Our Mutual Friend is the last completed novel written by Charles Dickens. It was published in serial form throughout 1864-5. Containing many unique and fascinating characters, thought-provoking satirical subplots, and Biblical parallels, it is still read today and even more appreciated today than when it was first written, and has also been made into a six-hour film miniseries by the BBC in 1998.
Dickens’ last novel, and one of his most complex and unique plots, finds its beginnings with a man named Harmon. Harmon was a hard, greedy, and unfeeling man who gained a great fortune in dust mounds. Upon his death, his inheritance is to go to his son John, who has been living abroad for most of his life, on the condition that he marries a woman whom he has never met—one Bella Wilfer. However, at the time that young John Harmon was to return to claim his fortune and his bride, he is reported drowned.
At this unexpected turn of events, the Harmon fortune goes to Mr. Harmon’s most trusted servants, Mr. and Mrs. Nicodemus Boffin, while various people become suspect for the murder of the drowned man. Happy-go-lucky, endearing, and unspoiled Mr. and Mrs. Boffin decide to “go in for fashion” and take in John Harmon’s intended bride, beautiful but mercenary Bella, to help soften the injury at being willed “like a dozen spoons” and at losing a prospective fortune. Joining the Boffins to act as a secretary is a mysterious man called John Rokesmith, who appears to have no back history but who studies Bella quietly and faithfully.
At the same time, a carefree, idle young laywer named Eugene Wrayburn makes attempts to clear Gaffer Hexam, the man who recovered the body of John Harmon, of the suspicion of having done the murderous deed. Not only does he wish to clear Gaffer, but he also finds himself attracted to the man’s modest and gentle daughter Lizzie. He is not the only man attracted to Lizzie’s beauty and sweet temperament; the girl also finds herself followed by her brother’s somewhat psychotic schoolmaster.
In his masterful way, Dickens weaves together a tale so complex and so compelling, and at the same time packed with rich spiritual truths, and all of it finding its center in the “mutual friend” of the title. Approximately 800 pages of reading will sweep you up into a tale consisting of sweet romance, murder mystery, stalkers, the painted lives of high society and the stark realities of riverside London, wealth and poverty, disputed wills, midnight chases, and a vast array of unique characters (some totally loveable and some absolutely detestable).
Not only does Our Mutual Friend commentate on the social ills of the day, but it also portrays a variety of Biblical truths that leap right off the page into the very lives of the readers. In this story, we see parallels of Christ's relation to the Church (how He draws us and proves us through testing), of faith and trust. We see the difference between selfishness and contentment, between false love that seeks to gain for oneself and true love that wishes the good for others. We see the mind of the redeemed, and we see the mind of a murderer. We see the false expectations of the world and the heart of what truly matters. Our Mutual Friend gives its readers much to think on and apply.
Our Mutual Friend is, at this point, my favorite Dickens novel (and miniseries), and I highly recommend it! However, it may not be enjoyable to those who enjoy an easy read, a simple plot, light comedy, and few enough characters to keep track of easily. Dickens was a writer with a master mind, and reading any book by him is no small undertaking. However, it is both enjoyable and rewarding.