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Our Mutual Friend (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – September 10, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

Our Mutual Friend was the last novel Charles Dickens completed and is, arguably, his darkest and most complex. The basic plot is vintage Dickens: an inheritance up for grabs, a murder, a rocky romance or two, plenty of skullduggery, and a host of unforgettable secondary characters. But in this final outing the author's heroes are more flawed, his villains more sympathetic, and the story as a whole more harrowing and less sentimental. The mood is set in the opening scene in which a riverman, Gaffer Hexam, and his daughter Lizzie troll the Thames searching for drowned men whose pockets Gaffer will rifle before turning the body over to the authorities. On this particular night Gaffer finds a corpse that is later identified as that of John Harmon, who was returning from abroad to claim a large fortune when he was apparently murdered and thrown into the river.

Harmon's death is the catalyst for everything else that happens in the novel. It seems the fortune was left to the young man on the condition that he marry a girl he'd never met, Bella Wilfer. His death, however, brings a new heir onto the scene, Nicodemus Boffin, the kind-hearted but low-born assistant to Harmon's father. Boffin and his wife adopt young Bella, who is determined to marry money, and also hire a mysterious young secretary, John Rokesmith, who takes an uncommon interest in their ward. Not content with just one plot, Dickens throws in a secondary love story featuring the riverman's daughter, Lizzie Hexam; a dissolute young upper-class lawyer, Eugene Wrayburn; and his rival, the headmaster Bradley Headstone. Dark as the novel is, Dickens is careful to leaven it with secondary characters who are as funny as they are menacing--blackmailing Silas Wegg and his accomplice Mr. Venus, the avaricious Lammles, and self-centered Charlie Hexam. Our Mutual Friend is one of Dickens's most satisfying novels, and a fitting denouement to his prolific career. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From School Library Journal

Grade 7 Up-With a cast of characters that covers the whole spectrum of London life, Dickens weaves a tapestry of tales that are by turn funny, moving and tragic.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Classics
  • Paperback: 880 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library (September 10, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375761144
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375761140
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (183 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #868,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

One of the grand masters of Victorian literature, Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, in Landport, Portsea, England. He died in Kent on June 9, 1870. The second of eight children of a family continually plagued by debt, the young Dickens came to know not only hunger and privation,but also the horror of the infamous debtors' prison and the evils of child labor. A turn of fortune in the shape of a legacy brought release from the nightmare of prison and "slave" factories and afforded Dickens the opportunity of two years' formal schooling at Wellington House Academy. He worked as an attorney's clerk and newspaper reporter until his Sketches by Boz (1836) and The Pickwick Papers (1837) brought him the amazing and instant success that was to be his for the remainder of his life. In later years, the pressure of serial writing, editorial duties, lectures, and social commitments led to his separation from Catherine Hogarth after twenty-three years of marriage. It also hastened his death at the age of fifty-eight, when he was characteristically engaged in a multitude of work.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

106 of 111 people found the following review helpful By frumiousb VINE VOICE on August 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
I think that it may be hard for the modern reader to find the time to read _Our Mutual Friend_. It's length makes it undeniably difficult to fit easily into the daily allotment of reading time. Weighing in at over 900 pages, it was originally published as a twenty-part monthly serial. There are also a number of situations and details that while very familiar to the Victorians, will be almost wholly incomprehensible to the reader of today (for instance the role of dust and dustmen and the mounds in the yard of the old house).
It's also clearly not Dickens' sunniest work. At the time of its release already, people spoke nostalgically about the more gentle nature of _David Copperfield_ or _Oliver Twist_ . While the farce that constitutes such an important element in Dickens' works is present, it's tainted with a note of bitterness that conveys a feeling of pervasive sadness throughout this great novel.
Dickens was working on this book when he was caught in the Staplehurst rail disaster and narrowly escaped death when his car was the only one of the first-class cars not to plunge from a bridge into a river bed. He was one of the people who climbed down the side to do what he could for the dead and dying. Dickens himself mentions the accident in his afterword, and at the risk of reading too much into the incident, it's hard not to read this book from the perspective of an aging man who narrowly avoids death himself. The nature of death, and the idea of escaping it by a hand's length, is one of the themes that comes back over and over again in _Our Mutual Friend_
The plot hinges around a disputed inheritance and mistaken identity, with a meditation about love as societal coin.
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57 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Eric P. Neff on May 14, 2003
Format: Paperback
I hadn't read Dickens in quite a while. Ten years had passed since I closed the cover of Bleak House and put it back on my bookshelf. But then I happened upon a recent biography of Dickens written by Jane Smiley (of all people). Being a huge fan of both author and subject, I picked it up. I won't review Ms. Smiley's book here (it's excellent, read it), but I was surprised to hear her heap such praise and adoration on this book. I'd heard of it and I knew it was one of Dickens' last works. But that was about all I knew, having limited my exposure to his "better known" works. Did "Our Mutual Friend" belong in the hallowed ranks of Dickens' best? I figured, a Pulitzer Prize winning author must know what she's talking about, right?
Well, she does. "Our Mutual Friend" is like a great meal at a fine restaurant. Chew slowly. Savor each bite. The beauty of this book is in its extraodinary and wonderful style of writing, delightful similes, vivid and uncanny character development (Dickens is the master, but he outdoes even himself in this work) and that odd sense you get when you close a masterpiece that you just had a once in a lifetime experience. The man can write!
Make no mistake, this is a tougher read than the earlier, more "Dickens-y" novels. But the characters are more rich, complex and interesting than in any other of his work. If you don't feel a sincere sense of mourning for Mr. Boffin's decline into miserism, and joy for...(well, I won't spoil the plot for you), then I can't help you. The caustically satiric language may be a shock to those used to the milder styles of Copperfield and Pickwick, but it is brilliant and I believe it is his best work. The grim story line is far from the lilting plot of a Nickleby, but it is gripping.
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70 of 75 people found the following review helpful By mp on May 21, 2002
Format: Paperback
Charles Dickens's 1865 novel, his last completed novel, "Our Mutual Friend" is an extraordinarily dark and convoluted work. Featuring such unforgettable figures as Mr. Boffin, Mr. Podsnap, Bradley Headstone, Jenny Wren, and Silas Wegg, Dickens continues, or rather concludes his artistic legacy with a work rich in well written and compelling characters. Exploring, as do many of Dickens's works, the intricacies of inheritance, "Our Mutual Friend" is also deeply concerned with families and the things that hold them together or rip them apart. Interesting and fraught emphases on education, upholding particularly English interests in the face of the still rising British Empire, and concerns about the absolute uncertainties about life and death, this is quite a way to come at a last complete novel.
"Our Mutual Friend" begins with Lizzie and her father Gaffer Hexam patrolling the river in the dark of night. Pulling a body out of the river for the potential reward money, the novel jumps right into the action with a bang. The body is presumed to be that of young John Harmon, just returned from South Africa to claim a huge inheritance from his recently deceased, hateful and miserly father. The only heir dead, the elder Harmon's loyal employees, Mr. and Mrs. Boffin stand next in the will to inherit everything. This causes a stir in Society, where Mortimer Lightwood, the legal executor of the will, and his friend Eugene Wrayburn are called in to view the body and question Gaffer Hexam.
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