tutorial, commentary, study resources, plot, and web links
Our Mutual Friend is the last novel Charles Dickens completed. It first appeared in nineteen monthly installments between May 1864 and November 1865, published by Chapman and Hall. These booklet-sized publications were priced at one shilling (1s) which was not exactly cheap in the 1860s – and of course a second profit was made when the novel was printed in book form (in one or three volumes) a much higher price. Each issue featured thirty-two pages of text and two illustrations by Marcus Stone.
a mothly instalment
Our Mutual Friend – critical commentary
Dickens generates his usual gallery of characters and caricatures – some of them serious portraits of human psychology (such as Wrayburn and Headstone) others vivid and memorable but two-dimensional figures such as Jenny Wren (real name Fanny Cleaver) and Sloppy, the foundling who is summarised by his buttons and a gigantic laugh.
Wrayburn is not unlike Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities – a depressed and slightly misanthropic barrister who has no clients. He is listless and without purpose – until he encounters Lizzie Hexam, with whom he falls in love. Although she too is in love with him, they think there is too wide a gap in their social class to permit marriage. At the end of the novel he commits the selfless act of marrying her on his death bed, to give her social status. But in fact he recovers.
Headstone is an interesting study in erotic fixation and obsessive jealousy. He too falls in love with Lizzie Hexam, but is entirely consumed by his jealous hatred of Wrayburn, his rival for her affections. This obsession drives him to a savage act of attempted murder, and when Riderhood threatens to expose his identity as the attacker, he kills both his blackmailer and himself in the Weir.
There is a great deal of social satire focused on the nouveau-riche Veneerings, people who not only display their wealth in a vulgar and ostentatious manner, but who establish around themselves a social circle of ‘friends’ characterised by the fact that in fact nobody knows anybody else.
There is a great deal of critical commentary on one of the less successful characters in the novel – Mr Riah the Jew. Dickens was criticised by a number of people for his anti-Semitic depiction of Fagin, the Jewish gangmaster in Oliver Twist. Mr Riah is almost like an apology and a compensation – a figure of unalloyed goodness, patience, and sympathy who is obliged to enforce the ruthless debt-collection service owned by the villainous Fledgeby.
It has to be said that the story line of the novel is way below the normal level of invention and credibility one expects in a Dickens novel. First of all there are the complications of John Harmon’s multiple aliases in Julius Handford and John Rokesmith, and his barely-credible motivation for keeping his identity secret. Fortunately, the secrets of these maneuvers are revealed half way through the novel, so the reader can participate in the development of Harmon’s later ambitions.
But a great deal of the second half of the novel is based upon a cheap trick whereby Dickens conceals vital aspects of the plot from the reader, and has his characters acting out a charade of pretence to support the deception.
The prolonged concealment of Boffin’s knowledge of Harmon’s true identity is a literary sleight of hand which cheats the reader to an unacceptable degree. This is because the plot device violates essential conventions of a realist narrative. The reader is given no possibility of knowing or working out the truth of the matter.
It is also bad literary faith because so many of the events of the novel rest upon the deception. Boffin’s obsession with misers and apparent ill-treatment of Harmon as his secretary, plus Bella’s own drift towards mercenary life, are important elements of the narrative, and most readers are likely to feel have a sense of anti-climax bordering on feeling cheated when the truth is revealed at the end of the novel.
The same is true in the case of Mr Venus in his secret pact with Boffin against the scurrilous Wegg. Even the most attentive reader has no opportunity to see this in advance, and since these two plot revelations come in rapid succession they undermine the logic and persuasiveness of the narrative. In terms of story telling, they are cheap and vulgar devices, hardly worthy of a great novelist.
The novel is dominated by the central symbol of the River Thames. The story begins and (more or less) ends there – with death a common feature of both scenes. In the first, Gaffer Hexam drags a dead body from the river at night, which sets the whole events of the novel in motion. And and in the final drama of the narrative Headstone drags Riderhood to their deaths at the Weir on the upper reaches of the Thames.
It is on the river that Lizzie goes into hiding, and it is there that Betty Higden goes to die in retreat from the Workhouse. The river is repeatedly emphasised as a source of trade and commerce, but it also acts as a metaphor for rebirth and renewal. Wrayburn is savagely attacked on the riverbank by Headstone and left in the water for dead: but he miraculously recovers. Even the villainous Riderhood is apparently drowned when his boat is rammed by a steamship: but he too recovers, to boast that he is a man who cannot be drowned.
