The Old Curiosity Club discussion

Our Mutual Friend
This topic is about Our Mutual Friend
Our Mutual Friend > On the Novel as a Whole

Comments Showing 1-50 of 99 (99 new)    post a comment »
« previous 1

Tristram Shandy | 4759 comments Mod
Dear friends,

Seeing that our discussions in the last thread have already grown into discussions of the book as a whole, I think it high time I devoted a thread on The Novel as a Whole, and here it is. This is the place where you can post your contributions on Our Mutual Friend without having to take care that they be spoiler-free because whoever is reading here must be aware that all the posters have finished the novel.

As usual, you are invited to discuss your favourite characters, scenes and quotations.

We might also continue our discussions here on the fairy-tale motifs in Our Mutual Friend, on Lizzie and Bella as heroines, on the Eugene-Bradley rivalry, on whether it was right of John Harmon to deceive Bella for such a long time, on Mr Riah, on the role of the Thames and its cleansing and killing powers, on whether everyone got their fair deserts, on when and where Dickens might have worked some of his own biographical details into the story, and on whatever else comes to your mind.

Also feel free to rank the novel within the Dickens œuvre! Above all, have fun, my friends!

message 2: by John (last edited Oct 14, 2017 06:31AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

John (jdourg) | 1075 comments My Dickens reading is probably less than others. I have read A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, American Notes, and now Our Mutual Friend.

I found OMF to be the least favorite within this very limited list. I am somewhat unsure though if it has more to do with my reading in the past five to ten years of only poetry and non-fiction. I have tried more recently some fiction by other writers. It tends to be a tough slog for me.

As to my ranking of OMF on this list: I felt there were too many characters to follow and I did not always figure out the relation of the more minor characters to the major ones in the story or how they actually furthered the plot line.

I have to give an honest thumbs down if someone asked me whether they should give OMF a try.

John (jdourg) | 1075 comments I also wish to thank Jean for inviting me here and I look forward to reading Edwin Drood with the group.

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) Something I don't think we've mentioned is the origin of Noddy Boffin.

Apparently Noddy Boffin was probably based on Henry Dodd, a successful contractor from Islington, who reputedly began his working life as a farmhand. When he died in 1881, he left a thriving business in London and a renovated Jacobean manor house in Essex, and leaving a vast personal estate.

Henry Dodd and Dickens were friends, both having a passion for the London theatres. When Dickens was the chairman of the English Opera House in London, in 1858, Henry Dodd offered the Royal General Theatrical Fund a gift of 5 acres of land. Dickens accepted the gift, but rejected it the same year, as he believed the stipulations which Henry Dodd required were unacceptable.

Mary Lou | 2507 comments John wrote: "I have to give an honest thumbs down if someone asked me whether they should give OMF a try. ..."

OMF is certainly not a title I'd recommend to someone with limited exposure to Dickens, but I do enjoy it, and liked it even more the second time around when I didn't have to concentrate on the plot and keeping track of the various characters so closely.

Mary Lou | 2507 comments I think it was Peter who initially pointed out the fairy tale motif - is that correct? If not, please forgive me. Whoever it was, thank you for sharing that with us. It's something I glossed over until you pointed it out. Being aware of it, though, and then looking for it, made the reading experience much richer. And Dickens didn't just focus on aspects of one fairy tale, but several: Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin (I think Tristram caught that one, yes? Then again, maybe not. At any rate - nicely done!), Beauty and the Beast... any others? As I said when this was initially pointed out, I think it's very cool that we still share these common cultural references with people living nearly 200 years ago. I'm sure there are dozens, if not hundreds of others which Dickens uses that are lost to us now, or at least known to us only through the eyes of history.

John (jdourg) | 1075 comments Mary Lou wrote: "John wrote: "I have to give an honest thumbs down if someone asked me whether they should give OMF a try. ..."

OMF is certainly not a title I'd recommend to someone with limited exposure to Dicken..."

That raises an interesting question, Mary Lou.

Is OMF a better book on a rereading?

The reason I say this is I am reading off and on Jonathan Yardley's book Second Readings. He ponders the fate, good or bad, of books he tried a second time around. It's a great book -- in fact, one of the second readings was Bleak House (which he thoroughly enjoyed a second time around).

Mary Lou | 2507 comments Dickens is usually very good at tying everything up in a pretty bow at the end of his novels, but I felt a bit cheated with this one. Unless I missed it, we never hear what became of either Georgiana Podsnap or Charlie Hexam.

What does our last view of Georgiana with the Lammles tell us about her possible future? She has a heart of gold, certainly, but is she as gullible as once thought? Will she come out of her parents' shadow and live a good life, or will she continue to be sucked into their Society and become as awful as they are?

I can't even remember our last visit with Charlie... undoubtedly, he was chiding Lizzie for not being supportive enough of his efforts to get ahead. Little ingrate. I imagine him glomming on to Eugene and doing everything he can to use Eugene's name and connections to raise himself up - and not in a good way. Charlie will certainly be yet another thing that quickly tarnishes the Wrayburns' relationship!

message 9: by Mary Lou (last edited Oct 15, 2017 05:29AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mary Lou | 2507 comments Overall, this was Dickens's "A Day in the Life" -- just as the Beatles took two separate and completely different songs and put them together to create a musical masterpiece (in the minds of many - your mileage may vary), so, too, did Dickens seem to take two completely different stories and meld them together to create OMF.

First there is the story of Harmon, the Wilfurs, the Boffins, Lizzie, Eugene, et al. With a few tweaks, it really could stand on its own.

But Dickens had another story to tell: that of Society, i.e. the Podsnaps, Twemlow, the Lammles, the Veneerings, and the rest of that set. With the exception of the Lammles, I don't think there's really much plot there to be getting on with. The all had personality quirks that made them fun to read about, and certainly Dickens made good use of them for his social commentary. But they lent little to the actual storyline. Riah and Wrayburn tied the two groups together, and Boffin was a tenuous thread as well. I know that for many of you, the Veneering/Lammle scenes were the most enjoyable. What would you have thought of the book had they been excluded completely? Honestly, I think I would have enjoyed it more. It would have been much less convoluted, and easier to keep the characters straight. I think I would have preferred the Lammles, Georgiana, et al, much more had the dinner parties been in one of Boz's sketches.

