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Filth and the Filthy Rich

  • Sep 17, 2008
The filth upon which wealth and pomp can be constructed is a central image in this, Dickens's deepest and darkest novel. The tale revolves around an inheritance based on London's trash. The River Thames - a central personage in the novel - is a moody muddy cloaca of murders and misanthropy. Yes, there are love interests, tra la, and love does triumph, though the victory seems shadowed by the deception it involves. And there's the murder mystery, as murky as any detective fiction lover could wish. And of course the ending is sappy and implausible, so mood-shattering that you may wish you'd lost the book on the bus before finishing it. This is Dickens, after all. Nevertheless, Our Mutual Friend is easily a candidate for "the greatest Victorian novel of all" and a very entertaining novel as well, gut-bustingly funny, fiercely satirical, masterpiece-colorful.

This is Dickens's second-most political novel, after Hard Times. The satire makes tatters of the pretensions of both old wealth and new, of the Veneerings and the Podsnaps, the unlovable conservatives whose mansions seem to float on the river of filth and misery that runs through British society. Dickens was a curious blend of social prudery and radical labor sympathy, and it is true that his mudlarks and cutpurses are always more fully human than his uppity burghers. But the depiction of smug conservatism in Our Mutual Friend nails its targets with such sharp scorn that Podsnappery became a term of political opprobrium in after-years. Perhaps as Dickens gained access to the upper classes through his literary success, he became more acquainted with their human foibles and follies, and was better able to portray them in this, his last finished novel.

I've read this great novel twice, and I think I'm due to read it again in light of its relevance to the false self-images of America's neoliberal "conservatives," Podsnappers every one of them. I'm grateful to a young friend in Florida, whose review of the filmed version of this novel brought it back to my attention.

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review by . July 02, 2012
Dickens was on the edge of powerful modern literature that his early death left for another century to open up in other, less imitable hands.  The tantalizing fragmentary signposts in "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" show how far he might have been prepared to carry his craft (see Simmons' novel Drood for an interesting take on that direction, not just in his writing but in his life)  The sketches are taking shape in  "Our mutual Friend", his last completed novel.   …
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Our Mutual Friendwas 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 ...

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ISBN-10: 0375761144
ISBN-13: 978-0375761140
Author: Charles Dickens
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Modern Library
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