Books Magazine

Our Mutual Friend (on My Nook)

Posted on the 05 June 2011 by Erictheblue

Have been happily sunk for more than a month now in Our Mutual Friend, the last novel Dickens completed before dying, age 58, in 1870.  If you are at all interested in Dickens, I recommend this podcast of Andrew Martin's conversation with Robert Gottlieb on the occasion of Gottlieb's essay, "Who Was Charles Dickens?", appearing in The New York Review of Books.  The podcast includes a link to the essay, which, happily, is available in its entirety and not hiding behind a subscriber wall.

Then begin reading Dickens.  Or, as Vladimir Nabokov said, in his lecture on Bleak House, which follows upon the one on Mansfield Park:

We are now ready to tackle Dickens. We are now ready to embrace Dickens.  We are now ready to bask in Dickens.  In our dealings with Jane Austen we had to make a certain effort to join the ladies in the drawing room.  In the case of Dickens we remain at table with our tawny port.

In my case, with my Nook.  Am not sure it is the best tool for this particular work, rather intricately plotted as it is and, according to its Wikipedia article, featuring nineteen "major characters."  When you are proceeding at the rate of one or two chapters per day, you sometimes feel the need to reacquaint yourself with someone who has been for awhile off the stage, and the Nook does not lend itself so well as an old-fashioned physical book to backward leafings.  So if you are me you just give it up and keep up the forward momentum, basking in all the richly detailed present moments, this one and then that one: several weeks' worth at the rate of my progression.  Here is a recent one:

Mr and Mrs Lammle's house in Sackville Street, Piccadilly, was but a temporary residence.  It has done well enough, they informed their friends, for Mr Lammle when a bachelor, but it would not do now.  So, they were always looking at palatial residences in the best situations, and always very nearly taking or buying one, but never quite concluding the bargain.  Hereby they made for themselves a shining little reputation apart.  People said, on seeing a vacant palatial residence, "The very thing for the Lammles!" and wrote to  the Lammles about it, and the Lammles always went to look at it, but unfortunately it never exactly answered.  In short, they suffered so many disappointments, that they began to think it would be necessary to build a palatial residence.  And hereby they made another shining reputation; many persons of their acquaintance becoming by anticipation dissatisfied with their own houses, and envious of the nonexistent Lammle structure.

It's the world of Eliot's wasteland only with Dickensian gusto substituted for the tired, sad voice.

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