Mary Lou | 2507 comments John wrote: "Is OMF a better book on a rereading?.."

For me, all of Dickens' books that I've read subsequent times have been even better on rereading. As I said, the second time around, I'm already familiar with the plot and the characters, so I can focus a bit more on the writing, the atmosphere, the various motifs, etc. I've read Bleak House and Great Expectations 3x, and twice each for Hard Times, OMF, and Copperfield. I won't even try to count A Christmas Carol. But with each reading I see things I didn't catch the first time around (although this group has a whole lot to do with that!).

Tristram Shandy | 4759 comments Mod
John wrote: "I also wish to thank Jean for inviting me here and I look forward to reading Edwin Drood with the group."

It's nice to have you on board, John!

Tristram Shandy | 4759 comments Mod
Jean wrote: "as he believed the stipulations which Henry Dodd required were unacceptable. "

What were his conditions?

Tristram Shandy | 4759 comments Mod
John wrote: "Mary Lou wrote: "John wrote: "I have to give an honest thumbs down if someone asked me whether they should give OMF a try. ..."

OMF is certainly not a title I'd recommend to someone with limited e..."

I like to read books a second or third time, but up to now, I've never given a second reading to a book I disliked on my first encounter. Maybe that's wrong and I miss quite a lot.

Tristram Shandy | 4759 comments Mod
I don't know if OMF would be a book I'd recommend to somebody not very familiar with Dickens, but I definitely rank it among the finest of his novels - with Bleak House, Little Dorrit and Great Expectations. What some of you regard as a drawback, namely the extremely long list of characters to keep track of, is, in my eyes, something that contributes to the novel's greatness. I like novels that create a microcosm in its own right, and when you look at OMF, it has, like BH, society as a whole in it, and it's as complex and colourful as real life.

We don't learn any more about Georgiana Podsnap but it is to be feared that after the Lammles experience, her parents will keep her even more heavily under their thumb and she will end up the malcontent wife of a husband chosen by her father and therefore probably not unfamiliar with Podsnappery.

As to Charles Hexam, I find his way paved out in what he says in his last conversation with Bradley: He will marry the schoolmistress and become a respectable teacher, and he may eventually try to capitalize on his brother-in-law's name, proving a burden to the couple. He can best be summarized but what Sherlock Holmes says about the jewel thief in The Blue Carbuncle, namely, "You have the making of a pretty villain in you."

The fairy-tale motif, though sometimes annoying to me, may even help when it comes to nailing down the central idea of the novel: It's about disguising yourself in order to find out what people really think of you, a bit like Tom Sawyer enjoying his own funeral and feeling flattered by Aunt Polly's grief. When you come to think of it, somebody who is self-centred enough to go through with such a thing does not deserve the grief and sympathy he probably calls forth in others.

Dickens's attitude to wealth and station is ambiguous in a way, and tinged with dishonesty (if you allow me to put it that harshly): As I said in the preceding thread, what we learn here is that Love matters most, and that Wealth is no substitute for it, and yet the central couples both end up in wealth and high society. I also said somewhere else that Mrs Wilfer is probably the more honest example of what happens to somebody who marries for love, regardless of what a more careful and materialistic outlook on life might have suggested: In the end, the daily strife of making ends meet leaves her embittered and peevish.

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

John (jdourg) | 1075 comments Tristram wrote: "John wrote: "Mary Lou wrote: "John wrote: "I have to give an honest thumbs down if someone asked me whether they should give OMF a try. ..."

OMF is certainly not a title I'd recommend to someone w..."

I've noticed a good number of books today that tackle the issue of rereading. Ann Fadiman, Jonathan Yardley, Michael Dirda and this author, too...

I must admit that rereading a book you did not like is surely counter-intuitive. I cannot say that I've done so, but I recently read a pulp suspense book by John D. MacDonald. I found it pretty good for the most part, but I then went back and reread sections and found it even better.

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) Tristram wrote: "What were his conditions?"

Not sure - I paraphrased from the Victorian Web, but l'm sure more details are online. Kim?

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) John wrote: "I also wish to thank Jean for inviting me here and I look forward to reading Edwin Drood with the group."

I too am really pleased you joined us, John :) Apart from anything else, you've added a lot of useful breadth in the biographies and criticisms you mention.

message 18: by Bionic Jean (last edited Oct 15, 2017 04:13AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) Here's a link to an article about Dickens and Henry Dodd: LINK

message 19: by Bionic Jean (last edited Oct 15, 2017 04:30AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) I found Our Mutual Friend breathtaking, and incredibly complex. I agree it is not one to start with, but then neither is Bleak House in my opinion, although many readers seem to want to read that one early on. Sad in a way, as some give up, not having their "eye" in.

Yes, it is several novels within one, and in a way I feel Dickens was breaking new ground here, with a popular audience. (I am ready to stand corrected on this!) Life itself is made up of this sort of patchiness, and yet in a novel we expect it all be to nicely structured eg. as some sort of journey. Why? Are we so lazy we need to be spoon-fed?

I think in both Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend you would be hard pressed to identify the "main story line", although for the purposes of dramatisation of course editors do, and in way I think readers do that instinctively. Some of us are more drawn to some events, and developments of certain characters or relationships, than others. We sit up when our favourites appear! But I personally love how it is all woven together - and interwoven - and interdependent too.

Yes, I've read 'em all. And forgotten much!! From about Nicholas Nickleby onwards, I read them again with my friends here, and learned a great deal more. Thank you all, present and absent, and I look forward to our future readings :)

Mary Lou | 2507 comments Jean wrote: "Are we so lazy we need to be spoon-fed?"

There are times, Jean!

As for rereading, I would never reread something I didn't like the first time. In fact, as I've gotten older I am more quick to abandon books I'm not enjoying; that's something I never did in my 20s or 30s. But there's not a Dickens book that falls into that category. Some I'd return to more willingly than others, but they all had things in them I loved.

