Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens

Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens

After having successfully listened to A Tale of Two Cities, I decided to continue with the Dickens theme and listen to Our Mutual Friend. All 34 hours of it (I did listen to it at 1.2 speed).

Years ago I watched the BBC adaptation, which I really enjoyed and I always intended on reading it. But it is enormous and I was a bit daunted. However, the audio version (this one) was great.

Here’s the blurb …

Following his father’s death John Harmon returns to London to claim his inheritance, but he finds he is eligible only if he marries Bella Wilfur. To observe her character he assumes another identity and secures work with his father’s foreman, Mr Boffin, who is also Bella’s guardian.

Disguise and concealment play an important role in the novel and individual identity is examined within the wider setting of London life: in the 1860s the city was aflame with spiralling financial speculation while thousands of homeless scratched a living from the detritus of the more fortunate-indeed John Harmon’s father has amassed his wealth by recycling waste.

I really enjoyed listening to this. There are lots of stories intertwined, but at the core it is about identity and how we present ourselves to the world. There is fabulous dialogue, beautiful willful women, self-sacrificing women, greedy people and lovely people.

Here’s a beautiful review (about why you should read Dickens and Our Mutual Friend)

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A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

I have read a few other Dickens novels; Little Dorrit, Bleak House and Great Expectations. When a friend mentioned she was listening to Hardy’s novels, I decided I should try to read (listen) this one and Our Mutual Friend (I am listening to this one now – 34 hours!).

Who hasn’t heard of Madame Defarge and her infamous knitting?

Here’s the blurb …

A Tale of Two Cities is Charles Dickens’s great historical novel, set against the violent upheaval of the French Revolution. The most famous and perhaps the most popular of his works, it compresses an event of immense complexity to the scale of a family history, with a cast of characters that includes a bloodthirsty ogress and an antihero as believably flawed as any in modern fiction. Though the least typical of the author’s novels, A Tale of Two Cities still underscores many of his enduring themes—imprisonment, injustice, social anarchy, resurrection, and the renunciation that fosters renewal.

The narrator was excellent (I think it was Martin Jarvis). His narration brought the story to life and I feel that Dicken’s novels are meant to be listened to. Towards the end, there were a lot of convenient coincidences (very Dickensian), but the characters were fabulous particularly Jerry Cruncher and Miss Pross. I love they way they talk – Jerry about his wife ‘flopping all over the place’. The story is full of action and has a bit of foreshadowing of how it’s all going to end. There’s a too good to be true heroine, handsome hero, a dedicated hand-maiden, two people who look alike (a very important plot point), a lovely older business man, and the blood-thirsty Madame Defarge. It all makes for an enjoyable (if occasionally tense) romp through the French Revolution.

A review.

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Filed under 4, Audio, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Recommended

Bleak House – Charles Dickens

This was a marathon reading task, but I’m quite pleased that I finished it. I liked it. A lot. Unlike Little Dorrit, which I thought needed editing, I enjoyed all aspects of this novel.

Here is a synopsis from Wikipedia

Sir Leicester Dedlock and Honoria, Lady Dedlock (his junior by more than twenty years) live at his estate of Chesney Wold. Unbeknownst to Sir Leicester, Lady Dedlock had a lover, Captain Hawdon, before her marriage to Sir Leicester — and had a child by him, Esther Summerson. Lady Dedlock, believing her daughter to be dead, has chosen to live out her days ‘bored to death’ as a fashionable lady of the world.

Esther is raised by Miss Barbary, Lady Dedlock’s spartan sister, who instills a sense of worthlessness in her that Esther will battle throughout the novel. Esther does not realize that Miss Barbary is her aunt, thinking of her only as her godmother. When Miss Barbary dies, the Chancery lawyer “Conversation” Kenge takes charge of Esther’s future on the instruction of his client, John Jarndyce. Jarndyce becomes Esther’s guardian, and after attending school in Reading for six years, she goes to live with him at Bleak House, along with his wards, Richard Carstone and Ada Clare. Esther is to be Ada’s companion.

