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Our Mutual Friend
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Our Mutual Friend > OMF, Book 1 Chp. 01-04

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Tristram Shandy | 4367 comments Mod
Dear Fellow Curiosities,

I can’t believe that we are already reading Dickens’s last novel but one, but since we are going to re-read his works, anyway, it doesn’t much matter whether I can believe it or not. Our Mutual Friend happens to be one of my favourite novels by Dickens, and I’m looking forward to discussing your reactions to it and to taking a closer look at its single chapters with you in the next few months. Here then is my recap for Chapter 1 of the first Book, and the title of the Chapter is “On the Look Out”:

I often tell my students that they can get a lot of information on the setting, mood, perspective of a story just by reading its first sentence or paragraph. Let’s have a look then:

”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.”


We have references to iron and stone here, which might tell us something about the overall topic, and there is also the “autumn evening […] closing in.” The boat is “of dirty and disreputable appearance” and the two people in it appear as “figures”. That surely looks like another very grim and dark novel, my friends!

A few paragraphs later, we learn that …

”[a]llied to the bottom of the river rather than the surface, by reason of the slime and ooze with which it was covered, and its sodden state, this boat and the two figures in it obviously were doing something that they often did, and were seeking what they often sought.”


The two people are “Gaffer” Hexam and his daughter Liz, and their occupation is to search the Thames for the bodies of people who have drowned. Gaffer Hexam has obviously been lucky because he has got a body in tow. The father is also very sensitive with regard to his daughter in that he notices Liz shiver at the sight of the outline of a muddled human form at the bottom of their boat, although his eyes are keenly searching the surface of the water for further prey – the narrator several times likens Gaffer to a bird of prey, which might be interesting to one of our honourable members. When Liz, upon a question of her father’s, admits that she does not like the river, he reprimands her with the following speech:

”’How can you be so thankless to your best friend, Lizzie? The very fire that warmed you when you were a babby, was picked out of the river alongside the coal barges. The very basket that you slept in, the tide washed ashore. The very rockers that I put it upon to make a cradle of it, I cut out of a piece of wood that drifted from some ship or another.’”


Their conversation is interrupted, though, by a man in another boat who tries to establish the claim of partnership with Hexam but finds himself rudely rebuffed on the grounds that Hexam does not want to be partners with somebody who, as he says, has stolen money from a living person, a sailor, so that he is not going to share his spoils with the as yet nameless man. The other man argues that none of them is too nice about refraining from emptying the pockets of the bodies they find in the river, whereupon Hexam gives another neat speech:

”‘[…] Has a dead man any use for money? 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? Don’t try to go confounding the rights and wrongs of things in that way. But it’s worthy of the sneaking spirit that robs a live man.’”


The other man, however, is not very impressed by this distinction as to the pockets of the living and the dead – and neither is Lizzie, however, for a different reason –, and he says, in a minatory tone, that it will not be so easy to get rid of him. For the time being, however, Hexam and his daughter leave him behind and tow their prey ashore.


Peter | 2949 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "Dear Fellow Curiosities,

I can’t believe that we are already reading Dickens’s last novel but one, but since we are going to re-read his works, anyway, it doesn’t much matter whether I can believe..."


Indeed, Tristram. This Curiosity was overjoyed with the discovery that a man in chapter one was described as a bird of prey. What could make for a better opening chapter?

I fully agree with the approach of a close reading. To spend time on a novel's opening sentence and chapter pays dividends well worth the effort.

I'm trying to recall a really upbeat opening chapter in a recent Dickens novel. Certainly not OMF or GE or BH or TTC or ...

"He had no net, hook, or line, and he could not be a fisherman; his boat had no cushion for a sitter, no paint, no inscription ...". What a negation. It is night. These opening sentences set up a world of nothing, of absence, of loss. I found the discussion of the concept of empty pockets to be eerie, and the questions of what is the value of money to further the idea of emptiness and loss.

In this opening chapter it seems evident that this novel, like its predecessor, is one that may ask more questions than it answers and develop the theme of loss as much as it provides the reader with any hope of gain.


message 3: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim | 5524 comments Mod
Oh, Peter, I've been looking for birds in the illustrations, but I'm not telling what I've found yet. :-)


LindaH | 124 comments Tristram wrote: "Dear Fellow Curiosities,

I can’t believe that we are already reading Dickens’s last novel but one, but since we are going to re-read his works, anyway, it doesn’t much matter whether I can believe..."


Yes, I 'm someone who likes to study the first sentence too. I was struck by the word "between", and I started noticing other references to opposing things, such as "allied to the "bottom of the river rather than the surface" and "the deepening shadows and the kindling lights".

The opposing things seem to foreshadow the opposing thoughts expressed in chapter one...robbing a dead man versus robbing a live one, and Lizzie's moral objections versus her father's river-supported upbringing of her.


Peter | 2949 comments Mod
Kim wrote: "Oh, Peter, I've been looking for birds in the illustrations, but I'm not telling what I've found yet. :-)"

I'll be perched by my computer waiting for the illustrations.


