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Archived Group Reads 2011 > Our Mutual Friend Chapters 1~4 On the Lookout ~The R. Wilfer Family

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message 1: by Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) (last edited Nov 15, 2011 03:25AM) (new)

Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Published in monthly parts from May 1864~November 1865

For discussion of these chapters



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Elizabeth (Alaska) I was interested from page one. A lot of characters being introduced.


message 3: by Bea (new)

Bea | 233 comments I counted more than 20 characters just in the first four chapters. Dickens is not known for his economy but he paints such vivid portraits that we know a lot about these people in a very little space. That's the work of a master.

I also love knowing where the installments ended. There's a very nice cliffhanger here.

The Veneering dinner party makes my top ten list of great Dickens chapters.


message 4: by Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) (last edited Nov 13, 2011 03:06AM) (new)

Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I found relationships to be quite interesting within these chapters. I enjoyed the father daughter ones. The relationship between Charley and his sister, Lizzy seems to be a close one.

The dinner party was wonderful and I so enjoyed going round the table "meeting" all the guests. The visual descriptions of the guests were wonderful., made one feel as if they were sitting right there.

I guess there were quite a few people who either threw themselves or were pushed,
thrown, or dumped into the Thames. Certainly, the job of fishing the bodies out with the hope of finding "something" valuable was a macabre job. I could understand Lizzie's reticence for sure.

Odd too, that the elder Mr. Harmon chose a wife for his son and made it a stipulation for his will that John marry her. Now that John is mysteriously dead, I wonder who Bella will find to love?


message 5: by Bernadette (last edited Nov 13, 2011 06:44AM) (new)

Bernadette (bern51) No spoilers Bea, but I think Chapter 5 is certainly up there too...love Dickens' humor, or is it humour?


message 6: by Bea (new)

Bea | 233 comments In the footnotes to my Oxford World's Classics edition it says that Gaffer Hexam is what was known as a "dredgerman" - a professional river scavenger. In addition to bodies, he pulled out other useful items such as the coal to heat the house, a basket to hold baby Lizzy, and the wood to fashion the rockers for her cradle.

This novel is really bringing back a lot of the info I read in Inside the Victorian Home. Almost nothing was wasted - the scraps of almost anything were collected by rag men, etc. Garbage picking was an organized activity. Dustmen hired poor people, mostly women, to sort refuse for very low wages.


message 7: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Bea, your comments really makes me think about how absolutely meager these people's lives were. The very minimum -- what we think of in the modern world as the lowest types of work -- was what kept people from starving -- particularly in the cities, but we'll read here later of talk of the absolute fear of the workhouse by the rural people as well.

Also interesting to think too, is that very little that came into the home was thought of as disposable as it is today. Even in last century -- very similar. I grew up just outside of town ("suburbs" were nothing I knew of!) and we did not have city trash collection. My family's weekly trash amount was so small that we burned it in a small fire in a fire pit each week. Many things came wrapped in paper or cardboard boxes -- very little plastic.


message 8: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Elizabeth, I am afraid I don't understand what you mean in your recent two comments. Please message me or Marialyce to explain this. I do want to get off to a good start with this discussion with us all understanding each other's expectations. Let's avoid labels at this point and work at understanding each other. Please do message one of us.


message 9: by Bernadette (new)

Bernadette (bern51) I just love this book, am tearing through it (it helps that I broke a few of my toes and can't do too much more than read). Does anyone think that George Samson (who appeals to Bella) will have more than a minor role in the work? It's so hard to tell because Dickens introduces so many characters in these chapters, albeit funny and interesting characters


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I am so glad that you like it, Bernadette. (not glad though about your toes!)
He did have a slew of characters all within the first 60 pages. Like Bea said, she counted 20. A little romance for Bella would be nice for sure...


message 11: by Zulfiya (new)

Zulfiya (ztrotter) These first chapters are so mindbogglingly eclectic. On one hand, there is a macabre beginning with the fished- out body and an insight into the 'professional' world of dredgermen, and, on the other hand, the world of high-middle class hypocrisy is masterfully presented in chapter 2. I especially enjoyed the trick with the looking-glass because it definitely gave Dickens a chance to show what these people actually were. It was as if he was saying, 'This is not my description and representation; this is what they actually are, and this is what you could really see in the looking-glass'.
I totally agree with Bea - it is one of the best Dickens chapters.


message 12: by Bea (new)

Bea | 233 comments I love the beginning of the chapter where Twemlow is compared to "an innocent piece of dinner furniture", that gets "leaves" added to him in proportion to the number of dinner guests at the party.

