Monday, October 15, 2012
Slow Reading: Our Mutual Friend
I've been reading Our Mutual Friend slowly--very slowly. I started this Dickens novel once, put it aside, and had to start all over again, even though I had been over two hundred pages along in my first reading. Now I have a kind of snail's pace going that allows me to pick up other books, devour them quickly, and then come back to Dickens with just as much delight and absorption as before. I'm on page 466 now, and the novel itself (exclusive of notes and appendices) closes on page 800--and I am in no hurry to reach the end. Our Mutual Friend is so rich and so deep, that I am content to live in this book for as long as I can.
The river Thames runs through the middle of Our Mutual Friend, and the book begins with a drowning, a death, mistaken identity, and a fortune inherited by a good-hearted and simple man. Alas, where there is money, there is corruption, and now that I'm halfway through the novel, I see the innocent "Golden Dustman," Boffin,being transformed into a mean and suspicious miser. Bella Wilfer, who was supposed to marry the drowned man (and share his vast fortune) is still vain and haughty, but her inner goodness is beginning to show through.
The characters are everything in Dickens--he know just when and how to exaggerate, and when to simply tug at the reader's heartstrings. Lizzie Hexam, Jenny Wren (the "doll's dressmakerer") Mrs. Wilfer, the Podsnaps, the Veneerings, Rogue Riderhood--they contain all that there is of human vanity and deceit, and also all that there is of human virtue. When I read Dickens, I am not amazed at how much the world has changed since 1865 when the novel was first published, but by how little human nature and behavior has changed.