The only book I've reread that I remember liking less on second reading was The Da Vinci Code. The first time, I was caught up in the mystery and the unique plot. The second time, I was much more aware that it really wasn't very well written, and it was something of a disappointment.

Of course, there have been a few titles I've read twice by mistake, not remembering that I'd picked them up before until I go to add them to my list. What a frustration that is, especially when I see that I hated the book the first time around! In those cases, I give kudos to the jacket designer, who obviously created a cover so intriguing that it drew me in not once, but twice!

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) "I would never reread something I didn't like the first time"

A couple of people have said this, and there are many novels I would never reread - or even finish! But a classic? Tried, loved and highly rated by definition? There I have a problem.

The single reason I joined Goodreads was in my desperation to see if anyone else disliked Wuthering Heights as much as I do. That one I have read countless times. It is from the area I was born in more or less, after all. My detestation became a sort of standing joke in the first group I joined.

Having found a few others who feel as I do, I feel vindicated and can move on, with a "not for me" :)

My current bugbear is The Mysteries of Udolpho. I read a quarter of this - fast! Talk about prolix. Then I created a back burner shelf just for that one, but it gnaws at me ...

Peter | 3333 comments Mod
Mary Lou wrote: "I think it was Peter who initially pointed out the fairy tale motif - is that correct? If not, please forgive me. Whoever it was, thank you for sharing that with us. It's something I glossed over u..."

Mary Lou

You have touched on a very important point when you comment about “the eyes of history.” When we read a novel we must always keep in mind that the vast majority of writers were writing for their immediate audience. Thus the writer’s concerns, cultural and social references, language and focus falls within their immediate world. It is up to the reader to think about, ferret out, and ultimately understand the writer’s intention and skill.

For instance, mounds of refuse and the world of the Boffin’s existed. The wealthiest dustman in England was much richer than Dickens. The numbers of bodies fished out of the Thames was rather staggering, so the world of commerce that Hexam and Riderhood worked in was very real to the Victorian reading audience. Having recently read Peter Ackroyd’s Thames: Sacred River and London: The Biography I have come to realize the immensity of my lack of knowledge.

Nevertheless, to me the true test of a novel lies in its narrative. Ultimately, I like a good story, a story that informs and amuses and instructs me. I don’t mind working at understanding a story and am constantly grateful to all the Curiosities who offer their insights and intelligence each week.

As for the readability of OMF I agree that it should not be the first read for a person being introduced to the world of Dickens. Now, as to which Dickens would make an ideal entry point is very interesting. I’d vote for ACC. Short, well-known and certifiably and justly famous, that novella has an excellent pedigree. Whether it is the “best” Dickens ...

Mary Lou | 2507 comments Jean wrote: "A couple of people have said this, and there are many novels I would never reread - or even finish! But a classic? Tried, loved and hi..."

Well, you know I'm with you on Wuthering Heights! Hated it! There are other classics and touted authors that are not my cup of tea, though in some I can see merits, even if I don't care for them personally (The Call of the Wild comes to mind). But even the worst Dickens, for me, is still very good. Of course, I haven't read The Old Curiosity Shop yet. ;-)

message 24: by John (new) - rated it 2 stars

John (jdourg) | 1075 comments Regarding what should be the first Dickens to read, the Yale professor and literary critic Harold Bloom offered two suggestions.

In his book How To Read And Why, he suggested Great Expectations. Mainly, as I recall, to restoke the joys of youth in reading.

In his book Genius, he suggested The Pickwick Papers as a fine introduction to CD.

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) I think it took me a long time to come to enjoy The Pickwick Papers!

What about his own favourite, David Copperfield? People are sometimes put off reading it first as it's his longest, but it's just so readable, with a panoply of wonderful characters and a straightforward story line :)

LindaH | 124 comments OMF was Dickens ‘ last completed work. He refers to his intent in the writing of this novel in his postscript,

“the whole pattern which is always before the eyes of the story-weaver at his loom”

What is the whole pattern? I’m not sure I can answer this question but I sure want to think about it. I know from the ending that he was being critical of society. Eugene and Lizzie’s alliance is condemned and ridiculed by the hypocrites, but there is a Lightwood and a Tremlow to introduce the final authorial stab.

I wish someone would call the novel a brilliant social satire. I wish someone would label all those happy endings as little rebellions to the Voice of Society. I mean, really...Jenny Wren and Sloppy!!! But I am not saying any of this. I am just offering my two pence worth.

Peter | 3333 comments Mod
LindaH wrote: "OMF was Dickens ‘ last completed work. He refers to his intent in the writing of this novel in his postscript,

“the whole pattern which is always before the eyes of the story-weaver at his loom”

Yes. Jenny Wren and Sloppy was a bit over-the-top ... even for Dickens. I guess we could interpret their budding relationship as one signifying how the outcasts and disadvantaged of society have as much right to happiness and love as anyone, or any other class. Certainly, they were both harmless characters, and did make a positive contribution to society. Indeed, both had creative skills that will ways help them be successful and productive members of society, unlike Eugene Wrayburn who I still intensely dislike, or Podsnap, or Fledgeby, or Wegg. Hmmm. Come to think of it, perhaps I should be more supportive of their union being a good and positive statement.

message 28: by Bionic Jean (last edited Oct 18, 2017 11:36AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) I still intensely dislike Eugene Wrayburn too, Peter! :)

I suppose the Jenny Wren and Sloppy link-up was unlikely, but on the other hand, I can't think of two more industrious characters in the entire novel! They were also both completely honest, and straightforward, and were both, as you pointed out, disadvantaged.

The only surprising thing really, is that they seemed poles apart in their wits. But I can see a future for these two. Jenny will be able to use her brains, and at last have someone to care for who will respond with gratitude and enthusiasm - and equally will work hard, and be able to literally guide her (ie physically) in some ways. I think with mutual respect it could be a balanced and reciprocal relationship.

