Serial Reading Guide for Our Mutual Friend: Part One (chs. 1.1 – 1.4)
Chapter numbers are preceded by the novel’s “book” number. For example, “1.4” indicates Book 1, Chapter 4. Page numbers refer to the Penguin Classics edition (1997).
1. For readers in 1864, these four chapters formed the entirety of the first installment. It was published in May of that year in a paper-bound volume of its own, sandwiched between pages of advertisements. Readers would have to wait an entire month to read the next installment. For the remainder of our readings, several of the original installments will be combined.
2. Notice the prose style in each of the opening chapters. We will see variations on these styles throughout the novel. Here, they introduce the novel’s main tones and techniques, rather like the beginning of a classical symphony. Chapter 1.1 offers a look at Dickens’s remarkably cinematic control of sensual information, while chapter 1.2 shows how the narrator’s voice changes when it is “channelled” through a particular character’s consciousness (here, Twemlow). Chapter 1.3 shows how this narrative channeling can move through several characters, and chapter 1.4 indulges Dickens’s ability to blend dialogue with narrative for stage-like, cinematic effects. Also, notice how often the narrator refers to characters as objects, or even dismembered parts.
3. This opening installment establishes several themes that seem likely to play out in the novel. Among other issues, keep an eye on any of the following: past versus future, young versus old, aspirations, education, reading, avarice, identity, the effects of having or lacking money, the nature of death, and the value of garbage.
4. How does Harmon’s death affect Bella, both emotionally and in terms of her future?
5. When the novel’s first installment ends (at 1.4), the narrator notes that John Rokesmith (the Wilfers’ lodger) and Julius Handford (the man who wanted to know whose body was pulled out of the river in an early scene) seem identical in appearance. What could this suggest for the plot of the novel?
6. Characters so far (really!), in approximate order of mention:
“Gaffer” (Jesse Hexam)
Mr. and Mrs. Veneering, and baby
Twemlow (not actually a piece of furniture)
Boots and Brewer
Mr. and Mrs. Podsnap
“Mature young lady and gentleman”
Old Lady Tippins
Mortimer Lightwood (friend of old lady Tippins)
Eugene Wrayburn, friend of Mortimer
“Two other stuffed Buffers” (the “four Buffers” include Boots and Brewer)
Harmon, son of a rich dustman
Rich dustman (“Old Harmon”)
Harmon’s sister, to be married off, loves “Another” and dies. “Another” dies a year later.
Charley Hexam, Lizzie’s brother
Job Potterson, steward of ship
Jacob Kibble, fellow-passenger
Lavinia Wilfer (younger sister)
Cecelia Wilfer (sister, married, husband living with aunt)
George Sampson, dumped by Bella for Harmon, whom she was supposed to marry