Esther soon befriends both Ada and Richard, who are cousins. They are named beneficiaries in one of the wills at issue in Jarndyce and Jarndyce; their guardian is a beneficiary under another will, and in some undefined way the two wills conflict. Richard and Ada soon fall in love, but though Mr. Jarndyce does not oppose the match, he does stipulate that Richard (who suffers from inconstancy of character) must first choose a profession. When Richard mentions the prospect of benefiting from the resolution of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, John Jarndyce beseeches him never to put faith in what he calls “the family curse”.

Meanwhile, Lady Dedlock is also a beneficiary under one of the wills in Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Early in the book, while listening to her solicitor, the close-mouthed but shrewd Mr. Tulkinghorn, read an affidavit aloud, she recognizes the handwriting on the copy. The sight affects her so much that she almost faints, which Tulkinghorn notes and thinks important enough to investigate. He recognizes that Lady Dedlock has focused on the affidavit’s handwriting, and seeks to trace the copyist. He discovers that the copyist was a pauper known only as “Nemo” and that he has recently died. The only person to identify him is a street-sweeper, a poor homeless boy named Jo.

Lady Dedlock also investigates the matter, disguising herself as her French maid, Mademoiselle Hortense. In disguise, she pays Jo to take her to Nemo’s grave. Meanwhile, convinced that Lady Dedlock’s secret might be a threat to the interests of his client, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Tulkinghorn begins to watch her every move, even enlisting the aid of the maid, who detests her.

Esther happens to meet her mother unwittingly at a church service and has a conversation with her afterwards at Chesney Wold – though, at first, neither woman recognizes the tie that binds them. Later, Lady Dedlock realises that her abandoned child is not dead, but is, in fact, Esther. She waits to confront Esther with this knowledge until Esther has survived a bout with an unidentified disease (possibly smallpox, as it permanently disfigures her), which she contracted from her maid Charley (whom she devotedly nursed back to health). Though they are happy at being reunited, Lady Dedlock tells Esther that they must never recognize their connection again.

Meanwhile, Esther has recovered her health, but her beauty is supposedly ruined. She finds that Richard, having tried and failed at several professions, has ignored his guardian’s advice and is wasting all his resources in trying to push Jarndyce and Jarndyce to a conclusion (in his and Ada’s favour). Further, he has broken with his guardian, under the influence of his lawyer, the odious and crafty Mr. Vholes. In the process of becoming an active litigant, Richard has lost all his money and is breaking his health. In further defiance of John Jarndyce, he and Ada have secretly married, and Ada is carrying Richard’s child. Esther experiences her own romance when Dr. Woodcourt, who knew her before her illness, returns from his mission and continues to seek her company despite her disfigurement. Unfortunately, Esther has already agreed to marry her guardian, John Jarndyce.

Hortense and Tulkinghorn discover the truth about Lady Dedlock’s past. After a quiet but desperate confrontation with the lawyer, Lady Dedlock flees her home, leaving a note apologizing for her conduct. Tulkinghorn dismisses Hortense, no longer any use to him. Feeling abandoned and betrayed by Lady Dedlock and Tulkinghorn, Hortense kills Tulkinghorn and seeks to frame Lady Dedlock for his murder. On discovering his lawyer’s death and his wife’s flight, Sir Leicester suffers a catastrophic stroke but manages to communicate that he forgives his wife and wants her to return to him.

Inspector Bucket, who up to now has investigated several matters on the periphery of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, accepts the commission of the stricken Sir Leicester to find Lady Dedlock. He suspects Lady Dedlock, even after he arrests George Rouncewell (the only other person known to be with Tulkinghorn on the night of the murder, and known to have quarrelled with the lawyer repeatedly). Nonetheless, Bucket pursues the charge given to him by Sir Leicester and ultimately calls on Esther to assist in the search for Lady Dedlock. By this point, Bucket has cleared Lady Dedlock’s name by discovering Hortense’s guilt, but she has no way to know this, and, wandering London in cold and bitter weather, she ultimately dies at the cemetery where her former lover Captain Hawdon (Nemo) is buried. Esther and Bucket find her there.