So although it was a huge surprise, I approve :)

message 29: by Hilary (new) - added it

Hilary (agapoyesoun) | 149 comments I hate not to absolutely LOVE a Dickens novel. It happened on a first read of A Tale of two Cities. I found it incredibly depressing first time round and then, against my will, I read it again in this group. I now rank it as one of his best though not his funniest! Like you, Mary Lou, I could have survived well minus the Lammles et al. I found that first showing to be confusing and a tad tedious. In other sections, such as the exchanges between Wegg and Boffin, Dickens was at his best - delicious humour!

Peter | 3333 comments Mod
I can’t let a final opportunity to comment upon OMF pass without a word about my favourite character in the novel. I became a big fan of Lizzie Hexam. To me, she represents an exceptional Dickensian female. I was also impressed how Dickens was able to fold her character into the symbolism of the Thames within the novel.

We meet Lizzie in Chapter One. Indeed, the initial illustration of the novel features Lizzie and her father on their grisly nocturnal task on the Thames.

The Thames and Lizzie connect again when Lizzie comforts the dying Betty Higden on its banks. The final, and most dramatic of scenes is, of course, the rescue of Wrayburn from the Thames after his beating from Riderhood. Lizzie is a product of the Thames, and its waters form a part of her soul. Dickens uses the Thames as a progressive symbol to show how she too is reborn after being associated with its waters. Early in the novel we see Lizzie’s recognition that her lifestyle is not one with a positive future but, rather than escape the symbolic water herself, she sacrifices her future for that of her brother and his opportunity to better himself. This action both acts as our introduction to Eugene Wrayburn and initiates the fact that her brother is a horrible ingrate. Still, she is not discouraged; she finds a new home and life with Jenny Wren. I see Jenny’s disability as symbolic of Lizzie’s own familial disability.

Next we have Lizzie, who has been forced to leave London because of the unwanted attentions of Wrayburn, again administering her kindness and passion, this time to the dying Betty Higden on the banks of the Thames.. To both her brother Charly, and now to Betty, Lizzie acts out of kindness and love, without expecting or anticipating any reward. The value and pursuit of money is the central focus of OMF. Lizzie functions as the binary opposite character to this major theme.

Finally, of course, we have the remarkable setting and rescue of Wrayburn from the Thames. The arc of her narrative takes us from a young lady who wants nothing to do with the Thames and the dead bodies that her father seeks to her placement by the Thames as she gives comfort to a dying woman to the final episode where she enters the Thames and saves the life of Wrayburn. A remarkable use and blending of character with a symbol.

I will always be unsatisfied with the fact that Dickens decided to join Lizzie with Wrayburn at the end of the novel. If, however, there is anyone who is capable of turning him into a decent and loving person for the rest of his life it is Lizzie Hexam.

She is a remarkable creation of Dickens.

message 31: by Ami (last edited Oct 19, 2017 08:49AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ami | 372 comments I typed up a final piece to put this baby to bed, and I lost it all due to a GR glitch. I'm going to have to do some recall and recovery here, but I'll post for sure.

Definitely will see all of you tomorrow to meet and greet, Mr. Edward Drood.

EDIT: EDWIN Drood. Good Lord!

Mary Lou | 2507 comments Ami wrote: "I typed up a final piece to put this baby to bed, and I lost it all due to a GR glitch. I'm going to have to do some recall and recovery here, but I'll post for sure...."

Oh, how I HATE it when that happens! Looking forward to your next post but, if you're like me, you'll undoubtedly forget some of the excellent insights you made in the post that disappeared!

message 33: by Mary Lou (last edited Oct 18, 2017 05:24PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mary Lou | 2507 comments From Wild Things - The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult by Bruce Handy:

For some -- Charles Dickens, to cite one example -- fairy tales also provoke their first sexual stirrings. In a memoir about his childhood, "The Christmas Tree," Dickens wrote of Little Red Riding Hood "She was my first love. I felt if I could have married [her], I should have known perfect bliss. But, it was not to be." That the creator of Little Nell, Little Dorrit, and so many other sweet, pure, and unworldly (though also uneaten) heroines, would have an erotic fixation on Little Red Riding Hood, herself so emblematic of the type -- archetypal, in fact -- is too perfect, almost a real-life Rosebud."

Such a coincidence that I would come across this passage in a book about children's literature while we're discussing the fairy tale motif in OMF! I hadn't considered Little Red Riding Hood, but while its presence is more subtle than Cinderella's, we can surely see it. Duplicitous wolves trying to take advantage of sweet girls:
Bradley (and, I would argue, Eugene) and Lizzie; Harmon posing as Rokesmith to woo Bella; the Lammles (though she wasn't an innocent victim); Georgiana and Fledgeby. One might say we even have the sacrificed grandma in Betty. I'm tempted to read it again, just to see if any of the women in question were described as wearing a red cloak. :-)

PS Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought "A Christmas Tree" was an essay or sketch, not a childhood memoir. I think Handy got that wrong, along with the correct title, which is "A" rather than "The" Christmas Tree.

LindaH | 124 comments Mary Lou, this a wonderful find.

I just located some text in ch14 that alludes to LRRH. This is when Riderhood is showing the way to Gaffer’s boat. various Portents in the Thames are being described:

“Not a sluice gate, or a painted scale upon a post or wall, showing the depth of water, but seemed to hint, like the dreadfully facetious Wolf in bed in Grandmamma's cottage, 'That's to drown YOU in, my dears!”

I think there are more. I’ll keep looking too. It’s a great way to reread. Thank you again.

Peter | 3333 comments Mod
Mary Lou and LindaH

Thank you for all the detective work and citations. The more that is discovered the more I am convinced there are extremely strong and undeniable links between fairy tales and OMF.

message 36: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim | 6184 comments Mod
Peter wrote: "I can’t let a final opportunity to comment upon OMF pass without a word about my favourite character in the novel. I became a big fan of Lizzie Hexam. To me, she represents an exceptional Dickensia..."

