“A Riddle Without an Answer”: Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend—SOLD OUT

Our Mutual Friend

Bella Wilfer and her father at one of the novel’s turning points

This seminar is sold out! Please email Pat Schoepfel to add your name to the wait list, or choose from one of our other seminars.

Created at a time of enormous changes in Dickens’s life and in 19th-century England, for many years Our Mutual Friend was considered “the poorest of Mr. Dickens’ works,” in the words of a stinging contemporary review penned by the 22-year-old Henry James. But readers and scholars now recognize what critic Adrian Poole calls the “vast scope and perilous ambitions” of this last complete novel by Dickens. Certainly it speaks directly to modern concerns about what it is, and is not, possible to change in ourselves and in society.

Our Mutual Friend constantly works on multiple levels: while we are drawn into the fates of individuals, we also see how the working out of each storyline offers a larger critique of the Victorian world. Can a fortune be found in the Dust Mounds presided over by the Boffins, and if it can, will money deform their characters? Will Bella Wilfer stay true to her intention to marry for wealth, or will she see the value of love? Will the values of the priggish Podsnaps and shallow Veneerings triumph? Will the desperately poor who make their living by fishing refuse from the Thames survive, or will they be crushed by the increasing pressures of modern capitalism?

We will explore this labyrinthine novel and the questions it raises about what can and should be changed, in society and in ourselves. We will consider both what Dickens says about the transformations he saw in the late Victorian period and what his observations suggest for our own age.

Read more in my guest blog post, Five Reasons to Read Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

“We have needed 150 years to catch up with a novel that was very far ahead of its time.”

– Sean Grass in Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend: A Publishing History

Overview

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Leader
Nancy Carr is a senior editor at the Great Books Foundation in Chicago and also conducts literary seminars. As a lover of Victorian fiction generally and Dickens particularly, she is drawn to Our Mutual Friend by its deep strangeness and its insights into both the individual psychology and the structure of society.

Book
Participants are required to obtain the specified editions in order to facilitate the group’s ability to find and cite portions of the text during discussion.

Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens
(Penguin, 1998)
ISBN-13: 978-0-140-43497-2

Please search by ISBN as there are earlier and later Penguin editions.

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