There is a repeated motive of concealment in the novel – all instances of which are instrumental in providing the element of suspense which has led many critics to describe the novel as a riddle or an elaborate puzzle. But of course an element of suspense is natural in a serial narrative. The commercial necessity of publishing in this format of monthly episodes requires that readers should be induced to purchase successive volumes to know what is coming next.
John Harmon conceals his identity more than once. First he exchanges clothes and identities with his shipmate George Radfoot. This is designed to enable him to escape the burden of inheritance, but it results in the murder and mutilation of his comrade. Immediately following the crime, he adopts the first of two aliases – Julius Handford, under which name he deals with Mortimer Lightwood and the police. Following this he adopts the alias of John Rokesmith, under which name he seeks employment with the Boffins.
Eugene Wrayburn even conceals his good motives from himself. He starts out as the cynical and unsuccessful barrister-friend of Lightwood, and then finds it difficult to understand his own motivation once he has met Lizzie Hexam – when it is clear to the reader that he has fallen in love with her. His is a case of ‘concealment; across a very wide class divide, which is only bridged when he makes the self-sacrificing gesture of marrying her when he is on what he thinks will be his death bed.
In her turn, Lizzie has concealed her love for Wrayburn for the majority of the narrative – because she believes there is no possibility of bridging the class divide between them. Headstone (also besotted with love for Lizzie) conceals his identity and actually disguises himself as Riderhood to make his murderous attack on Wrayburn.
Wegg wants to conceal his dust-sifting and his intention to expropriate his employer Boffin. At the same time, Mr Venus conceals from Wegg the fact that he is acting as a sort of double-agent on behalf of Boffin (which is one of the factors which makes the conclusion of the novel so unsatisfactory). The Lammles first of all conceal from each other the fact that they have no money, and in order to continue living in upper middle-class society they then conceal their intentions towards Georgiana Podsnap and Bella Wilfer, hoping to use them as pawns in their career of self-advancement
Despite weaknesses in the plot and structure of the novel, there is one feature of the manner in which the narrative is presented which remains as impressive as Dickens at his greatest (as in Bleak House, Dombey and Son, and Great Expectations. That is the narrative voice – the compelling, passionate, infinitely flexible, and endlessly inventive manner in which Dickens operates as the teller of the tale.
The narrative is written in (technically) third-person omniscient mode: that is, the author remains (theoretically) outside the story, but reveals the thoughts and feelings of the characters. However, Dickens operates almost like a circus ringmaster, dipping in and out of his own narrative in an oblique (almost concealed) first person mode.
He introduces his characters, and will even address them, speculate about them, and ask them questions. He introduces a subject (say, the Veneerings’ arriviste social climbing) and speculates about the topic, thinking aloud as part of the story, rhetorically asking the reader’s opinion – sometimes even addressing society in general, as he does when ironically punctuating old Betty Higden’s criticism of the Poor-house system:
“Kill me sooner than take me there. Throw this pretty child under cart-horses feet and a loaded wagon, sooner than take him there. Come to us and find us all a-dying, and set a light to us all where we lie and let us all blaze away with the house into a heap of cinders sooner than move a corpse of us there.”
A surprising spirit in this lonely woman after so many years of hard working and hard living, my Lords and Gentlemen and Honourable Boards! What is it that we call it in our grandiose speeches? British independence; rather perverted? Is that, or something like it, the ring of the cant?
It is also worth noting from a stylistic point of view that he is also much given to sudden switches in tenses – particularly from the past tense into the vivid present; to the use of verbless and subjectless sentences; and the use of extended metaphors, some of which he even addresses as if they were characters, instead of the things for which they stand.