The chapter almost reaches Lewis Carroll levels of whimsy.


message 13: by Nina (new)

Nina (ninarg) | 106 comments Bernadette wrote: "I just love this book, am tearing through it (it helps that I broke a few of my toes and can't do too much more than read). Does anyone think that George Samson (who appeals to Bella) will have mor..."

I always find it difficult to tell with Dickens whether minor characters will turn out to be important or not. Sometimes, I think he didn't even know himself when he started writing a new novel:)

I also enjoyed the opening chapters of OMF. I especially liked his description of the "spick and span new" Veneerings with their new furniture, new friends, new marriage, new servants, new plates etc. New money, to be sure. Possibly they got their fortune from trade?


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Nina, I am interested in why you think trade was the way they made their fortune? Did you get it from the reading or are you making an educated guess? I hope you don't mind my asking, I am just wondering....:)


message 15: by LauraT (last edited Nov 14, 2011 03:09AM) (new)

LauraT (laurata) | 497 comments Marialyce wrote: I found relationships to be quite interesting within these chapters. I enjoyed the father daughter ones. The relationship between Charley and his sister, Lizzy seems to be a close one.
I totally agree with you: ties are mostly "strong" in these first chapters - if you see what i mean.

I also liked some "metaliterature" around: chap 3 "[...] and he glanced at the backs of the books, with 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"
Lovely, you can always tell people who read apart from those who don't! A bit snobbish I admit, but true!

Special the usual irony of Dickens: chap 4 "This was a neat and happy turn to give the subject, treats being rare in the Wilfer household, where a monotonous appearance of Dutch-cheese at ten o'clock in the evening had been rather frequently commented on by the dimpled shoulders of Miss Bella. Indeed, the modest Dutchman himself seemed conscious of his want of variety, and generally came before the family in a state of apologetic perspiration."


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I loved that quote about books and reading too, Laura. What a great observer of human nature Dickens was!


message 17: by Nina (new)

Nina (ninarg) | 106 comments Marialyce wrote: "Nina, I am interested in why you think trade was the way they made their fortune? Did you get it from the reading or are you making an educated guess? I hope you don't mind my asking, I am just won..."

It is just a guess (and I don't mind your question at all!:)). Everything is so new with the Veneerings that they can hardly be from a rich, old family. It seems to me they have suddenly gained a fortune and is now buying plates, carriages etc. to get into society. They could have inherited the money, but from what I know the upperclasses often/sometimes had a prejudice against fortunes made in trade so it would seem fitting that their guests were visiting them because they were rich, but ignored them personally because they were new money. And the Veneerings seem so eager to be part of "society", but don't quite know how to (because they are used to being in trade, not society, is my guess), so they just keep giving dinner parties.

Did that make sense? It was just a hunch I had..


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) It does make perfect sense. I am glad you thought of it. Funny how many old rich do not like the new rich, even today.. Thanks!


message 19: by Kelly (new)

Kelly I am nearly through chapter 2. I am loving it so far! This is my first Dickens so I'm still getting used to the style. I wasn't expecting it to be so funny! One part that sticks out is the story at the dinner party, of the man getting rich from dust. He sets his daughter up to be married to someone she doesn't love, she says "that such a marriage would make Dust of her heart and Dust of her life—in short, would set her up, on a very extensive scale, in her father's business." That is a joke, right? Because I sure laughed at it.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) So glad you are a fan too, Kelly. I am pretty new to Dickens too and do so enjoy his whimsy and his many laughable moments. Why I never knew he was fun in high school I just don't know? I guess maybe you need grown up eyes to appreciate him.

