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The final completed novel by Charles Dickens, and quite possibly his darkest.

A body is found floating on the Thames, identified as John Harmon, the heir to a great fortune, and — well — things go from nasty to nastier, and one of the biggest and most complicated plotlines in literature begins, set against a backdrop of Victorian London (and the surrounding countryside), the river Thames in particular.

This book has been adapted into three different TV miniseries, and the Young Shakespeare Players have done an eleven-hour STAGE adaptation.


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This book contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Old Mr. Harmon.
    • Rogue Riderhood dispenses his version of parental duty in the form of a boot tossed at his daughter's head.
    • Jenny Wren's family situation is arguably Parental Neglect.
  • Adapted Out: The 1998 series removes the characters of Fledgeby and Georgiana.
  • Aerith and Bob: Sophronia and Alfred.
  • Alliterative Name:
    • Roger "Rogue" Riderhood.
    • "Fascination" Fledgeby.
  • Altar the Speed: The somber and rushed marriage of Eugene and Lizzie. The ceremony takes place sooner rather than later because the groom is believed to be dying from injuries inflicted by the bride's Stalker with a Crush.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Bradley Headstone's disastrous proposal to Lizzie Hexam, in which he states that she is the ruin of him, and he regrets ever meeting her. When rejected, he threatens to kill Eugene, and nearly attacks her.
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  • Arch-Enemy: Bradley for Eugene.
  • Arranged Marriage: John Harmon was set to inherit his fortune only if he agreed to marry Bella Wilfer, a young woman he had never met. Now that John Harmon is drowned, all that has changed... until they get married anyway, without Bella knowing it.
  • Being Evil Sucks: You almost feel sorry for Bradley at the end, even after all he's done.
  • Berserk Button: Bradley has a number of them.
  • Big Fancy House: The house that the Boffins move into after deciding that the Bower isn't grand enough to befit their new station.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Snigsworthy/Twemlow/Fledgeby clan.
  • Blackmail: Two cases, neither of which go well:
    • Silas Wegg attempts to blackmail Mr. Boffin with a new will he's found, leaving all the property to the crown. It turns out there's a THIRD will, leaving everything once again to Mr. Boffin.
    • Rogue Riderhood attempts to blackmail Bradley Headstone over the near-murder of Eugene Wrayburn. That goes even less well.
  • Blue Blood: Fashionable society, most of which congregates at Mr. Veneering's dinner parties.
  • Book Ends: The novel's second scene is set at one of the Veneerings' dinner parties, where Lightwood is prevailed upon to tell what he knows about the events setting up the plot. The final scene sees Lightwood back at another of the Veneering's dinner parties, refusing to be drawn on the events of the plot's conclusion.
  • Catchphrase:
    • Boffin's "Mornin', mornin', mornin'!"
    • Jenny Wren knows your tricks and your manners.
    • Riderhood is an honest man as lives by the sweat of his brow.
  • Changeling Fantasy: Several, with varying degrees of veracity.
  • Character Tics: Young Fledgeby's habit of rubbing his face as if to see if his beard has finally started growing.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Pretty much every named character at the Veneerings' dinner parties becomes important to the plot at some point.
  • Chekhov's Hobby: When Mrs Higden introduces Sloppy, she mentions that one of the ways he helps around the house is reading the newspaper and remarks admiringly that he does different voices when he reads out the court transcripts. His skill at different voices comes into play again near the end of the story.
  • Chekhov's Skill: The skills that Lizzie acquires helping her father fish dead bodies out of the Thames come in handy to rescue a still-living body out of the river at the climax.
  • Clear My Name:
    • John Rokesmith is accused of the murder of John Harmon. He doesn't have a terribly hard time clearing himself of those charges.
    • All of Pubsey & Co's clientele think Mr. Riah is a Greedy Jew, little guessing that it's really Fledgeby in control of the operation... eventually Mr. Riah leaves in disgust, and winds up becoming the most genial and generous creditor around.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Jenny Wren, and her long stories about angels and blessed children and being dead.
  • Cock Fight: The rivalry between upper-class lawyer Eugene Wrayburn and schoolteacher Bradley Headstone, over Lizzie Hexam. Particularly in Headstone's case, it's debatable whether love for Lizzie or hatred for the other man is stronger.