Our Mutual Friend – study resources
Our Mutual Friend – Oxford World’s Classics – Amazon UK
Our Mutual Friend – Oxford World’s Classics – Amazon US
Our Mutual Friend – Wordsworth Classics – Amazon UK
Our Mutual Friend – Wordsworth Classics – Amazon US
Our Mutual Friend – Kindle edition – Amazon UK
Charles Dickens – biographical notes
Our Mutual Friend – eBook at Project Gutenberg
Our Mutual Friend – audioBook at LibriVox
Our Mutual Friend – complete Marcus Stone illustrations
The Cambridge Companion to Charles Dickens – Amazon UK
Our Mutual Friend – York Notes at Amazon UK
Our Mutual Friend – Brodie’s Notes at Amazon UK
Our Mutual Friend – Naxos audio book – Amazon UK
Charles Dickens’ London – interactive map
Oxford Reader’s Companion to Charles Dickens – Amazon UK
Our Mutual Friend – plot summary
Book The First – The Cup and the Lip
Chapter I. Poor river worker Gaffer Hexam and his devoted daughter Lizzie are scavenging on the Thames when they locate a corpse and are challenged by a rival, Rogue Riderhood, a desperate riverside character.
Chapter II. A comic dinner takes place at the Veneerings, where guest solicitor Mortimer Lightwood recounts the story of Harmon (the Dust King) and his will in which he left his empire to son John on condition that he marry Bella Wilfer, a woman he has never met. But it is John Harmon who has recently been reported drowned.
Chapter III. Charley Hexam reports the finding of John Harmon’s body to Mortimer Lightwood. They visit the body at the police station , together with stranger Julius Handford. Next day the coroner reports the unsolved crime as murder.
Chapter IV. John Rokesmith takes up lodgings with the Wilfer family and their now ‘widowed’ daughter Bella who was due to marry John Harmon.
Chapter V. Nicodemus Boffin (the Golden Dustman) employs Silas Wegg to read Gibbon’s Decline of the Roman Empire to him. Wegg goes to Boffin’s Bower (formerly known as Harmony Jail) which is Harmon’s old house.
Chapter VI. Rogue Riderhood spreads malicious gossip about Gaffer Hexam in the pub to the landlady Abbey Potterson. She questions Lizzie, who thinks Riderhood himself might be the murderer. Abbey bars both men from her pub. Lizzie sends her brother Charley away to be a trainee teacher, and he departs with his father’s curse.
Chapter VII. Mr Wegg calls on Mr Venus the melancholy taxidermist regarding his leg bones. Venus confirms Harmon’s great wealth, and reveals that he has been taking an interest in the murder case. Venus is unhappy because his lady friend objects to his trade.
Chapter VIII. Mr Boffin reluctantly inherits the Harmon estate. He instructs Lightwood to issue a large reward on the river for information about the murder, and wants a ‘tight’ will drawn up in favour of Mrs Boffin. He then has an offer of being unpaid secretary from John Rokesmith
Chapter IX. Childless Mrs Boffin wants to adopt a male orphan and the ‘widowed’ Bella Wilfer to make up for her loss of a husband. The Boffins apply to Reverend and Mrs Milvey, then persuade Bella to live with them. Whilst there they meet John Rokesmith. There is rivalry between Lavinia and Bella Wilfer, and the first signs of attraction between Bella and Rokesmith.
Chapter X. Social adventuress Sophronia marries Alfred Lammle in a lavish ceremony hosted by the Veneerings where nobody actually knows anybody else. Afterwards on honeymoon they discover that neither of them has any money at all. They are both deceived, but decide to form a pact against society.
Chapter XI. Pretentious Mr Podsnap decides to throw a lavish birthday party for his very shy daughter Georgiana. Mrs Lammle sets out to ‘befriend’ Georgiana, egged on by her husband who hopes to profit from the connection.
Chapter XII. Lightwood and Wrayburn join forces in a business and take a house on the river. Roger Riderhood visits and accuses Gaffer Hexam of the murder, claiming that Hexam has confessed it to him. They all go to the police station where Mr Inspector takes Lightwood and Wrayburn into the Followships pub.
Chapter XIII. They drink mulled wine and wait for Hexam to reappear. Wrayburn spies on Lizzie. Riderhood goes out to look for Hexam, but reports back that he has found his boat empty and adrift.
Chapter XIV. When the search party goes out to the boat, Mr Inspector eventually reveals that Gaffer Hexam was drowned, apparently caught up in his own ropes. Lightwood is delirious with fatigue and stress. Wrayburn suddenly disappears from the scene.