Mary Lou | 2239 comments My initial thought was that the river seems to be a character in it's own right, and Dickens confirmed that with Hexam's speech to Lizzie, quoted above. I think it will play a big part throughout the novel.

With respect to so many who love the opening to A Tale of Two Cities, for me, this is the most intriguing opening of any of Dickens' novels. Lizzie makes it so. Like a child in a graveyard, the idea of a 20 year old girl out rowing a dead body around in the river is a dichotomy that demands we sit up and pay attention.


Tristram Shandy | 4367 comments Mod
I like the idea of "between-ness", or, if you want, "betwixity". It's also expressed, in my opinion, in the fact that Lizzie is sitting on one end of the boat, and her father on the other, with that gruesome outline of a dead man's body on the bottom of the boat between them. It's obvious that her father's practice of emptying dead men's pockets is also between father and daughter.

I was very impressed with Hexam's speech of the River as their best Friend - and maybe this can already be a reference as to the title of the whole novel -, and sole Provider. In my edition, there is a note explaining that quite a lot of people made their living searching the river for dead bodies, and their were also others who scavenged the river banks for things like coal or refuse that fell from ships and got washed ashore. Hexam seems to have grown from the river, too, since it says that his clothes and the boat are covered with mud from the river. It also implies that although the river looks very grim and dirty here, it is still a source of life for the desperate.


Tristram Shandy | 4367 comments Mod
As to close readings of first sentences or paragraphs, I've adopted it in my teachers' seminars (I train English teachers), finding that many young teachers just do no longer have a really adequately deep understanding of texts they work on with their classes. I am often quite astonished as to how superficially they deal with short stories, failing to see the symbols and hints texts provide. This way, we've sometimes spent nearly two hours just working on the first paragraph of a story; and it's great fun!


LindaH | 124 comments Tristram wrote: "I like the idea of "between-ness", or, if you want, "betwixity". It's also expressed, in my opinion, in the fact that Lizzie is sitting on one end of the boat, and her father on the other, with tha..."

"Betwixity"! I didn't think of Hexam and Lizzie sitting at either end, the boat, and dreadful outline between them. Nice, Tristram.


message 10: by Peter (last edited Jun 03, 2017 06:49AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Peter | 2949 comments Mod
Mary Lou wrote: "My initial thought was that the river seems to be a character in it's own right, and Dickens confirmed that with Hexam's speech to Lizzie, quoted above. I think it will play a big part throughout t..."

Yes. I too really enjoy how Dickens will personify objects and even weather conditions. Did you enjoy how Dickens evolved the fog in BH or, how, now I think about it, even the marshes a bit in GE. Houses can become people as well. I'm thinking of Dombey's house in DS. I recall after the first Mrs Dombey's death the house is all wrapped up, bandaged, and Dickens talks about wounds. Later, Dombey hits Florence in the house and wounds her.

Wow Mary Lou. You e got my brain working early this Saturday morning!


Peter | 2949 comments Mod
Tristram and Mary Lou

Between-ness, betwixity, and for good measure I'll add binary. OMF has got us off to the races. Thanks for the early bedazzling concepts.


message 12: by Ami (last edited Jun 03, 2017 02:53PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ami | 371 comments I read the first chapter multiple times, each time observing something new, and still missing quite a bit, as your posts have shed light on insights I either didn't understand or just didn't catch. We are "off to the races," and what a starting line we have before us...The Thames, a boatsman scavenging corpses from the river, a horrified young girl and some thieving river gossip. Looks good to me! :)

I must admit, I didn't comprehend Gaffer's and Lizzie's business on the river...Did he retrieve the body while she was holding the boat steady? To me, I thought, the body was there the whole time, but Lizzie was reminded of it as the last glimmer of sunlight happened upon the "human form..." Is this correct, or am I off?

Also, the name Gaffer Hexam Esquire...I do wonder if the title was given in jest, or if Gaffer is a fallen nobleman; considering he's looking for bodies of those whose lives were given to the Thames?


message 13: by Ami (last edited Jun 03, 2017 02:13PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ami | 371 comments Tristram wrote: "Dear Fellow Curiosities,

I can’t believe that we are already reading Dickens’s last novel but one, but since we are going to re-read his works, anyway, it doesn’t much matter whether I can believe..."


That surely looks like another very grim and dark novel, my friends!
Yes, very. Perhaps, uber violent too...Gaffer to the other boatsman,
If I don't get rid of you this way, I'll try another, and chop you over the fingers with the stretcher, or take a pick at your head with the boat-hook(6)
Ouch.


message 14: by Ami (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ami | 371 comments LindaH wrote: "Tristram wrote: "Dear Fellow Curiosities,

I can’t believe that we are already reading Dickens’s last novel but one, but since we are going to re-read his works, anyway, it doesn’t much matter whet..."


If I may add, as an aside, to your insightful list; that both life and death appear to be prominent themes as we're rowing and drifting on the Thames, currently.


message 15: by John (new) - rated it 2 stars

John (jdourg) | 1022 comments I finished the first Chapter in Book the First -- The Cup and The Lip.

My initial observations....

It was never clear to me that they were skimming for bodies or a body. I was confused as to what.

