Our Mutual Friend

by Charles Dickens

Shadowy mystery and a tale of greed

September 2000

When I first tried to read Dickens, in the form of Great Expectations, I was disgusted by plot and character, and even skipped 100 pages somewhere in the middle, not missing one single plot twist. You see, I had been brought up on soap operas - I knew the common, unbelievable developments in such a plot.

I did not understand the point of a Dickens novel at the tender, unexperienced age of 13.

Many people nowadays may be daunted by the size of such a novel (the Dickens novels taught at schools - A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Great Expectations - are of his =shortest= novels), but a reader will be well-rewarded for embarking on this one. It opens with a father and daughter in a rowboat, dragging back a body found in the river. The murdered man was heir to a fortune made through London's garbage, and Bella, a woman in town of modest means was to have been his wife by the will of the murdered man's father. Instead, the fortune of the ash heaps go to the Boffins, who had been employees of the old man. Shall they be spoiled by the instant wealth? Is there another will to be found among the ash heaps? Who is the mysterious, backgroundless man who becomes Mr. Boffin's secretary and watches over Bella? What of the daughter of the riverman, who is pursued by an idle lawyer and her brother's brooding schoolmaster?

Dickens was at the top of his craft in weaving plots and characters together in this novel. He throws some bones to readers every so often, answering some mysteries while opening some others. The recent production on Masterpiece Theater follows the story well, but, as is usual, many of the side characters have been dropped, and the development of some of the characters is rather sketchy. Don't stand for diluted Dickens! The man was master of the novel, and this should be one of the first of his to read.

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Mary Pat Campbell, last updated 11 June 2001