Chapter XV. Mr Boffin is overwhelmed by his paperwork at the Bower, so he gladly accepts Rokesmith’s offer of being an unpaid secretary. He also asks Wegg to move into the Bower and look after it when he moves to a more fashionable address.. Mrs Boffin starts to see the ghosts of previous occupants of the Bower (the Harmons).
Chapter XVI. Rokesmith looks after all Boffin’s affairs, but does not wish to deal with Lightwood. He takes Mrs Boffin to visit Betty Higden to see about adopting a child, where they meet Sloppy and the child Johnny. Rokesmith meets Bella and announces that she will soon be welcome at the new Boffin residence in town.
Chapter XVII. The Boffins move into their new aristocratic house in town – and are immediately bombarded with visiting cards, invitations, and begging letters.
‘The Bird of Prey’ – Marcus Stone
Book The Second – Birds of a Feather
Chapter I. Six months later Charley Hexam and headmaster Bradley Headstone go to meet Lizzie Hexam, where she is living with spirited invalid Fanny Cleaver (Jenny Wren) the doll’s dressmaker. Charley and Lizzie disagree about their relationship to a poor upbringing. Lizzie is romantically attached to the river. Headstone seems interested in her, but Wrayburn is lurking.
Chapter II. Eugene Wrayburn arrives at Lizzie’s to report that he has no fresh news on Riderhood, who he has been watching. He wishes to help Lizzie and Jenny, and eventually persuades them to accept his offer. Jenny’s father returns home drunk and abject; so she scolds and reproaches him like a parent.
Chapter III. Veneering decides to enter parliament, and sets up a network of ‘agents’ amongst people he knows to curry influence and favour for him. He also puts up a £5,000 bribe, and is selected by Pocket Breeches where he has never even been before.
Chapter IV. Mr and Mrs Lammle continue to cultivate the gullible Georgiana Podsnap. They introduce her to the rich booby Fledgeby, and there is no rapport between the two young people at all, despite a dinner party and a trip to the opera.
Chapter V. Next day Lammle visits Fledgeby at the Albany to ask him about Georgiana, but Fledgeby refuses to answer any of his questions. Fledgeby then goes to see his ’employee’ at Pudsey & Co, Mr Riah, who introduces him to Lizzie Hexam (who he is teaching) and Jenny Wren who buys his waste fabrics.
Chapter VI. Lightwood asks Wrayburn about the recent movements and mysteries in his life, but Wrayburn denies that any exist. They are visited by Charley Hexam and Bradley Headstone who come to protest against Wrayburn’s interest in Lizzie and his paying for her education. Wrayburn acts contemptuously towards them both. He admits to an interest in Lizzie but can’t say towards what it is heading.
Chapter VII. Silas Wegg resents Rokesmith being put in charge of the Bower, and wonders with Mr Venus if Harmon hid things in his waste heaps.They agree to conduct clandestine searches, hoping to find valuables or papers.
Chapter VIII. Bella is prompted by Rokesmith to visit her old home , but when she arrives there are squabbles with both her mother and sister Lavvy. Rokesmith appears with a gift of £50 from Mr Boffin, which Bella spends on clothes for her father and an afternoon out at Greenwich.
Chapter IX. Rokesmith arranges for the sickly child Johnny (who Mrs Boffin wishes to adopt) to be taken to a children’s hospital, but is too late to save him and he dies, having willed his toys to another sick child.
Chapter X. Mrs Boffin then decides to drop the idea of naming an adopted child after John Harmon, and chooses the awkward Sloppy as Johnny’s replacement.
Chapter XI. Bradley Headstone has fallen in love with Lizzie at first sight. He visits her and makes an embarrassed plea that she give up being educated at Wrayburn’s expense. He wants her to let Charley (and himself) teach her instead. She flatly refuses – because she is secretly in love with Wrayburn and wishes to reform him.
Chapter XII. Riderhood receives a visit from the mysterious ‘Captain’ who is wearing the clothes of George Radfoot, who has been horribly killed. He has knowledge regarding Gaffer Hexam and the Harmon murder. He menaces Riderhood, yet offers to split the reward money with him.
Chapter XIII. The mysterious Captain is actually John Harmon, alias Julius Handford, alias John Rokesmith. He is revisiting the scene of his supposed murder, and the narrative reconstructs his back story through his efforts to reconstruct events.
