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Charles Dickens: Victorian Literature
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was a great novelist, avid writer and an enthusiastic man in his life (Lombardi About.com). His fame was mysterious and mystical. He influenced most writers, such as Joseph Conrad and Henry James, Franz Kafka and William Faulkner, Thomas Elliot and Marcel Proust. Most of them were his students. The list goes on and on, as it does not end here. He was the second of eight children in a family plagued by debt. When he was twelve, his father was thrown into debt, this forced Charles to quit school and work in a shoe-dye factory. These childhood experiences gave him sympathy for the poor, along with an acute sense of social justice. As far as his personal life was concerned, Dickens was a tireless writer and speaker, but his own personal insecurities made him very difficult to live with. He married Catherine Hogarthin 1836 and, though they had ten children together, their relationship grew increasingly strained until they finally divorced in 1850 (Cerutti “The lay World of Dickens”).
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His last work, Our Mutual Friend is not only a social and psychological novel, but also an ethical allegory. In this book, with the first edition published in May 1864 received worldwide criticism and has been considered as his worst (“Our Mutual Friend David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page”). It describes the relationship between poverty and wealth. Our mutual friend is full of symbolism, which portrays a dangerous ease of denial to situations in this literary work. From the corpse in the first chapter, through the detailed death of orphan Johnny, by way of those who find life-in death like John Harmon, to the satire of Riderhood’s resurrection from drowning, the novel is never far away from the images of mortality and the inevitable return of humankind to dust. Even the river Thames, which runs through this novel from beginning to the end, plays a sinister role. Water, usually regarded as a source of life, is corrupted too by man’s abuses, by corpses and the detritus that lives off its pollution, men such as Gaffer Hexham and Riderhood (“Our Mutual Friend David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page”).
The novel describes how people’s needs have hurt them and other people as well. Moreover, their quest for wealth has crippled them. On the other hand, the author articulates a pure opposite idea that contrasts the previous analogy. He describes certain characters to have morals and principles in such a manner not to fall prey of greediness. He emphasizes the strength and self-dedication of these characters while facing adversity. They are the Boffins, modest and hardworking whose beliefs are not based on the conceptualization of good from evil. Even old and stingy Harmon respected them (Dickens guardian.co.uk). Another character, who managed to stand against the power of the riches, is Bella Wilfer. She’s the daughter of a poor clerk, brought up in poverty. Bella sincerely considers herself selfish, arrogant and greedy. At one point, she attempts to marry after being motivated by the fortune ahead of her. She attached her happiness to wealth but this was not to be. Such choices have landed her into worse situations than before (Dickens guardian.co.uk).
Characters like Bella are born in poverty. They have detested it in their life, even cursing and swearing not to die poor. However, their extreme quest has humiliated them more than they would have experienced if they had remained at the same state. At one point in the book, Bella, dressed in old and shabby clothes, returns back home. The same poverty she earlier ran away from and sworn never to return to same state. Her father advises her not to consider throwing away what is right and replace it with wrong, what is just with unjust and what is true with untrue, because there is no price that is worth buying these things. She ends up being married to John Rocksmith with love being the basis of their relationship. Not knowing that her husband is the heir of a big ransom left by his father John Harmon, Indirectly her dream gets fulfilled (“Our Mutual Friend David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page”).
Another perfect example of such a relationship is that of lawyer Eugene Wrayburn, Lizzie considered here as the “boat woman” and Bradley Headstone a teacher. Bella and Eugene are similar because of their perspective change on human values. Headstone is a repressed teacher whose side comes off when he tries to kill Eugene. However, Lizzie helps him back to his health with the help of Jenny Wren. Lizzie’s brother thinks that since Eugene is a wealthy man, she is not fit for her and instead Headstone would be a better choice. In contrast the opposite is true, it turns out that Eugene is the better suitor for her. It is not all about the money in happiness but love is (Dickens “Our Mutual Friend”).
Our Mutual Friend separates the bad and the good world. Several areas show the good world amidst the scorn and greed for wealth (Dickens “Our Mutual Friend”). There are also wrangles and rebellion acts portrayed by the Lammles and Mr. Twendow. The rebellion is however not physical but imaginative. The Lammles’ marriage depicts an institution, union or association representing commercial distortion of love. Even though they have been broken into pieces, at one particular point in time they come into a realization of their life standings. It is at this time that they make resolutions in unison (Dickens 237-8) of a witty comeback and vengeance. They arrange a brilliant plan to make money, get at Podsnap through his daughter, and, at the same time, maintain a continual form of humor (Wilson “World of Charles Dickens”).
Three places have been referenced in this analysis and they include Six Jolly Fellowship Portes Inn, Jenny Wren’s house, and internal world of true deep feelings. In the inn, there is a clear difference between the atmosphere outside and the one inside. As one leaves the greedy, wealth directed atmosphere, one meets a happy and free atmosphere where one mingles with anybody, laughs at anything and enjoys the good times. There is no rich or poor person, only the collective term of people exists. Abbey Potteron is the mistress of the six Jolly Fellowship Porters. Abbey is respected in this inn because she keeps it under control. She controls what regular customers drink according to her intuition. She tells the truth always without fear and such people luck in the society. She comes through for Jenny Wren after she gets into trouble. Because of her, the inn gets credit for being a source of support, education and kindness (Wilson “World of Charles Dickens”).