Don't tell Tristram that.

message 37: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim | 6184 comments Mod
Frauds On The Fairies


Although he was an old friend as well as colleague of Charles Dickens, illustrator George Cruikshank (1792--1878) earned the novelist's Horatian satire for his re-writing traditional fairy tales in a moral manner designed to inveigh against the evils of alcoholism, which the reformed dipsomaniac had explored in a cautionary series of plates entitled The Bottle (1847) and its sequel, The Drunkard's Children (1848). Dickens's initial response to this social realism was initially positive, but as one who favoured reasoned moderation rather than absolute teetotalism, Dickens gradually came to regard Cruikshank's temperance propaganda as fanaticism. "As a child he had detested books which had discounted the wonderful and the bizarre in favour of precept or homily, and now his old faith in the stories of his youth was crystallised in this little essay" (Peter Ackroyd, Dickens [1990). By 1 October 1853, when "Frauds on the Fairies" (written in Boulogne, France) appeared in Dickens's weekly journal Household Words, relations between the novelist and his former illustrator had become somewhat strained. However, re-writing fairy tales as moral (particularly teetotalism) was nothing new in 1853: Dr. Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825) who in retirement on the Isle of Wight issued the sexually sanitized Family Shakespeare in 1818 had also re-written traditional fairy tales..........

"Frauds on the Fairies" by Charles Dickens

We must assume that we are not singular in entertaining a very great tenderness for the fairy literature of our childhood. What enchanted us then, and is captivating a million of young fancies now, has, at the same blessed time of life, enchanted vast hosts of men and women who have done their long day's work and laid their grey heads down to rest. It would be hard to estimate the amount of gentleness and mercy that has made its way among us through these slight channels. Forbearance, courtesy, consideration for poor and aged, kind treatment of animals, love of nature, abhorrence of tyranny and brute force--many such good things have been first nourished in the child's heart by this powerful aid. It has greatly helped to keep us, in some sense, ever young, by preserving through our worldly ways one slender track not overgrown with weeds, where we may walk with children, sharing their delights.

In an utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that Fairy tales should be respected. Our English red tape is too magnificently red ever to be employed in the tying up of such trifles, but every one who has considered the subject knows full well that a nation without fancy, without some romance, never did, never can, never will, hold a great place under the sun. The theatre, having done its worst to destroy these admirable fictions--having in a most exemplary manner destroyed itself, its artists, and its audiences, in that perversion of its duty--it becomes doubly important that the little books themselves, nurseries of fancy as they are, should be preserved. To preserve them in their usefulness, they must be as much preserved in their simplicity, and purity, and innocent extravagance, as if they were actual fact. Whosoever alters them to suit his own opinions, whatever they are, is guilty, to our thinking, of an act of presumption, and appropriates to himself what does not belong to him.

We have lately observed, with pain, intrusion of a Whole Hog of unwieldy dimensions into the fairy flower garden. The rooting of the animal among the roses would in itself have awakened in us nothing but indignation; our pain arises from his being violently driven in by a man of genius, our own beloved friend, MR. GEORGE CRUIIKSHANK. That incomparable artist is, of all men, the last who should lay his exquisite hand on fairy text. In his own art he understands it so perfectly, and illustrates it so beautifully, so humorously, so wisely, that he should never lay down his etching needle to "edit" the Ogre, to whom with that little instrument he can render such extraordinary justice. But, to "editing" Ogres, and Hop o'-my-thumbs, and their families, our dear moralist has in a rash moment taken, as a means of propagating the doctrines of Total Abstinence, Prohibition of the sale of spirituous liquors, Free Trade, and Popular Education. For the introduction of these topics he has altered the text of a fairy story; and against his right to do any such thing we protest with all our might and main. Of his likewise altering it to advertise that excellent series of plates, "The Bottle," we say nothing more than that we foresee a new and improved edition of Goody Two Shoes, edited by E. Moses and Son; of the Dervish with the box of ointment, edited by Professor Holloway; and of Jack and the Beanstalk edited by Mary Wedlake, the popular authoress of Do you bruise your oats yet.

Now, it makes not the least difference to our objection whether we agree or disagree with our worthy friend, Mr. Cruikshank, in the opinions he interpolates upon an old fairy story. Whether good or bad in themselves, they are, in that relation, like the famous definition of a weed; a thing growing up in a wrong place. He has no greater moral justification in altering the harmless little books than we should have in altering his best etchings. If such a precedent were followed we must soon become disgusted with the old stories into which modern personages so obtruded themselves, and the stories themselves must soon be lost. With seven Blue Beards in the field, each coming at a gallop from his own platform mounted on a foaming hobby a generation or two hence would not know which was which, and the great original Blue Beard would be confounded with the counterfeits. Imagine a Total abstinence edition of Robinson Crusoe, with the rum left out. Imagine a Peace edition, with the gunpowder left out, and the rum left in. Imagine a Vegetarian edition, with the goat's flesh left out. Imagine a Kentucky edition, to introduce a flogging of that 'tarnal old nigger Friday, twice a week. Imagine an Aborigines Protection Society edition, to deny cannibalism and make Robinson embrace the amiable savages whenever they landed. Robinson Crusoe would be "edited" out of his island in a hundred years, and the island would be swallowed up in the editorial ocean.

Among the other learned professions we have now the Platform profession, chiefly exercised by a new and meritorious class of commercial travellers who go about to take the sense of meetings on various articles: some, of a very superior description: some, not quite so good. Let us write the story of Cinderella, "edited" by one of these gentlemen, doing a good stroke of business, and having a rather extensive mission........

message 38: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim | 6184 comments Mod
ONCE upon a time, a rich man and his wife were the parents of a lovely daughter. She was a beautiful child, and became, at her own desire, a member of the Juvenile Bands of Hope when she was only four years of age. When this child was only nine years of age her mother died, and all the Juvenile Bands of Hope in her district--the Central district, number five hundred and twenty-seven--formed in a procession of two and two, amounting to fifteen hundred, and followed her to the grave, singing chorus Number forty-two, "O come," &c. This grave was outside the town, and under the direction of the Local Board of Health; which reported at certain stated intervals to the General Board of Health, Whitehall.