I liked the opening line a lot, moody, flowing, river-like, but also a bit -- uncomfortable, closing in.

The other man pulls up and the evening has "tender yellow moonlight," which seemed to be counter to the exchange.

I have to read again tonight. I need to absorb this river better.


LindaH | 124 comments John, I had to read Several times to get a clear idea of the intent here. But this line seemed to get at it:

“ [the two figures in the boat] it obviously were doing something that they often did, and were seeking what they often sought. "

Hexam is looking for the body of a drowning victim, and since he does so often, the river must get them regularly.


message 17: by John (last edited Jun 03, 2017 03:52PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

John (jdourg) | 1022 comments LindaH, I have to look for other clues in the writing so I can figure out that what they pulled up was a body. I thought maybe I missed a few words where that could be clear. But the line you quoted certainly helps.

I also thought, if the clinical description of "passive-aggressive" existed back in that time, then the former partner who pulled alongside would fit the diagnosis.


LindaH | 124 comments John, you're right. We're never told it's a dead body, although CD drops clues: "I didn't touch him", the source of money Gaffer gets, the weight dragged by the boat. I had to go back to make sure, so thanks for the question.

I love how Dickens knows the reader is wondering, and he doesn't quite spell it out in his last paragraph.

“What he had in tow, lunged itself at him sometimes in an awful manner when the boat was checked, and sometimes seemed to try to wrench itself away, though for the most part it followed submissively. A neophyte might have fancied that the ripples passing over it were dreadfully like faint changes of expression on a sightless face; but Gaffer was no neophyte and had no fancies.”


Everyman | 829 comments Mod
The Gutenberg.org edition has illustrations which may be the original illustrations -- can you tell, Kim?


Everyman | 829 comments Mod
I love the sentence: He had no net, hook, or line, and he could not be a fisherman; his boat had no cushion for a sitter, no paint, no inscription, no appliance beyond a rusty boathook and a coil of rope, and he could not be a waterman; his boat was too crazy and too small to take in cargo for delivery, and he could not be a lighterman or river-carrier;..

All the things that a small boat of the era could be, and his was not. (A waterman at the time was one who carried passengers -- a taxi on the water.) It's unusual for an author to tell you what something is not by telling you what it is, but by telling you all the things it could be but isn't.


Tristram Shandy | 4367 comments Mod
LindaH wrote: "Tristram wrote: "I like the idea of "between-ness", or, if you want, "betwixity". It's also expressed, in my opinion, in the fact that Lizzie is sitting on one end of the boat, and her father on th..."

Neither did I, at first, but your comments brought up that idea in me.


Tristram Shandy | 4367 comments Mod
Peter wrote: "Mary Lou wrote: "My initial thought was that the river seems to be a character in it's own right, and Dickens confirmed that with Hexam's speech to Lizzie, quoted above. I think it will play a big ..."

I remember the glum atmosphere of the dining-room in Mr. Dombey's house, Peter, and then the bickering of the people who bought up the furniture when Dombey was bankrupt. Did not Mrs. Pipchin secure herself a comfy armchair? It's strange how these details stick to one's mind.


Tristram Shandy | 4367 comments Mod
John wrote: "I need to absorb this river better."

Just be careful, John! ;-)


Tristram Shandy | 4367 comments Mod
The way I read it, Hexam had the body in tow from the very beginning of the chapter, but as he was evidently in luck and there was still some space in his boat, he was continuing his scavenging cruise, just on the off-chance of finding some more. The outline of a human form in the middle of the boat probably dates back to another occasion when Hexam had found and salvaged a body.

I also liked the sentence Everyman pointed out: Not only does it create suspense but it probably also played on Victorian sensibilities. Some readers might definitely have been shocked by what Dickens is describing here, and so he at least avoided mentioning the offensive trade by its proper name. I mean, this was written at the time when it was considered bad taste to use words like "trousers".


message 25: by Tristram (last edited Jun 04, 2017 02:28AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tristram Shandy | 4367 comments Mod
Okay then, let's have the other three Chapters for this week:

The second Chapter, „The Man from Somewhere“, starts on a completely different note, namely a clearly satirical one. We are introduced to the Veneerings – what a name! –, a couple of parvenus, about whom everything is “bran-new”, and the first impression culminates in the conclusion:

”And what was observable in the furniture, was observable in the Veneerings—the surface smelt a little too much of the workshop and was a trifle sticky.”


The narrator then introduces an unoffensive individual by the name of Twemlow, who, himself, lives on top of some livery-stables but who is a cousin of Lord Snigsworth’s – what a name, again! – and therefore an interesting acquaintance to cultivate for the Veneerings. Twemlow is completely at a loss as to how he ever came to be considered a friend of Veneering, and he wonders hopelessly whether he is Veneering’s oldest or newest friend. The deplorable Twemlow has new occasion to wreck his brains because he is invited to one of the Veneerings’ dinners, and this gives our narrator the occasion not only to excel in social satire but also to introduce some of the characters that will be of importance in the course of the novel. There are, among others, the elderly Lady Tippins, who entertains the illusion of having a school of youthful admirers in her wake – clearly in the tradition of Edith’s mother in Dombey and Son –, there is the grandiloquent Mr. Podsnap and his wife (and daughter), there is a middle-aged man and a middle-aged women as yet unnamed, who are flirting with each other, and there a two young lawyers who are old friends and whom Lady Tippins counts among her suitors – Mortimer Lightwood and Eugene Wrayburn. Both of them seem rather bored by the company and would obviously rather spend their time somewhere else.

