows Dickens was a wordsmith. A pretty darn good one at that. Couldn't ya come up with something else besides "cherubic", Chuck? Someone buy that man a thesaurus!

The Afterword in my edition was great and really touched on the issues people have with the book, like good ol' Hank James up there calling the characters unrealistic and shit. That was intentional. The whole thing is intentional. From beginning to ending, Dickens knew what he was doing and it all means something and... O.M.G. Just like the creators of LOST!

But the bottom line is - and this review certainly doesn't do the book justice - Our Mutual Friend probably ranks as my favorite Dickens which previously had been, I don't know, Great Expectations or something. My excuse is simply that I didn't know any better. And Your Yumminess Desmond Hume wasn't even stuck on that island when I first read Great Expectations.

Profile Image for Magrat Ajostiernos.
569 reviews3,944 followers
August 22, 2018
¡Terminada la segunda #lcmagrat!
Y oye, muy fan.
Este es uno de esos libros que lo tiene TODO: asesinatos, engaño, misterio, romance, giros sorprendentes y personajes inolvidables.
A estas alturas de su vida la pluma de Charles Dickens no podía estar más afilada ni ser más perfecta, es sorprendete la belleza de muchos de los pasajes, la crítica incisiva que se aprecia en cada párrafo, el significado oculto de cada giro en las vidas de los personajes...
Es un libro que he disfrutado mucho, aunque es cierto que el inicio resulta bastante confuso en algunos aspectos y personajes, es algo que rápidamente queda atrás, atrapándote con sus numerosos personajes y tramas.
Es una historia más oscura y triste de lo que nos tiene habituados Dickens pero al mismo tiempo está llena de luminosidad.
En fin, uno de esos grandes novelones victorianos que se queda contigo :)
Profile Image for Bionic Jean.
1,228 reviews1,063 followers
July 2, 2022
Money. Filthy lucre. The love of money may be the root of all evil, but money, whether you like it or not Dickens tells us, is also Our Mutual Friend.

Nothing misses Dickens’s sharp penetrating eye. In this final completed novel he is at his most astute, most bitter, and most brilliantly sardonic. We no longer have the posturing and hectoring tone of the earlier novels, but a much more nuanced writing style. Dickens has honed his skills to perfection, using his sarcasm and wit to entertain in the blackest situations, and weaving together a complex narrative of interlocking stories in which the denouement is well nigh perfect.

Money. Greed and avarice. Cunning and contrivance. Duplicity and deception. All these, and many other ways of acquiring this desirable commodity are here. Dickens weaves his words to tell us this truth, and as ever, we learn it through his portrayal of irresistible characters. With a flourish of his pen, he starts …

We see Jesse “Gaffer” Hexam, a “bird of prey”, trawling the dirty, foetid river Thames at dead of night. What can he be scavenging for through all that slime and ooze, through the “accumulated scum of humanity … washed from higher grounds, like so much moral sewage”? Gaffer Hexam is looking out for dead and decaying bodies; for those poor drowned unfortunates from whom he can now strip anything of any value, before handing in the body to the proper authorities. A hair-raising profession by any account, and one which terrifies his daughter Lizzie, who rows the boat for him. Thus the novel opens, setting the tone with an image which is hard to forget.

From the lowest of the low we then flash to a very different picture: the sparkling pinnacle of society. We are present at a fashionable dinner hosted by two of its most recent members, the Veneerings, who have everything “bran new”. These shallow parvenus are out to impress everyone: Nicodemus and Henrietta Boffin, the Reverend and Mrs Milvey, the Podsnaps et al. Here is the self-satisfied Mr John Podsnap: “Mr Podsnap was well to do, and stood very high in Mr Podsnap’s opinion”. He is believed to be based on Dickens’s friend and biographer, John Forster. Since Podsnap is complacent, pompous and full of bluster, notwithstanding his “fine woman” of a wife, one hopes that Forster never believed this: he certainly never acknowledged it. Lady Tippins heads this distinguished group. Mr and Mrs Veneering consciously flaunt their good taste, their wealth and their position. They are indeed well-named; their very way of life is a facade.

The genius of Dickens is such that he encompasses examples from all aspects of society. These two examples demonstrate his keen observations of the basest, to the most respected in the land. He also shows us many stops in between. There is Silas Wegg, indulging in little frauds, but also fantasising about the outrageous schemes he is to perpetrate, although when we meet him he only owns one tiny street stall, and its meagre contents. Dickens also presents us with common-or-garden tricksters, such as Roger “Rogue” Riderhood, another canny character who automatically turns every situation to his advantage. Or the greedy and corrupt moneylender, “Fascination” Fledgeby: “the meanest cur existing, with a single pair of legs”. He is one of the most unlikable villains since Christopher Casby, the landlord of “Bleeding Heart Yard” in “Little Dorrit”, outwardly showing an easy, gentle manner, yet behind the scenes getting someone else to do his dirty work. Every perfect bon mot from Dickens’s pen is assured, as we track the devious workings of these rogues’ minds, and each step towards their moral and sometimes literal degradation. We are gripped by the machinations and workings out of their plot-lines, and follow them with increasing horror.

And we also delight in some of the funniest passages in Dickens’s novels describing the high and mighty aristocrats, and those on the periphery, such as the rather confused but well-meaning and kindly Melvin Twemlow, with his “eggy” hair: “allow[ing] his hair to stick upright”, who is cultivated for his connection with Lord Snigsworth. The most hilarious fraudsters of all his writing, surely, are two social climbers: the middle class con artists Alfred and Sophronia Lammle. Each of this most charming couple . Such a treacherous couple; well deserving of each other! There is much games-playing throughout, and many attempts at crawling up the social ladder, and acquiring money and status, no matter who might be stamped on and suffer as a result. It’s a dirty business for sure.

Sometimes the filth becomes quite literal and no longer a mere metaphor. The novel’s cental image, around which all these delightful characters perform their groteque dances, is that of three immense dustheaps, or what we would call rubbish tips. They are the source of much of the much-sought after wealth.

Acquisitiveness and miserliness then, and the lust for money, is here in all its forms, and is a constant theme through this complex novel. The nub of the story is the “Old Tartar” Julius Harmon’s inheritance, which he bequeathed to a “John Harmon”. But John Harmon has been identified as drowned in the river. To complicate matters, it had been a condition of the inheritance that John Harmon marry Bella Wilfer, whom he had never met. The story revolves around the many money-grubbing people who each believe the inheritance should be theirs.

Not only is Our Mutual Friend concerned with the various nefarious ways of acquiring this dirty money, but also with dirt, filth, decay and dust. All comes to dust, in the end. One character searches endlessly through one of the dustheaps at night with a lamp, in the secret hope of finding paperwork to do with the inheritance. The river Thames constantly spews up its gory decaying treasures - and receives the same. Bodies, and death. Another abiding image is of the social parasite Silas Wegg, with his one wooden leg, befriending a taxidermist, Mr Venus, who has heaps of body parts and stuffed creatures in his dimly-lit store. Silas Wegg is trying to track down the leg he had had amputated in order to gaze on it, while he deviously plots and plans his diabolical schemes.