The motherless little girl was very sorrowful for the loss of her mother, and so was her father too, at first; but, after a year was over, he married again--a very cross widow lady, with two proud tyrannical daughters as cross as herself. He was aware that he could have made his marriage with this lady a civil process by simply making a declaration before a Registrar; but he was averse to this course on religious grounds, and, being a member of the Montgolfian persuasion, was married according to the ceremonies of that respectable church by Reverend Jared Jocks, who improved the occasion.

He did not live long with his disagreeable wife. Having been shamefully accustomed to shave with warm water instead of cold, which he ought to have used (see Medical Appendix B. and C.), his undermined constitution could not bear up against her temper, and he soon died. Then, this orphan was cruelly treated by her stepmother and the two daughters, and was forced to do the dirtiest of kitchen work; to scour the saucepans, wash the dishes, and light the fires--which did not consume their own smoke, but emitted a dark vapour prejudicial to the bronchial tubes. The only warm place in the house where she was free from ill-treatment was the kitchen chimney-corner; and as she used to sit down there, among the cinders, when her work was done, the proud fine sisters gave her the name of Cinderella.

About this time, the King of the land, who never made war against anybody, and allowed everybody to make war against him--which was the reason why his subjects were the greatest manufacturers on earth, and always lived in security and peace--gave a great feast, which was to last two days. This splendid banquet was to consist entirely of artichokes and gruel; and from among those who were invited to it, and to hear the delightful speeches after dinner, the King's son was to choose a bride for himself. The proud fine sisters were invited, but nobody knew anything about poor Cinderella, and she was to stay at home.

She was so sweet-tempered, however, that she assisted the haughty creatures to dress, and bestowed her admirable taste upon them as freely as if they had been kind to her. Neither did she laugh when they broke seventeen stay-laces in dressing; for, although she wore no stays herself, being sufficiently acquainted with the anatomy of the human figure to be aware of the destructive effects of tight-lacing, she always reserved her opinions on that subject for the Regenerative Record (price three halfpence in a neat wrapper), which all good people take in, and to which she was a Contributor.

At length the wished for moment arrived, and the proud fine sisters swept away to the feast and speeches, leaving Cinderella in the chimney- corner. But, she could always occupy her mind with the general question of the Ocean Penny Postage, and she had in her pocket an unread Oration on that subject, made by the well known Orator, Nehemiah Nicks. She was lost in the fervid eloquence that talented Apostle when she became aware of the presence of one of those female relatives which (it may not be generally known) it is not lawful for a man to marry. I allude to her grandmother.

"Why so solitary, my child?" said the old lady to Cinderella.

"Alas, grandmother," returned the poor girl, "my sisters have gone to the feast and speeches, and here sit I in the ashes, Cinderella !"

"Never," cried the old lady with animation, "shall one of the Band of Hope despair! Run into the garden, my dear, and fetch me an American Pumpkin! American, because some parts of that independent country, there are prohibitory laws against the sale of alcoholic drinks in any form. Also, because America produced (among many great pumpkins) the glory of her sex, Mrs. Colonel Bloomer. None but an American Pumpkin will do, my child."

Cinderella ran into the garden, and brought the largest American pumpkin she could find. This virtuously democratic vegetable her grandmother immediately changed into a splendid coach. Then, she sent her for mice from the mouse-trap, which she changed into prancing horses, free from the obnoxious and oppressive post-horse duty. Then, to the rat- trap in the stable for a rat, which she changed to a state-coachman, not amenable to the iniquitous assessed taxes. Then, to look behind a watering-pot for six lizards, which she changed into six footmen, each with a petition in his hand ready to present to the Prince, signed by fifty thousand persons, in favour of the early closing movement.

"But grandmother," said Cinderella, stopping in the midst of her delight, and looking at her clothes, "how can I go to the palace in these miserable rags?"

"Be not uneasy about that, my dear," returned her grandmother.

Upon which the old lady touched her with her wand, her rags disappeared, and she was beautifully dressed. Not in the present costume of the female sex, which has been proved to be at once grossly immodest and absurdly inconvenient, but in rich sky-blue satin pantaloons gathered at the ankle, a puce-coloured satin pelisse sprinkled with silver flowers, and a very broad Leghorn hat. The hat was chastely ornamented with a rainbow-coloured ribbon hanging in two bell-pulls down the back; the pantaloons were ornamented with a golden stripe; and the effect of the whole was unspeakably sensible, feminine, and retiring. Lastly, the old lady put on Cinderella's feet a pair of shoes made of glass: observing that but for the abolition of the duty on that article, it never could have been devoted to such a purpose; the effect of all such taxes being to cramp invention, and embarrass the producer, to the manifest injury of the consumer. When the old lady had made these wise remarks, she dismissed Cinderella to the feast and speeches, charging her by no means to remain after twelve o'clock at night.

The arrival of Cinderella at the Monster Gathering produced a great excitement. As a delegate from the United States had just moved that the King do take the chair, as the motion had been seconded and carried unanimously, the King himself could not go forth to receive her. But His Royal Highness the Prince (who was to move the second resolution), went to the door to hand from her carriage. This virtuous Prince, being completely covered from head to foot with Total Abstinence Medals, shone as if he were attired in complete armour; while the inspiring strains of the Peace Brass Band in the gallery (composed of the Lambkin Family, eighteen in number, who cannot be too much encouraged) awakened additional enthusiasm.

The King's son handed Cinderella to one of the reserved seats for pink tickets, on the platform, and fell in love with her immediately. His appetite deserted him; he scarcely tasted his artichokes, and merely trifled with his gruel. When the speeches began, and Cinderella, wrapped in the eloquence of the two inspired delegates who occupied the entire evening in speaking to the first Resolution, occasionally cried, "Hear, hear!" the sweetness of her voice completed her conquest of the Prince's heart. But, indeed the whole male portion of the assembly loved her--and doubtless would have done so, even if she had been less beautiful, in consequence of the contrast which her dress presented to the bold and ridiculous garments of the other ladies.