  • Cuckoosnarker: Jenny Wren, who is quite snarky when not engaged in poetic fantasies.
  • Con Artist: Alfred and Sophronia go into an arrangement. It doesn't work out.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Surprisingly few for Dickens, but there are a couple.
    • Betty Higden just happens to stumble across Lizzie Hexam in the last few moments of her life.
  • Demoted to Extra: Twemlow (renamed Tremlow for some reason) and Mr. Riah have only a few minutes' screentime in the 1998 series. The Veneerings briefly appear, and several of their parties are shown, but their subplot is removed.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Bradley Headstone tries to frame Rogue Riderhood for the attack on Eugene Wrayburn... but not only does it fail, it doesn't even get off the ground; nobody even suspects Riderhood or believes for a moment that anyone besides Bradley is guilty. The only thing he achieves is to make his situation even more desperate by making Riderhood his enemy.
  • Disabled Snarker: Jenny Wren, when she isn't engaging in flights of fancy.
  • Driven to Suicide: Bradley Headstone
  • Elopement: Played with in the case of Bella and John's wedding. They sneak away and get married in secret, in a ceremony with only two witnesses, one of whom is an old man who wandered in off the street to see what was happening, and then send a letter to Bella's parents announcing the fait accompli. But the other witness is Bella's father, who's known and approved of the relationship all along; it's only Bella's mother whose disapproval they're trying to avoid.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Several:
    • Sophronia refuses to go ahead with the plan to trap Georgiana Podsnap.
    • Charley Hexam learns that Bradley Headstone has nearly beaten Eugene Wrayburn to death, and rejects him. (Though there are some indications that this is partly down to his rejecting of anything that might cast himself in a bad light.)
  • Faking the Dead: The Harmon Murder is one of the driving forces of the book — and an inadvertant example of this trope. The body found in the river wearing John Harmon's clothes and carrying John Harmon's papers in his pockets is actually another man who drugged the real John Harmon and stole them. By the time the real John Harmon recovers, he's already been declared dead, and he decides to stay dead for a while so he can get to know Bella and the Boffins incognito.
  • Gambit Pileup: How many different plots are running at any one time here?
  • Gold Digger: Bella Wilfer starts out as this. She gets better.
  • Greedy Jew: Subverted and fake-Invoked in a big way. Everyone in the plot thinks Mr. Riah is this, but he is secretly under the control of Fledgeby, who uses this public perception of Jews in order to camouflage his own operation. Riah eventually gets away from Fledgeby and inverts the trope fully, Clearing His Name in the process.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Bradley Headstone's violent (literally) hatred for Eugene Wrayburn, over Lizzie Hexam.
  • Happily Married: Mr and Mrs Boffin.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Sophronia feels guilty about the plot to marry off Georgiana to Fledgeby, and enlists Mr. Twemlow in rescuing her.
  • Henpecked Husband: Reginald Wilfer, who was apparently something of an Author Avatar.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: In the end, it's Bradley Headstone's attempt to put Eugene Wrayburn out of the running that brings Eugene and Lizzie together; if he'd left Eugene alone, Eugene and Lizzie would most likely have continued to feel that the class barrier dividing them was insurmountable. When Bradley realises this, he has a Villainous Breakdown.
  • I Have No Son!:
    • Old Mr Harmon disowned his daughter and then his son for standing up to his tyranny. He never softened toward his daughter before her death, but after his own death his will was found to leave most of his property to his son, albeit with a condition apparently calculated to make his life difficult.
    • When Bella Wilfer marries, without her mother's knowledge and to a man her mother disapproves of, Mrs Wilfer declares that she no longer has a daughter named Bella. It doesn't last long, though, and they've reconciled by the time Bella's first child is born.
  • I Reject Your Reality: Mr Podsnap makes an artform of this, habitually dismissing and sweeping away (with a flourish of his arm) any notion that conflicts with his own deeply self-satisfied worldview.
  • Ironic Nickname: Fledgeby is called "Fascination Fledgeby" behind his back, on account of being one of the most boring people his acquaintances have ever encountered. They don't know what he is, obviously.
  • It's All About Me: As the novel progresses, Charlie Hexam grows steadily more selfish and obsessed with his own respectability, coldly abandoning anyone he thinks might reflect badly on him.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • The actual culprits of the Harmon Murder are never identified or brought to justice.
