Hello, dear readers! Apologies for the extended absence… Sheila and I have been busy at university, getting into the swing of our classes and familiarizing ourselves with heavy workloads and sleepless nights. Alas! Tis a stressful life, this life of a student.
That being said, the stress has been redeemed through good classes and good conversations. I’m taking a course on the nineteenth century British novel, and it has been just fantastic. We just finished discussing Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens, and it has become one of my favorite novels, by far.
I can’t believe that this is the first Dickens novel I’ve read. The time I’ve wasted on the likes of Jane Austen and Ernest Hemingway… lamentable, indeed! No prose can compare to the prose of Dickens in Our Mutual Friend. The style, the sophistication, the wit — the wit, the wit, the wit! How often I found myself laughing aloud and texting bits of dialogue and description to my family and friends, all for the wit! — nothing, nothing could be so superior. Darling Twemlow, rubbing his forehead and wistfully envying the advantages of horse life, was as endearing as he was amusing. Mrs Wilfer and Lavinia, awful and ridiculous creatures that they were, still sent me into bursts of giggles with their ridiculous theatrics and staged martyrdoms. The sarcasm and cool indifference of Eugene Wrayburn earned many a smirk from me… whether or not that reflects poorly on my character, who can say? I can only be certain that this novel’s humor could not have been more enthusiastically received on my part. Let it be known that although dark at times, Our Mutual Friend is not without fantastic humor!
Besides being a comedic delight, Our Mutual Friend beautifully weaves themes of redemption, death, and self sacrifice into one grand and glorious plot, filled with the most intriguing and morally upright characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing through the pages of a novel. Jenny Wren, the doll’s dressmaker, tells us how she was carried by children who made her light, and stands on top of rooftops shouting “come up and be dead, come up and be dead!” Lizzie Hexam, daughter of Gaffer Hexam, is a beautiful thing in an ugly place; she is an almost Christ-like figure, the incarnation of self-sacrifice. Mr and Mrs Boffin, unselfish, lovely, and simple people use their sudden wealth to help others and do good, in the face of all the temptation and corruption of English society. They, and many more in this novel, will always be near and dear to my heart. Such characters are unforgettable.
That being said, it is impossible to say anything about this novel without pointing out that almost every major character has to undergo a kind of almost death, either literally or figuratively, and they are resurrected as either better characters, or worse. John Harmon and Eugene Wrayburn come the closest to actually dying at their lowest points in life; they are saved, and redeem themselves by becoming men worth saving… which they had not been before. Roger Riderhood, on the other hand, almost drowns, is brought back to life resting on the knee of his daughter Pleasant, and immediately proves himself to be unworthy of rescue. His character quickly sinks to even lower levels than the reader would have imagined possible, and we immediately see the parallels between him and John Harmon.
I loved this idea in the novel; that we have to kill the parts of ourselves that cause us to stray from the light before we can ever belong to any kind of goodness. One is reminded of the words of C. S. Lewis: “Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes … submit with every fibre of your being and you will find eternal life. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead.” We cannot be lifted up unless we raise our anchors first; we cannot run the race if we have not untied the rope around our feet. Our Mutual Friend, though not specifically a religious novel, raises these questions and demonstrates their importance through each character with grace and mastery. It was one of the best novels I have ever read in my life, and I do not say that lightly. I am a better person for reading it.