At a quarter before twelve the second inspired delegate having drunk all the water in the decanter, and fainted away, the King put the question, "That this Meeting do now adjourn until to-morrow." Those who were of that opinion holding up their hands, and then those who were of the contrary, theirs, there appeared an immense majority in favour of the resolution which was consequently carried. Cinderella got home in safety, and heard nothing all that night, or all next day, but the praises of the unknown lady with the sky-blue satin pantaloons.

When the time for the feast and speeches came round again, the cross stepmother and the proud fine daughters went out in good time to secure their places. As soon as they were gone, Cinderella's grandmother returned and changed her as before. Amid a blast of welcome from the Lambkin family, she was again handed to the pink seat on the platform by His Royal Highness.

This gifted Prince was a powerful speaker, and had the evening before him. He rose at precisely ten minutes before eight, and was greeted with tumultuous cheers and waving of handkerchiefs. When the excitement had in some degree subsided, he proceeded to address the meeting: who were never tired of listening to speeches, as no good people ever are. He held them enthralled for four hours and a quarter. Cinderella forgot the time, and hurried away so when she heard the first stroke of twelve, that her beautiful dress changed back to her old rags at the door, and she left one of her glass shoes behind. The Prince took it up, and vowed--that is, made a declaration before a magistrate; for he objected on principle to the multiplying of oaths-- that he would only marry the charming creature to whom that shoe belonged.

He accordingly caused an advertisement to that effect to be inserted in all the newspapers: for, the advertisement duty, an impost most unjust in principle and most unfair in operation, did not exist in that country; neither was the stamp on newspapers known in that land-- which had as many newspapers as the United States, and got as much good out of them. Innumerable ladies answered the advertisement and pretended that the shoe was theirs; but, every one of them was unable to get her foot into it. The proud fine sisters answered it, and tried their feet with no greater success. Then, Cinderella, who had answered it too, came forward amidst their scornful jeers, and the shoe slipped on in a moment. It is a remarkable tribute to the improved and sensible fashion of the dress her grandmother had given her, that if she had not worn it the Prince would probably never have seen her feet.

The marriage was solemnized with great rejoicing. When the honeymoon was over, the King retired from public life, and was succeeded by the Prince. Cinderella, being now a queen, applied herself to the government of the country on enlightened, liberal, and free principles. All the people who ate anything she did not eat, or who drank anything she did not drink, were imprisoned for life. All the newspaper offices from which any doctrine proceeded that was not her doctrine, were burnt down. All the public speakers proved to demonstration that if there were any individual on the face of the earth who differed from them in anything, that individual was a designing ruffian and an abandoned monster. She also threw open the right of voting, and of being elected to public offices and of making the laws, to the whole of her sex; who thus came to be always gloriously occupied with public life and whom nobody dared to love. And they all lived happily ever afterwards.

message 39: by Kim (last edited Oct 19, 2017 08:51AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim | 6184 comments Mod
.....Frauds on the Fairies once permitted, we see little reason why they may not come to this, and great reason why they may. The Vicar of Wakefield [in Goldsmith's novel] was wisest when he was tired of being always wise. The world is too much with us, early and late. Leave this precious old escape from it, alone.

Charles Dickens "Frauds on the Fairies." Household Words. A Weekly Journal. Conducted by Charles Dickens. No. 184, Vol. VIII. October 1, 1853

The story to which Dickens alludes is Cruikshank's "Cinderella and the Glass Slipper" (1854), the first of three "updated" fairytales in George Cruikshank's Fairy Library, "Edited and Illustrated with ten subjects, designed and etched on steel by George Cruikshank. London: George Routledge and Sons, Broadway, Ludgate Hill; F. Arnold, 86 Fleet Street."

The offending passage that Dickens undoubtedly had in mind when writing "Frauds on the Fairies" occurs on page 25. After the Prince has successfully fitted the glass slipper on the heroine's dainty foot, his father, the King, declares that his subjects shall celebrate the couple's nuptials with "extraordinary doings." The king "amongst other things, ordered that there should be running fountains of wine in the court-yards of the place, and also in the streets." However, no sooner has the King uttered this sentiment than Cinderella's godmother, a dwarf, steps forward to remonstrate with the traditional monarch. She argues that, "although there is much boisterous mirth created by the drink around these wine fountains, yet your Majesty is aware that this same drink leads also to quarrels, brutal fights, and violent deaths......"

The Pro-Temperance Passage Preceding the Wedding

"My dear little lady," exclaimed the King, good-humouredly, "your arguments have convinced me: there shall be no more fountains of wine in my dominions." And he immediately gave orders that all the wine, beer, and spirits in the place should be collected together and piled upon the top of a rocky mound in the vicinity of the palace, and made a great bonfire of on the niorht of the wedding; — which was accordingly done, and a splendid blaze it made!

"With all deference to your majesty," said the dwarf in reply, "most assuredly not; for such is the POWER of the CREATOR, that if it had been necessary for man to take stimulating drinks, the ALMIGHTY could have given them to him free from all intoxicating qualities, as he has done with all the liquids and solids necessary and fit for the support of man's life; and as he knows that all men cannot take these drinks alike, such is his goodness and mercy, THAT HE WOULD HAVE SENT THEM TO US WITHOUT THE INTOXICATING PRINCIPLE; and when people talk of these intoxicating drinks, that do so much deadly mischief, being sent to us by the ALMIGHTY, we might as well say that He sends us gunpowder, because man converts certain materials into such a deadly composition. And as to moderation, pardon me, your Majesty, but so long as your Majesty continues to take even half a glass of wine a-day, so long will the drinking customs of society be considered respectable and be kept up; and it thus follows, as a necessary consequence, that thousands of your Majesty's subjects will be constantly falling by excess into vice, wretchedness, and crime; and as to people not being able to do without stimulating drinks, I beg your Majesty to look at Cinderella, who never has taken any in all her life, who never will."

Peter | 3333 comments Mod
Kim wrote: ".....Frauds on the Fairies once permitted, we see little reason why they may not come to this, and great reason why they may. The Vicar of Wakefield [in Goldsmith's novel] was wisest when he was ti..."

Oh, Kim.

