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Our Mutual Friend

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Our Mutual Friend (written in the years 1864–65) is the last completed novel written by Charles Dickens. It centers on, in the words of critic J. Hillis Miller, "money, money, money, and what money can make of life" (which is, incidentally, a quote from Our Mutual Friend, spoken by Bella at the end of book III, chapter iv.). In the opening chapter, a young man is on his way to receive his inheritance, which, according to his father's will, he can only claim if he marries Bella Wilfer, a beautiful, mercenary girl whom he has never met. However, before he can arrive, a body is found in the Thames and identified as him. The money passes on, instead, to the Boffins, and the effects spread throughout various corners of London society. The book is largely believed to be the most challenging and complicated that Dickens produced. Reviews at the time of publication were not generally favorable, but critical opinion shifted in the century that followed. Although somewhat a mystery, an important point concerning the identity of certain characters is revealed halfway through, without hinting as to the ending.

Although the book is quite lengthy, the ending seems rushed. It is a book in which G. K. Chesterton described that, as the reader rushes to read it, 'the writer rushed to write it', expressing displeasure at Mr Boffin's abortive fall into greed and vice, which, not only is inconsistent with Dickens' themes at that time of life, but also inconsistent with the character himself. Of the crucial ending, Chesterton wrote 'It might have taken years to turn Noddy Boffin into a miser; but it would have taken centuries to turn him into an actor.'[1]

A possible factor is the Staplehurst rail crash, in which Dickens was involved while writing Our Mutual Friend. Some commentators believe it seriously affected his ability to work, right up to his death five years later in 1870. [citation needed]

Plot summary

John Harmon, son of a wealthy dust contractor and heir to his father's fortune if he agrees to marry Bella Wilfer, is away from England when his father dies. On the way home he is supposed drowned in a case of mistaken identity. With his supposed death the dust fortune goes to Boffin, his father's former servant. John gets himself hired into the Boffin home as secretary John Rokesmith. Here he meets Bella and, with the help of the kindly Boffins, wins her love as Rokesmith, and marries her. He later reveals his true identity and regains his fortune.

Characters in "Our Mutual Friend"

Like all of Dickens' works, Our Mutual Friend contains many memorable characters. (This list is incomplete.)

Major characters

  • John Harmon, the absent centre of the story
  • Bella Wilfer, a mercenary young person
  • John Rokesmith, a Secretary (Alias of John Harmon)
  • Nicodemus (Noddy) Boffin, aka the Golden Dustman, probably based on Henry Dodd, a ploughboy who made his fortune removing London's rubbish
  • Mrs Boffin, his wife
  • Lizzie Hexam, a waterman's daughter
  • Charley Hexam, her brother
  • Mortimer Lightwood, a young lawyer
  • Eugene Wrayburn, a dilettante lawyer
  • Jenny Wren, a dolls' dressmaker
  • Mr Riah, Jewish manager of a money-lending business
  • Bradley Headstone, a sociopathic school teacher
  • Silas Wegg, a would-be literary man and seller of ballads
  • Mr Venus, a taxidermist and articulator of bones
  • Mr Podsnap, an extremely pompous, self-complacent man
  • Mrs Podsnap, his wife
  • Georgiana Podsnap, their daughter
  • Mr Inspector, a police officer
  • Mr Fledgeby, often referred to as Fascination Fledgeby, a young friend of the Lammles, actual owner of Mr Riah's money-lending business

Minor characters

  • Mrs Wilfer, Bella's querulous mother
  • Reginald Wilfer, Bella's father
  • Lavinia Wilfer, Bella's younger sister
  • George Sampson, Lavinia's boyfriend
  • Mr Alfred Lammle, a mature young gentleman
  • Mr Twemlow, a gentleman
  • Mrs Betty Higden, a child-minder
  • Jesse Hexam aka Gaffer, a waterman, father of Lizzie and Charlie
  • Mr and Mrs Veneering, nouveaux-riches
  • Miss Abbey Potterson, proprietor of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters pub
  • Miss Peecher, a school teacher

Original publication

Our Mutual Friend, like most Dickens novels, was published in 19 monthly installments, each costing one shilling (with the exception of the nineteenth, which was double-length and cost two). Each issue featured 32 pages of text and two illustrations by Marcus Stone.


  • I - May 1864 (chapters 1-4);
  • II - June 1864 (chapters 5-7);
  • III - July 1864 (chapters 8-10);
  • IV - August 1864 (chapters 11-13);
  • V - September 1864 (chapters 14-17).


  • VI - October 1864 (chapters 1-3);
  • VII - November 1864 (chapters 4-6);
  • VIII - December 1864 (chapters 7-10);
  • IX - January 1865 (chapters 11-13);
  • X - February 1865 (chapters 14-16).


  • XI - March 1865 (chapters 1-4);
  • XII - April 1865 (chapters 5-7);
  • XIII - May 1865 (chapters 8-10);
  • XIV - June 1865 (chapters 11-14);
  • XV - July 1865 (chapters 15-17).


  • XVI - August 1865 (chapters 1-4);
  • XVII - September 1865 (chapters 5-7);
  • XVIII - October 1865 (chapters 8-11);
  • XIX-XX - November 1865 (chapters 12-17 (Chapter the Last)).

Film, TV or Theatrical Adaptations & Influence

The BBC produced a TV adaptation of Our Mutual Friend in 1997, adapted by Sandi Welch. It starred Paul McGann and Anna Friel. The BBC also produced an earlier version that appeared on Masterpiece Theatre in the 1970s.

At one point, the Royal Shakespeare Company considered a very long stage adaptation of the novel, featuring every last subplot and character, but shied away as there were simply too many drownings or near drownings which would have been too complicated to do on stage. They opted instead to do Nicholas Nickleby.

In 2005, Paul McCartney released a song "Jenny Wren" on his Chaos and Creation in the Backyard album about the character of Jenny Wren.

In the TV series Lost, character Desmond Hume keeps Our Mutual Friend close by, as he has read everything Charles Dickens wrote except it, and plans to have it be his last thing read before he dies.

Sir Harry Johnston wrote a sequel to Our Mutual Friend, titled The Veneerings, published in the early 1920s.

External links

Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Our Mutual Friend

Online editions

  • Our Mutual Friend, available freely at Project Gutenberg
  • Our Mutual Friend – complete book in HTML one page for each chapter.
  • Our Mutual Friend - Easy to read HTML verson.
  • Our Mutual Friend: The Scholarly Pages. The Dickens Project.


  • "Our Mutual Friend" From Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens by G.K. Chesterton.
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