Charles Dickens had always had an interest in the morbid and the macabre. Quite a lot of his darkest humour is set in graveyards, and his fiction abounds with chilling scenes of ghosts and spirits. Most of the characters in Our Mutual Friend make their livings in the world from human leftovers and cast-offs; even to the very bodies themselves. Dickens was a good friend of Edgar Allan Poe, and in Our Mutual Friend one can see how the two could sustain this friendship. Yet there is a decided change in emphasis. In this 14th novel there is little trace of the youthful frivolity which characterised his early work. Gone is the exuberance and zest for life. What could have prompted this change? Is it, perhaps, “the Inimitable” beginning to have a sense of his own mortality?

Our Mutual Friend, although very long, is very tightly plotted over 4 “books”, entitled: “The Cup and the Lip”, “Birds of a Feather”, “A Long Lane” and “A Turning”. Dickens was full of doubts, which he confided to his friend John Forster. His writing pace was slowing down, and he was beginning to feel ill. He reverted to just 19 monthly installments, between May 1864 and November 1865, with the final one being double-length. And he remained extremely concerned with money.

Charles Dickens’s father, John, was a profligate gentleman, who was first imprisoned for debt when young Charles was only 12 years old. He continued to have financial problems over the years, having to sell of all his household goods to pay debt collectors, and spending other periods of time in the Marshalsea prison. As a consequence, Charles Dickens was forced to become aware of the importance of money from a very early age. He called his father: “a jovial opportunist with no money sense”. Throughout his adult life, Charles Dickens had to support his parents in their extravagant habits, in addition to his own family home, his wife and his many children. He also supported his mistress, Nelly Ternan, and her mother for several years. He had continuing difficulties over copyright issues of his novels, as there were many pirated copies of his books. He had to finance his own publications, his own theatrical productions, his own world tours of his reading performances, and his own charitable works. His novels are often concerned with money, but perhaps it is not surprising that in this final one, money is even more uppermost in his mind. With the pressure of his enormous workload weighing heavily on his mind, he ignored friends’ and doctors’ warnings alike. Was he even more aware that the clock was ticking? Did he perhaps have a vague inking that this was to be his last chance to create the perfect novel?

The characters in Our Mutual Friend are multi-facteted and complex. We still have the extremes we love: the heroes and the villains, but they are far more nuanced. We have detailed studies of guilt, horror, obsession and miserliness. We can even recognise characters from early novels who are expanded and developed into far more realistic individuals. The unsympathetic Jewish portrayal of Fagin, which Dickens had spent a lifetime regretting, is gloriously countered and amplified into the kind, intelligent Mr Riah, one of the novel’s star characters. Bill Sykes, the unwitting from “Oliver Twist”, provides the basis in Our Mutual Friend for one of the most compelling descriptions I have ever read, of a character ruled by his passions, Bradley Headstone. I confess I wept for this troubled man, subject like Edward “Monks” Leeford, in “Oliver Twist” to epileptic fits; of limited capabilities, but trying to improve himself, but prone to ultimately uncontrollable dark moods.

You will not find the perfectly good child Oliver, with his impossibly well-spoken manners here, but you will find goodness, kindness and much self-sacrifice. One delightful couple are the the Boffinses. Noddy “the Golden Dustman” in particular has many layers to his personality. Perhaps they are the perfected end product of Dickens’s Cheeryble brothers, from “Nicholas Nickleby”, themselves based on an actual pair of brothers who were benefactors.

Forget too, the docile or one-dimensional females of the early stories. “Little Nell” is always hard-working and good, perhaps almost too perfect, as is Kate Nickleby. Even Dora Copperfield remains pretty and clueless, but mostly in these middle novels Dickens begins to explore further. Mercy Pecksniff, a spoiled young woman in “Martin Chuzzlewit”, gains wisdom through her experience, and has a hint of regret by the end. In Our Mutual Friend the mercenary minx, young Bella Wilfer, is a fully fleshed development of Mercy - or perhaps even Estelle, from “Great Expectations” (a character who is herself perhaps based on the real life Nelly Ternan). She does not remain the disdainful spoiled character, tossing her head and announcing: “I am so mercenary” entirely focused on “money, money, money, and what money can make of life” as we are first introduced to her, but has a journey of transformation. Perhaps she may not be a truly modern heroine, since Victorian ideals for a young woman were very different from contemporary ones, and Dickens’s own views were very decided. Nevertheless, Dickens does present us with an alternative, parallel story to Bella’s, with Lizzie Hexam.

Lizzie is a heroine for this century; strong, decided and intelligent. From her timidity at the beginning, she develops in initiative and determination. One set piece near the end cleverly mirrors the opening episode, and in this she demonstrates great courage, and shows her true colours. Do not listen to those who claim that Dickens’s females simper; that he cannot write strong women. Think of Miss Havisham in “Great Expectations”. Think of Mademoiselle Hortense, maid to Lady Dedlock in “Bleak House”, or of the bloodthirsty vengeful termagant of a Tricoteuse, Madame Thérèse Defarge, in “A Tale of Two Cities”. There are a myriad of others. Think too of the good strong females, Betsey Trotwood, David Copperfield’s resourceful but cantankerous aunt, or of noble determined Lizzie Hexam, and of the “ruggedly honest creature” Betty Higden, another poor woman in this novel who lives in dread of being sent to the workhouse, or even having to receive charity, and goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid it.

It is abundantly clear that Dickens’s caricatures, once rather flat in his early writing, become increasingly fully rounded as we trace through the novels, and are now revealed in full, glorious colour. And unlike many Victorian novels, with a clear main character and just a few supporting ones, the characters in Our Mutual Friend jostle and clamour for our attention: an entire crowd of them. Only a handful of them have been mentioned here. My personal favourite is “Jenny Wren”, a diminutive dolls dressmaker whose real name is Fanny Cleaver. With her dexterous fingers, lively imagination and dedicated industry, she carves a living for herself, despite her deformed spine and physical difficulties. She is intelligent, and with her sharp eyes is frequently the only one who sees things as they really are. My theory is that she has developed from Miss Mowcher, the dwarf manicurist, in “David Copperfield”. Jenny Wren is a beacon of light in this murky gloom, with her strange fancies and visions of “miles of flowers”, and calling “Come up and be dead”. The creation of such a character enabled Dickens to include many spiritual parallels and fairy tale allusions in these passages.

The action centres on the river Thames, and in particular the inn called the “Six Jolly Fellowship Porters”, owned by Miss Abbey Potterson, who is a lynch pin for the whole riverside community. You can in fact, still visit this pub, which is now called “The Grapes”. It is situated as described on London’s dockside; indeed the entire novel revolves around this one location. But there are many other important characters: Mortimer Lightwood and Eugene Wrayburn, a young lawyer and a young barrister, indulging in sparkling repartee equal in wit to Oscar Wilde’s. Eugene Wrayburn’s indolent insouciance could come straight from the mouth of Wilde’s Lord Henry Wotton in “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. Other little stories pop in and out; that of Miss Peecher, so tragically in love with another who does not share her romantic thoughts. Or that of the mysterious John Rokesmith. Or what of the “dismal” assistant to Mortimer Lightwood, Young Blight? What of the shy and innocent Giorgiana Podsnap, or Charley Hexam, or Pleasant Riderhood “possessed of what is colloquially termed a swivel eye” or George Sampson, erstwhile paramour of Bella, and Lavinia … all have their own tales to tell.

