Monday, June 8, 2015

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

Review by The Quidnunc

As an ex-student in British & American Literature, it meant a great deal to go back and re-read the last finished book of Charles Dickens. Published in 1865 Our Mutual Friend is the very last experiment of the author in combining his unearthly psychological instinct and his gift for social analysis.
Although, the novel is know as one of the Dickens' weakest literary performances due to its artificial taste (Henry James), I believe it still is a work with a proper place in English Literary History.
As I sank into its first paragraphs I couldn't but feel as if watching a Fellini movie... the opening scene, especially, when father and daughter are corpse scavenging the banks of Thames in the stillness of the night. I admit my vivid imagination draw a first impression of London filled with horror and mystery that grabbed hold of my attention and didn't let go until the very last page of the novel.
Dickens' talent for reading and building character personae is, of course, undeniable but in Our Mutual Friend he also reveals his gift for mirroring the exact societal preferences of his age, and the peculiarities of class distinction and communication of the times. 
In short, his last novel is about MONEY and their effect on people who yearn to obtain them and on people who already have them. The deadly breath of money hovers upon each and every character of the novel. To escape this Dickens relied heavily on the idea of rebirth and renewal. He filled the novel with the taste of Thames. Water is the symbol of life and new beginning throughout the whole plot. John Harmon and Eugene Wrayburn both "drawn" their old lives in the river to give themselves a chance of new life. In the case of Harmon - he chooses to fake his own death to ensure himself a chance of getting to know his future wife and to reassure himself as not dependant of his father's will and money. And Wrayburn, who is supposed to die young, resurrects himself to correct his mistake, marry Lizie and live a long and happy life with her.

While in many ways Our Mutual Friend is undoubtedly flawed, there are some strengths of the novel that have to be underlined. The omniscient narrator, so typical for Dickens, is an inseparable part of his last novel as well, making its voice distinct and strong and helping the author get away with everything that irritates his true fans. Our Mutual Friend captures us with its bold sentiment, its pathos and mostly with its drama. You can swallow the novel whole without even thinking twice for the after taste. The light-hearted moral conviction of the last page when Twemlow reveals his steel, grabs the whole of you and leaves you with the feeling of knowing "the whole spirit of the English people."
On the positive side, with no regret, I can call Our Mutual Friend  a story of a life time, regardless of its downfalls, because for what it lacks in plot it makes up for in darkness of villains and depths of characters and setting. And to be honest its flaws are what makes it still so readable.
One thing is sure: it definitely is a novel  for the ages; a story to be visited and revisited many-a-times for everyone needs their little adventure on a boat upon the river of Our Mutual Friend.