I’ve been reading Charles Dickens’s last completed novel, Our Mutual Friend, all month. While I was sniffling on the couch this past weekend I flew through the last 400 pages. I literally could not put the book down. I’ve tried to figure out how best to review a novel of over 800 pages with well over a dozen memorable and significant to the plot characters. And then there is the spoiler factor. There is no way for me to discuss this book in any capacity (i.e. over a sentence) without discussing some crucial plot element that would ruin the joy of your reading experience. In other words, I don’t want to pop your Our Mutual Friend cherry; it would be both awkward and regrettable. We’ll leave that to Charles. Seriously. Go read the book.
I will tell you that this is my THIRD favorite Dickens novel. I haven’t read all of them yet, but thus far here are my favorites: 1)Bleak House, 2)Little Dorrit, 3)Our Mutual Friend, 4)Great Expectations 5)A Tale of Two Cities. I’ve read all of these novels in the past seven years. I have read David Copperfield and Oliver Twist, but that was in high school and I can’t remember being overly fond of them. I’ve also read The Mystery of Edwin Drood but I don’t know how to rate it. I love the book’s writing and plot, but I’m so damned angry it wasn’t finished and I don’t know WHAT HAPPENED. I love it and reread it and then hate myself for going back to it and getting frustrated all over again. I get pissy thinking about it. We’ll just call that book my Heathcliff.
Anyways, back to the point at hand. Our Mutual Friend was fabulous, the plot engaging, the characters excellent….. and it is my THIRD favorite Dickens novel. I’ll tell you one last thing and then we’ll throw a big ole’ spoiler warning up. This book is about money.
BIG ASS SPOILER WARNING: I’m serious. I’m not even going to give a plot synopsis because if you haven’t read this novel then you shouldn’t be reading this here blog post!
I’ve made it clear that I adore this book. HOWEVER there are two things that bothered me that I can really only discuss with those who have read the book:
- Dickens wrote a stunning novel about greed, money, and corruption and then dropped the ball at the end.
- I want to slap Bella Wilfer (aka Bella Rokesmith, aka Bella Harmon)
As I read this book about money: people going into debt, living beyond one’s means, creditors being called in and lives ruined, new found money corrupting good people, covetousness (whether that be for money or a attractive young woman), I couldn’t help but draw parallels to our current economic crisis. Foreclosures, credit card debt, jobless rates… It seemed that Dickens was expressing that when one is obsessed with money (or the lack thereof) and when one tries to appear to be more than what one is then one cannot fully live a happy and complete life. Translation: wanting $ + having 0$ + trying to seem like you have $ = RUINATION! We even have a 1%-er, Mr. Podsnap expounds on the embarrassment of the poor and basically says that they most likely want to be poor since they are poor. Let’s look at a few examples, from about 3/4 into the novel of people experiencing the realities of money:
- Noddy Boffin: This poor hard-working man is now wealthy! Oh, wait… now he has become evil and miserly. OMG he so freaking mean. What a monster!
- Lizzie Hexam and Eugene Wrayburn: Lizzie was raised on the waterfront as her dad pocketed gold from the dead bodies in the river and Eugene is a gentleman (a poor gentleman, but a gentleman). Eugene knows he can never marry Lizzie and he doesn’t even really consider it, he just admires her tenacity and pities her pathetic life.
- Bella Wilfer: the protege of the Boffins, Bella is obsessed with money and is determined to marry her way to a better station in life.
By the end of the book, however, we learn that:
- SURPRISE! Noddy wasn’t mean at all. It was all an act! He is really a selfless, kind, wonderful creature. Good old Noddy!
- OMG! How sweet, y’all. Eugene married Lizzie because he is about to DIE. He will be dead dead dead so now he finally realizes that he loves her and marries her while everyone in the room weeps. The difference in station doesn’t matter because he will be dead. Gasp… but wait, he doesn’t die! Hooray! And his stuffy, wealthy Papa doesn’t care either. Hooray (throw confetti).
- Bella is in love with the poor secretary and gives up everything to be with him because she is in LOVE and no longer wants money even though that is all she has ever thought about it. All it took was one belittling of the secretary by Noddy Boffin to confirm that she was in love and didn’t care about the cash.
In Bleak House there is true suffering. Oh, folks suffer for a bit in Our Mutual Friend and several people meet sad, yet expected, ends, but at the end of OMF the good are all rewarded and the bad are all punished. Everything is made right. In Bleak House many characters suffer and things may be settled, but there is still hurt and sadness. For example, Esther marries her true love, but her face is scarred and she grieves for the mother she only knew briefly. Amy Dorrit’s story in Little Dorrit ends happily, but that is really only the story of one couple experiencing that joyous happiness where everything turns out okay in the end, nearly everyone else is dead or supremely screwed-over. In OMF, so many people had tidy little happy endings and it seemed to ring a bit false.
On to Bella Wilfer/Rokesmith/Harmon. SLAP HER PLEASE. In the beginning of the novel, Bella is a headstrong, lazy, quick-tempered, spoiled, money-loving twit, but she is pretty and has dimples (of course). She is whisked off to live spoiled and pampered by the Boffins. Bella falls in love with John Rokesmith/Harmon and gives up everything to live with him. She has been deceived by the Boffins and John. The entire time she thought Noddy Boffin was a jerk and John was poor when in fact, John was refusing to claim the money and having the Boffins’ assistance in testing Bella’s love. Bella marries John and she’s cool. She has a baby and everything is cool. She realizes that John always avoids Lawyer Lightwood and she’s cool. She finds out that John is a suspected murderer and she’s still cool. Suddenly, one day, John tells Bella that he isn’t at his current job and they are wealthy and moving immediately. They show up at the Boffins. And then….everyone keeps laughing.
Noddy, Mrs. Boffin, and John: “hohohoho… harty har har… you thought you were poor… you thought that you married John Rokesmith and that John Harmon is dead… hahahahahhaha… we all lied to you… hahahahaha… because we wanted to test your love and emotions…. hahahahahaha…”
And the proud, headstrong, quick-tempered, sharp-tongued Bella just smiles and laughs and thinks life is grand. I would have been PISSED. To be played for at least two years because my husband wanted to see if I really was devoted. I just wished she has shown a wee little bit of anger or incredulity or something. But no, she was a perfect Angel. All motherly sighs, and shiny eyes, and radiating happiness.
Reading back through all of this it sounds like I didn’t like the book. I did. I was happy for Lizzie and Eugene. I loved the character of Jenny Wren. The writing was beautiful and descriptive. I felt tension and suspense when I should. I laughed at the funny and mocking parts. It was a marvelous reading experience and this is a novel I will most certainly re-read. I think it was really the last 30 – 40 pages (of an over 800 page book) where I was slightly incredulous as to the tidy ending.
Now for a bit of housekeeping. I’m saving my Charles Dickens library display pictures for next week as I’ve babbled too much already. Also, I’ve decided what the winner of the drawing will win, but I’m not announcing that until next week. Remember, next Tuesday is the big 200 for Charles Dickens and the final wrap-up for this Dickens-infused month; make sure all comments are left by 11:59pm on 02/07/2012 to be eligible for the drawing!