Reading Our Mutual Friend was An Experience for me — I looked forward to coming home each night so I could read. I thought about what I read throughout the day. I felt intimately connected to the characters, and sometimes had to pinch myself as a reminder that these are not actual people I know! I was so deeply involved in this book that I couldn’t bear to read anything else until I finished the last page.
There is so much to talk about with this book that I’m hardly able to say anything in this space! I find myself wishing I was one of the people who read this serialized, and had everyday people to talk about each episode with as we went through The Experience of reading it. Not only because it’s a great story with compelling characters, but the themes it ruminates on are topics we are still hashing over presently. Fantasy: talk over Our Mutual Friend at work instead of Orange is the New Black (am I the only person On Earth that watched an episode and had to turn it off. Not funny. Vulgar in a bad way. Absurd in a bad way. Frown!).
Class. Society. Money. Charity. What does it truly mean to be a lady or gentleman (the last chapter makes it clear what Dickens thinks. I hugged and kissed my cat so much after I read the last chapter!)
(And – an aside: pet peeve alert! Think before you use the word classy — as in “That bag is so classy.” No. When you use the word classy, you are actually invoking social class, particularly the British social class that Dickens is talking about — and skewering — in this book! You are implying that positive qualities are associated with the amount of money and/or status one (something) has, and not the behavior and/or inherent qualities one (something) displays. Better words? Elegant. Stylish. Well-made. Well-mannered. You get the idea. I think this replaces my former biggest pet peeve of the current usage of “curated” — but I digress).
Redemption. Dickens uses water not only as a symbol of death, but of rebirth. And it works. Both.
Lest this sound schmaltzy — it’s not. The overwhelming tone of the the book is sardonic. Dickens is so darkly funny and mocking — and weary and cynical too. The sweet and satirical come together to make SUCH a book. It’s like David Copperfield on steroids.
“And O there are days in this life, worth life and worth death. And O what a bright old song it is, that O ’tis love, ’tis love, ’tis love that makes the world go round!”
“We are thankful to come here for rest, sir,” said Jenny. “You see, you don’t know what the rest of this place is to us; does he, Lizzie? It’s the quiet, and the air.”
“The quiet!” repeated Fledgeby, with a contemptuous turn of his head towards the City’s roar. “And the air!” with a “Poof!” at the smoke.
“Ah!” said Jenny. “But it’s so high. And you see the clouds rushing on above the narrow streets, not minding them, and you see the golden arrows pointing at the mountains in the sky from which the wind comes, and you feel as if you were dead.”
The little creature looked above her, holding up her slight transparent hand.
“How do you feel when you are dead?” asked Fledgeby, much perplexed.
“Oh, so tranquil!” cried the little creature, smiling. “Oh, so peaceful and so thankful! And you hear the people who are alive, crying, and working, and calling to one another down in the close dark streets, and you seem to pity them so! And such a chain has fallen from you, and such a strange good sorrowful happiness comes upon you!”
Her eyes fell on the old man, who, with his hands folded, quietly looked on.
“Why it was only just now,” said the little creature, pointing at him, “that I fancied I saw him come out of his grave! He toiled out at that low door so bent and worn, and then he took his breath and stood upright, and looked all round him at the sky, and the wind blew upon him, and his life down in the dark was over!—Till he was called back to life,” she added, looking round at Fledgeby with that lower look of sharpness. “Why did you call him back?”
“He was long enough coming, anyhow,” grumbled Fledgeby.
“But you are not dead, you know,” said Jenny Wren. “Get down to life!”
Mr Fledgeby seemed to think it rather a good suggestion, and with a nod turned round. As Riah followed to attend him down the stairs, the little creature called out to the Jew in a silvery tone, “Don’t be long gone. Come back, and be dead!” And still as they went down they heard the little sweet voice, more and more faintly, half calling and half singing, “Come back and be dead, Come back and be dead!”
!!! Do you know what she means? I know what she means. I want to paste this on the door of my studio ❤ Gosh, I think I may have saved the best for last. It’s official: this is my favorite Dickens.