He and George Radfoot were shipmates and confidants, returning to London. Harmon felt oppressed by his father’s wealth and intentions, so exchanged clothing with Radfoot in order to circulate incognito. Radfoot visits Riderhood; Harmon is poisoned; Radfoot is mutilated and murdered by mistake. Harmon then escapes via the river and hides away, living off money from Radfoot’s coat.
He debates with himself about revealing his true identity, and concludes that since he is amongst true friends and loves Bella, he should remain as Rokesmith. But when he returns home Bella petulantly reproaches him for daring to pay court to her.
Chapter XIV. Betty Higden decides that she must separate herself from Sloppy and approaches the Secretary for a loan to set up as an itinerant worker. The Secretary arranges for Sloppy to be given lessons from Headstone, and writes a letter of recantation for Riderhood to sign.
Chapter XV. The besotted Headstone and Charley visit Lizzie in a churchyard so that Headstone can present his proposal of marriage to her – which she rejects. Charley then pleads his friend’s case, and this leads to an argument between them. Lizzie is escorted home by Mr Riah and the imperious Wrayburn.
Chapter XVI. At a celebratory breakfast to mark the first wedding anniversary of the Lammles, it is reported that Lizzie Hexam is missing, and Mrs Lammle asks Twemlow to warn Mr Podsnap against her own match-making mischief regarding Georgiana.
‘Bella Righted by the Golden Dustman’ – Marcus Stone
Book The Third – A Long Lane
Chapter I. Mr Riah delivers his accounts to Fledgeby, who abuses him with anti-Semitism. Lammle arrives to reveal that the Podsnaps have written to break off relations. Fledgeby orders Riah to buy up some debts on the cheap. Riah then reports that he has offered Lizzie sanctuary, away from her suitors and tormentors.
Chapter II. Mr Riah and Jenny Wren show Riderhood’s recantation to Abbey Potterton (and they make a copy of it). A steamer on the river runs down another boat in the fog, drowning its owner – Rogue Riderhood.
Chapter III. Riderhood is brought into the pub and thought to be dead, whereupon people begin to feel sympathetic towards him. But he is revived, and becomes his nasty self again.
Chapter IV. The Wilfers celebrate their wedding anniversary, which is characterised by under-cooked chicken and Mrs Wilfer’s miserable and lugubrious recollections. Bella then confides to her father the marriage proposals she has received and her fears that Boffin’s wealth is turning him into a mercenary.
Chapter V. Mr Boffin patronises Rokesmith, preaches money values to Bella, and collects books on misers. Mrs Lammle cultivates Bella, who is sceptical and divided in her feelings. Boffin moves Rokesmith into his own house – to save money and have him permanently on hand.
Chapter VI. Boffin has Wegg read to him from lives of the great misers, and then he goes out to extract something from the great dustmounds (observed by Wegg and Mr Venus). He then announces that he has sold off the dust heaps.
Chapter VII. Wegg reveals to Venus that he has found a tin money box containing Harmon’s will, which Venus takes from him. They plan to use it against Boffin and his entourage. Venus also reveals that his inamorata is Riderhood’s daughter, Pleasant.
Chapter VIII. Betty Higden has been out on the roads on the upper reaches of the Thames, selling her wares and getting weaker and weaker. She is determined to stay out of the Workhouse. But eventually, worn down and alone, she runs out of life force and dies supported only by the kindness of a stranger – who turns out to be Lizzie Wexham.
Chapter IX. At Betty’s funeral Rokesmith and Bella discuss Lizzie’s predicament. Rokesmith thinks Lizzie might be suffering some social stigma from the false accusations made against her father. On becoming friends, Lizzie tells Bella about Headstone who frightens her and Wrayburn who she loves but thinks is above her.
Chapter X. Wrayburn is being pursued for his bad debts by Mr Riah (working for Fledgeby). Wrayburn wants to discover where Lizzie is hiding, but Jenny refuses to tell him. He is visited by ‘Mr Dolls’ (Jenny’s drunken father) who offers to find out for a fee. Meanwhile Wrayburn is being followed by Headstone and Charley. Wrayburn takes Lightwood out to lead Headstone on a wild goose chase, following him through the streets. Lightwood is horrified by the desperation on Headstone’s face.
