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Tag Archives: Dickens Journals Online
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.’
Heather Tilley explores the value of the Harmon dust mound. Her post draws from her forthcoming chapter, ‘Waste Matters: Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend and Nineteenth-Century Book Recycling’ in Book Destruction from the Medieval to the Contemporary, edited by Gill Partington and Adam Smyth, due to be published by Palgrave Macmillan in September 2014.
The third installment of Our Mutual Friend opens in Mortimer Lightwood’s dismal, dusty, eyrie office, with John Harmon’s former servant Mr Boffin arriving early to his appointment to learn the value of the legacy he will receive from Harmon’s will, following confirmation of John Harmon Jnr’s death. That sum, Mortimer languidly tells him, amounts to one hundred thousand pounds, available to Boffin with ‘no trouble’ attached to estates, rents or agents: that is, as ready cash. The Boffins, like modern-day Lottery winners, have become overnight millionaires (a web calculation suggests that the amount is worth around ten million pounds in today’s terms).