Mortimer Lightwood is asked to tell the story of a man whose interests he represents, and this is it in a nutshell: An old man by the name of Harmon had made quite of fortune collecting and recycling Dust. He was quite a tyrant, and when he found that his daughter married against his will, he disowned her. When his son John tried to interfere for the sake of his sister, old Mr. Harmon also disowned his son, and the young man went abroad to earn his living. His sister and her husband soon died, and when finally the old father had passed away, they found that Mr. Harmon had made John the heir to his property – on condition that he marry a certain girl. Should John Harmon fail to comply with his father’s wish, or should he die, the whole property would fall to Mr. Harmon’s trusty servant.

Mortimer has no sooner finished this story than the Veneerings’ servant, whom the narrator refers to as the Analytical Chemist (because he seems to regard the food he serves as rather deadly), delivers a message to him that announces the melancholy circumstance that John Harmon has been found, drowned.

I wondered why somebody who collected Dust would be a rich man, but a look into Daniel Poole’s What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew soon told me that collecting the refuse from London household’s was a mint. The “Dust” was stored in great heaps and these were sifted for any valuables that might have erroneously found their way into the refuse, e.g. silver spoons. Then the refuse was sorted into its single components and these were recycled in various ways. Rags, for instance, were used for making paper, and bones could be sold to soap-makers. Other components were made into fertilizer, and Victorians even used ashes from fireplaces and cooking ranges to make bricks with. All in all, recycling is not a modern phenomenon, but was also known by Victorians and could make a person rich.


Tristram Shandy | 4367 comments Mod
In the third Chapter, „Another Man“, we accompany Mortimer and Eugene, who seem very glad to have an excuse to leave the dinner party, on their mission concerning John Harmon. The messenger who brought the note of Harmon’s death is still waiting for them at the door, and turns out to be a fifteen-year old boy, none other than “Gaffer” Jesse Hexam’s son, Liz’s brother. Apparently, the young shaver, whose name we later learn to be Charley, is a bit ashamed of his father’s calling because when Mortimer asks him, he says that his father “gets his living along-shore”. The two lawyers interrogate the boy in the Veneering library – which does not bear any signs of use, of course – and the boy seems eager to cast a look at the books “with a an awakened curiosity that went below the binding. No one who can read, ever looks at a book, even unopened on a shelf, like one who cannot.” I really liked that observation by the narrator! But let’s go back to Charley: He is described like this, and this may be of importance to understand his character:

”There was a curious mixture in the boy, of uncompleted savagery, and uncompleted civilization.”


We later learn that he is a pupil-teacher, i.e. an advanced pupil who learns special lessons from his teacher and then passes them on to other pupils, and this seems to lead us back a little bit to Mr. Gradgrind and his utilitarian system of schooling. We also learn that his father does not know that Charley can read and write and that this would severely endanger their domestic peace. A first shade falls on Charley’s character when we learn how dismissively he speaks about his sister, something that does not go down too well with Eugene Wrayburn and leads to a first estrangement between Charley and this worthy lawyer. They now get into a coach and go to Jesse Hexam’s place, and to while away the time as well as to make us readers get acquainted to them – I found this device of their telling each other about their circumstances rather awkward –, they both complain about not being very successful in their professions. Eugene adds that he would be willing to show energy and make an effort if there only were something to make an effort and show energy for.

Let me tell you, at this stage, that I hardly like Eugene Wrayburn at all. He seems to be a feckless dandy and has an affected way of speaking listlessly through his nose. Mortimer seems the less conceited of these two spoilt young men. They pay their visit to Jesse Hexam, where they also meet Liz, who leaves the room very soon, however, because Mr. Wrayburn gives her hard and inquisitive looks, but also because it is all too obvious that Mr. Hexam’s lecture of how the pockets of drowned people mysteriously but invariably get turned inside out and emptied through the tide does not please her at all, poor soul.

The two lawyers afterwards see the local Inspector in order to take a look at the corpse, where they run into a mysterious young man who reluctantly introduces himself as Mr. Julius Handford and wants to have a look at the dead body, too, because he thinks it might be somebody from his family. Handford does not recognize the man, but he arouses the Inspector’s suspicion, and so the policeman tells a constable to tail him and check whether the address he gave is correct. It cannot be excluded that John Harmon has fallen victim to murder, and the Inspector says a very cool sentence,

”I a murder, anybody might have done it. Burglary or pocket-picking wanted ‘prenticeship. Not so, murder. We were all of us up to that.”


Makes you shiver, doesn’t it? But it could also be true.

