Highlights of the sixth part of the ‘Our Mutual Friend Tweets’ project can now be found on Storify! Click here to catch up on the latest developments.
And don’t forget to bookmark ‘Our Mutual Feed‘ to keep up with the story day-to-day.
If you missed this year’s annual Dickens Day, on the theme of ‘Dickens and conviviality’, then you can read about it on the Birkbeck blog here.
This guest post was contributed by Sean Grass, Associate Professor of English at Iowa State University and author of Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend: A Publishing History (Ashgate 2014). The post revisits and extends the discussion that begins Chapter 3 of that book.
In her fine introduction to Our Mutual Friend‘s sixth installment earlier this month, Catherine Waters observed that it continues the theme of literacy through the ‘decent’ (if ominously named) Bradley Headstone, whom she calls–quite rightly–‘Dickens’s most powerful psychological study of repression and class anxiety’ (par. 2). As she points out, Bradley belongs not only to the novel’s critique of education but also to its broader exploration of the forms that labor might take under industrial capitalism. No. 6 juxtaposes Bradley’s teaching work with Jenny Wren’s dolls’ dressmaking, Eugene Wrayburn’s professional ennui, and the apparent non-work of the ‘Piece of Work’ that lands Mr. Veneering in Parliament. And even these varied forms of labor only add a few more pieces to the mosaic of work in Our Mutual Friend, since this also includes corpse-dredging and dust-collecting, mangling and minding, taking bodies apart and putting them together again. This comprehensive view of work touches upon many things in a novel so concerned with the literal and symbolic complexities of labor, wealth, and exchange. But one of these seems particularly crucial: the status of genuinely creative intellectual work under mid-Victorian capitalism. In this installment, we see Dickens’s anxiety regarding such work in the world that the novel describes.
This month’s guest post has been contributed by Catherine Waters, Professor of Victorian Literature and Print Culture at the University of Kent.
The October instalment of Our Mutual Friend continues the theme of literacy – introduced in chapter 3 of Book the First with Gaffer’s jealous opposition to his children’s self-improvement, and in chapter 5 with Wegg’s reading to Boffin – but provides an explicit focus upon education in the first two of its three chapters. Dickens of course had a long-standing belief in the importance of comprehensive, liberal education as one of the foundation-stones of social reform. But it had to be non-sectarian and pedagogically sound. The satiric portrait of the Ragged School in which ‘young Charley Hexam had first learned from a book’ recalls something of the dysfunctional methods of instruction employed in the more prosperous establishment sponsored by Mr Gradgrind and superintended by Mr M’Choakumchild in Hard Times. The ‘young dredgers’ and ‘hulking mudlarks’ who are comically ‘referred to the experiences of Thomas Twopence’ by ‘lady-visitors’ under the ‘grimly ludicrous pretence that every pupil was childish and innocent’ are juvenile collectors of waste matter, like the river scavengers and dust-sifters of the earlier chapters. Notwithstanding the segregation of sexes and partitioning of different age groups ‘off into square assortments’, the Ragged School is shown to be a ‘lamentable jumble’ where ‘back spirits and grey, red spirits and white, jumbled jumbled jumbled jumbled, jumbled every night’.