Dickens /Major /Our Mutual Friend

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Our Mutual Friend – 1864-1865 – a monthly serialised novel

Our Mutual Friend is the last novel that Charles Dickens completed before his death. It was illustrated by Marcus Stone, it was the first serialised novel to use woodcut illustrations.

An interesting feature of the novel is its focus on the ‘dust’ business.

The novel looks at the effects of greed and corruption that too often accompanies money.
Old Mr Harmon had made his fortune from London’s rubbish but had become a miser.

His only friends had been Noddy Boffin and his wife. His will left his estate to his estranged son, John Harmon, who was overseas. The will insists that this is on condition he marries Miss Bella Wilfer, whom he has never met. John is known to have returned by ship but is then reported as dead.

Gaffer Hexham and his daughter, Lizzie, scour the Thames in a rowing boat, they collect bodies and steal their cash. They find a body which has papers that appear to suggest this is John.

A mysterious young man, Julius Handford, hovers at the edge of the identification process, showing much interest but then disappearing.

The will is thus determined for the Boffins. Though naïve they have good hearts and decide to enjoy the cash but to share it with others. They feel sorry for Bella Wilfer, with her hopes dashed, and she moves in with them.

Bella sets her goals as marrying a rich man. The Boffins hire John Rokesmith to be their secretary for a trial period. Rokesmith is a new name taken by Julius Handford, he uses this role to learn about the Boffins and Bella and the aftermath of the news of John Harmon’s death.

Mr Boffin hires Silas Wegg, a one-legged ballad-seller, to read to him in the hope of educating himself. They buy a big house and permit Wegg to live at Old Mr Harmon’s home. Wegg hopes to find treasures amongst the rubbish stored there.

A reward is offered for information about John Harmon’s murder. Roger ‘Rogue’ Riderhood accuses Gaffer Hexham of the murder. Hexham’s accusation leads to him being banned from his local public house, the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters.

His son, Charley, is encouraged by his sister, Lizzie, to train as a teacher and better himself. She stays loyally with her father. Still being investigated, Hexham is found dead, while Riderhood fails to get the reward.

Lizzie moves in as a lodger of a dolls’ dressmaker, ‘Jenny Wren’, a disabled teenager actually named Fanny Cleaver. They live with Jenny’s alcoholic father, she treats him like a child.

A diversion is provided by Mr and Mrs Lammie who have married each other for money, but find out neither has any.
They plot to gain from getting naïve heiress, Georgiana Podsnap, to link up with Fledgeby, a money-lender. They plot, embroiling Mr Riah, to befriend her and steal her money.

Eugene Wrayburn, a lazy barrister, while accompanying a business partner, Mortimer Lightwood, notices Lizzie and falls in love with her. But he learns he has a rival in Bradley Headstone, her brother Charley’s schoolmaster. Headstone proposes to Lizzie but she gently refuses him. Headstone as a result takes against Wrayburn, following him around London at night. Lizzie is concerned about Headstone’s intentions to Wrayburn and does not know Wrayburn’s intentions to her. With Riah’s help she takes work up-river from London, away from both of them.

Betty Higden minds children, and offers an orphan to the Boffins but the child dies. 

Lizzie comes across Mrs Higden dying and stops to help. As a result she meets the Boffins and Bella Wilfer. Rokesmith is in love with Bella, but she rejects him saying she intends to marry for money.

Mr Boffin has been drawn to the genealogies and stories of misers. He begins to treat Rokesmith unfairly (of course this is John Harmon) and Bella softens to him. The Lammies tell Boffin that Rokesmith had proposed to Bella, he responds by firing Rokesmith. Bella stands up for him, and later marries him. They are poor but happy and she soon becomes pregnant.

Wrayburn discovers Lizzie’s whereabouts. Headstone follows him and attacks him, he is dressed the same as Rogue Riderhood, now working as a lock-keeper. He leaves Wrayburn for dead. Riderhood gathers Headstone’s clothes from the river.

Lizzie finds him with Jenny and nurses him. Apparently on his deathbed he marries Lizzie, then survives and is content with the loving marriage that he had felt unlikely because of the social gulf between them.

Riderhood attempts to blackmail Headstone, but he is distraught from the news of Wrayburn’s survival and his marriage to Lizzie. He pulls them both into the lock, they both drown.

Wegg has in the meantime been searching the rubbish and finds, with the assistance of Mr Venus, a later will that bequeaths the Harmon wealth to the Crown. Wegg plans to blackmail the Boffins, but Venus relents and tells them of the plan.

It becomes clear that Rokesmith is John Harmon, switching clothes with a shipmate on his way to London, to test his betrothed’s nature, But Riderhood had drugged and robbed both of them, They had been thrown in the Thames but Harmon had survived. He had won his marriage to Bella for himself rather than as part of a will.

Wegg tries to blackmail them, but Boffin has an even later will that gives the fortune to the Boffins. They are further determined that the Harmons become their heirs, all ends well.