We read passage of great absurdity, ones which can make the reader laugh aloud in delight, but they are now presented to us by a master of his craft. There is the cherubic-faced “Rumty” Wilfer, father to Bella and Lavinia, and long-suffering husband of her mother: a haughty, discontented, martyrish woman. Or Sloppy, of limited intelligence but very willing to help Betty Higden. Or the naïve and unworldly Boffinses aforementioned, who are both so full of optimism about using their inheritance for good. The absurd scenes where “Noddy” Boffin pays the wily Silas Wegg to read to him, so keen is he to become a learned gentleman, are truly hilarious to read. Each comic interlude is carefully placed, so that after we have been fully charged by mystery or horror, or by an intriguing episode of passion and drama, we are then rewarded by a jokey cameo scene. The structure is almost perfect.

His earlier novel “Bleak House” was also a complex novel with many interwoven strands. In that one too, it is difficult to say which one is the main story, as the subplots threaten to overwhelm what appears to be its central theme. In Our Mutual Friend, Dickens has pushed this even further. It is possible to read almost half the book and feel that there are several novels here, such is the tapestry presented. I personally feel that this way of writing a multi-focus novel is ground-breaking. Which is the main theme, or the main plot? Will there in fact be a main one? Perhaps not. Is there even a main character? In “Martin Chuzzlewit” we discover that the main character is not after all the one to whom the title refers, but his namesake. In a not dissimilar way, the main character of this novel is obscured, a double, double bluff.

There are so many disguises in this novel. Some characters literally hide behind their veils, like Lady Tippins. Others hide behind an assumed personality, or an assumed role. Others behind an assumed name or profession. Children may be forced to take on the parental role. The novel is packed to the brim with negative masks and hypocracies: characters hiding their true natures.

But all the strands do eventually come together, and in such a way which is quintessentially Dickens. The good characters in the main achieve happiness, and the evil ones get their just desserts. All the characters move around their various strategies, but there are quite a few cases where a selfish character has a life-transforming experience, and mends his or her ways most satisfactorily. Even the novel’s title may be a disguise. Is it money which is Our Mutual Friend? Or is it simply, after all, the character referred to near the beginning? Or could it even be the river Thames, friend - or enemy - to so many.

Dickens liked his happy endings, and even in such a dark novel he will give us a smile on our faces. It is sad that he never had such a happy ending for himself. In my opinion he was a man living out of his time, and for whatever reason, he lived a lie. Having left his wife Catherine, and taken all but one of their children with him, he still professed to endorse the values of Victorian family life, publicly putting the blame on her innocent shoulders. Yet two thirds through this novel, he showed remarkable courage, in the Stapleford Rail disaster of 9th June 1865. Charles Dickens was travelling with Nelly Ternan and her mother when disaster struck. He courageously climbed out of his compartment through the window, and then made sure the Ternans were safe. After that, he looked after as many of the victims as he could, giving them brandy and water. Some were to die in his presence.

Only after an emergency train to London arrived, did he go back into the carriage to get the manuscript he was working on - the next installment of Our Mutual Friend. What a hero! But his son reported that he never fully recovered, and would not then travel in trains from choice. The experience took its toll. Charles Dickens was to die five years to the day after the accident.

An unacknowledged passion, the death most probably of a child born in secret, and the overwhelming burden of years of toil and overwork; racing to keep all the balls in the air, had made Dickens an exhausted man, perhaps one wracked by guilt and disappointment. Is it any wonder that his final novel should be so embittered?

Yet still, what a legacy he has left for us. Thank you, Mr Charles Dickens. I am glad for you, that your final work was your greatest opus.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,692 followers
December 14, 2018
"And this is the eternal law. For, Evil often stops short at itself and dies with the doer of it; but Good, never."
- Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend


Dicken's last finished novel, but not my last Dicken's novel (I think I still have 5 left to read before I'm done with Dickens). I liked it. It might have been closer to 3★ than 4★ EXCEPT I liked that Dickens seemed to reform somewhat his era's bias and his own bias towards Jews. Mr Riah is a better character than was typically included in 19th-century novels and better than Fagin in 'Oliver Twist'.

Like most of Charles Dicken's romances it is a social and an economic critique and satire. He also dances on themes of education, status and society, poor laws, inheritence, love, virtue, etc., etc.. Like many Dickens novels, it is a bit baroque with all the characters and those characters often bend toward caricature (Boffin, the Golden Dustman; the peg-legged Silas Wegg; Jenny Wren, etc). I loved them all, but while their sentiments are often VERY human, they still seem like dolls dressed-up, not fully-formed people.

Some of my favorite characters in Dickens novels are those that move between being good and being bad (or if not bad, selfish/indulgent/exasperating/human). I loved Bella Wilfer. While she is nowhere near bad, and quite obviously the primary heroine of the story, she is an imperfect heroine at first. She is more interesting and dynamic for it. I also adored Sophronia and Alfred Lammle a scheming match made in Dante's inferno for sure. Finally, I adored Eugene Wrayburn, the 2nd hero/barrister with zeros cases. A Russian bride whose daugther went to the same school as my kids, when I was teasing her about Putin, God, and something about the Russian Orthodox church once called me a "pofogist" (I'm still trying to figure out what the exact word). My best guess was she was trying to say I was both absurd and apathetic. This unknown word describes Euguen Wrayburn (for most the novel) and I love him for being like me (my wife would argue with that, but my friend the Russian bride certainly thinks it is true).

Finally, I did enjoy the imagry of this novel. The water plays a huge role, so does money (obviously), boats, and dust heaps. Dust heaps and money. Water, boats, and baptism. And throughout the measure of it, people getting by, and people being exceptional. It was C. Dicken's last finished novel, and certainly not his best (I could easily name four or five I liked significantly better), but I don't regret a day or a dollar I spent on it.
Profile Image for B0nnie.
136 reviews49 followers
March 21, 2012
He do the Police in different voices
I will show you fear in a handful of dust
Trash Inc: The Secret Life of Garbage
Our Mutual Friend

What do we have here but mounds of dust - garbage - and an “old rascal who made his money by Dust", who grew rich ‘as a Dust Contractor, and lived in a hollow in a hilly country entirely composed of Dust. On his own small estate the growling old vagabond threw up his own mountain range, like an old volcano, and its geological formation was Dust. Coal-dust, vegetable-dust, bone-dust, crockery dust, rough dust and sifted dust, all manner of Dust.”

Our Mutual Friend: such a friendly title! Surely nothing like Bleak House - we will cheerily put behind its ten death scenes and find a nice comedy.

Not exactly. There will be humour, but also corpses. And corruption, child abuse and alcoholism, blackmail, grifters and fraud, misers, deception, missing limbs, bones and hair, litter and waste, uncontrollable anger, black and murky water. Sprinkled throughout is some delightful satire of upper middle class snobbery.

The story opens very gloomily, with an old man and his daughter pulling a body "in an advanced state of decay, and much injured" from the river. This is how they earn their living, scavenging the waterfront, looking for anything of value. It’s an honest living, and even when they find a body to rob, it is done with integrity.

“Is it possible for a dead man to have money? What world does a dead man belong to? 'Tother world. What world does money belong to? This world. How can money be a corpse's? Can a corpse own it, want it, spend it, claim it, miss it?” But never would they lower themselves to even associate with "the sneaking spirit that robs a live man".

And so, the two themes are neatly hinted at: money, and the corruptible, i.e. decaying things.

