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Our Mutual Friend

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This article is about the novel. For the sailboat, see Our Mutual Friend (sailboat).
Our Mutual Friend
BOOK
Publisher
Chapman & Hall
Publish Date
1865

Our Mutual Friend is the last completed novel written by Charles Dickens. The book is largely believed to be the most challenging that Dickens produced and is known for the seemingly rushed ending.

The novel is about the son of a tycoon who must marry a specific woman to inherit his father's fortune. He shuns this, leaves, and is presumed drowned, which is untrue. He returns under a new identity, gets hired at a company related to his father, marries the same woman on his own merit, not on his father's riches, and only afterwards, assumes his original identity and inherits his fortune.

On Lost

Ourmutualfriend2
Desmond's hardbound copy of Our Mutual Friend

Desmond carried with him a hardback "The Penguin English Library" edition of Our Mutual Friend that was held closed with rubber bands, intended only to be opened and read at last before he died. Presumably knowing the significance of the book to him, Penelope placed a letter of her love and undying devotion in the book, intending Desmond to read it in his deepest moments of despair while incarcerated in military prison. However, he never found the letter there, as he had checked the book into prison storage with the rest of his personal inventory, and it was therefore not returned until his release. In the Swan, he finally found and read her letter when he opened the book to read it because he was contemplating suicide after three years of being "trapped" in the hatch. ("Live Together, Die Alone, Part 1")

This occurred at the same time John Locke was also in despair and pounding on the hatch door. The combination of the letter's discovery and Locke's appearance apparently saved Desmond's life as he decided against suicide. ("Deus Ex Machina")

Desmond also hid the key to activate the fail-safe in this book. When the computer was damaged, he inexplicably did not search for the book or the key, and neither were mentioned. He also neglected to take the book with him when he fled although this may be because he believed he had little time left to live and would not be able to read the book. ("Orientation")

Locke was seen alphabetizing the bookshelves (and shaking out each book as he did so) but was not shown discovering the book and key. Thus, the appearance of this rubber-banded hardcover book and its contents in the season two finale could be a continuity error. However, the book was placed in the far back of the bookshelf, and it appeared that John never finished alphabetizing. ("The Long Con")

Desmond named the sailboat that he and Penny lived on following his return from the Island after the novel. ("Dead Is Dead")

Influence on Lost

Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse mentioned in a New York Times article [1] that they got the idea of using this book from an interview of writer John Irving. Irving had stated that he wanted Our Mutual Friend to be the last book he reads before dying.

Lindelof and Cuse also felt they could personally relate to what Charles Dickens went through as a writer. As Cuse said: "He was writing chapter by chapter for newspapers. We often think: 'How much did Dickens know when he was writing his stories? How much of it was planned out, and how much was flying by the seat of his pants because he had to get another chapter in?' We can respect what he went through."

Dickens had elaborate chapter plans for Our Mutual Friend. He had to produce exactly 32 pages of printed text each month, and had worked out in advance what would go in each monthly "number" (issue) of the book. In the postscript to the novel, he offered some insight into how readers would put together a complicated plot that unwinds over an extended time period.

Similarities and shared themes

Analysis

Our Mutual Friend, like Lost, has a deep suggestiveness-- a sense that something more is going on than meets the eye. It is also a kind of “shaggy dog” story, in that it raises more imaginative possibilities than it fulfills. Whether LOST will follow suit in this regard remains to be seen.

Scavenging

Our Mutual Friend opens with a description of Gaffer Hexam and his daughter Lizzie, who are scavenging the Thames for drowned bodies. Hexam takes the valuables off the bodies before towing them to shore. Scavenging is everywhere in LOST, of course, but there is a very specific parallel to “"Whatever the Case May Be", where Sawyer takes the wallet off the dead man he and Kate find in the water, or “"Born to Run", where Kate accuses Sawyer of robbing dead people. Hexam justifies his action by asking “Has a dead man any use for money?” Similarly, Sawyer explains that the dead don't need money. (In a further act of “scavenging,” Kate and Jack dig up the marshal again to go through his wallet for the key.)

Fathers and daughters

Almost every relationship of any importance (except for the two “love affairs”: John Harmond, aka “our mutual friend,” and Bella Wilfer; Eugene Wrayburn and Lizzie Hexam) revolves around fathers and daughters. The novel opens with Hexam, the scavenger, and his daughter, Lizzie. After her father dies, Mirah (a saintly Jewish character whom Dickens seems to have created to refute charges of anti-Semitism leveled against him in relation to Oliver Twist) becomes a second father to Lizzie. Hexam’s nemesis is a man named Rogue Riderhood whose only relation is a daughter, Pleasant Riderhood. Bella Wilfer (the woman Harmond is supposed to marry) loves only her father (she intensely dislikes her mother and sister) until she meets Harmon and the Boffins. Mr. Boffin who sort of adopts Bella becomes a second father. Lizzie befriends a young girl named Jenny Wren (real name Fanny Cleaver, also referred to as “the Doll’s Dressmaker”) who is the sole support of her alcoholic father (who she calls her “Bad Child”). John Harmon’s father has disowned both his children: Harmon’s sister (who is now dead) and perhaps Harmon himself. (Whether this is true or not is not clear, as there are several versions of his will in play.) Georgiana Podsnap is also manipulated by her father. Fathers and daughters also abound in LOST: Kate, Sun, Shannon, Claire, Penny; all of them have similarly troubled father/daughter relationships. In fact, mothers are, for the most part, strangely absent or relatively unimportant in both Our Mutual Friend and LOST.

Mutuality

The title of Our Mutual Friend refers to John Harmond who shows up independently in two sub-plots. At some point, two men meet and realize that they both know the same person; one refers to him as “our mutual friend.” Dickens powerfully suggests in the novel the interconnectedness of people (and narratives). Some readers have argued that this is Dickens’ critique of the rigid class structure that defined English society in the 19C; others suggest that this theme of connection and mutuality is influenced by Darwin. This “mutuality,” the myriad connections and relations of the novel, seem very much a LOST trope: we similarly see people from one plot reappear in someone else’s story. How significant these mutual friends are remains to be seen.

Garbage

The plot of Our Mutual Friend revolves around several mysterious garbage heaps, called dust mounds, that were the source of John Harmon’s father’s fortune. Who inherits these mounds is a major plot concern. (There are several wills floating around, one of which is actually buried in a dust mound.) The mounds are eventually demolished. But we never learn exactly what they were made of. (One critic, Humphrey House, speculated that human excrement was part of them.) These mounds, like the LOST fuselage and all the trash that the crash generated and that litters the beach, are both mysterious and frightening.

See also

External links

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