Gaffer and Lizzie search for bodies


Harmon, John – heir to the Harmon estate if he marries Bella
Boffin, Nicodemus (Noddy), aka ‘Golden Dustman’
Boffin, Henrietta – wife to Noddy Boffin
Hexam, Lizzie – daughter of Gaffer Hexham
Lightwood, Mortimer – a solicitor to the Harmons
Riderhood, Roger ‘Rogue’ – a rogue, Gaffer Hexham’s partner
Wegg, Silas – a one-legged ballad-seller, and blackmailer
Wilfer, Bella – born into poverty, she is a condition of a will
Wrayburn, Eugene – a barrister and gentleman
Harmon, Old John – the father of John, will created a furore
Headstone, Bradley – Charley Hexham’s teacher
Hexam, Charley – son of Gaffer, drops his sister Lizzie
Hexam, Jesse (Gaffer) – collects bodies from the Thames
Riah, Aaaron – a Jew, runs Mr Fledgby’s money-lending
Wren, Jenny (Fanny Cleaver) – a dolls’ dressmaker, disabled
Akershem, Horatio – father of Sophronia Lammle
Analytical Chemist, The – a friend of the Veneerings
Baldwin, Robert – his will discussed by Wegg
Blight – clerk to Mortimer Lightwood
Dancer, Daniel – a miser referenced by Boffin
Dolls, Mr – Jenny Wren’s alcoholic father
Elwes, John – a miser referenced by Boffin
Fledgeby, ‘Fascination’ – plots with the Lammies
Glamour, Bob – a regular at Miss Abbey Pottersons inn
Gliddery, Bob – a regular at Miss Abbey Pottersons inn
Handford, Julius – name adopted by John Harmon
Higden, Mrs Betty – a child-minder
Hopkins, Vulture – a miser referenced by Boffin
Jarrel, Dick – a miser referenced by Boffin
Joey, Captain – a regular at Miss Abbey Pottersons inn
Johnny – the orphan, great-grandson of Betty Higden
Jonathan – a regular at Miss Abbey Pottersons inn
Jones, Blewbury – a miser referenced by Boffin
Jones, George – a regular at Miss Abbey Pottersons inn
Kibble, Jacob – a passenger on John’s ship
Lammle, Alfred – believed marrying Sophia was for money
Lammle, Sophronia – believed marrying for money
Little, John – a miser referenced by Boffin
Mary Anne – student at Charley’s school
Milvey, Reverend Frank – friend to the Boffins
Milvey, Margaretta – wife of Reverend Frank
Mullins, Jack – a regular at Miss Abbey Pottersons inn
Overs, John – a miser referenced by Boffin
Peecher, Miss Emma – a schoolteacher in love with Bradley
Podsnap, Georgiana – a naïve target for the Lammies
Podsnap, Mr John – father of Georgiana
Podsnap, Mrs –  mother of Georgiana
Potterson, Abigail (Abbey) – Six Jolly Fellowship Porters
Potterson, Job – the ship’s steward of the John Harmon’s ship
Radfoot, George – third mate on John Harmon’s ship
Riderhood, Pleasant – daughter to Rogue Riderhood
Rokesmith, John – name taken by John Harman
Sampson, George – suitor to Lavinia Wilfer
Sauteuse, Madame – a contact of the Lammies
Sloppy – a foundling who helps Betty Higden
Snigsworth, Lord – contact of the Veneerings
Sprodgkin, Sally – contact of the Milveys
Tapkins, Mrs – a caller at the Boffins
Tippins, Lady – a contact of the Veneerings
Tootle, Tom – involved in the inquiry of the body
Twemlow, Melvin – a friend of the Veneerings
Veneering, Hamilton – nouveau-riche
Veneering, Anastatia – Hamilton’s wife
Venus, Mr – friend of Mr Wegg, and a taxidermist
Whitrose, Lady Belinda – client of Miss Wren
Wilfer, Lavinia – other daughter of Rumty
Wilfer, Mrs – wife of Rumty
Wilfer, Reginald ’Rumty’ – Bella’s doting father
Williams, William – a regular at Miss Abbey Pottersons inn

‘Jenny Wren’
I – May 1864 (chapters 1–4);
II – June 1864 (chapters 5–7);
III – July 1864 (chapters 8–10);
IV – August 1864 (chapters 11–13);
V – September 1864 (chapters 14–17).
VI – October 1864 (chapters 1–3);
VII – November 1864 (chapters 4–6);
VIII – December 1864 (chapters 7–10);
IX – January 1865 (chapters 11–13);
X – February 1865 (chapters 14–16).
XI – March 1865 (chapters 1–4);
XII – April 1865 (chapters 5–7);
XIII – May 1865 (chapters 8–10);
XIV – June 1865 (chapters 11–14);
XV – July 1865 (chapters 15–17).
XVI – August 1865 (chapters 1–4);
XVII – September 1865 (chapters 5–7);
XVIII – October 1865 (chapters 8–11);
XIX-XX – November 1865 [chapters 12–17 (Chapter the Last)].

Forward to The Mystery of Edwin Drood His LifeHis WorksHis Characters – Go to Bob Denton.com

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