Meanwhile, Charley and his sister have a talk about their future at home, and his sister reads their future out of the coals and embers. Charley seems very interested in his own future, by the way. But he also protests when his sister tells him that one day, their respective futures will be apart because she will always stand by her father – and maybe even manage to wean him from emptying dead men’s pockets –, whereas Charles as a future teacher will have a life of his own, apart from their father, who thoroughly dislikes learning. We also learn that Charley is bitterly aware of his sister being their father’s favourite.

The next day, there is the inquest concerning John Harmon, and among the people present are not only the two lawyers and the Inspector but also the mysterious Mr. Handford, who, by the way, gave the correct address. The coroner comes to the conclusion that John Harmon may have been murdered and offers a reward for any conclusive clues.


Tristram Shandy | 4367 comments Mod
Our fourth Chapter introduces us to „The R. Wilfer Family”, but we quickly notice that, although another set of new characters is put onto the stage, Dickens’s world is small and full of interrelations in that Mr. Reginald Wilfer works as a clerk in the drug-house of Chicksey, Veneering and Stobbles, and we also learn that Mr. Veneering started as their salesman but has now practically taken over their business. Will this be another case of Merdle-ism?

Let’s go back to Mr. Wilfer for the present, though. We learn that Mr. Wilfer has “a limited salary and an unlimited family”, which prevents him from wearing a completely new suit of clothes at one time. Most of the Wilfer children have already left the paternal roost, but there are still the older daughter Bella and the youngest daughter Lavinia around, and – of course – their mother, a rather domineering woman, who seems to exercise her power through what I would call poisoned meekness. Just look at this:

”‘Yes,’ said Mrs Wilfer, ‘the man came himself with a pair of pincers, and took it off, and took it away. He said that as he had no expectation of ever being paid for it, and as he had an order for another LADIES’ SCHOOL door-plate, it was better (burnished up) for the interests of all parties.’

‘Perhaps it was, my dear; what do you think?’

‘You are master here, R. W.,’ returned his wife. ‘It is as you think; not as I do. Perhaps it might have been better if the man had taken the door too?’

‘My dear, we couldn’t have done without the door.’

‘Couldn’t we?’

‘Why, my dear! Could we?’

‘It is as you think, R. W.; not as I do.’”


I must admit that I am not overly fond of another family in the Jellyby or Pocket style, and as such the Wilfers do appear to me, but it is altercations such as these that reconcile me to an adult man who has the appearance of a Cherub and who is uncomfortable with his awe-inspiring first name so that he lets other people call him all sorts of things the R. might stand for, especially Rumty. Come on, this is terrible and embarrassing. But, strange to say, Mrs. Wilfer’s poisoned meekness makes up for all this to me.

The daughter Bella is a beauty but also a spoiled child, and very mercenary at that. She even delivers the following speech, which would belong on the stage rather than into a real life conversation:

”’[…] Those ridiculous points would have been smoothed away by the money, for I love money, and want money—want it dreadfully. I hate to be poor, and we are degradingly poor, offensively poor, miserably poor, beastly poor. But here I am, left with all the ridiculous parts of the situation remaining, and, added to them all, this ridiculous dress! And if the truth was known, when the Harmon murder was all over the town, and people were speculating on its being suicide, I dare say those impudent wretches at the clubs and places made jokes about the miserable creature’s having preferred a watery grave to me. It’s likely enough they took such liberties; I shouldn’t wonder! I declare it’s a very hard case indeed, and I am a most unfortunate girl. The idea of being a kind of a widow, and never having been married! And the idea of being as poor as ever after all, and going into black, besides, for a man I never saw, and should have hated—as far as he was concerned—if I had seen!’”


The context to these lamentations is that Bella was the woman Old Harmon had singled out for his son to marry, and now not only are all Bella’s prospects of enjoying the Harmon fortune blown in the wind, but she also has to wear mourning for a man she had never even known, and she is also the butt of mean and cheap jokes in the neighbourhood. One might ask why Old Harmon ever chose Bella as his son’s future bride, and the story – put in a nutshell – sheds some interesting light on Old Harmon’s character: He once saw Mr. Wilfer and his little daughter Bella, the latter not wanting to walk the same way as her father and making a hell of a row about it. Mr. Harmon asked the girl’s name and called her a very “promising girl”. I just wonder whether he really had his son’s happiness in mind when he picked out Bella or whether he wanted to punish his son for having taken his sister’s side.

Bella, all in all, is not too happy about her present lot, all the less so since she refused her old suitor, George Sampson, for the prospect of marrying into the Harmon fortune, and now finds herself empty-handed.

”’ […] I am not setting up to be sentimental about George Sampson. I only say George Sampson was better than nothing.’”


What a nice young woman Bella Wilfer is, and yet whenever she finds her talk to vex her father, she seems to feel bad about it at once. Her ravings are interrupted by the appearance of the Wilfers’ new lodger, a Mr. John Rokesmith, who pays both his respects and his rent in advance to the Wilfers. He is very eager not to demand any credentials from Mr. Wilfer in exchange for not having to deliver any, and when he leaves, our narrator makes a very dark remark:

”Lavvy declining equally to repeat or to explain, Bella gradually lapsed over her hair-dressing into a soliloquy on the miseries of being poor, as exemplified in having nothing to put on, nothing to go out in, nothing to dress by, only a nasty box to dress at instead of a commodious dressing-table, and being obliged to take in suspicious lodgers. On the last grievance as her climax, she laid great stress—and might have laid greater, had she known that if Mr Julius Handford had a twin brother upon earth, Mr John Rokesmith was the man.”