Chapter XI. Headstone is consumed by jealousy and hatred of Wrayburn. Whilst spying on him at his Temple Chambers he meets Riderhood and pays him money as a bribe for information about Lizzie.
Chapter XII. The Lammles are in debt, and think their ‘friend’ Fledgeby is holding off Mr Riah as collector. They plot to undermine Boffin’s confidence in the Secretary. But Fledgeby calls, and despite Mrs Lammle’s pleas, he goes to his office and orders Riah to collect the debts.
Chapter XIII. Fledgeby is still in his office when it is visited by Jenny Wren and Twemlow, who reveals that he has a debt being called in by Mr Riah. When Riah returns, Fledgeby forces him through a grotesque charade of pretending to ask for leniency which Riah is obliged to refuse. The silent witness is left with the impression that Mr Riah is unpleasantly ruthless.
Chapter XIV. Venus has a change of heart and reveals to Boffin that he has Harmon’s will and wishes to end his pact with Wegg. Boffin asks him to delay his decision. Wegg threatens to harass Boffin. Mrs Lammle reveals to Boffin that Rokesmith has made a proposal to Bella.
Chapter XV. Boffin accuses Rokesmith of being a duplicitous schemer who is only after the money he is going to settle on Bella, and he sacks his loyal secretary with scorn and reproaches. But Bella leaps to Rokesmith’s defense, criticises Boffin as a man who has become corrupted by money, and leaves the Bower to go back to her family home.
Chapter XVI. Bella goes immediately to her father’s office in the City, where they are joined by Rokesmith, whose marriage proposal she now accepts. She returns home, where Lavvy defiantly faces down their mother’s disapproval of everything.
Chapter XVII. Mrs Lammle warns Twemlow that Fledgeby is the real power behind Riah’s debt collecting – though she has no proof of her claim. Twemlow then attends a big dinner at the Veneerings, where the ‘smash up’ of the Lammles is discussed. Mr Dolls delivers Lizzie’s address to Wrayburn.
‘Miss Wren fixes her idea’ – Marcus Stone
Book The Fourth – A Turning
Chapter I. Headstone is in disguise, following Wrayburn along the river. He meets Riderhood who is now keeper at the Weir Mill Lock. After locating Wrayburn and Lizzie he returns to the lock, where Riderhood discovers that he is impersonating him visually by wearing similar clothes.
Chapter II. The Lammles, now destitute, try to cultivate the Boffins, who hold them at bay and buy themselves off with a £100 sympathy payment. Georgiana tries to be generous towards the Lammles, but Boffin intercepts her gifts, and the Lammles depart, hoping to live somewhere in Europe on the money they have scrounged.
Chapter III. Wegg and Venus summon Boffin and menace him with their plan to take over the Harmon estate. They humiliate him then split the estate into three parts, with especially stringent penalty clauses for Boffin, who is very anxious that his wife shouldn’t discover their impoverishment.
Chapter IV. Bella gets married in secret to Rokesmith, accompanied only by her father.
Chapter V. Announcement of the marriage causes friction and dissent amongst Mrs Wilfer, Lavvy, and George Sampson, then hysterics, followed by self-congratulatory forbearance. Rokesmith works in the City, and offers Bella wealth, which she declines. They live in a state of domestic bliss.
Chapter VI. Wrayburn pays court to Lizzie by the river, but she refuses his advances, even though she loves him, because of the difference in their social class. Wrayburn is attacked by Headstone (disguised as Riderhood) and left for dead. Lizzie rescues him from the river and takes him to the local Inn.
Chapter VII. Headstone returns to Riderhood at the Lock in a disheveled and bloodied state. Riderhood then follows him and recovers his discarded clothes of disguise. Charley Hexam criticises and renounces Headstone for hindering his rise in society.
Chapter VIII. Fledgeby visits Jenny and tries to bribe her for Lizzie’s place of hiding. When she visits him in his Albany rooms the next day, Lammle is just leaving, having given Fledgeby a thrashing.
Chapter IX. Jenny visits Riah, having guessed that Fledgeby owns Pudsey & Co. Fledgeby fires Riah, who retreats with Jenny, only to encounter her father dying from alcoholism in Covent Garden. No sooner has he been buried than Lightwood arrives with the news that Wrayburn is dying and requests Jenny’s presence.
