>Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (1864-65)

>
2009 Suspense and Thriller Reading Challenge: historical thriller.

I have read a handful of Dickens´ novels, and in my eyes this one is by far the best. Not only because of the crime story – which does not take up so much space that it should keep any non-crime reader off the book – but because it is a very early example of a ´modern´ novel: a complex and coherent plot, engaging and credible characters of all classes, and excellent descriptions of the environment. Quite impressive, actually, as Dickens wrote the book as monthly installments and always had to think of keeping up his readers´ interest from one month to the other. An example of what this publishing method may lead to is The Pickwick Papers which are more like short stories loosely tied together by recurrent characters than a novel.

Basically, the novel is about an old, cruel and tight-fisted dustman who dies, and leaves a quite spiteful will. He leaves a fortune to his only son, who ran away from home several years ago, on the condition that young John Harmon marries an unknown girl, Bella Wilfer.

It is also a story about the social classes of Britain, however. About unfathomable wealth, hypocrisy and endless, boring dinners on silverstrewn tables. About the eternal race of the newly rich and the middle class to keep up their veneer of dignity. And about poor people struggling to survive.

Other characters just try to placate everybody and end up pleasing no one as in this scandalous scene among Bella Wilfer´s mother, younger sister and former suitor:
´”… why one should go out to dine with one´s own daughter or sister, as if one´s underpetticoat was a blackboard, I do not understand.”
“Neither do I understand,” retorted Mrs Wilfer, with deep scorn, “how a young lady can mention the garment in the name in which you have indulged. I blush for you.”
“Thank you, Ma,” said Lavvy, yawning, “but I can do it for myself, I am obliged to you, when there´s any occasion.”
Here, Mr Sampson, with the view of establishing harmony, which he never under any circumstances succeeded in doing, said with an agreeable smile: “After all, you know, ma´am, we know it´s there.”
Shocking, Mr Sampson!

Furthermore, there are two wonderful love stories: young, spoilt Bella who meets a young, secretive secretary, and poor Lizzie Hexam, who struggles to help her ungrateful brother and resist the advances of the unambitious barrister Eugene Wrayburn, because she knows any relationship between them is bound to end in disaster – for her, at least.


Charles Dickens, Vor Fælles Ven.
Jeg har læst en håndfuld af Dickens´ romaner, og i mine øjne er den her absolut den bedste. Ikke kun på grund af krimi-plottet – som ikke fylder så meget, at ikke-krimifans behøver lade sig skræmme væk fra bogen – men fordi den er et meget tidligt eksempel på en ´moderne´ roman: et komplekst og sammenhængende plot, fængslende og troværdige personer fra alle sociale klasser, og fremragende miljøbeskrivelser. Særligt imponerende, fordi Dickens skrev bogen i form af månedlige afsnit (ligesom de fleste andre romaner på den tid), og altid skulle huske på at holde læserens interesse fangen fra den ene måned til den næste. Et typisk eksempel på denne genre er Dickens´ egen “The Pickwick Papers”, som nærmere er en række korte historier, som bliver løst knyttet sammen via de gennemgående personer, end en egentlig roman.

I store træk handler romanen om en ond, gammel gnier som dør, og efterlader sig fire bjerge af skrald, og et hævngerrigt testamente. Han efterlader en formue til sin eneste søn, som løb hjemmefra mange år tidligere, på betingelse af at unge John Harmon gifter sig med en for ham helt ukendt pige, Bella Wilfer.

Det er også historien om de sociale klasser i datidens Storbritannien. Om ufattelige rigdomme, hykleri og kedelige, endeløse tretårnede middage. Om de nyrige og middelklassens ræs for at holde på facaden, og om underklassens kamp for at overleve. Sidst, men ikke mindst, er der to vidunderlige kærlighedshistorier: unge, forkælede Bella Wilfer, som møder en hemmelighedsfuld sekretær, og fattige Lizzie Hexam som kæmper for at hjælpe sin utaknemmelige bror, og modstå de meget smigrende tilnærmelser fra den uambitiøse sagfører Eugene Wrayburn, fordi hun ved at et forhold mellem to så ulige børn nødvendigvis må ende med en katastrofe – i hvert fald for hende.

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About Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen

I am a Danish teacher. In my spare time I read, write and review crime fiction.
This entry was posted in 2009 reading challenge, British, Charles Dickens, review. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to >Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (1864-65)

  1. Søren says:

    >Er det ikke noget med, at Dickens roman ‘Bleak House’ (hedder den vist) regnes for en ‘rigtig’ krimi?

  2. >When I read Dickens, I always forget that he wrote most of his novels as serials. I get part way through and start to get annoyed at how disconnected they seem — then I remember how he wrote and it makes sense. I’ve never read this one, but it sounds pretty interesting. Dickens is always good at writing about class struggles, I think.

  3. Dorte H says:

    >Søren: jo, der er en meget tidlig ´detektiv´ i den, Inspector Bucket. Lidt farveløs og kedelig, men fantastisk vedholdende og stædig. “Bleak House” er også en glimrende Dickens, men jeg har endnu ikke læst nogen af ham, der er på højde med Our Mutual Friend. Jeg har også hele filmserien på video, og jeg genser den af og til sammen med mine to piger.

  4. Dorte H says:

    >Kim, that is exactly why I never finished The Pickwick Papers. I should have as it was part of my Dickens curriculum at university. I cut a corner, and read Our Mutual Friend instead. I enjoyed it immensely, and for my oral exam our professor had chosen chapter 2 of exactly this book. He was duly impressed that I had read 5-600 extra pages voluntarily. LOL

  5. Mikkel Lund says:

    It is true that both Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend are early detective stories. And I do not aggree with those who think Inspector Bucket is boring and without colóur. In fact I think he is a forerunner of sherlock Holmes. And we know that Conan Doyle was a Dickens fan. As far as Our Mutual Friend is concerned I think Bella Wilfer is a forerunner of Nora in “A Doll House” by Henrik Ibsen. The protagonist John Harmon is also very good at disguising himself. Stevenson has also borrowed quite a lot from this last finished novel by Dickens. A masterpiece!!!

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