LindaH | 124 comments https://mprobb.files.wordpress.com/20...

I just wanted to share this Image showing river traffic in Hexam's day. It helped me picture the events in the first chapter.

Sorry to be out of order, Tristram. Now moving on to chapters 2-4. I appreciate the excellent summaries.


message 29: by Peter (last edited Jun 04, 2017 09:51AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Peter | 2949 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "Peter wrote: "Mary Lou wrote: "My initial thought was that the river seems to be a character in it's own right, and Dickens confirmed that with Hexam's speech to Lizzie, quoted above. I think it wi..."

Hi Tristram

In D&S after Mrs. Dombey's death the house is covered up in what Dickens calls "winding sheets" and her portrait wrapped in what is phrased "was awful in a picture frame of ghastly bandages." The house reflects Mr. Dombey's various stages and moods, and, I would argue, the house becomes more than a personification, it becomes a person in its own right. .... but let's recall all this next round. Perhaps I'll shift from a pursuit of birds to a pursuit of houses. Not a bleak future at all.


message 30: by Peter (last edited Jun 04, 2017 04:12PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Peter | 2949 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "Okay then, let's have the other three Chapters for this week:

The second Chapter, „The Man from Somewhere“, starts on a completely different note, namely a clearly satirical one. We are introduced..."


Chapter 2

You and Kim spoil us with your summaries. Thank you.

Our early theory of opposites certainly is paying dividends. We have left the fetid waters of the Thames where money can be made from corpses, and apparently even taken without guilt from dead men's pockets. We are now in a world of newness, "bran-new" where money comes from various sources including dust. Dust - death. Money - life. The binary world is multiplying rapidly. Another book that is very interesting is Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth. This book is very helpful to us Dickensians. It offers a very lengthy commentary on ash and dust heaps and has a focus on OMF. The book also talks a great deal about brick making which is helpful in understanding the brick makers in BH.

Another interesting binary relationship is introduced at the end of the chapter. The chapter ends with the words "Man's drowned." A few paragraphs earlier we read the words "His will is found." Exactly what are the links? How deep? How shallow?

It seems to me, to borrow a phrase from TTC, that there will be much that is "recalled to life" in this novel.


Peter | 2949 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "In the third Chapter, „Another Man“, we accompany Mortimer and Eugene, who seem very glad to have an excuse to leave the dinner party, on their mission concerning John Harmon. The messenger who bro..."

What a fine chapter for raising questions rather than answering any. Again, the clash of opposites. Charley as Tristram pointed out, is a boy "of uncompleted savagery, and uncompleted civilization."

I found a great deal of Dickensian anger in this chapter. Consider the phrase that comments on the "accumulated scum of humanity ... washed from higher grounds, like so much moral sewage ... until its own weight forced it over the bank and sunk it in the river." Evidently it is not just bodies that are to be found in the Thames; there is "moral sewage" as well.

The most recent body fished from the Thames is a central character in the novel and has its own mystery. The abbot comments that he had never seen " one person struck in that particular way." The Harmon Murder is left unresolved at the end of the chapter.

Dickens seems intent on drawing us into the novel and keeping us in suspense.


message 32: by John (last edited Jun 05, 2017 03:16AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

John (jdourg) | 1022 comments If any of you have not read Norrie Epstein's The Friendly Dickens, I strongly recommend it. A fabulous book about all things Charles, and an excellent avenue to the man. With the focus, properly, on his works.

I noted when I first purchased it, that Norrie wrote that OMF was her favorite of the Dickens' canon.

Below is what she wrote, in part:

OMF is the entire Dickens canon redux, and reading it can be a daunting, exhausting, not to say fascinating, experience. It is doubtless his most convoluted and challenging novel, a narrative labyrinth in which numerous stories radiate from a common center. Dickens manages to transcend what in any other novel would be fatal flaws. His darkest, most sardonic, and hence most modern novel.


Tristram Shandy | 4367 comments Mod
My personal favourite is still Bleak House but I can understand why Norrie Epstein regards OMF as Dickens's "most modern novel". I think our further discussions will give us the opportunity to work this out together.


Tristram Shandy | 4367 comments Mod
Peter,

In fact, I had Dirty Old London already on my "to-buy" list, and maybe it would be a good idea to order it now and read it in connection with OMF. Thanks for the reminder.


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John (jdourg) | 1022 comments Tristram,

From everything I've read through the years, most literary reviewers believe Bleak House was his best. I think of people like Harold Bloom and Charles Van Doren and others. It does seem to me that as daunting as OMF appears to be, getting through it would be a good way, I will assume, to better read all of his works including the challenging BH.


Peter | 2949 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "Our fourth Chapter introduces us to „The R. Wilfer Family”, but we quickly notice that, although another set of new characters is put onto the stage, Dickens’s world is small and full of interrelat..."

