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Our Mutual friend: A homage to C. Dickens

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

Esta entrada estaba mentalmente prevista para ser publicada el día 7 de febrero, es decir, el 203 aniversario del nacimiento de Dickens.

Sin embargo, no pudo ser.

Y no pudo ser, porque me encontraba totalmente inmersa en ultimar los retoques en la organización de la nueva versión de la plataforma POPPIES. A Foundation Course que, ésta sí, tenía que salir el día 7 de febrero, porque yo también, sr. Wert, como otros muchos, resistiré.

Estoy segura de que a mi admirado Dickens no le importa ser conmemorado unos cuantos días más tarde si es por una buena causa. Y esta para mí, lo es, además de tener mucho significado y dobles sentidos, como tiene también Our Mutual Friend.

Our Mutual friend

Our Mutual Friend was Dickens’ last finished book, for he started another in 1870 known as “The Mistery of Edwin Drood” which was meant to be published in twelve installments, from April 1870 to fFebruary 1871. Only six would see the light before his death on 9th June 1870.

He began publishing Our Mutual Friend in 1864 and completed the story a year later, in 1865. As I assume we all know, he was publishing it, like all his other novels, in serialised form, which meant he had to produce a chapter every two weeks or so. This serialised form imposed many constraints in the writer, but at the same time allowed him to earn a living from it and to gain an increasingly wide readership. Indeed, to my knowledge, he was the first English novelist to be able to leave off his work.

Our Mutual friend

Our Mutual friend

I was re-reading it over the Christmas holidays and was planning to write something about it so as to introduce literature in the classrooms as well as describe its main features, when the news about the Competitive Exam (Oposiciones) for English teachers hit me and so I had to write about it and prepare the launching of this new blog which aims to attract English teachers to exchange views about the classes, the students, the system, the exam and how we can improve it.

C. Dickens & the Poor Law

Before I go onto what, for me, are Our Mutual Friend‘s main features, I would like to refer to the postscript Dickens wrote. We all know that  —having experienced in his own flesh what poverty was like—  he was a great campaigner against certain laws in force at his time in Britain. I have already referred to the ironic vision and description of the “good Christians” he so well depicts in Oliver Twist.

Specifically, in that postscript he says

But that my view of the Poor Law may not be mistaken or misrepresented, I will state it. I believe there has been in England, since the days of the STUARTS, no law so often infamously administered, no law so often openly violated, no law habitually so ill-supervised. In the majority of the shame

ful cases of disease and death from destitution, that shock the public and disgrace the country, the illegality is quite equal to the inhumanity —and known language could say no more of their lawfulness.” 

I cannot help but think of the so many people  in poverty here in Spain when I read Dickens and the yawning gap between rich and poor in Spain, Britain and elsewhere.

For those teachers who wish to do a web quest or any other activity with their students on poverty, particularly in Dickens’ times, I recommend the link provided under “Poor Law”.

Really worth reading and re-reading it. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I have done. (Must say that I am the proud owner of a paperback edition)

Our Mutual Friend’s main features

As many of his books, it is set in London. The main topic is money and, above all, appearances. As usual, Dickens is brilliant at characterisation and double meanings.

It is divided into 4 books or parts: The Cup and the Lip, with 17 chapters; Birds of a Feather, with 16; A Long Lane, with 17; and A Turning, with 17, the last chapter being “The Voice of Society”.

In the first book Dickens mainly introduces us to the different characters in the story: Lizzie and her father, the Veneerings and some of their “dear friends”; two other people who are friends and happen to be lawyers and in charge of the affairs of one of the main characters in the story who is found dead… and so the plot starts to thicken and the reader gets to know about them all.

This is how Dickens describes the Veneerings (just think of the meaning of their name!) in chapter 2 of this first book, entitled “The man from somewhere”:

Our Mutual friend's main features

Our Mutual friend’s main features


Mr. and Mrs. Veneering were brand-new people in a brand-new house in a brand-new quarter of London. Everything about the Veneerings was spick-and span new. All their furniture was new, all their friends were new, all their servants were new, their plate was new, their carriage was new…

Repetition, alliteration, parallelism…

There’s no denying that in Dickens the goodies are far too good and the baddies are real mean in all senses of the word. Yet it is his depiction of places and “character types” what I find most appealing in his writing, apart from his mastery of the language.

Apasionada de la lengua inglesa y sus múltiples matices, mi objetivo es ayudarte en la preparación de la oposición a profesores de inglés y contribuir a que la escuela pública ofrezca la enseñanza de calidad –de y en lengua inglesa– que nuestros alumnos necesitan en el s. XXI

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