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Literature / Our Mutual Friend

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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.


This book contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Old Mr. Harmon.
    • Rogue Riderhood.
    • 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: Multiple (not unusual for Dickens): Rogue Riderhood, "Fascination" Fledgeby...
  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • Being Evil Sucks: You almost feel sorry for Bradley at the end, even after he's crossed the Moral Event Horizon
  • Berserk Button: Bradley has a number of them.
  • Big Fancy House: The Bower.
  • 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.
  • Catchphrase: Boffin's "Mornin', mornin', mornin'!"
  • Changeling Fantasy: Several, with varying degrees of veracity.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Pretty much everyone at the Veneerings' dinner parties.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Disabled Snarker: Jenny Wren, when she isn't engaging in flights of fancy.
  • Domestic Abuse: Rogue Riderhood dispenses his version of parental duty in the form of a boot tossed at his daughter's head.
  • Driven to Suicide: Bradley Headstone
  • 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...
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Karma Houdini: 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: Hoo, boy. Bradley Headstone, who becomes increasingly obsessed with Lizzie Hexam, culminating in an attempt to Murder the Hypotenuse. 'Nuff said.
  • 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, and a few others.
  • 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.
  • 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: Boffin hires Silas Wegg to read him 'The Decline and Fall of the Rooshan Empire'.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Jenny Wren, who despite being a Cloud Cuckoolander is one of the most observant and insightful characters of the book.
  • Odd Friendship: Lizzie and Jenny.
  • Ominous Fog: It heralds the approach of Riderhood to Mortimer's office.
  • Parental Abandonment: Yep.
  • Parental Substitute: The Boffins practically raised John Harmon, and he returns the favor.
  • Police Are Useless
  • 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.
  • 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 vs. 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.
  • The Ophelia: Some illustrations/adaptations depict Jenny Wren as quite attractive, which, combined with her personality, makes her this.
  • Title Drop: Boffin refers to Rokesmith as "Our mutual friend."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • "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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