Developments in Jarndyce and Jarndyce seem to take a turn for the better when a later will is discovered which revokes all previous wills and leaves the bulk of the estate to Richard and Ada. At the same time, John Jarndyce releases Esther from their engagement and she and Dr. Woodcourt become engaged. They go to Chancery to find Richard and to discover what news there might be of the lawsuit’s resolution. To their horror, they discover that the new will is given no chance to resolve Jarndyce and Jarndyce, for the costs of litigation have consumed the estate, and as there is nothing left to litigate, the case melts away. After hearing this, Richard collapses, and Dr Woodcourt determines that he is in the last stages of consumption. Richard apologizes to John Jarndyce and succumbs, leaving Ada alone with their child, a boy whom she names Richard. Jarndyce takes in Ada and the child. Esther and Woodcourt marry and live in Yorkshire, in a house which Jarndyce gives to them. In time, they have two daughters.

Many of this intricate novel’s subplots deal with the minor characters and their diverse ties to the main plot. One of these subplots is the hard life and happy though difficult marriage of Caddy Jellyby and Prince Turveydrop. Another focuses on George Rouncewell’s rediscovery of his family at Chesney Wold and his reunion with his mother and brother.

There is so much going on in this novel – mystery, romance, court drama. Esther Summerson is another unbelievably good heroine ( a bit like Amy Dorrit). The characters are brilliant – Mr Bucket, Mrs Jellyby  and her African causes, the child-like Mr Skimpole, the lovely Allan Woodcourt and the lost Richard Carstone.

This is my favourite Dickens so far…

Here are some other reviews …




Filed under Recommended, Serious

Little Dorrit – Charles Dickens

From extreme to other; Janet Evanovich and then Charles Dickens!

I read this because it was the book for my Victorian Literary Society meeting.  I had recently watched the latest BBC adaptation (with Clarie Foy) and so was quite keen to read the novel.

It is very long – my copy went to 900 pages.

Here’s the synopsis from Wikipedia …

The novel begins in Marseille with the notorious murderer Rigaud informing his cellmate that he has murdered his wife. Also in the town is Arthur Clennam, who is returning to London to see his mother following the death of his father, with whom he had lived for twenty years in China. As he died, his father had given Arthur a mysterious watch, murmuring, “Your mother.” Naturally Arthur had assumed that it was intended for Arthur’s mother Mrs. Clennam, whom he and the world supposed to be his mother.

Inside the watch casing was an old silk paper with the initials D N F (Do Not Forget) worked into it in beads. It was a message, but when Arthur shows it to harsh and implacable Mrs. Clennam, a religious fanatic, she refuses to reveal what it means, and the two become estranged.

In London, William Dorrit, imprisoned as a debtor, has been a resident of Marshalsea debtor’s prison for so long that his children — snobbish Fanny, idle Edward (known as Tip), and Amy (known as Little Dorrit) — have all grown up there, though they are free to pass in and out of the prison as they please. Amy is devoted to her father and through her sewing, has been financially supporting the two of them.

Once in London, Arthur is reacquainted with his former fiancée Flora Finching, who is now overweight and simpering. Arthur’s mother, Mrs. Clennam, although paralysed and a wheelchair user, still runs the family business with the help of her servant Jeremiah Flintwinch and his downtrodden wife Affery. When Arthur learns that Mrs. Clennam has employed Little Dorrit as a seamstress, showing her unusual kindness, he wonders if the young girl might be connected with the mystery of the watch. Suspecting that his mother played a part in the misfortunes of the Dorrits, Arthur follows the girl to the Marshalsea. He vainly tries to inquire about William Dorrit’s debt at the poorly run Circumlocution Office and acts as a benefactor to her father and brother. While at the Circumlocution Office, Arthur meets the struggling inventor Daniel Doyce, whom he decides to help by becoming his business partner. The grateful Little Dorrit falls in love with Arthur, much to the dismay of the son of the Marshalsea jailer, John Chivery, who has loved her since childhood; Arthur, however, fails to recognize Amy’s interest. At last, aided by the indefatigable debt-collector Pancks, Arthur discovers that William Dorrit is the lost heir to a large fortune and he is finally able to pay his way out of prison.

