If you missed our round-table discussion on 21st November, ‘Defining Digital Dickens: Mutual Friends/Virtual Friends’, then you can now listen to a podcast of the event.
Category Archives: Our Mutual Friend
The 10th anniversary edition of 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Century features articles on the Our Mutual Friend reading/blogging project and our Twitter retelling of the novel, written by participants.
Please join us Friday 11 December for a reception in celebration of the tenth anniversary of Birkbeck’s free online journal 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century and the publication of the journal’s tenth-anniversary special issue, edited by Luisa Calè and Ana Parejo Vadillo.
Over on Twitter, some of the novel’s characters are reaching the end of their stories:
Come and join us at Birkbeck on Saturday 21st November at 3pm for a panel discussion with some of our tweeters about their experiences of tweeting Our Mutual Friend http://bit.ly/1PBXrPW
Here are some of our anonymous tweeters, revealing their secret identities at this year’s Dickens Day.
Brett Beasley is a Graduate Student Instructor in the Department of English at Loyola University Chicago.
Penultimate: pene + ultimate; the last one before the last one, the end just before the end, finality – but with a qualifier. Such is the curious quality of any penultimate instalment of a novel. The author, having stretched a narrative across many iterations, now pauses and gathers the strands of the narrative, not yet for the end but for one final deferral.
In the case of Our Mutual Friend, the penultimate instalment is especially important because it is a deferred ending in a novel about deferred endings, specifically deferrals of death. On its broadest level, the narrative follows the effects of the [non-]death of John Harmon, his afterlife as John Rokesmith, and his final resurrection as John Harmon once again. The novel’s minor characters and sub-plots manifest this leitmotif as well: the Boffins’ fortune is born out of discarded materials as are the scraps Jenny Wren reclaims for her dolls’ dresses and Mr. Venus turns bones and bodies into what he calls the ‘“trophies of his art.”’ Critics have identified this curiously undead quality variously as ‘postmortem consciousness’, ‘death in abeyance’, ‘suspended animation’, or simply, ‘limbo’, and have taken correspondingly varied takes on the theme’s ethical, political, religious, and economic implications.
Month 18 (October 1865): Case Study of the Category Aesthetic in the Nineteenth-Century Novel: The Dolls’ Dressmaker in Our Mutual Friend
Isobel Armstrong is a fellow of the British Academy, Senior Research Fellow of the Institute of English Studies and Professor Emeritus at Birkbeck, University of London. She has published widely on nineteenth-century studies (in particular Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics and Politics, 1993) and theory (see The Radical Aesthetic, 2000). Her most recent book, Victorian Glassworlds. Glass Culture and the Imagination, 2008) won the Modern Language Association’s James Russell Lowell Prize in 2009. This account of the dolls’ dressmaker will appear in her forthcoming monograph on the nineteenth-century novel and the democratic imagination, to be published by Oxford University Press.
This case study is part of a larger discussion of the way the category of the aesthetic in the nineteenth-century novel, introduced either as works of art, creative labour or media, is formative of the novel in that it shapes a reading of radical possibilities. While we too often see the novel as a symptom of history, the aesthetic is one of the ways the novel creates history. It is central to asking what free human personhood is. In the case of the dolls’ dressmaker, the aesthetic encounters ambiguity as art abuts on craft, work and economic law. Attention to the category of the aesthetic and these ambiguities extends our sense of the novel’s inquiry into class and inequality and the social boundaries of inclusion and exclusion. The aesthetic does not enter the novel as an unquestioned democratic good but precisely as a problematical category, which generates interrogatives, prompting questions about the social order that is its context. Seemingly marginal and subsidiary to the main action of the narrative, the dolls’ dressmaker’s presence is a source of questions, and the dolls’ dressmaker’s craft in Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend (1864-65) uses the aesthetic to act as a prompt for radical questions. I identify four such prompts in the following discussion.
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. […]