I enjoyed the early creation of Bella's character. There is much to admire and much to scratch one's head about. Hopefully, Bella will be a more rounded character than other young female characters who have appeared in earlier novels. (No names provided :-))

A feisty female character would be welcome.


message 37: by John (last edited Jun 05, 2017 01:44PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

John (jdourg) | 1022 comments Tristram wrote: "Okay then, let's have the other three Chapters for this week:

The second Chapter, „The Man from Somewhere“, starts on a completely different note, namely a clearly satirical one. We are introduced..."


I have to admit, just getting Chap 2 under way. My first introduction to another great Dickensenian name: The Veneerings.

One I had not heard before.


Mary Lou | 2239 comments John wrote: "Tristram,

From everything I've read through the years, most literary reviewers believe Bleak House was his best. I think of people like Harold Bloom and Charles Van Doren and others. It does seem ..."


Have you all seen this chart? It rates just how Dickensian each of Dickens' novels is. Bleak House scores highest at 10/11, and OMF only comes in at 5/11. That's not to say it isn't an excellent novel, of course - just that it doesn't have all the quintessential Dickens features we expect from his works. It's a fun chart!

https://www.theguardian.com/books/pic...


message 39: by John (last edited Jun 05, 2017 03:05PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

John (jdourg) | 1022 comments Mary Lou wrote: "John wrote: "Tristram,

From everything I've read through the years, most literary reviewers believe Bleak House was his best. I think of people like Harold Bloom and Charles Van Doren and others. ..."


That's a great chart, and actually helpful in looking quickly at characters.

The only issue I have with it is that it looks at things like "check-offs" -- thus four or five books have orphans and thus get the orphan check off. But in terms of influence, I would say Pip is pretty big in GE and thus maybe the "check-off" just only works in the population of characters, not influence. Well, anyway, my opinion.


message 40: by Mary Lou (last edited Jun 05, 2017 03:07PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mary Lou | 2239 comments Re: chapter 2 -

I'm impressed with anyone who can keep the dinner guests straight, though I think the confusion was intentional on Dickens' part.

The name "Veneering" is one of Dickens' classics. :-)

In terms of "betwixity" (someone contact the OED people!) note the contrast between the description of Podsnap, whose "fatal freshness" is mentioned twice, with the dust theme. We may want to keep an eye on that. My Dickens Encyclopedia says that Podsnap is probably modeled after Dickens' friend and biographer, John Forster.

The dilemma of Twemlow and his friendship with the Veneerings reminded me of an old neighbor. She was quite the extrovert, and seemed to be friends with everyone, to hear her talk. Until one day she said she'd been talking to - yes - a friend who'd read one of my father's books, and told him my dad was a friend of hers. She'd met my dad one time for all of three minutes! I realized then that everyone she met was a "friend". I think the same may be true of the Veneerings.

As for the name "Twemlow" - every time I read it, it makes me thin of the old group, the Tremeloes. Pretty sure there's no connection, though. :-)


LindaH | 124 comments Re chapter 2

I admit I didn't follow the characters in the Looking Glass paragraph the first read, and after several rereads, I still find it tricky and have a few questions:

What does it mean, that Mrs Veneering is "conscious that a corner of her husband's veil is over herself” when Mr V is a "well-looking veiled-prophet, not prophesying." ??

Why is old Lady Tippins' face like a "face in a tablespoon, and a dyed Long Walk up the top of her head, as a convenient public approach to the bunch of false hair behind...". ??

Eugene is being crushed by the expansive mature young woman, whose excessive face powdder has formed a shape on her, right?? re "shoulder—with a powder-epaulette on it—of the mature young lady, and”

Love this line. I never thought of a buffer as a person at the table preventing incompatible persons from impacting each other. My memory of the internet definition...
“two other stuffed Buffers interposed between the rest of the company and possible accidents.”


message 42: by Ami (last edited Jun 05, 2017 06:33PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ami | 371 comments Tristram wrote: "Our fourth Chapter introduces us to „The R. Wilfer Family”, but we quickly notice that, although another set of new characters is put onto the stage, Dickens’s world is small and full of interrelat..."

The Veneerings

If something is about to go up in flames, I sure wouldn't want it to occur in this house...All of that high gloss and shellacking of practically anything that will stand still-it would be an inferno.

Veneerings...Veneers...False facades...They're not only oblivious to the social decorum of London society, but also unknowing of the false friends in their very own home as they seem to be comical side show for their guests.

I'll admit, Tristram, yet another chapter I found difficult in reading. Thank goodness for your recaps, or else I wouldn't have made heads or tails between Twemlow and the extra leaves for the table. I really wanted Dickens to take me back to the river and out of the Veneering's home!

Chapter 3
Things started turning around for me in these latter two chapters because the plot continues to thicken with the addition of some mystery men and, perhaps, even a murder. I can't say I got enough of a feel of Eugene, at this point, to either confidently say I'm beginning to like or dislike him. Liz interests me reading fortunes through the fire, and her brother is equally intriguing.