You are indeed a magical person yourself. As I read the Dickens account, I nodded, laughed and, at the same time, lamented the truths of our society embedded in Dickens’s suggestions as to altered versions of “Robinson Crusoe. I also experienced writing by Dickens of which I was previously unaware. Magic! Thank you.

From what you have posted it is abundantly clear that Dickens was both aware of and sensitive to the power, importance, and the necessity of fairy tales in our lives. While Dickens’s encounter with Hans Christian Andersen as a house guest was somewhat of a disaster, his experience further shows Dickens’s links with the world of fairy tales. That such stories would, in some way, find themselves embedded in his own novels is totally understandable.

OMF presents the reader with the elements of characters, tropes, and themes common in fairy tales. Dickens has used fairy tales as factors and guides for his readers. Rather than simply reproducing a fairy tale, however, he frames them for his readers to create a deeper understanding of his novel.

Such posts as this one sprinkle fairy dust on us all. :-))

LindaH | 124 comments Mary Lou,

Here is another piece of text alluding to LRRH. The speaker is Jenny Wren, who has overheard the real Fledgeby at his swindling business. She assumes Riah, who she once thought of as her godmother, condones it.

“You are not the godmother at all!' said she. 'You are the Wolf in the Forest, the wicked Wolf! And if ever my dear Lizzie is sold and betrayed, I shall know who sold and betrayed her!”

Of course, it is Jenny’s other “relative”, her father, who sells and betrays Lizzie.

Peter | 3333 comments Mod
LindaH wrote: "Mary Lou,

Here is another piece of text alluding to LRRH. The speaker is Jenny Wren, who has overheard the real Fledgeby at his swindling business. She assumes Riah, who she once thought of as her..."


More great finds. Thanks.

LindaH | 124 comments The chapter titled The Feast of the Three Hobgoblins tags a few of the tropes in Goldilocks and the Three Bears. (I hope I used that word correctly.)

“It was, as Bella gaily said, like the supper provided for the three nursery hobgoblins at their house in the forest, without their thunderous low growlings of the alarming discovery, 'Somebody's been drinking MY milk”

Bella (Goldilocks/Hobgoblin) first looks in the window, as does Goldilocks. She tries a piece of her father’s cottage-loaf, she tries his chair, she tries his job:

“But first Bella mounted upon Rumty's Perch, and said, 'Show me what you do here all day long, dear Pa. Do you write like this?' laying her round cheek upon her plump left arm...”

She is not The Intruder as is Goldilocks. My vote for The Intruder is Wegg. Not only does he insert himself into the Boffins’ house, he gets himself tossed out the does Goldilocks.

Peter | 3333 comments Mod
LindaH wrote: "The chapter titled The Feast of the Three Hobgoblins tags a few of the tropes in Goldilocks and the Three Bears. (I hope I used that word correctly.)

“It was, as Bella gaily said, like the supper ..."

Hi Linda

More and more, it is apparent to me that within OMF there is a clear pattern of fairy tales being incorporated to further enhance the narrative.

LindaH, Mary Lou, Kim and all the other fairy tale searchers ... you have taken our commentaries and moved us into a fascinating world of Dickensian insights. Thank you.

Tristram Shandy | 4759 comments Mod
So many comments! I don't know where to start, but I'll just pick the question of re-reading novels you did not like in the first place. A few years ago, I started reading my second novel by Thomas Hardy, and I am very glad I did it because now I have entered Hardy into the list of my favourite authors here on GR. My first encounter with Hardy was when I was twenty or so, maybe even younger, and after the exuberance and fun of Dickens, the novel The Mayor of Casterbridge just did not go down well with me. Nevertheless, being older now, I thoroughly enjoy Hardy and hope to read all his novels in the course of time. I have always loved Dickens, Conrad, Melville etc but some authors just need time, I guess. Others, you stop liking as you grow older, or you like them less - like in my case, the German author Karl May, who wrote adventure stories.

And Jean, here's another one who does not like Wuthering Heights! But then I've never taken to the Brontes, they're simply too holier-than-thou for my taste ;-)

Tristram Shandy | 4759 comments Mod
On fairy tales, the idealization of Little Red Ridinghood and literature that is to teach you a lesson:

I thoroughly despise bowdlerized versions of a work of art, be it with a view to getting rid of sex - like the bowdlerized Shakespeare - or the modern crusade of political correctness that makes The Nigger of the Narcissus into The N-word of the Narcissus because it fails to see the historicity of art and the fact that every artist is a child of their times. It also fails to acknowledge the fact that life is not a matter of black and white but often of different shades of grey.

The same is true when a work of art is too much bent on teaching me a lesson, a clear-cut message, and wanting to improve the reader and the world. This kind of thing can never get better than the Sunday School Book Stories that Mark Twain so rightfully made fun of, and it fails to acknowledge the complexity of life. Just take Paradise Lost: Milton is too much of an artist and too much of a clever man not to make it a very ambiguous and also maybe subversive text which rather asks questions than settle them once and for all. This is literature that will stay within a reader's mind for a long time. And this is also why I cannot really understand Dickens's obsession with heroines like Nell or Lizzie - they are just too good, too forbearing, too perfect to be interesting heroines, and were it not for the things that happen to Lizzie, she would be a very lifeless character. With my humble and due apologies to Peter ;-)

message 47: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim | 6184 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "My first encounter with Hardy was when I was twenty or so, maybe even younger, and after the exuberance and fun of Dickens, the novel The Mayor of Casterbridge just did not go down well with me. Nevertheless, being older now"

Much, much older.

message 48: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim | 6184 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "And this is also why I cannot really understand Dickens's obsession with heroines like Nell or Lizzie -"

You just can't help yourself can you? Grump.

Peter | 3333 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "On fairy tales, the idealization of Little Red Ridinghood and literature that is to teach you a lesson:

I thoroughly despise bowdlerized versions of a work of art, be it with a view to getting rid..."


With Little Nell, Florence Dombey, and now Lizzie Hexam to champion, my life is almost perfect. :-))

message 50: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim | 6184 comments Mod
Mine too. Especially since we get to revisit them all again taking him along with us.

« previous 1
back to top