I think though that there was a fortune to be made in dust but yet dust of the heart seems to be forgot about love and go for the money.


message 21: by Zulfiya (last edited Nov 14, 2011 07:56PM) (new)

Zulfiya (ztrotter) LauraT wrote: "Marialyce wrote: I found relationships to be quite interesting within these chapters. I enjoyed the father daughter ones. The relationship between Charley and his sister, Lizzy seems to be a close..."

I enjoyed reading this passage about books, too. And it definitely describes my behavior - every time I see books at someone's place, I immediately start speculating about them, and they beckon me as numerous worlds that I can explore. I think nowadays we will have to reword this quote a little bit as there are so many people, who are literate today, meaning they allegedly know the ABC and can string or read couple of sentences, but now there is a borderline between those who read and those who do not read.
One more thing - I do like Dickens gems, and they are so precious and numerous in the opening chapter. I especially enjoyed the description of this unlikely couple.
Her lord being cherubic, she was necessarily majestic, according to the principle which matrimonially unites contrasts.
What a delicious familial oxymoron!


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) He did have a way with words, Zulfiya. :). And yet he struggled so with this novel.

I found this and it was very interesting. It is about the Composition, publication, and Reception of this novel. There are no spoilers.

http://dickens.ucsc.edu/OMF/patten2.html


message 23: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Marialyce, I too like the scene with Charley and his sister. It seemed a bit like Christmas Carol when she was telling abut their relationships. Also the references of past,present,and future.

I am taking Dickens in small doses. His style is unique. At times I enjoy, at times I am frustrated. I will keep on however. I am sure I am missing alot of the legal and court humor.

The mermaid reference made me laugh. I do like the clever wit of Dickens.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) He was very clever, Vicki. I am glad you will read this book with us. Go at your own pace, there is absolutely no rush.


message 25: by Catherine (new)

Catherine (catjackson) Rebecca wrote: "Marialyce, I too like the scene with Charley and his sister. It seemed a bit like Christmas Carol when she was telling abut their relationships. Also the references of past,present,and future.

I ..."


I, too, am really enjoying the humor in this novel. I'm listening to it as I go back and forth to school and my internship (another school), so I'm getting a lot of listening time in. This is the first time I've spent this much time with Dickens-on-CD. It's great! The humor is really coming through. Especially the quips between married couples and those little statements about family members and life in general. I just may listen to other Dickens novels too. The only problem is that it's hard to go back and reread anything.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I think we are always a bit surprised that Dickens was funny. I think listening to the story is wonderful. Is it done by different narrators, Catherine?

I want to watch the DVD when I finish the book.


message 27: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments I always enjoy his humor -- sometimes outright, sometimes subtle. I think I would have enjoyed talking to him had I known him (trying to picture myself as a Victorian now! haha)

Marialyce, I was impressed with the film very much. A very strong cast and good script I thought.


message 28: by Kelly (new)

Kelly I stuggled with the third chapter, I listened to it then even went back and read it on the kindle. I was still pretty lost. So, as I usually do with these things, I just pushed forward. Chapter 4 was great, I loved the portrayal of the Wilfer family, especially Bella and Lavinia. I always felt a bit nauseous when he would describe Bella chewing on her hair, though. Blech.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Kelly, unfortunately, there are not many notes on OMF so the chapter explanations are not around as in other Dickens books. Perhaps if you have questions about that chapter we can help.

I know sometimes I think hmmm, I really don't understand what he means so I too push on too, probably missing something wonderful, but there are so many other wonderful things that we don't miss.


message 30: by Catherine (new)

Catherine (catjackson) Marialyce wrote: "I think we are always a bit surprised that Dickens was funny. I think listening to the story is wonderful. Is it done by different narrators, Catherine?

I want to watch the DVD when I finish the ..."


Simon Vance is the narrator and is doing a superb job. He does some of the voices in different dialects. But the female voices are a hoot!


