Serial Reading Guide for Our Mutual Friend: Part Seven (chs. 4.1 – 4.7)
Chapter numbers are preceded by the novel’s “book” number. For example, “1.4” indicates Book 1, Chapter 4. Page numbers refer to the Penguin Classics edition (1997).
1. Book Four begins with this installment, and it is called “The Turning,” so expect a lot of turns, reverses, and revolutions as the book heads toward its finish. Note also the continuing attention to disguises, costumes, masks, dolls’ dresses. Also, it was the manuscript of this installment (4.1-4.4) that Dickens had with him at the time of the Staplehurst train crash in June of 1865.
2. Consider Dickens’s choice to focus on locks. Why locks? A lock is a gateway, a passage mediating differing levels (of society, perhaps?). It also reinforces the images of water and up/down that we’ve seen throughout the novel. And—by a different definition—a lock can both restrain someone and keep secrets. Critics would call this a charged metaphor.
3. If it’s the Lammles, expect cleverness and language games. But then note this detail:
Mrs Lammle’s manner changed under the poor silly girl’s embraces, and she turned extremely pale: directing one appealing look, first to Mrs Boffin, and then to Mr Boffin. Both understood her instantly, with a more delicate subtlety than much better educated people, whose perception came less directly from the heart, could have brought to bear upon the case. (633-34, 4.2)
We’ve already noted how reading is related to power in this book. And of course, reading words on a page is only kind of reading? Consider, in 4.3 and elsewhere, how power comes from other kinds of reading, and who wields that power for good or ill.
4. Wegg complains, “I’ve been your slave long enough” (640): How does this compare to other characters’ attitudes toward work?
5. Note how a cynical old character referred to as “Gruff and Glum” is positively affected by the fairytale-like story of Bella, Rokesmith, and R.W. in Greenwich (is he possibly an image of the reader?). And note how the narration of the episode, if read aloud, might easily be accompanied by a slide show (649-51, 4.4). (As for the start of 4.5—yes, mail could move that quickly in greater London at the time.)
6. The theme of education makes a comeback. Consider the varying qualities and motivations of Bella’s reading at 666 and elsewhere in 4.5.
7. How are Rokesmith and Wrayburn alike? How are Bella and Lizzie alike?
8. The end of 4.6—big drama, carefully written.
9. Who is going to win the battle of sneakiness, Riderhood or Headstone?
10. Compare Headstone’s internal monologue in 4.7 (690-91) with Rokesmith’s from 2.13.