    • The last we see of the Lammles in the 1998 series is them becoming the "friends" of a rich young couple, with the obvious intention to take their money.
  • Kick the Dog: Fledgeby rather enjoys flexing his power over Riah, and everyone else.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Rogue Riderhood says that once a man has been almost drowned, he can't ever be drowned again. He is mistaken.
  • Last-Name Basis: It was Victorian Britain, after all, so most of the male characters are referred to primarily by their last names. Except by their family members.
  • Loon with a Heart of Gold: Jenny Wren; interestingly, she seasons this with Deadpan Snarker.
  • Lost Will and Testament: John Harmon Sr. made several wills. Wegg finds a later one than the generally-accepted one, and blackmails Mr. Boffin with the knowledge he has no right to his fortune. There's another will even later than the one Wegg found.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Bradley Headstone, who becomes increasingly obsessed with Lizzie Hexam, culminating in an attempt to Murder the Hypotenuse.
  • Love Triangle:
    • Eugene Wrayburn and Bradley Headstone both love Lizzie Hexam. It's clear who she prefers, but Bradley can't take no for an answer.
    • Miss Peecher loves Bradley Headstone, who only has eyes for Lizzie Hexam.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Fledgeby, who is controlling Pubsey & Co. without anyone knowing about it besides him and Riah.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Fledgeby.
  • Maybe Ever After: Jenny Wren and Sloppy, depending on how you interpret their interactions. The 1998 series is less ambiguous that they get together.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Bradley Headstone
    • Mr. Veneering, who is concerned only with superficial appearances.
  • Mini Series: It's been adapted three times.
  • Missing Mom: Several - John Harmon's mom is gone, as is Lizzie Hexam's, and even Pleasant Riderhood's.
  • Mr. Exposition: Mortimer Lightwood, the Harmon family lawyer, explains the premise of the plot to the other characters at the Veneerings' dinner party and thereby also to the audience.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Bradley Headstone attempts to murder Eugene Wrayburn, and nearly succeeds. The narrator notes that on some level Bradley is probably aware that murdering Eugene probably won't actually help his case with Lizzie, even if she never finds out it was him that did it, but by this point his obsessive hatred of Eugene has outgrown the obsessive attraction to Lizzie that spawned it.
  • Mysterious Benefactor: At the end, Mr. Riah is transformed into a genial and generous creditor, and his clients have no idea that their debts have been secretly bought up by John Harmon.
  • Near-Death Experience: A number of characters have various versions of this:
    • John Harmon is almost murdered for his fortune, which doesn't do much for his worldview.
    • Rogue Riderhood nearly drowns in the river, but is saved. He assumes, due to superstition, that this makes him immune from drowning in the future. He is mistaken.
    • Eugene Wrayburn gets beaten nearly to death by Bradley Headstone, which causes him to re-think his life, and he finally marries Lizzie, to save her reputation. He thinks he's going to die. He survives.
  • Never Learned to Read:
    • Mr Boffin, who hires Silas Wegg to read him 'The Decline and Fall of the Rooshan Empire'.
    • Lizzie has reached adulthood without much book-learning, due to her father's poverty and suspicion of education. One of the turning points in her relationship with Eugene is when she accepts his offer to arrange reading lessons for her.
  • Odd Friendship: Lizzie and Jenny.
  • Ominous Fog: It heralds the approach of Riderhood to Mortimer's office.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname:
    • Jenny Wren, the dolls' dressmaker. "Jenny Wren" is a nickname she bestowed on herself; her real name is mentioned once by the narrator when she's first introduced and then never mentioned again.
    • Jenny's father is never referred to by his real name, even by the narrator. At first the narrator just refers to him as Jenny's father. Then Eugene, knowing that he's not "Mr Wren" but not sure what else to call him, gives him the nickname "Mr Dolls", which the narrator uses for the rest of the novel.
  • Parental Abandonment: Yep.
  • Parental Substitute:
    • The Boffins practically raised John Harmon, and he returns the favor.
    • At the end, Mr. Riah becomes a second father to Jenny — or, as she says, possibly a first father, considering how useless her real father was.
  • Parents as People: Bella Wilfer's parents.
