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Our Mutual friend: A homage to C. Dickens

Our Mutual friend: A homage to C. Dickens

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

Esta entrada es una revisión y actualización de enlaces de la que fue publicada por primera vez el 14 de Febrero de 2015, una semana después del 203 aniversario del nacimiento de Dickens. El día de su cumpleaños, el 7 de febrero de 2015, fue cuando se puso en marcha la primera versión de la plataforma

POPPIES. A Foundation Course

In a “convoluted” fashion the events that took place on Dickens’s 200-birth-anniversary planted the seeds for what is now PoppieS. And the 31st of March has been the day, since 2013, in which I pay a very special homage to the woman who gave birth to me. So, as a homage to my admired Dickens, and to my dear mother, here’s …

Our Mutual friend

Our Mutual Friend was Dickens’ last finished book. He had started another in 1870 known as “The Mistery of Edwin Drood” which was meant to be published in twelve installments, from April 1870 to February 1871. However, 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. This meant he had to produce a chapter every two weeks or so, which imposed many constraints on the writer. Yet, at the same time, it allowed him to earn a living from it and gain an increasingly wide readership. Indeed, to my knowledge, he was the first English novelist to be able to live off his work.

Our Mutual friend

Our Mutual friend

I was re-reading it over the Christmas holidays back in 2015 and was planning to write something about it. My intention then was to publish a post on 7th February 2015, in which I would suggest various ways of dealing with literature in the classroom and describe Our Mutual friend‘s main features.  Then, almost out of the blue, there came the news about the Competitive Exam (Oposiciones) for English teachers.

To understand Dickens, you need to know about his life and…

the Poor Law

Before going into Our Mutual Friend‘s main features, I would like to refer to the postscript Dickens wrote.

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 shameful 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—though not exclusively— in Dickens’ times, I recommend the link provided under “Poor Law”.

“Our Mutual Friend” is really worth reading and re-reading. 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

Our Mutual Friend is, according to what J.H. Miller says in the Afterword of the 1964 edition published by the New American  Library, about “money, money, money, and what money can make of life”. Indeed, the title may well be taken as an allusion to “money”. It is also about class distinction, greed, appearances, trying to avoid the lack of money and what that brings…i.e., the workhouse…And I expect that, by now, we all know what the “workhouse” is!

Like many of his books, it is set in London. And, even though we have said that the main topic is money, I’d argue that, above all, it is about appearances: about showing the rest of your world that you have, even if, though and when you don’t. As usual, Dickens, though prone to stereotyping, is brilliant at characterisation and double meanings.

Our Mutual Friend 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 as 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” that I find most appealing in his writing, apart from his mastery of the language, of course.

How to use “Our Mutual Friend” in class

The following are only some suggestions…left to our brilliant-teacher-mind to improve, dismiss or elaborate on:

  1. London and other Capital cities in 1865  Students- or one of the groups could focus on some Websearch and provide a geographical depiction/ map of London, Madrid, etc. They may include housing conditions, or any other feature they deem of interest.
  2. Schools and Education in the mid-19th century Another group could focus on the state of the Education system at that time, in Britain (with the distinctions of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland), Spain, the USA…any other country the students come from…

Those suggestions could be split into smaller or more specific issues so that each group carries out research that contributes to rather than competes with the work done by the other groups.

I suppose you are becoming familiar with “learning situations”, “specific competences” and the like. I would argue that this is something which English teachers have always done, one way or another.

Looking forward to hearing your contributions in class. I hope what you have read here has given you some inspiration.

You can find out more about Dickens and his time in

Paying homage to British novelist Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens’ works. Classroom uses

Desde sus orígenes, el objetivo de PoppieS 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 tus alumnos necesitan en el s. XXI

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