Highlights of the seventeenth 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.
Joe McLaughlin is Associate Professor in the Department of English at Ohio University
I would like to extend the conversation about household management that Maria Damkjær has already written about this month by considering another important means by which Our Mutual Friend is involved in the training of domestic managers, namely via the copious advertising that appeared with each month’s installment. Our Mutual Friend contained a greater volume of advertising material than any of Dickens’s previous serials, approximately 320 pages over the nineteen published parts, and examining that material can provide us new ways to consider and interpret the novel and the ideological work it performs. If as Damkjær and others have suggested, the novel can be situated within a discursive universe inhabited by Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management, the texts in ‘The Our Mutual Friend Advertiser’ are an even more proximate context for thinking about the novel’s role in converting ‘mercenary wretches’ such as Bella Wilfer into ‘complete British family housewives’ and more multi-faceted consumers. In what follows, we can see how both a ‘distant’ and ‘close’ reading of the advertisements provides insight into the novel in its world.
Maria Damkjær is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Copenhagen
The September 1865 number of Our Mutual Friend contains one of the most descriptive paragraphs on housework in all of Dickens’s work. Domestic tasks are usually obscured in Dickens, but here the reader is given details that any domestic managers would recognise. In fact, as I will argue, Dickens stresses the performative, indeed the theatrical aspect of housework.
Bella Rokesmith is installed in her little house in Blackheath, and when John goes to the ‘China house’ in the City, she goes to work:
She always walked with her husband to the railroad, and was always there again to meet him; her old coquettish ways a little sobered down (but not much), and her dress as daintily managed as if she managed nothing else. But, John gone to business and Bella returned home, the dress would be lain aside, trim little wrappers and aprons be substituted, and Bella, putting back her hair with both hands, as if she were making the most business-like arrangements for going dramatically distracted, would enter on the household affairs of the day. […]