Dickens wrote Our Mutual Friend in a mood of darkness. His mother had recently died, and his son Walter dies just as he begins. He is in the Staplehurst Railway Accident, where many are killed and injured. He was trapped in a swaying carriage, just above the wreckage, but gets out uninjured, helps with the rescue and,

then he did a remarkable thing. He remembered that he had left that month’s manuscript of Our Mutual Friend in the swaying carriage. So in the calmest possible way he clambered back into the compartment and rescued it. But he was not calm for very long. He felt the effects of nausea for days afterwards; his pulse was unsteady, and he experienced all the physical tremors of nervous anxiety. He declared that he felt 'quite shattered and broken up'. Indeed the accident haunted him for the rest of his life. (Peter Ackroyd, Dickens)

Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,196 reviews9,482 followers
November 23, 2007
Before Goodreads, before the Internet (aka the dark ages) I kept a list of Books Read and I've finally added them all in here. On that list is Our Mutual Friend. The title is right there, in my handwriting. So I must have read it. As it is 900 pages long, you would think I'd remember it, but I don't. In fact I had thought it was the one remaining Big Dickens I hadn't read & was saving it for a rainy day, or 90 rainy days. Now I am wondering if I was possibly not sober when I added it to my Books Read list, and I did that just to mess with my future self's mind, i.e. me now, and make me think I have incipient Alzheimers. Why would I do that? Why would I fall out with my future self? What did the present me do to the past me? Or maybe it's because my brain is now full, and in order to make room for a new fact I have to forget an old fact. If so I'm glad I forgot something as trifling as reading a 900 page book, rather than say my mother's address or the name of the company I work for.
The five star rating is purely sentimental, Dickens was a genius.
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,224 reviews169 followers
September 6, 2022
“The whole life I place before myself is money, money, money, and what money can make of life”

A wealthy London miser’s will provides for the transfer of his entire estate to his estranged son, John Harmon, provided he returns to England and marries Miss Bella Wilfer, a young woman that the son has never met. (Come to that she has never met the son either). The son fails to appear, having apparently drowned in the Thames under questionable circumstances on his way home. Mr Harmon’s apparent murder makes the achievement of the marriage condition problematic and, subsequently per the conditions of the will, the entire estate devolves onto two former employees of the eccentric deceased, Mr and Mrs Boffin, a naïve, generous, light-hearted, outgoing couple.

If Dickens wrote tales filled with plots, situations, and characters that modern readers have collectively characterized as Dickensian, then OUR MUTUAL FRIEND has to qualify as the most Dickensian of all of his prodigious output. Every single character – whether comic, heroic, romantic, hapless, generous, or nasty - is brought to vivid life and brilliantly described at considerable length (well … what else? We are talking about Dickens here!) OUR MUTUAL FRIEND is a complex, blood-soaked tale that is filled with murder, fisticuffs, beatings, violence, extortion, double-crossing, and complex plot twists and turns. Along the way Dickens makes room to flex his satirical muscles and ruthlessly lampoons London high society, parliament, lawyers and general Victorian behavioural standards. Some of this is so effectively delivered that readers will almost certainly be brought to out loud laughter. In addition, particularly as the plot comes to a close, Dickens adds in some generosity, pure goodness, love and romance that almost falls over the edge into the realm of outrageous, saccharine melodrama.

Since the over-riding theme of OUR MUTUAL FRIEND was money and love of money as the proverbial root of all evil, I was led to mental comparison with another more modern classic that dealt with similar topics. If Charles Dickens and F Scott Fitzgerald could somehow manage to have a conversation on the themes of their novels, I’m sure that they would find considerable common ground in OUR MUTUAL FRIEND and THE GREAT GATSBY. When I reviewed THE GREAT GATSBY, I said, for example:

“The brim of the cup that is THE GREAT GATSBY runneth over with licentiousness, hypocrisy, greed, amorality, false friendship and weak-kneed love – in other words, a veritable cocktail of moral turpitude to sip or swill and digest while pondering its base flavours plus a variety of notes and subtle overtones.”

Dickens and Victorian England weren’t quite ready for open licentiousness in a novel, but, despite the vast societal differences between 19th century England and pre-depression USA, the remainder of the comment could serve as a pretty reasonable thematic summary for OUR MUTUAL FRIEND. Of course, moral turpitude is available at all levels of society but Dickens was pleased to reserve particularly biting satirical commentary in that regard for the vacuous, rather meaningless lives led by the privileged upper class, whether they had real money or were merely acting as if they did.

OUR MUTUAL FRIEND is a long, complex and, frankly, difficult read. But if you’re a Dickens fan, your reading life is not complete until you’ve read this one. Definitely recommended.

Paul Weiss
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book489 followers
August 18, 2017
If you have ever read Charles Dickens, you will know that his plot lines, characters, and literary devices are myriad, and for my thinking, Our Mutual Friend might employ more of those than any other of his novels that I have read. In the beginning, this made the thread a little harder to keep untangled, but in the end, it served his purposes beautifully.

There are, for your entertainment, two major love stories, a mysterious imposter, a murderer or two, a few men of nefarious occupation, a couple of red herrings and several mistreated, but eternally good, individuals. Jenny Wren is a marvelous character, along with the Jew, Riah, who helps to atone for the evil character of Fagin in Oliver Twist. Betty Higden is a superb example of the worthy poor, and the Boffins are an unforgettable couple. I was particularly interested in Lizzie Hexam and Eugene Wrayburn, a part of the plot that was less easy to predict than some of the others. Both the love stories are captivating, and the ins and outs, and coincidental crossings, of each of the characters with the others is masterful. This is a later work, and the maturity of the writing and plot control are obvious.

Then there is just the irrefutable wisdom of Mr. Dickens:
And this is another spell against which the shedder of blood for ever strives in vain. There are fifty doors by which discovery may enter. With infinite pains and cunning, he double locks and bars forty-nine of them, and cannot see the fiftieth standing wide open.

Ah, Mr. Dickens, may it ever be so!

Not an unusual subject for Dickens, he deals with the plight of the poor and the inadequate methods of alleviating it, and he does it with deftness and just the right touch of sentiment.
For when we have got things to the pass that with an enormous treasure at disposal to relieve the poor, the best of the poor detest our mercies, hide their heads from us, and shame us by starving to death in the midst of us, it is a pass impossible of prosperity, impossible of continuance. It may not be so written in the Gospel according to Podsnappery, you may not find these words for the text of a sermon, in the Returns of the Board of Trade; but they have been the truth since the foundations of the universe were laid, and they will be the truth until the foundations of the universe are shaken by the Builder.

Does our modern society not still wrestle with how to help people pull themselves up without damaging their worth in their own eyes? Do we not still have a system that creates a class barrier and with the very assistance we offer sometimes assure that people will remain and always be aware that their class is not “our” class?

There are almost as many themes as there are characters. Money, its influence and its corrupting properties, is one, but as the Bible tells us it is the “love of money” that is “the root of all evil” and Dickens makes it clear that it is the fault in the people and not the wealth itself that is objectionable. There is the major theme of class division and the insensibility of choices made for no other reason than that a person is part of one class or the other. There is the significance of friendship and loyalty, the importance of truth and ethics, and the value of trust in relationships, including but not limited to marriage. There is betrayal, but there is also steadfastness and a desire on the part of so many of these characters to overcome the baseness of their worlds and rise above their conditions morally.