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Thanks, Catherine. I normally do not do well with audio books. I get too distracted "trying" to do other things. I may give this one a whirl, however.


message 32: by Kelly (new)

Kelly Marialyce wrote: "Kelly, unfortunately, there are not many notes on OMF so the chapter explanations are not around as in other Dickens books. Perhaps if you have questions about that chapter we can help.

I know so..."


Thanks for the offer! I'm sure I will need help as I go along. I think it's just the large amount of characters he is introducing. I reread chapter 3 again yesterday and finally got what all was going on. And you aren't kidding about lack of guides/notes. I was disappointed that there weren't any cliff notes for OMF at my library, only to find out there aren't any cliff notes period. All I could find were some general summaries, nothing chapter by chapter.

As far as audiobook goes, if you're in the same situation as me (library didn't have it, didn't want to pay for it if I didn't have to), there is a great librivox recording by Mil Nicholson. She is fantastic, it is honestly professional quality. Here is the link if anyone wants to check it out.

http://librivox.org/our-mutual-friend...


message 33: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca I like that one too Kelly. I was listening on another site but I noticed it did not have the whole book. Thank you for this link.


message 34: by Catherine (new)

Catherine (catjackson) Kelly wrote: "Marialyce wrote: "Kelly, unfortunately, there are not many notes on OMF so the chapter explanations are not around as in other Dickens books. Perhaps if you have questions about that chapter we can..."

I'm listening to the novel and got it from my library as part of their online holdings. It works through Overdrive Media and it's wonderful; as opposed to Librivox, there's one narrator throughout the entire story, a professional (I believe this narrator is Simon Vance). On checking with the library holdings, it looks like they have most of the Dickens collection available. Now, I may have to wait a little bit for some of the books, but that's OK. Usually the wait isn't too long.


message 35: by Kelly (new)

Kelly Catherine wrote: "Kelly wrote: "Marialyce wrote: "Kelly, unfortunately, there are not many notes on OMF so the chapter explanations are not around as in other Dickens books. Perhaps if you have questions about that ..."

The Librivox version I linked to is just one narrator. I've listened to Simon Vance read other books, and enjoy his work, but honestly I feel Mil Nicholson is just as good. The recording itself is also professional quality. If someone had just handed me her performance on CD I would've never known she did it for free.

Our library's Overdrive Media is so limited. I don't understand why some have so many choices and mine has so little. Our actual library system has a ton of audio books, though. Thank goodness!


message 36: by Christyb (new)

Christyb | 44 comments Hello all! I'm sorry to be joining the discussion late, but my life has become quite busy. Hopefully this weekend I will be able to catch up. One thing that struck me in reading the first two chapters is the differences in the lifestyles between Lizzy and her father and Mr. and Mrs. Veneering. Liszt and her father made use of things that were cast off,(coal that warmed them was picked out of the river, the basket was washed ashore by the tide, etc.) For the Veneerings everything was new, and showy. Dickens work is known for its social commentary. In these early chapters, I see him setting the stage to compare and contrast the lifestyles, and teach us something about the differences in lifestyles. Eventhough Dickens wrote so long ago, I seem to be able to learn something from his works.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Definitely agree, Christy. I certainly find myself looking up things and all from his writing. I think that is what a great author does, he teaches you and makes you aware or want to be aware of so many things.

Don't worry, you are definitely not late to the discussion.

Your observations are so right. Welcome!


message 38: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Marialyce wrote: "Odd too, that the elder Mr. Harmon chose a wife for his son and made it a stipulation for his will that John marry her. Now that John is mysteriously dead, I wonder who Bella will find to love? "

Odd, but I think not unique at that time. This is somewhat reminiscent of the opposite will provision of Casaubon in Middlemarch. I have a vague memory that the Harmon will was actually based on a real case, but I can't find it offhand and may have imagined it.


message 39: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Christyb wrote: "One thing that struck me in reading the first two chapters is the differences in the lifestyles between Lizzy and her father and Mr. and Mrs. Veneering. "