  • Police Are Useless: Despite some intensive investigating, the police never find out anything useful about the Harmon Murder by themselves.
  • Purple Prose: Dickens was paid by the word. Several of the characters lapse into Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, and Dickens's standard Author Filibuster is in attendance, and the Lemony Narrator is employed as well.
  • The Reveal:
    • John Harmon isn't dead. He's John Rokesmith.
    • Mr. Boffin isn't corrupt. It's an act to test Bella's integrity.
  • Rewatch Bonus: In the 1998 miniseries Mrs. Boffin smiles at her husband right after he very rudely dismissed John Rokesmith. Rewatching the series with the knowledge Mr. Boffin is only pretending to be a miser and both Mrs. Boffin and Rokesmith are in on the act casts lights on her reactions.
  • Rich Bitch: Lady Tippins.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Alfred Lammle, after learning that it's really Fledgeby who has been screwing him over (and pretty much everyone else in the book as well) the whole time, crams a mixture of salt and tobacco into Fledgeby's nose and mouth to prevent him crying for help, and then thrashes him with his cane so hard that the cane breaks... twice.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Dickens was writing at a particularly grim time in world politics, and it seeped into his work.
  • The Snark Knight: Eugene Wrayburn.
  • Stay with Me Until I Die: Betty Higden dies in the arms of the startled Lizzie Hexam.
  • Taking You with Me: Bradley Headstone's murder-suicide on Rogue Riderhood. Riderhood attempts to blackmail him, saying that until he's paid, "Wherever you go, I will go." And so he does.
  • The Ophelia: Some illustrations/adaptations depict Jenny Wren as quite attractive, which, combined with her personality, makes her this.
  • Title Drop: Mr Boffin refers to Mr Rokesmith as "Our mutual friend" when speaking to Mr Wilfer, after learning that they both (apparently by coincidence) count him as an acquaintance. It's true in a wider sense, as the thing that ultimately connects all the novel's many characters is that they have some direct or indirect connection to Mr Rokesmith, or, to give him his proper name, John Harmon, although most of them don't know it and many of them never find out.
  • Truth in Television: The Author Filibuster about the way Jews were treated at the time, and how the efforts to relieve the poor were being demonized.
  • Unexpected Inheritance: The Boffins never expected to get the entire fortune, but now that John Harmon is drowned, the fortune passes to them.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Silas Wegg, who is given a place to live and a comfortable indoor job by Mr Boffin, along with other perks, resents him more after every kindness and ends up trying to destroy him for a litany of imagined slights (many of them referring to things that he voluntarily accepted at the time or even that he suggested in the first place).
  • Unholy Matrimony: Alfred and Sophronia get married, each believing the other to be rich. When they find out the truth, they resolve to take their high-society "friends" down a peg.
  • Uptown Girl: The gender-swapped version, as Eugene loves Lizzie, but feels he can't marry her because he comes from an old-money family and she's the daughter of a waterside "character," and what would society say? He eventually sees the light after a Near-Death Experience, and he marries her to save her reputation.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Bradley Headstone. Frequently, but especially after nearly killing Eugene and then discovering that he's only helped along what he was trying to prevent.
  • Wacky Parent, Serious Child: Jenny Wren's father is an advanced state of alcoholism, always either drunk or planning to get drunk and in either state barely capable of stringing a sentence together, leaving Jenny to be the responsible person and provider of the household. She treats him as if she were the parent and he the child, even calling him "my naughty child" and scolding him when he gets drunk again. This is played both for laughs and for drama.
  • Waif Prophet: Jenny Wren, a tiny, crippled teenager, who has otherworldly visions, and is also an unusually perceptive and insightful observer of the characters around her. These two abilities are interconnected, and both suggested to be either a compensation for or result of her disability. Her insights and her visions help resolve one of the novel's main plots. However, it should be also pointed out that although her abilities and plot function fit the trope perfectly, Jenny's personality is much closer to the Deadpan Snarker.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Dickens always has one of these... and there are a lot of characters to cover, so be prepared for an Author Filibuster.
  • You ALL Share My Story: John Harmon's story intersects with pretty much every character's arc at some point, however indirectly... and so does Lizzie Hexam's.
  • Zany Scheme: A number of them.

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