There were a few sections that plodded, but for the most part I was feeling sorry for the original audience who were forced to wait for the next installment to find out what was to happen and could not just plow ahead, as I found myself inclined to do.

The novel is quite long at over 800 pages, but I read over a three month span and enjoyed it immensely. I am making some progress toward my goal of reading ALL of Dickens’ works. Next up is Nicholas Nickleby, and if it is as pleasing for me as this one, I will be quite happy indeed.
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books433 followers
February 6, 2022
Sometimes when a man is a stalker it's a good thing and sometimes when a man is a stalker it's a bad thing. My name is Charles Dickens and I will not be elaborating
Profile Image for Javier.
217 reviews128 followers
August 11, 2021
Nuestro común amigo es la última obra publicada por Charles Dickens y es una de las más logradas por su compleja trama, sus memorables personajes (lo que ya es mucho decir tratándose del británico) y el ingenio desplegado por un escritor en la cima de su carrera.
Para muchos lectores Dickens es sinónimo de “novela”. Sus obras más conocidas han sido adaptadas en cine y televisión hasta la sacie-dad. Incluso aquéllos que jamás han abierto unos de sus libros identifi-can el periodo Victoriano con Dickens. Así, cualquier cosa que escriba sobre su obra va a resultar bastante poco original, me temo, pero al menos quisiera resaltar que Nuestro común amigo, a pesar de no ser una de sus obras más conocidas, es una de las más recomendables.
Y para no hablar de la novela, empezaré comentando sobre el bre-ve post scriptum con que el autor cierra la obra. De entrada, Dickens se reconoce consciente del peligro que supone para el éxito de su obra que “parte de mis lectores y críticos se pusieran a calcular el penoso esfuerzo que me debía haber costado explicar lo casi inexplicable”. Pero en seguida se justifica, pues para él el riesgo de haber creado un argumento en exceso complejo e inverosímil no sólo no perjudica a su creación, sino que incluso le da “un cierto atrevimiento, en interés del arte”.
Orgulloso de la alambicada complicación de la trama, defiende también el autor la opción de publicar sus novelas por entregas en cuadernos mensuales (lo que obligaba a los lectores a seguir las andan-zas de sus personajes durante un año y medio). Estas dos decisiones, que ya en su época debieron ser polémicas si el autor se sintió obligado a dar explicaciones, le obligaban a adoptar una particular forma de desarrollar el argumento. Sobre este punto podríamos extendernos en disquisiciones literarias acerca de la estructura y el estilo, pero hablan-do en plata, Nuestro común amigo, —como tantas novelas de Di-ckens— es un auténtico culebrón venezolano.
Ya oigo las voces de los devotos seguidores de Charles Dickens pro-testando por semejante blasfemia, pero veamos: tenemos una enreve-sada historia de herederos desaparecidos, matrimonios imposibles, testamentos ocultos, injusticias flagrantes, venganzas largamente pla-neadas e intrigas, intrigas y más intrigas, en la que el final feliz se anto-ja cada vez más complicado y lejano, publicada por entregas. Si esto no es un culebrón, entonces que alguien me explique lo que es.
En definitiva, lo que me ha sorprendido de las explicaciones que da en el post scriptum es que Dickens se mostrara tan orgulloso precisa-mente de lo que, en mi humilde opinión, no es el principal atractivo de su obra. Lo que a mí me ha mantenido literalmente pegado a sus sete-cientas páginas no ha sido el suspense por conocer un previsible, aun-que largamente demorado desenlace, sino sus personajes y los ingenio-sos diálogos que mantienen. Y es que Dickens ya había creado algunos de los personajes más memorables de la literatura, pero es precisamen-te en esta novela, la última que publicó, donde alcanza su mayor des-treza y donde su ingenio afilado y mordaz parece mostrarse más a gusto y más seguro de sí mismo.
Desde las almas más cándidas y generosas a los corazones más ne-gros, ruines y miserables —y son estos últimos personajes los más interesantes desde el punto de vista narrativo, como suele ser norma—, Nuestro común amigo es un interminable desfile de caricaturas des-carnadas no sólo de la sociedad victoriana, sino también de todo el género humano; barqueros que se ganan la vida desvalijando los cadá-veres de ahogados que pescan en el Támesis, usureros judíos de nariz afilada, nobles arruinados y basureros fabulosamente ricos, inocentes y hermosas huérfanas, advenedizos sin escrúpulos que trafican con secretos ajenos para amasar fortuna, articuladores de esqueletos, mo-distas enanas que cosen trajes para muñecas, borrachines, caballeros, avaros, trúhanes, estafadores sin un chelín en la bolsa y estafadores que nadan en libras son sólo una pequeña muestra de la inmensa galería que aguarda al lector.
“Reginald Wilfer es un nombre de resonancias heráldicas, evoca-dor de pergaminos empolvados, escudos de armas, vidrieras y bronces de iglesias lugareñas, porque los De Wilfer vinieron nada menos que con el Conquistador. Pero los Wilfer de que vamos a hablar aquí eran gente humilde y hacía mucho tiempo que vivían modestamente, a través de varias generaciones, en los docks, las aduanas o los muelles, siendo el Reginald de nuestra narración nada más que un pobre ofici-nista. Tan pobre era y tan corto resultaba su salario, en contraste con el número de sus hijos, que nunca había podido lograr el objeto de su ambición, consistente en poseer, todo de una vez, un traje, un sombre-ro y unos zapatos nuevos. El sombrero se hallaba en un estado lamen-table antes de que pudiera adquirir la levita; el pantalón comenzaba a sacar lustre antes de que pudiera tener los zapatos, y estos se ponían inservibles al comprar otro pantalón.”
Los personajes más grotescos y rocambolescos, los más… los más dickensianos, forman una brutal sátira de un sistema social injusto que Dickens se empeña en denunciar. ¡Ay, pobre Charles!, si viviera hoy, vería con incredulidad que sus miserables usureros y sus aristócratas sin escrúpulos son hermanitas de la caridad ante los banqueros y políticos actuales.
Pero entre la nutrida nómina de personajes, hay dos que destacan por estar siempre presentes: el Támesis, paraje idílico de día y ominoso de noche, que discurre lentamente a lo largo de toda la narración, generoso y cruel como un dios antiguo y, sobre todo, el dinero, conver-tido en el dios moderno, al que se realizan los sacrificios más increíbles.
Con el dinero como juez absoluto y la pobreza como condena —y más que ser pobre, la vergüenza de parecerlo—, Dickens recorre infa-tigable hacia arriba y hacia abajo la escala social. Nuestro común ami-go es una novela llena de intrigas, aventuras y amores, pero sobre todo, es una denuncia del sistema social victoriano y su rígida estructura de clases basada únicamente en la fortuna y en su ostentación (común-mente llamada “honor” o “respetabilidad”). De nuevo es evidente el interés de Dickens en denunciar la crueldad y la hipocresía de la socie-dad inglesa, ya que, una vez justificada su manera de escribir y publicar, es a este tema al que dedica el resto de su post scriptum.
Pero la denuncia de Dickens no es un documento descarnado. Él, como siempre, prefiere la sátira; la hipocresía, la mezquindad o la avaricia se digieren mejor si se sirven con diálogos llenos de ingenio y humor, de guiños y de dobles sentidos.
“—Estoy satisfecho —dijo Eugene, sentado junto a la chimenea— y ojalá que nuestro tapicero lo esté también.
—¿Y por qué no ha de estarlo? —preguntó Mortimer, sentado en el otro rincón.
—Si no conoce la cuantía de nuestra fortuna, es posible que esté completamente tranquilo.
—Le pagaremos la deuda.
—¿Crees tú? —exclamó Eugene con indolente sorpresa.
—Por mi parte intento pagar la que me corresponde —afirmó Mortimer un poco ofendido.
—Yo también. Estate tranquilo. Tan cierto es que pienso pagarle la mía, que pensaré en ella mientras viva.”
En fin, por ahora es suficiente. Tan sólo quería compartir mi sor-presa al comprobar que un autor consagrado, después de escribir una obra maestra de setecientas páginas, se crea en la obligación de justifi-carse. Uno de estos días, escribiré unas líneas sobre la novela propia-mente dicha. Es una deuda que, como Eugene, algún día pagaré.
Profile Image for Axl Oswaldo.
332 reviews145 followers
January 14, 2022
1.5 stars

