Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. Book Four: A Turning

omf (1)I didn’t like the ending.

None of them.

It can take a while for a big Dickens novel to end.  When you have so many different characters with so many different story lines going, bringing them all to a fitting close can take a couple of hundred pages. This is the case with Our Mutual Friend.

There are at least seven endings in Our Mutual Friend depending on how you count the overlapping plot lines.  That’s been my major, and growing issue with the book all along, the very large number of plot lines, even for Dickens, and the loose way they are connected.  This time around, it just didn’t work for me.

THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!

I’m just going to talk about two plot lines.  First the Lammles.  The Lammles are two of my favorite characters in Dickens, in spite of not really liking Our Mutual Friend all that much.  Each thought the other had money when they married, so theirs was a very dissappointing wedding night in more ways than one.  They manage to fake their way through London society for a while, but eventually they can not longer convince their circle of friends to provide them a place to live while they look for just the right house.

They get an ending reminiscent of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce in Bleak House, one of my favorite endings in literature.  No big finish for the Lammles.  Once their scam runs out of steam, they simply slink away to the continent which is where aristocrats who run out of money go in Victorian novels.  I have to admit that it’s a fitting end for the Lammles, but it didn’t satisfy they way the same ending did in Bleak House.

The main story line, the one that connects the greatest number of characters concerns John Rokesmith and Bella Wilfer.  To be honest, their ending just kind of pissed me off.  When it turns out that John Rokesmith is not really penniless  but John Hrmon, the true heir to the Golden Dustman’s fortune and that he was just pretending to be penniless in order to test Bella’s love and character, well….

Sorry, Charlie, you lost me there.

Bella has been a problem throughout the novel, as have so many of the other female characters in Our Mutual Friend.  Typically, I don’t have much patience with the criticism Dickens gets over his women.  It’s not that I feel the criticism is off the mark, I just don’t see much point in going after a mid-nineteenth century novel over its portrayal of women; Dickens really is in line with what most authors were doing in his day, but it just really went too far in Bella Wilfer.  She is so saintly, so meek in her love of John Rokesmith/Harmon, so trusting of Mr. and Mrs. Boffin who have been in on the charade all along, so demure and dedicated with her father….. it just went too far over the top for me.

Honestly, I felt like I was reading a parody of a Dickens novel by the time I finished the book.

As for the rest, those who deserved reconciliation with those they love found it, there’s even a deathbed marriage, those who should have been punished were punished.  I wish I could be more generous because I had such high hopes for Our Mutual Friend when I began this report, but this one just didn’t work for me, not at all.

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8 Comments

  1. Amy says:

    I remember being really disappointed in the ending too. It felt so rushed, as if all of a sudden Dickens said, “Dang, I’m really tired of this book. Let’s wrap it up.” Bleak House remains my favorite Dickens (of the ones I’ve read).

    1. The brief research I did before writing this post mentions that Dickens was involved in a serious railroad accident during the writing of Our Mutual Friend. He was working on the final chapters when this happened, so it may have affected the writing of them.

      While I can’t really pick a favorite, I’m actually partial to the more improvised feel of the early novels. I’ve got Pickwick Papers on my re-read before I go list.

  2. I criticize the women in Dickens not as part of a “mid-nineteenth century novel” but as part of a Dickens novel. But I am talking about aesthetics, and maybe you are referring to politics.

    The novel worked for me just based on the bone shop, just based on “two preserved frogs fighting a small-sword duel.” But then I have never understood the particular interest in the ending of a book, not when there is as much good writing as there is in OMF.

    1. Sorry, I was responding to this: “I just don’t see much point in going after” etc. I, too, think both kinds of criticism are valid!

      Then on the ending, I’m referring to “but this one just didn’t work for me, not at all” where “one” seems to be referring to OMF, not the ending(s) of OMF. I’m not really defending the endings. Well, the psychopath plot ends pretty well, and the ending of the dustman scam plot is completely insane. Anyway, “not at all” was a big surprise after your previous posts on the book.

      1. I’ll grant that some of the endings were better than others. But none of them made much of an impact on me they way some of the endings in the other books have. I’ll publicly confess that I was in tears when Little Nell died, sincerely moved by several of the endings in Tale of Two Cities. OMF disappointed me, at least book four did. I did like how society basically just got tired of the Veneerings and abandoned them.

  3. I think both criticisms are valid. It can be argued that Dickens stands outside of 19th century literature because he has such a large body of idiosyncratic work. Nobody did it or does it like Dickens did. But he is still a part of 19th century literature. I think looking at him in both of these lights can be useful.

    I’m not going to give much ground on the women in Our Mutual Friend either politically or aestheitically, either. By the end of the book, they are problematic characterizations.

    I do agree that there is a lot of wonderful stuff in the first parts of the novel, maybe enough to make up for what’s lacking in the novel’s finish. but the ending of a novel is important, Dickens has some wonderful endings, too. “Tis a far, far better thing.” He could and did write some great endings. I don’t think he did in Our Mutual Friend.

  4. Richard says:

    I luck forward to siding with you or Tom re: the ending of the book maybe not being so essential if what comes before it is worthwhile enough…eventually. However, I’m pretty sure Great Expectations will be my next Dickens rather than this one (I do after all own that one already). I don’t, in general, mind a huge number of loosely connected plotlines, but I understand why that might have gotten on your nerves here.

    1. Great Expectations, since it’s first person, avoids this problem. Bleak House avoided it, too, by giving half of the narration to a first person narrator, though I think it has just about the same number of plot lines.

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