Chapter X. Wrayburn is close to death, but asks of Lightwood that his attacker should not be brought to justice – because it will damage Lizzie’s reputation. He claims that it was not Riderhood. Believing that he is certain to die, he wishes to be married to Lizzie as an act of atonement.
Chapter XI. Lightwood arrives at the Rokesmiths to take them to the ceremony, but John Rokesmith refuses to attend because he does not want to be recognised. A group is assembled, and en route they encounter Headstone, who collapses in a fit when he hears that Lizzie is to be married. The wedding takes place, and Wrayburn begins to revive.
Chapter XII. A few months later, after Bella has had a baby girl, the Rokesmiths bump into Lightwood in London. John Rokesmith is forced to admit to his Julius Handford alias. He is explaining one part of his implication in the Harmon affair to Bella when they receive a visit from Mr Inspector. He takes Rokesmith to the pub, where he is identified. Rokesmith quits his job and moves Bella to live at the Boffins’ house.
Chapter XIII. The Boffins then reveal to Bella how they guessed John Harmon’s true identity and have been acting out a charade of becoming miserly as a negative lesson for Bella. Even the ill treatment of Rokesmith was all an act. Harmonious relations are restored.
Chapter XIV. Mr Venus announces to Wegg that he is to be married to Pleasant Riderhood. He and Wegg go to settle accounts with Boffin, but it transpires that Venus has secretly been on Boffin’s side all along. They have Harmon’s will, and were leading on Wegg to a greater downfall. John Harmon has his inheritance, but has given Boffin the Dust Heaps. Sloppy throws Wegg out into the street.
Chapter XV. Headstone feels guilty and realises his plan has failed. Riderhood visits him at school and reveals his knowledge of the attack on Wrayburn. When Headstone visits him at the lock he demands money and threatens to bleed him dry. Headstone tries to leave, but in the end kills them both by dragging Riderhood into the weir.
Chapter XVI. The Wilfers visit the Harmons, still arguing amongst themselves. Sloppy is becoming a cabinet maker. He visits Jenny Wren and pays court to her. Wrayburn visits Harmon and they discuss the problem of mixing Lizzie in polite society.
Chapter XVII. Lightwood goes to dinner at the Veneerings, who are about to ‘crash’ and plan to live in Calais. Lady Tippings taunts him snobbishly about Wrayburn’s marriage to Lizzie. He is surrounded by prejudice and nastiness.
Postscript Dickens comments personally on the composition of his novel – on its plot and credibility, perhaps unconsciously acknowledging that he had dropped below his usual standards.
‘The Wedding Dinner at Greenwich’ – Marcus Stone
Our Mutual Friend – principal characters
|Harmon||original creator and owner of the ‘dust’ empire|
|John Harmon||his son, alias Julius Handford, alias John Rokesmith, alias the Secretary, true heir to the Harmon estate|
|Nicodemus (‘Noddy’) Boffin||alias ‘The Golden Dustman’. former servant to Harmon Snr, who inherits his wealth and house|
|Mr Fledgeby||a pompous dandy, who owns Pudsey & Co|
|Bradley Headstone||the headmaster in a school, obsessed with Lizzie Hexam|
|Jesse (‘Gaffer’) Hexam||a rough Thames waterside man|
|Lizzie Hexam||his devoted and attractive daughter|
|Charley Hexam||his headstrong but clever son, apprenticed to Headstone|
|Roger ‘Rogue’ Riderhood||a desperate and unpleasant riverside character|
|Pleasant Riderhood||his daughter, an unlicensed pawnbroker|
|Mr Inspector||a police officer|
|Betty Higden||keeper of a ‘minding school’ and a mangle|
|Our Johnny||an orphan great-grandson of Betty Higden|
|Sloppy||an awkward foundling, adopted by Mrs Higden
‘He do the police in different voices’
|Alfred Lammle||a socialite and fortune-hunter|
|Mortimer Lightwood||a solicitor and attorney with only Harmon as his one client|
|Eugene Wrayburn||his friend, a barrister without a brief, an indolent and unambitious misanthrope|
|Silas Wegg||a ballad seller with a wooden leg who reads to Boffin|
|Mr Venus||a taxidermist who is disappointed in love|
|Rev Frank Milvey||a curate with a large family|
|Mr John Podsnap||a member of society, a pompous self-satisfied man|
|Mr Riah||a venerable Jew, of noble and generous nature, Fledgeby’s employee at Pudsey & Co|
|Fanny Cleaver||a doll’s dressmaker, referred to as ‘Jenny Wren’|
|Mr Cleaver||Jenny Wren’s drunken father, referred to as ‘Mr Dolls’,|
|Miss Emma Peacher||a teacher in love with Headstone at his school|
|Miss Abbey Potterson||landlady of The Six Jolly Fellowship-Porters|
|Reginald Wilfer||‘The Cherub’ – a henpecked clerk|
|Mrs Wilfer||his wife, an angular and dyspeptic misery|
|Bella Wilfer||their elder pretty daughter, protege of the Boffins|
|Lavinia ‘Lavvy’ Wilfer||their younger sharp-tongued daughter|
|George Sampson||a feeble young man, engaged to Lavvy|
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John Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens, Forgotten Books, 2009.