William Dorrit decides that as a now respectable family they should go on a tour of Europe. They travel over the Alps and take up residence for a time in Venice, and finally in Rome, carrying, with the exception of Amy, an air of conceit at their new-found wealth. Eventually after a spell of delirium, Mr. Dorrit dies in Rome, and his distraught brother Frederick, a kindhearted musician, who has always stood by him, also passes away. Amy is left alone and returns to London to stay with newly married Fanny and her husband, the foppish Edmund Sparkler.

The fraudulent dealings (similar to a Ponzi scheme) of Mr. Merdle who is Edmund Sparkler’s stepfather leads to the collapse of Merdle’s bank after his suicide, taking with it the savings of both the Dorrits and Arthur Clennam, who is now himself imprisoned in the Marshalsea. While there, he is taken ill and is nursed back to health by Amy. The French villain Rigaud, now in London, discovers that Mrs. Clennam has been hiding the fact that Arthur is not her real son, and Rigaud attempts to blackmail her. Arthur’s biological mother was a beautiful young singer with whom his father had gone through a ceremony of sorts before being pressured by his wealthy uncle to marry the present Mrs. Clennam. Mrs. Clennam had agreed to bring up the child on condition that its mother never see him. After Arthur’s real mother had died of grief at being separated from her child and its father, the uncle, stung by remorse, had left a bequest to Arthur’s mother and to “the youngest daughter of her patron”, a kindly musician who had taught and befriended her—and who happened to be Amy Dorrit’s uncle, Frederick. As Frederick Dorrit had no daughter, the legacy goes to the youngest daughter of Frederick’s brother, who is William Dorrit, Amy’s father.

Mrs. Clennam has been suppressing her knowledge that Amy is the heiress to an estate. Overcome by passion, Mrs. Clennam rises from her chair and totters out of her house to reveal the secret to Amy and to beg her forgiveness, which the kindhearted girl freely grants. Mrs. Clennam then falls down in the street—never to recover the use of her speech or limbs—as the house of Clennam literally collapses before her eyes, killing Rigaud. Rather than hurt Arthur, Amy chooses not to reveal what she has learnt, though this means that she misses her legacy.

When Arthur’s business partner Daniel Doyce returns from Turkey a wealthy man, Arthur is released and his fortunes revived, and Arthur and Amy are married.

Like many of Dickens novels, Little Dorritcontains numerous subplots. One subplot concerns Arthur Clennam’s friends, the kindhearted Meagles. They are upset when their daughter Pet marries an artist called Gowan and when their servant and foster daughter Tattycoram is lured away from them to the sinister Miss Wade, an acquaintance of the criminal Rigaud. Miss Wade hates men, and it turns out she is the jilted sweetheart of Gowan.

The novel is split into two books and I found the first book interesting and compelling, but got completely bogged down in the second. Both books needed editing (can I say that about Dickens?), but the second seemed full on unnecessary padding.

In the BBC adaptation Andrew Davies shifted some of the events around in time and it all seemed much less muddled. I guess when you write it as a series of installments you can’t go back later and change the order of the events.

And what about the will? Leaving money for the second daughter of the brother of the benefactor (if the benefactor doesn’t have children) thus linking Amy and Arthur – all seems a bit far fetched to me.

Next up on my Dickens reading Bleak House (I hear it’s very bleak!)

Here’s someone else’s thoughts …





Filed under Recommended, Serious