This guide will help you read Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend in eight sessions. It can also help teachers bring a serial reading of this novel to students.
This serial reading guide is not designed to be read all at once, but studied in parts, along with the corresponding parts of the novel.
Our Mutual Friend was first published in nineteen monthly parts (the final part was a double, making it twenty) from May 1864 to November 1865. Victorian readers enjoyed and absorbed the novel one portion at a time, discussing the story’s gradual unfolding with friends and family and anticipating the turns each new installment would take. While I have divided the novel into eight parts for this serial reading, Dickens’s original pacing of the story informs the basic framework.
Begin with the first part of the guide then read only the corresponding part of the novel (in this case, the first four chapters). At that point, stop and reconsider the questions and issues raised in the serial reading guide. These “enforced pauses,” as the novel’s original readers encountered them, offer the chance to absorb some of the dense matrix of plot, character, theme, and style that the novel establishes. Items in each study guide provide spoiler-free prompts for focusing on specific issues, moments, and even sentences that are significant not only for the installment at hand, but for subsequent points in the novel.
After consideration of part one, read through the second serial reading guide and proceed to the next section of the novel. You will find that your experience of the novel is already becoming deeper and your observations more acute. After you’ve covered part two, review the study guide for part three and move on to that installment, and so on.
Over the course of a novel of nearly eight hundred pages, you will find that the enforced pauses and discussion points offered by the serial reading guides help you to retain plot details, appreciate subtle character traits and relationships, analyze thematic points, and learn from the narrator’s voice. In short, you will grow into the novel itself, as the novel’s details grow into your own experience and concerns.
Any edition of Our Mutual Friend will do, since the guide refers to book and chapter numbers, which will be the same across all editions. For example, “1.4” indicates Book 1, Chapter 4. Page numbers are occasionally included for specific references, and these page numbers refer to the Penguin Classics edition (1997).
The original posting for my Newberry Library Seminar is here.
Links to the Our Mutual Friend serial reading guide:
Part One (chs. 1.1 – 1.4)
Part Two (chs. 1.5 – 1.11)
Part Three (chs. 1.12 – 2.3)
Part Four (chs. 2.4 – 2.13)
Part Five (chs. 2.14 – 3.7)
Part Six (chs. 3.8 – 3.17)
Part Seven (chs. 4.1 – 4.7)
Part Eight (chs. 4.8 – end)
Continue to the first guide here.
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.