Have you ever felt you are about to read 'the book of your life', but then everything ends up going in the wrong direction?
This was my feeling while I was reading Our Mutual Friend, the last complete novel written by Charles Dickens, and honestly, how on earth could you dislike its opening line?:
"In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no need to be precise, a boat of dirty and disreputable appearance, with two figures in it, floated on the Thames, between Southwark bridge which is of iron, and London Bridge which is of stone, as an autumn evening was closing in."

The first chapter, and especially the first lines of this novel were perfect, even I could say it was one of the most well written chapters I have ever read so far. A man and his daughter, going through the Thames on a boat, working on something that made me feel uncomfortable, but at the same time it was like "I want to know these people right away".
Then, my nightmare reading this book began in chapter 2: a snob family is introduced, a 'new rich' group of people whom I wasn't interested in knowing at all. This disapproval of the new characters was not immediate, but while I kept reading and reading, this family’s behavior was getting really unbearable and my experience really underwhelming.
When chapter 3 began by introducing new characters, a lot of them, it was the first time I asked myself: "should I continue reading this book?" Now, the fact that I ignored my inner voice warning " don't do it", you could consider this as my biggest regret of 2021.

You could say my main problem reading this book was the number of characters, some of them unnecessary to the story, but it was not just this fact. The narrative style was also another problem, and even though it was perfect once I started reading the novel, eventually it ended up being something totally different. The sense of humor of Dickens sounded really unnatural, and no, throughout the whole novel (almost 920 pages) there was a lack of real sense of humor – unlike what I was expecting, I couldn’t even have a moment to chuckle.
Dickens' writing style is good, this is true, but it was not for me at all. The fact that he is using the same adjectives, the same expressions again and again, it was really annoying at some point. And this is curious, because I can't remember this writing style in A Christmas Carol, but in Our Mutual Friend is completely evident that it is presented in the whole book. This was the second thing that certainly put me off.

Besides the unnecessary number of characters, we have unnecessary subplots which are not or slightly related to the main plot. For instance, Mr and Mrs Lammle's story, which was a subplot that made me lose my interest since I wanted to be focused only on the main plot, and furthermore, I never understood why their story was supposed to be important or related to the main plot at some point. In fact, many subplots and many characters were one of my main problems reading this novel since the experience was confusing, difficult to follow, and therefore, quite boring. For the record, this was the first time I fell completely asleep reading a book, and of course, I was sitting as usual.

The ending was an absolute disappointment, which it was not a big surprise at all. As far as I can see, Dickens has written a complete, huge novel here, with a lot of characters, minor stories and the like, but when he tries to end every story, every plot of the novel, it seems like 'time is over', as though the author had to finish everything quickly and abruptly. The ending is disappointing, not because what happens at the end of the book, but because the way it does – from my point of view, it's impossible to feel satisfied with that ending, especially after having read 900 pages or so.

I'm not going to lie you guys, the only reason I continued reading this novel it's because I never lost hope despite the fact that I was struggling with the book quite a bit. Perhaps I should have stopped, perhaps I should realize it was not my moment to read this author, but after all, I can't say I regret it.
I am really sad though, because the nineteenth century, and especially the Victorian age and authors such as Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell, Oscar Wilde, Christina Rossetti, Anne Brontë, and so on, are part of my favorite pieces of literature so far. The fact that Dickens was not for me at all made me realize how different our taste in books can be.
Obviously I'm not giving up on Dickens, even when this time was an unsuccessful attempt, I'm really eager to see the day when my reading experience turns out to be great and I finally can say: "this Dickens (novel) was superb and I've truly enjoyed it".

However, all in all, Our Mutual Friend was definitely one of the most disappointing novels I’ve ever come across, and my biggest disappointment of 2021. Sorry, but it is what it is.
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,024 reviews4,074 followers
October 30, 2012
Better to read Dickens in week-long rushes—serialised readers, without the aid of Wiki or plot recaps, will have to summon the heroic powers of recall commonly the resource of Victorian bookworms. How torturous to be put on tenterhooks for months as to John Rokesmith’s identity enigma, to think of the vagabond Wegg ruining the sweet old Mr Boffin. Perhaps now, at the end of my Monster Dickens reading, it is pertinent to ask of these novels—page-turners of their day, morally instructional entertainment, or works of art? Answer: all three and more. These are omninovels that defy snubbing. In his last completed work before a long novel-wards sabbatical, Dickens once more chips away at an old theme: the corruption of money, how it seeps into society, and poisons everything. Not that Chaz was a raging anticapitalist, quite the opposite, but there’s no point in being a millionaire if you behave like a spoilt child hoarding all the sweets. In an age badly in need of strong moral fiction (hurts me to say, but tis true), this message still needs to be drilled into the heads of the moneyspinners of the free world. Our Mutual Friend is a brilliant (complete) swansong from Chaz, full of collectively captivating plots and subplots, and some more complex personnel than usual (Wrayburn and Headstone) and your usual vivid, striking and compassionate prose mastery. Farewell, big Chaz!
Profile Image for zumurruddu.
127 reviews103 followers
January 31, 2018
Un'eterna ghirlanda brillante