Jenny’s house is a shelter for strength, understanding and endless love. The father is a recipient of this wonderful love. A “Doll dressmaker” Jenny Wren, is a cripple with a bad back, hard-working, yet devoted daughter, whose father regards her as ‘a bad child’ (Dickens “Our Mutual Friend”). She has to earn a living not only for herself, but also for her parent. She is not spoilt, and has never complained about misery or has ever despaired, even though her life is very rough and tough. Unlike the two above-mentioned places, the third one is said to be very intimate, even sacred, hidden from the rest of the world. It is the love between Bella and Harmon, Lizzie and Eugene, love that really deems the patience, happiness, truth and kindness. Love has changed destinies and attitudes (Dickens “Our Mutual Friend”).
Consequently, laughter is used to expel the villains and make the new world safe for love. We have situations where characters portray love, affection and unity. For instance, relationships between Charley Hexam and Bradley Headstone as reveals power, submission and friendship between men in the working class, while Friendship between Eugene Wrayburn and Mortimer Lightwood show a different example of friendship between people in the upper-middle class. Similarly, friendship between Eugene Wrayburn and Bradley Headstone strengthens the notion of class struggle related to the exertion of power, and that between Lizzie Hexam and Eugene Wrayburn is of class and sex struggle (Dickens “Our Mutual Friend”). In these scenes, it is evident that within this society, love, serenity and happiness exist. It can only be destroyed when the conditions that govern these relationships are broken (“Our Mutual Friend” Dickens Project).
All these places are deprived of pretences and dependence on wealth. They are open towards the greater good and hold enough courage and energy to fight against the social unfairness, hurt and pain, though each place is different from the other. They have different notions of happiness. The inn is a place, where anyone could relax and have fun, enjoying the life. Such happiness is momentary and accessible to all. Jenny’s hovel is full of happiness due to her ability to create the laughter and control people into organized group of people. This happiness lasts as long as a little girl has strength to believe in it, thus it is not just a good merry mood, but also the faith in greater good. Finally, the happiness, felt by the couples, is built on serenity and knowing that the beloved person is near (“Our Mutual Friend” Dickens Project).
Our Mutual Friend is a literary work that truly describes the mid-Victorian society. The opinions of the author make the reader wonder whether money is important in anything. He used dust as a symbol of money. Silas Wegg is looking for a will in the dust mounds of Harmon old man in order to be able to blackmail the heir. He continues to contrast unselfishness and honesty of the poor people with the morality of the ‘great world’. Therefore, the third plotline is a story of so-called ‘high society’, gathered around the ‘pristine’ Veneering. All of them lack mutual respect, trust, support and kindness. There is no friendship in high society. In this novel Veneering becomes bankrupt and Lammle turns out to be a swindler, though no one cares. All people are self-centered minding their own interest rather than that of others (Keichiro “Dickens and Class”).
The novel shows the true and imaginary values – moral and material – and describes the attitude of the characters towards the evils of the surrounding world: the wealth and social status. Surely, after reading the novel it becomes obvious that happiness cannot be purchased with money. A human is strong in spirit if one manages to stand against the ‘gold dust’. Charles Dickens has put all behavioral aspects as love, commitment, endurance through hardships, peace and hope in a manner that can evidently be seen in any society. He tries to bring together different characters with different personalities in one setting (Johnson “Charles Dickens”). Dickens also explores the conflict between the expectations of the society in oneself. John Harmon was supposed to marry Bella as his father’s will stated but he refused. Rokesmith also by taking a new identity refuses to take his inheritance. Her parents since also influence Bella’s decisions after going through all the challenges she finally was able to marry Rokesmith for love and would therefore live happily after. From Charles Dickens works, we learn clearly that out of society, known and associated with bad things, there also exists some, which are good (Dickens “Our Mutual Friend”).
Cerutti, Toni. The lay World of Dickens. 1999. Web. 8 Nov. 2010.
Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989. Print.
—. Guardian News and Media. 2010 guardian.co.uk
Johnson, E. D. H. Charles Dickens: An Introduction to his Novels. 1969. Web. 8 Nov. 2010.
Keichiro, Ihara. Dickens and Class: Social Mobility in Our Mutual Friend. Web. 8 Nov. 2010.
Lombardi, Esther. “Charles Dickens: His Life and Work,” Book Review: Classic Literature Guide. 2010 About.com
“Our Mutual Friend.” David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page. Web. 8 Nov. 2010.
—. The Dickens Project in a collaboration with the BBC. Web. 8 Nov. 2010.
Wilson, Angus. The World of Charles Dickens. Martin Secker and Warburg, 1970.
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