A Serial Reading of Our Mutual Friend

This Newberry Seminar is now concluded. It was held in the fall of 2016.

Our Mutual Friend is Charles Dickens’s last completed novel, filled with humor, dark satire, multiple plotlines, and remarkable prose. This seminar considers the book in serial weekly installments (no spoilers) for an engaging in-depth look at Dickens’s literary craft, social criticism, and psychological insight. Eight sessions. For the first session, please read pages 13-51, but please do not read the book’s introduction.


– Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens. Penguin Classics. ISBN 978-0-140-43497-2. Please note that this particular edition is highly preferred for class discussion.
– Shorter texts, film clips, and works of visual art will be made available online and brought to the seminar sessions.

Seminar Description
Dickens’s last completed novel originally appeared in serial installments from May 1864 to November 1865,  a period that saw some of the most historic changes in the Victorian era. Technology was transforming the way people lived, traveled, learned about the world, and entertained themselves. Our Mutual Friend reflects many of these changes, and this seminar’s serial-reading format allows participants study and discuss the many dimensions of Victorian Britain and the modern world that are revealed by a close literary reading.

Among the dimensions we will discuss are the turn toward increasingly sophisticated psychological investigation in literature, Dickens’s own innovations in literary form and the author’s troubled personal life at the time of the book’s composition, the vitality of serial publishing, the rise of photography, the popularity of theater, magic lantern shows, and other visual spectacles, and the economic contradictions of the Victorian metropolis.

Like my Newberry Seminar on George Eliot’s Middlemarch (Fall 2015), this seminar will invite readers to approximate the experience of Dickens’s original readers by reading and discussing the novel in parts. Dickens divided Our Mutual Friend into twenty monthly installments of three or four chapters each, and these installments will form the framework of the seminar readings. Like my earlier seminar (and my Loyola course before that), I have divided the original installments of the novel into reading portions of 100-120 pages per week. This allows participants to pay close attention to the way the original installments sent readers off for discussion and speculation, and how subsequent installments brought readers back into the story. In addition, each week as we discuss the reading block at hand we will also view related short texts, images, and film clips online and in class.

Schedule (updated 8/24/16)

Week 1
Chapters 1.1-1.4 (13-51) To be read ahead of the first class.
Theme: Reading and Serialization

Week 2
Chapters 1.5-1.11 (52-146)
Theme: Psychology and Literary Form

Week 3
Chapters 1.12-2.3 (147-254)
Theme: Money, Profit, and Poverty

Week 4
Chapters 2.4-2.13 (254-372)
Theme: Victorian Illustrations

Week 5
Chapters 2.14-3.7 (372-495)
Theme: Dickens’s Life

Week 6
Chapters 3.8-3.17 (495-614)
Theme: London Theatricals

Week 7
Chapters 4.1-4.7 (617-696)
Theme: Detective Fiction

Week 8
Chapters 4.8-end (696-800)
Theme: Concluding Thoughts

Image: “Pa’s Lodger and Pa’s Daughter.” Illustration by Marcus Stone for Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend. Scanned by Philip V. Allingham for The Victorian Web. See also the web page by UC Santa Cruz.