Edgar Johnson, Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph, Little Brown, 1952.
Fred Kaplan, Dickens: A Biography, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.
Frederick G. Kitton, The Life of Charles Dickens: His Life, Writings and Personality, Lexden Publishing Limited, 2004.
Michael Slater, Charles Dickens, Yale University Press, 2009.
G.H. Ford, Dickens and His Readers, Norton, 1965.
P.A.W. Collins, Dickens and Crime, London: Palgrave, 1995.
Philip Collins (ed), Dickens: The Critical Heritage, London: Routledge, 1982.
Jenny Hartley, Charles Dickens and the House of Fallen Women, London: Methuen, 2009.
Andrew Sanders, Authors in Context: Charles Dickens, Oxford University Press, 2009.
Jeremy Tambling, Going Astray: Dickens and London, London: Longman, 2008.
Donald Hawes, Who’s Who in Dickens, London: Routledge, 2001.
Other works by Charles Dickens
Pickwick Papers (1836-37) was Dickens’ first big success. It was issued in twenty monthly parts and is not so much a novel as a series of loosely linked sketches and changing characters featured in reports to the Pickwick Club. These recount comic excursions to Rochester, Dingley Dell, and Bath; duels and elopements; Christmas festivities; Mr Pickwick inadvertently entering the bedroom of a middle-aged lady at night; and in the end a happy marriage. Much light-hearted fun, and a host of memorable characters.
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Oliver Twist (1837-38) expresses Dickens’ sense of the vulnerability of children. Oliver is a foundling, raised in a workhouse, who escapes suffering by running off to London. There he falls into the hands of a gang of thieves controlled by the infamous Fagin. He is pursued by the sinister figure of Monks who has secret information about him. The plot centres on the twin issues of personal identity and a secret inheritance (which surface again in Great Expectations). Emigration, prison, and violent death punctuate a cascade of dramatic events. This is the early Victorian novel in fine melodramatic form. Recommended for beginners to Dickens.
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Charles Dickens – web links
Charles Dickens at Mantex
Biographical notes, book reviews, tutorials and study guides, free eTexts, videos, adaptations for cinema and television, further web links.
> Charles Dickens at Wikipedia
Biography, major works, literary techniques, his influence and legacy, extensive bibliography, and further web links.
Charles Dickens at Gutenberg
A major collection of free eTexts of the major works in a variety of formats.
Dickens on the Web
Major jumpstation including plots and characters from the novels, illustrations, Dickens on film and in the theatre, maps, bibliographies, and links to other Dickens sites.
The Dickens Page
Chronology, eTexts available, maps, filmography, letters, speeches, biographies, criticism, and a hyper-concordance.
Charles Dickens at the Internet Movie Database
Adaptations of the major novels and stories for the cinema and television – in various languages
A Charles Dickens Journal
An old HTML website with detailed year-by-year (and sometimes day-by-day) chronology of events, plus pictures.
Hyper-Concordance to Dickens
Locate any word or phrase in the major works – find that quotation or saying, in its original context.
Dickens at the Victorian Web
Biography, political and social history, themes, settings, book reviews, articles, essays, bibliographies, and related study resources.
Charles Dickens – Gad’s Hill Place
Something of an amateur fan site with ‘fun’ items such as quotes, greetings cards, quizzes, and even a crossword puzzle.
© Roy Johnson 2014
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