Our Mutual Friend
Charles Dickens' penultimate novel, and last complete one, is a compendium of the best and worst of his art. The characters are present, perhaps too many, but they lack the fresh life and spirit of earlier works like Dombey & Son or Bleak House.
The metaphors are present, but the waters of Our Mutual Friend are dark and foreboding, ultimately leading to death; while the waters of earlier works, such as Dombey again, hold the promise of life. It seems that Dickens is worn out and it shows in the lack of energy; but in spite of this there remain beautiful passages and complex plotting, perhaps his greatest. His critique of social class and society surrounds the story with the caricature of the Veneerings at its apex. Within the story he uses his theme of false identity as well as he ever has with one of the central characters, John Harmon, the prime specimen. But he fails to provide a central character with whom we can identify as he did so well in David Copperfield, Bleak House and Great Expectations. The Boffins, who are very appealing at first, appear to change their moral character and thus disappoint (at least Mr. Boffin) while the most appealing characters, like Jenny Wren or Lizzie Hexam, are not substantial enough or central enough to carry the novel. So we have a novel that receives a mixed grade from this reader. I finished it longing for the early Dickens humor and the later Dickens greatness but was left with a bit of that but not enough to sustain the 800 pages he had devoted to the story of Our Mutual Friend.
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. Penguin Classics, New York. 1997 (1865)