I'm glad you noted that. I had been scrolling through the comments wondering whether the point had been made yet. When you pay attention to it, it's a pretty extraordinary juxtaposition of two very different sides of Victorian society, first the dregs of society, then the self-satisfied upwardly mobile newly rich, and then in Chapter 3 the two societies come together as first Charley goes to the Veneering home and then Mortimer and Eugene go to the Hexam home. It's a really nice, taut piece of character introduction and interplay.


message 40: by Christyb (new)

Christyb | 44 comments I loved the way Dickens illustrated the differences in lifestyles between Charley and Mortimer and Eugene throughout Chapter 3. One of the first things Charley noticed was the brand new books. Charley had a very limited education, and stood there in awe admiring the books. Mortimer and Eugene were well educated barristers, but yet hated their profession. Dickens so vividly describes Mortimer and Eugene's impressions if Charley's home: "... down by where accumulated aging of humanity seemed to be washed from higher grounds, like so much moral sewage..." Quite a difference in the groups. Dickens quite cleverly keeps alluding to the river, the flowing river, through out this section.


message 41: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments I find this to be also, Everyman, Christyb, and all. I find it fascinating too that Dickens brings forward really imperfect characters in these men. C. Hexam, Lightwood, and Wrayborne begin to create an animosity -- the two lawyers on one side and Hexam opposing them. And you can see how it starts. Resentment by Hexam, as a young, smart-mouth upstart who's life is full of struggles. The men he resents completely and honestly confess that they have barely worked at anything their whole lives, amazed when they come up with an actual client. They are truly frustrating characters, especially when encountered by a character like C. Hexam. I agree too, this is a fascinating construction of plot to bring these people together, see the conflict, and figure out this thread of "mutual friend" that we are meant to look for in this story.


message 42: by Bea (new)

Bea | 233 comments I don't know if it's too early to say, but I find Eugene Wrayburn to be the most modern man in all Dickens. He could live in books from the second half of the 20th century quite easily IMO.


message 43: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca I guess I am not picking up in Chapter 4 why Bella and Lavvy are so snippy to each other?


message 44: by LauraT (new)

LauraT (laurata) | 497 comments Like all brothers and sisters! My son and daughter are doing that continuously!!!


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I think it is just a bit of sibling rivalry going on, Rebecca. My girls although grown women still do it!


message 46: by Kelly (new)

Kelly Yes, as a mother of two (still young) daughters, I can really understand that snipping. It sure does start early and, as I'm told, doesn't stop!


message 47: by LauraT (new)

LauraT (laurata) | 497 comments No it doesn't! It get worse! At least at 14/12 years of age!!!!


message 48: by Sera (new)

Sera I just started the book over the weekend, but like other Dickens' works, I am really enjoying it. I also enjoyed reading everyone's comments so far.

I think that the first few chapters are a bit overwhelming with the amount of characters who are introduced. I'm looking forward to seeing how Dickens will intertwine all of their stories.

I think that Dickens does a fantastic job of showing the different types of nature or character of people. Isn't it funny how his descriptions still to a great extent apply today? For example, the new rich Veneerings who have to have everything new and shiny and then on the flip side, the people who refuse to waste anything. Interestingly, the latter does not necessarily always have to do with economic status - I know a few rich people who hate to see anything go to waste or to throw anything out. Some might call it hoarding :).


message 49: by Sera (new)

Sera The Wilfers are also an interesting family. I thought it was funny how Dickens didn't go through the entire list of each family member, but simply said, that there were many children and most of them were out of the house for some reason or another.


message 50: by Teaberry (new)

Teaberry | 3 comments Howdy, all. Normally I just 'lurk,' but had to chime in about the lack of Cliffs Notes or Spark Notes. I read OMF last year along with a companion book I found: A Companion to Our Mutual Friend
Found it invaluable for explaining...well, everything Dickens' contemporaries would have been familiar with, but which we modern readers won't be, including poor laws, workings (or lack thereof) of the courts, vocabulary & terminology, as well as popular people, songs, poems, and essays of the times.

I highly recommend it, if you can get a hold of it. My local library had to request it from another library across the state!


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