Dice Dickens che esistono giorni nella vita per cui vale la pena vivere e morire; forse, esagerando un po’, si può anche dire che esistono opere per cui vale la pena vivere e morire e in tal caso questa è una.
Leggete Dickens. Lo so, i suoi romanzi hanno tante pagine. Questo ne ha più di mille. Viviamo tempi così frenetici che anche ciò che facciamo nel tempo libero, che sia intrattenimento o qualcosa di più, lo vogliamo consumare nel più breve tempo possibile, perché non abbiamo tempo.
Eppure, vi dico, leggete Dickens.
Però non fate come me, che con la memoria corta e due-tre neuroni rimasti ancora funzionanti pretendo di leggere tre libri per volta, e poi mi succede che a un certo punto non mi ricordavo chi era un tal signor Venus e me lo sono andata a cercare su wikipedia beccandomi uno spoilerone che sarebbe stato meglio un pugno in un occhio.
No, non fate come me, prendetevela con calma, predisponetevi al lento svolgimento della trama: accendete il caminetto, preparatevi una bella tazza di tè, e lasciatevi incantare dalla magia di queste storie, dalle atmosfere della Londra ottocentesca lungo il Tamigi, entrate nelle sordide osterie, addentratevi nella caliginosa City, origliate i pettegolezzi dei salotti borghesi… e vedrete che a un certo punto sarete trascinati da un fiume in piena e i capitoli voleranno.
Un’eterna ghirlanda brillante, questo sono le storie e i personaggi di Dickens, personaggi che vivranno ancora quando noi non ci saremo più, storie che terranno ancora a bocca aperta e commuoveranno chi le vorrà leggere, il tutto condito da un’ironia bonaria ma pungente.
Non dico altro perché non sono in grado di commentare tutto questo ben di dio, dirò soltanto che Dickens ci racconta del dio denaro e dei suoi influssi, potenzialmente nefasti, sull’animo umano; e che per una volta, lasciatemelo dire, è bello vedere trionfare le virtù e i buoni sentimenti.
Chissà se nella mia vita mortale riuscirò a leggere ancora molto di Dickens, come mi sto proponendo di fare, chissà se le mie facoltà mentali si manterranno all’altezza.
Per adesso, in ogni caso, sono una lettrice appagata.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,256 reviews49 followers
November 26, 2021
I am a little ashamed to say that this was my first experience of reading Dickens properly, though I am obviously very familiar with some of his plots through film and TV adaptations and radio abridgements, not to mention pastiches such as BBC Radio's Bleak Expectations. So many elements felt familiar.

I read it now because I have taken on the task of attempting to revive the dormant Reading the Chunksters group after spotting that it no longer had any moderators, and they chose this as a group read, which will start next week. In some ways it was a good choice as an introduction to Dickens, as I have not seen or heard any adaptations of this one and it is one of his most ambitious novels (and the last completed one).

I made a lot of notes while reading (my typed summary runs to 9 pages), but I won't say too much here, as I would rather save them for the discussion - after all Dickens has never been short of reviews and comments. As so often in classic novels the plotting seems outrageously contrived in places, but there is plenty to admire - the scope of Dickens' ambition, his unsparing vision of the city in all its guises, plenty of memorable characters, scenes and set pieces both comic and melodramatic.

I can't resist finishing with a quote from one of the book's lighter moments: “Lady Tippins lives in a chronic state of invitation to dine with the Veneerings, and in a chronic state of inflammation arising from the dinners.”
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books786 followers
December 1, 2020
A reread with the Dickens Fellowship of New Orleans: At one of our meetings a speaker said this was not only Dickens’s most cynical work, but also a fairy-tale. For some reason, that helped one of the members who'd been struggling greatly with the novel.

I struggled with a way to review this complicated novel, as any way I thought of would contain spoilers, especially my thoughts on why Lizzie Hexam is a character that has ‘legs.’

So, I will only say:

When I first read this however many years ago, I had sympathy for Bradley Headstone; this time I had none.

I was supremely aggravated at Bella’s reaction when she’s finally told the truth. I’m pretty sure I felt the same way the first time I read it.

If you thought Dickens skewered Society in his other novels, 'you ain't seen nothing yet.'

Jenny Wren remains my favorite character: "Don't be long gone. Come back, and be dead!"
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews781 followers
August 21, 2016
“No one who can read, ever looks at a book, even unopened on a shelf, like one who cannot.”

I have certainly been looking at Our Mutual Friend on my TBR shelf for years. He kept shaking my fist at it, muttering “One day, damn you! One day!”

Started July 5th, finished August 20th, that is almost two months. It took so long because it is over 800 pages in length, and I read it mostly it in audiobook format. On my commutes to work, which means no progress most weekends. Towards the end of the book, I also started playing Pokemon Go on the bus so that caused further delays.

Our Mutual Friend is epic in length but smallish in scale. Unlike most of Dickens’ novels, it does not—for the most part—have an obvious protagonist but several central characters that the narrative switches between. That is, until the last third of the book that I realized it is John Rokesmith’s story more than anybody else’s. I suppose the fact that he is the eponymous “mutual friend”—as indicated by Mr. Boffin early in the book—should have clued me in!

John Rokesmith is the secretary of Mr. Boffin, a former servant of a rich miser who inherited his master’s wealth upon the man’s death, his only son having apparently drowned en route back from overseas. Mr. Boffin starts off the book as an extremely amiable chappie, one of Dickens’ colorful, comical and vivid characters.

Noddy Boffin

Unfortunately, he is soon to be seen completely corrupted by wealth and—in an amazing 180 ° personality shift of “Jekyll & Hyde” proportions—becomes something of a beastly scumbag*. His secretary, on the other hand, is the novel’s moral centre and becomes the brunt of beastly Boffin’s abuses and accusations.

In contrast to Mr. Boffin, another potential protagonist Lizzie Hexam, appears to be completely incorruptible and not in the least tempted by wealth if the opportunity seems to go against her moral conviction. Lizzie is one of Dickens’ stock impossibly angelic female characters, but damn if he doesn’t always manage to make them all quite lovable in spite of being too good to be true.

Lizzie Hexam

The plotline of Our Mutual Friend is not possible to outline succinctly, it is quite densely plotted, full of mysteries, twists and turns; not to mention laughs. The central theme, however, is the effect of wealth. How it can corrupt even decent people; but also how it can not corrupt people with moral fortitude. A similar theme is the effect of love, depending on whether love is selfish or selfless it can also corrupt or redeem. Bradley Headstone is introduced to the readers as a hard working schoolmaster but later on an unrequited love turns him into a scheming psychopath. On the other hand, Mr. Eugene Wrayburn, a handsome, roguish, insolent (not to mention uppity!) young barrister, is redeemed by the love of a good woman.

If all this sounds terribly serious Our Mutual Friend is actually often very funny. One of the reasons I often return to read Dickens is that he always populates his books with colorful, eccentric and often hilarious characters. Top prize for the most colorful character in this book goes to Jenny Wren, a dolls’ dressmaker. She is crippled with a bad back, and walks with the aid of a stick but is always of a sunny disposition and treats practically every man she meets like an imbecile. She is also one of the book’s most perceptive characters and nobody seems to be able to the better of her.

Jenny Wren

Also very memorable is the aforementioned Boffin, whether he is good or evil, he is never less than entertaining. There is also the even more villainous Silas Wegg, ballad merchant extraordinaire, with a wooden leg, and “Fascination Fledgeby” who really lives up to his name; a man with any redeemable quality but is still almost sympathetic because he does get the stuffing beaten out of him and almost literally gets salt rubbed in his wounds afterward. There are numerous other interesting characters, but I don’t want to spend all day writing this review, and you would have much more fun discovering them for yourself.

At more than 800 pages I would say Dickens-once again-overwrote. However, as he published his novels in monthly installments in magazines the length is understandable. Also, unlike Victor Hugo’s catatonia-inducing expositions about the Paris sewage system and whatnot in Les Misérables, Dickens does nor over indulge with the “TMI” expositions. Our Mutual Friend is always readable and I never felt any urge to skip even one paragraph.

I have recommended every Dickens’ book I review, this one is no different. It may not be as much fun as Pokemon Go but probably more rewarding
* Boffin’s sudden 180° moral change did initially seem more like a plot device than a realistic character development, but it eventually makes sense, and even kind of hilarious.

