Charles Dickens's Our Mutual Friend

Clarendon Edition





The Plot

Dickens’ last complete novel was published serially 1864-5. It begins with an intriguing fortune offered to John Harmon by his late father, a rich dust contractor, in his will. To receive the money, John must marry a certain Bella Wilfer who he does not know from Eve. He is returning from the exile enforced by his father and confides in a ship’s mate who attempts to murder him. The mate gets killed instead, leaving one inconvenient corpse. Because John is considered dead (the body is found with his papers), the money passes to Mr Boffin, old Harmon’s foreman. Harmon adopts Bella and John comes into his employ disguised as John Rokesmith. Bella does not fall for John but through kindly Boffin’s contrivances learns to hate money and fall for her suitor under his false name. Eventually she learns of his true identity as the Boffins had previously, and the villainous one-legged Silas Wegg’s plot to blackmail Mr Boffin is brought to light. Therre is also a story running behind the main plot about a certain Eugene Wrayburn and his love for Lizzie Hexam, and his rival’s attempt to murder him. The two plots are only really connected through the waterside murders but it allows Dickens to indulge in an extremely socially diverse cast of characters. The symbolism of the River Thames and the dust-heaps from which old Harmon made his fortune as emblems of time and money were not wasted on contemporary critics who otherwise saw the book as relatively contrived and ‘forced’ - though it is one of Dickens’ many novels that underwent something of a critical reappraisal in the twentieth century.










This project gratefully acknowledges the support of the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the British Academy.