Chapter 4
‘It is as you think; not as I do.
I love this line. I'm going to use it on my dearest...He will think I've lost my marbles! LOL! Back to the narrative...Goodness, poor R. Wilfer, he gets a beating every which way he looks. Considering all of his teasing monikers given to him by those around the neighborhood, but to then go home surrounded by all of his passive aggressive women, his wife and daughters...He has to be ticking time bomb! I think the Wilfer's will be an entertaining bunch; hopefully, nothing like the Macawbers from DC.

On the last grievance as her climax, she laid great stress—and might have laid greater, had she known that if Mr Julius Handford had a twin brother upon earth, Mr John Rokesmith was the man.”
Does Dickens mean to say this other mystery man really is Julius Handford?


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Ami | 371 comments LindaH wrote: "Re chapter 2

I admit I didn't follow the characters in the Looking Glass paragraph the first read, and after several rereads, I still find it tricky and have a few questions:

What does it mean, t..."


I had some of the same questions from the dinner scene, LindaH. I'm glad you posted them before mine, avoiding repetition. :)


LindaH | 124 comments Ami wrote: "LindaH wrote: "Re chapter 2

I admit I didn't follow the characters in the Looking Glass paragraph the first read, and after several rereads, I still find it tricky and have a few questions:

What ..."


Oh good, company. :)


message 45: by Peter (last edited Jun 06, 2017 07:11AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Peter | 2949 comments Mod
LindaH wrote: "Re chapter 2

I admit I didn't follow the characters in the Looking Glass paragraph the first read, and after several rereads, I still find it tricky and have a few questions:

What does it mean, t..."


Hi LindaH

I imagine the line of Lady Tippin's "face in a tablespoon" is referring to how her face would look if you saw it in a tablespoon. Much like a mirror fun house, one's face reflected in a tablespoon (either the concave or convex side) would appear severely distorted in contrast to a face being reflected from a normal mirror.

The "husband's veil" ... Might that suggest yet another layer of covering or concealment. As veneer covers and hides - or, at times, accentuates what it covers - could the veil reference suggest that Mrs. Veneering has something to hid, cover up, of desire to project that is not her true essence?


message 46: by Ami (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ami | 371 comments Peter wrote: "LindaH wrote: "Re chapter 2

I admit I didn't follow the characters in the Looking Glass paragraph the first read, and after several rereads, I still find it tricky and have a few questions:

What ..."


I was wondering this as well... What are they trying so hard to keep hidden?


message 47: by John (last edited Jun 06, 2017 02:28AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

John (jdourg) | 1022 comments Tristram wrote: "Okay then, let's have the other three Chapters for this week:

The second Chapter, „The Man from Somewhere“, starts on a completely different note, namely a clearly satirical one. We are introduced..."


I have to admit I struggled mightily with this chapter (2). I had to read the intro paragraphs several times and I was still unsure whether Twemlow was a human being or a piece of furniture.

Well, either my observing is not clear or I have to work on reading. So far, for me, a dead body was not a dead body and Twemlow was something you had dinner on and that you could adjust by inserting pieces of dining table wood for larger parties. Or so it seemed. I'm off to a rough start.


Mary Lou | 2239 comments LindaH wrote: "What does it mean, ...a dyed Long Walk up the top of her head, as a convenient public approach to the bunch of false hair behind...". ??
"


We recently read one of the sketches, I believe, that had a similar metaphor. Dickens used the part in someone's hair as a metaphor for a path to gain access to the person. In the sketch, he talked about people veering off the path when they tried to get to close to some aspect of his true persona...or something like that. I remember there was insurance fraud. Anyone?

In the case of Lady Tippins, it sounds like more of a humorous way of drawing attention to a bad wig.


message 49: by Ami (last edited Jun 06, 2017 08:55AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ami | 371 comments John wrote: "Tristram wrote: "Okay then, let's have the other three Chapters for this week:

The second Chapter, „The Man from Somewhere“, starts on a completely different note, namely a clearly satirical one. ..."


No, you're on point, John. Twemlow, like the leaf, was used to pacify a social capacity. Twemlow is in a state of confusion in regards to his friendship with the Veneerings because he's constantly being shuffled around from their vicinity at the table. In a small gathering, the leaves are left out and he is in close proximity to the Veneerings; when leaves are added, the seating arrangement changes, Twemlow finding himself further from the centre, and the nearer to the sideboard at one end of the room, or the window-curtains at the other(7).

It's really quite clever of Dickens, is it not...Not to mention, humorous as well, in that dry English manner:P ?


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John (jdourg) | 1022 comments Ami wrote: "John wrote: "Tristram wrote: "Okay then, let's have the other three Chapters for this week:

The second Chapter, „The Man from Somewhere“, starts on a completely different note, namely a clearly sa..."


Thanks Ami. That does make me feel better as I plod along, and I will reread Chap 2 today before heading into Chap 3.

I will add that if the sun ever decides to show its face this summer in the State of New Jersey, USA, I will be happy. Although the gray days, drizzle, and chill have been quite good for my OMF reading, and superbly suited for the book, it does impact other aspects of life.


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