Readalong: ‘Our Mutual Friend’ by Charles Dickens – Book 1, Chapters 1-4 (May)

The lovely Katie of Books and Things had the glorious idea of organising a Victorian-style readalong of her favourite Charles Dickens’ novel Our Mutual Friend. What a Victorian-style readalong means is that we will be reading the novel as it was first published, a few chapters at a time, precisely how the Victorians themselves first read it.

our-mutual-friend1The novel started being serialised in May 1864 until November 1865, with either 3 or 4 chapters out every month. The idea is to follow this original publication pattern and read the chapters as they were published each month, from this May until November 2017. Katie has also created a Goodreads group where she explains all the details (I know my explanation is more likely to confuse rather than enlighten you) and where she has also prepared a schedule of which chapters are to be read each month.

Now, since I haven’t read as much Dickens as I’d have wanted to, I decided to take advantage of this opportunity and participate in this readalong.  I had never heard of this book before, though, and after a quick research I found out it hasn’t been translated at all in Greek and so I had never heard about it growing up like Dickens’ other novels. Since I tend to feel quite intimidated by Dickens’ books, I think a few chapters per month will be a good idea to start with. I’m reading it in physical form while simultaneously listening to the audiobook, as it helps me concentrate more on the plot and pick up nuances I might have missed otherwise. So, I have already read the first 4 chapters of Our Mutual Friend and I’d like to share some of my initial thoughts with you. I will try to make it as much spoiler-free as possible, but you should proceed with caution nevertheless.

Chapter 1: The first chapter is more than intriguing and it definitely sets the mood for the story that is about to unfold. We are introduced to two characters, Gaffer and his daughter Lizzie, while they are on a boat at sea having just discovered something which is the source of an argument they have. Dickens’ language is rather challenging but his descriptions are vivid and eloquent.

Chapter 2: This must have been the most confusing second chapter I have encountered in my reading life so far! Forgetting the boat scene in the previous chapter, we are introduced to a brand new set of characters here, starting with the Veneerings, a couple who has recently become wealthy. They are hosting a dinner with many distinguishing guests, who Dickens doesn’t fail to comment on with the most poignant manner. His wit and irony is really evident in this chapter and I very much enjoyed this aspect of it.

During this dinner and the inevitable gossip that ensues, we learn of some John Harmon, who has just inherited his father’s fortune and is on his way back to England to claim it. However, some unfortunate news become known to the guests attending the dinner about John Harmon’s fortune. It definitely was an overwhelming chapter, with lots of new characters introduced, whose names I still cannot bring myself to fully remember.

Chapter 3: Continuing on from the previous chapter, two of our dinner guests, Mortimer and Eugene, set off to find out more about what happened to John Harmon. During this quest of theirs, they meet with Gaffer and Lizzie, the characters from chapter 1, who have some interesting information to share. A mysterious man appears, asking for information about John Harmon, too.

This chapter was much less confusing compared to the previous one, even more so because finally the characters come together and we find out what Gaffer and Lizzie were up to on the boat.

Chapter 4: We are introduced to yet another new set of characters here, the Wilton family and we learn that the daughter, Bella, was supposed to marry John Harmon. A man by the name of John Rokesmith appears to rent the Wilton’s first floor and even though he doesn’t seem very trustworthy, the family accepts as they are in dire need of money. We are informed, though, that this man is none other than the mysterious man of the previous chapter. The plot thickens slowly but steadily and I’m very intrigued to see what happens next.

Those first four chapters were surely challenging but very engaging, and I did enjoy Dickens’ witty writing, even though I was thoroughly overwhelmed by this plethora of characters. I decided to read about a chapter per week, because I’m reading this for the first time and I’m completely new to the characters and the plot, so I wouldn’t want to let too much time pass in between the chapters lest I forget who is who.

Chapters 5-7 are scheduled for June, so I will make a post discussing them at the end of the month.

Is anyone else participating at this readalong? Have you read Our Mutual Friend before? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Readalong: ‘Our Mutual Friend’ by Charles Dickens – Book 1, Chapters 1-4 (May)

  1. Hi Yes I am also participating in the Readalong. I think your idea of a chapter a week or thereabouts is excellent. Yet to start June’s chapters but I found Katie’s vlog on Booktube very useful. Great summary.

    • Thank you, Marianne 🙂 Does one chapter per week work well for you too? How are you enjoying ‘Our Mutual Friend’ so far? I haven’t started June’s chapters yet either, I’ll save the first one as my weekend treat 🙂
      I couldn’t agree more, Katie’s video was so very enlightening and helpful and her enthusiasm is truly contagious.

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