Our Mutual Friend

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A novel by Dickens, published in monthly parts between May 1864 and Nov. 1865.

John Harmon returns from the exile to which he has been sent by a harsh father, a rich dust‐contractor; he expects to receive the inheritance to which his father has attached the condition that he shall marry a certain girl, Bella Wilfer. Bella is unknown to him, and he confides to a mate of the ship which is bringing him home his intention of concealing his identity until he has formed some judgement of his allotted wife. The mate lures him to a riverside haunt, attempts to murder him, throws his body into the river, and is in turn murdered and his body likewise thrown into the river. Harmon recovers and escapes; the mate's body is found after some days, and, owing to Harmon's papers found upon it, it is taken to be that of Harmon. Harmon's intention of remaining unknown is thus facilitated; he assumes the name of John Rokesmith and becomes the secretary of the kindly, disinterested Mr Boffin, old Harmon's foreman, who, in default of young Harmon, inherits the property. He is thrown into close contact with Bella, a flighty minx, who is adopted by Boffin and who is turned by her first taste of wealth into an arrogant, mercenary jade. Rokesmith nevertheless falls in love with her and is contemptuously rejected. Harmon's identity is now discovered by the amiable Mrs Boffin, and the Boffins, devoted to their old master's son and convinced of Bella's soundness of heart, contrive a plot to prove her. Boffin pretends to be transformed by his wealth into a hard and griping miser, and heaps indignities on Harmon, who is finally dismissed with contumely. Bella, awakened to the evils of wealth and to the merits of Rokesmith, flies from the Boffins and marries her suitor. His identity presently comes to light, and with his assistance the scheme of a one‐legged old villain, Silas Wegg, to blackmail Boffin is exposed.

Concurrently with this main theme runs the story of the love of Eugene Wrayburn, a careless, insolent young barrister, for Lizzy Hexam, daughter of a disreputable boatman. His rival for her affections, Bradley Headstone, a schoolmaster, attempts to murder Wrayburn. The latter is saved by Lizzy and marries her. Among the notable characters in the book are the Veneerings, types of social parvenus; the good Jew Riah; the blackmailing waterside villain Rogue Riderhood; Jenny Wren, the dolls' dressmaker; Bella Wilfer's grotesque father, mother, and sister; and the spirited Betty Higden, an old woman with a haunting dread of the workhouse.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century).

Reference entries

Charles Dickens (1812—1870) novelist

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