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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