• Audiobook credit: Another excellent professional-level narration by Mil Nicholson. Thank you!

• Thank you Shmoop for their helpful notes, though Our Mutual Friend is not as hard to read as they mention; no harder than any of the Dickens books I read so far.
Profile Image for Grace Tjan.
188 reviews506 followers
March 31, 2011
3.5 stars


What I learned from this book (in no particular order):

1. You can use the same adjective 19 times in a short chapter to describe a single character and still be considered a great literary stylist. Yes, I get it, Mr. Dickens: Bella’s adorable father is CHERUBIC.

2. It is perfectly acceptable to deceive your wife-to-be, and even marry her under an assumed identity, for the noble purpose of ascertaining her moral worthiness.

3. Once you are convinced that she is no gold-digger, she can be informed of your true identity as the sole heir of a wealthy garbage man.

4. She of course, having been established as a person of high moral standing, would take the news with perfect equanimity, even though she was of the mercenary persuasion just before she agreed to marry you.

5. It is perfectly possible for a hard-nosed, mercenary beauty to be reformed through the example of others whose characters have been debased by the sudden acquirement of wealth.

6. A barely literate, retired garbage man with no acting experience whatsoever can convincingly act this example.

7. The notion of the bee as a paragon of industriousness is vastly overrated. We as a bipeds should object on principle to being constantly referred to insects and other four footed creatures. As human beings, we cannot be required to model our behavior on the behaviors of the bee, the dog, the spider or the camel.

8. One of the most salient reasons of why this is so, is the undeniable fact that a camel has several stomachs to entertain himself with, while we poor humans have only one.

9. One of the best ways to educate oneself is to listen to The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire being read by a one-legged street ballad seller. Thus we may learn of fascinating historical characters such as Polly Beeious (a Roman virgin, and therefore cannot be discussed in polite company), Commodious (an Emperor who is unworthy of his English origins) and Bully Sawyers, a.k.a Belisarius, a great military leader.

10. If you need to have your leg amputated, you can always sell it to Mr. Venus, a bone man whose collection includes preserved Hindu, African and (articulated) English babies, a French Gentleman, human bones (“warious”), mummified birds and dried cuticles.


The most entertaining part of the book for me is when Dickens is being caustically funny. Mr. Boffin’s reading of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Mr. Venus’ dry recitation of his macabre inventory, and Wrayburn’s argument against the bee made me chuckle. The social satire with the social-climbing, money-obsessed Veneerings, Podsnaps et al is piquant and sharp, and perhaps as relevant today as it was in the Victorian era. The plot is intricate but deftly woven, with hardly any improbable coincidences that mar his other works such as A Tale of Two Cities. The evocation of the Thames and the marginal characters that make their living from its ebb and flow is immediate and pungent: we can palpably see and smell the great river, the seaman’s taverns and the muddy lanes where the Hexams and Riderhoods live. The river is a metaphor for growth and decay, and the most interesting characters are those that are associated with it. In fact, I find the supporting cast more interesting than the bland main characters. I don’t really understand who Wrayburn and Rokesmith/Harmon are, aside from the traits that they are given to support their roles in the plot. Bradley Headstone is a one-dimensional plot device. Bella is given more personality than the usual saintly, long-suffering Dickens heroine, but her sudden transformation seems to be hardly credible, and so is her romance with Rokesmith/Harmon. The contrast between the dark satire and the fairy-tale conclusion is jarring, and at times the pace of the story is as slow as the silt-burdened current of the Thames. And I was sorely tempted to fling the book to the wall every time Dickens calls Bella’s father a ‘cherub’ --- it’s like a literary Tourette syndrome.

A mixed bag for me, and if not for the melodramatic A plot and bland main characters, should have been a solid four stars.
Profile Image for Jasmine.
104 reviews190 followers
January 22, 2022
"The best things in the book are in the old best manner of the author. They 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" (p.827 from the original Everyman's preface by G. K. Chesterton)
Profile Image for Michael Perkins.
Author 6 books357 followers
May 23, 2023
The difference between Austen and Dickens, from Nabokov's lectures on literature....



Our Mutual Friend was Dickens last completed novel (1864-1865) and it was interesting to learn that it was not that popular with readers of the time compared with many of his other novels. But also that it became popular with modern readers.

Certainly the great dust mound and the practice of scavengers dragging drowned bodies out of the Thames to rifle through their pockets for valuables seem quite peculiar to the time of Dickens. But the behavior of many of the characters had an eerie familiarity.

"The class Dickens belonged to, at least by adoption, was growing suddenly rich after a couple of centuries of obscurity. It had grown up mainly in the big towns, out of contact with agriculture, and politically impotent; government, in its experience, was something which either interfered or persecuted. Consequently it was a class with no tradition of public service and not much tradition of usefulness. What now strikes us as remarkable about the new moneyed class of the nineteenth century is their complete irresponsibility; they see everything in terms of individual success, with hardly any consciousness that the community exists." (Orwell)

By now, not only the data but several books depict our era as a new Gilded Age, in which the income gap is as high as what existed during the original Gilded Age after the Civil War. With this, comes not only our own tycoons, corruption in politics and business, but also a similar trickle down effect of greed, materialism and lack of morals among a broader population, just as depicted in the novel. A lot of average people are chasing money today as if it will be their salvation, even if it involves getting involved in scams, as victims or perpetrators.


New article on this novel (spoiler alert)



Orwell's famous essay on Dickens....

Profile Image for Davide.
488 reviews103 followers
December 28, 2018
[italiano sotto]

So far, my favourite among Dickens’s books; it made me want to read them all (in order of writing, why not?).
It makes you laugh, it makes you think, it makes you move. And it makes you wonder. And it makes you admire.
And it disorientates you.

From halfway on, you are less disoriented. But in the meantime you have come to love Mr and Mrs Boffin.

Then the central theme seems to become the corruption - or the risk of corruption, the fear and the charm of corruption - that money brings with it. So Mr Boffin becomes a monster, but...

[I have tagged it città, cities: and the city is London, of course. With an unforgettable beginning at night on the Thames, and a lot of remarkable walks through the city, and a central importance, as already in A Tale of Two Cities, for the Inns of Court area].

Tra quelli che ho letto finora, il mio Dickens preferito. Anzi, a dirla tutta, è quello che mi ha fatto venire la folle idea di leggerli tutti, a partire dall'inizio.

Si ride, si pensa, ci si commuove, si ammira, ci si domanda.

Ah, e ci si disorienta, anche.

Arrivati circa a metà, ci si disorienta meno. Ma intanto si è sviluppata una certa passioncella per Mr. and Mrs. Boffin.

Dopodiché il tema centrale sembra diventare la corruzione - o il rischio della corruzione, il timore e il fascino della corruzione - che il denaro porta con sé.
E quindi Mr. Boffin diventa un mostro, ma...

[Città: Londra, ovviamente. Memorabile l'inizio notturno sul Tamigi].

(Ho letto anche una traduzione italiana che normalizza un po' troppo lo stile di Dickens, appianando le ridondanze, le ripetizioni ironiche, ecc. Mi era già capitato con una traduzione di Persuasion di Jane Austen: letto in italiano sembrava un esempio classico della costruzione inglese secca e diretta ma in confronto l'originale sembrava Proust, con molte subordinate, frasi complesse, incastonate una nell'altra...

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