Highlights of the fourteenth 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.
What’s been your favourite moment of our re-telling of Our Mutual Friend via Twitter? Lady Tippins on the razz? Mr Venus’s crocodile philosophising? Eugene and Mortimer’s bromance? Or the war of words between Bella and Rokesmith?
Birkbeck’s Theatre Studies Master’s students will be creating a special performance piece incorporating some of our favourite OMF Tweets, which will be performed at a celebratory event at the end of the year, when we reach the novel’s conclusion. So, please let us know what your favourite moments have been and you may see them adapted and performed!
You can find all of the tweets in Storify here:
On this day in 1865, Dickens, Ellen Ternan and her mother, Frances Ternan, were involved in the Staplehurst railway crash, when occurred when a South-Eastern Railway train from Folkestone to London derailed while crossing a viaduct. 10 people were killed and around 40 injured. The crash was caused by human error, as workmen who were replacing the track misread the timetable.
Dickens was carrying part 16 (August 1865) of Our Mutual Friend with him and famously went back into the wrecked first-class carriage to rescue the manuscript. The instalment was two-and-a-half pages short when it was published in August 1865. Dickens referred to the incident in the novel’s postscript when it was published in volume form. He managed to suppress from public knowledge that he was travelling with Nelly and her mother, instead imaginatively replacing them with Mr and Mrs Boffin:
Mr. and Mrs. Boffin (in their manuscript dress of receiving Mr. and Mrs. Lammle at breakfast) were on the South-Eastern Railway with me, in a terribly destructive accident. When I had done what I could to help others, I climbed back into my carriage—nearly turned over a viaduct, and caught aslant upon the turn—to extricate the worthy couple. They were much soiled, but otherwise unhurt […].
Dickens famously tended the wounded and dying at the scene of the crash, as illustrated, with wonderful melodramatic intensity, on the front cover of the Penny Illustrated Paper. The playwright Simon Gray posited, in his play Little Nell, that Dickens’s disavowal of Nelly and her mother at the scene of the crash to avoid a scandal was a later source of tension between the couple, although this is entirely undocumented.
Dickens was greatly affected by the crash and suffered a series of debilitating symptoms, including losing his voice immediately after the crash, that suggest post-traumatic stress. Dickens died five years to the day after the accident and it certainly seems to have contributed to his declining health at the end of his life.
For the next event of the summer term we are very excited to host a panel on ‘Adapting “Our Mutual Friend” for TV and Radio’, featuring Sandy Welch (screenwriter of the 1998 BBC TV adaptation), Mike Walker (writer of the 2010 BBC R4 adaptation), and Jeremy Mortimer (producer of the 2010 BBC R4 adaptation). This event will take place on Thursday 4th June from 6.00-8.00pm in the Birkbeck Cinema, Birkbeck School of Arts.
You can find more more information and see our full summer term programme here.
We know from Oliver Twist (1837–39) and Martin Chuzzlewit (1843–44) that Dickens was fascinated by, and loved imaginatively exploring, the psychology of those who contemplate murder. Indeed, it is still popularly claimed that the strain of repeatedly, ferociously performing the murder of Nancy by Bill Sykes contributed to Dickens’s demise only five years after he completed Our Mutual Friend. In this month’s instalment, we find ourselves back on this familiar territory, as Bradley Headstone’s jealousy, confusion, frustration and rage begin to harden into murderous intent towards Eugene Wrayburn.
‘If great criminals told the truth – which, being great criminals, they do not – they would very rarely tell of their struggles against the crime. Their struggles are towards it. They buffet with opposing waves, to gain the bloody shore, not to recede from it.’
It’s interesting how Dickens slips and slides between metaphors and frames of reference in his feverish efforts to elucidate Bradley’s tortured and enraged state of mind. He imagines Bradley’s mind in proto-Freudian terms as ‘fitted with gloomy and dark recesses’, but he also deploys images of rust, poison and contagion to suggest how Bradley has been ‘infected’ by his obsessional thoughts (what nineteenth-century psychology would have termed ‘monomania’). But Dickens also deploys an older, almost medieval language of demonic possession, and hints even further back at Biblical stories of ‘Evil Spirits’ which themselves suggest pre-Christian mythologies. Dickens cleverly plays with the meanings of ‘haunting’ and, in chapter XI’s night-soaked atmosphere, Bradley appears as a ghost who haunts others, while he is himself haunted by his own obsessive thoughts and by other ‘nightbirds’ he encounters: ‘Bradley looked at him, as though he was claiming to be a Ghost.’