Dublin Unitarian Book Club’s
choice for December 2019 & January 2020.
Our Mutual Friend
This book had mixed reviews mostly because Dickens plays with us and our perceptions of people. How do we know if a person is good or bad, or if they are who they say they are? Do we make assumptions based on their social status and wealth?
Dickens shows us a world of snobbery and prejudice. He shows how money and greed and a desire to be seen as ‘respectable’ can shape a person and lead them to certain actions.
Many of the characters have double identities , some go through transformations good and bad because of events that have happened to them. There is a lot of pretence and charade and superficiality and so, how can we judge a person? Who has the voice of society?
As with Dickens it is often the smaller characters that remain with us and who often hold the essence of the book. One of my favourites is a child called Jenny Wren, which is a name she assumes for herself. In reality she is disabled, earns a living as a doll maker and has a drunken father whom she minds and supports, she calls him her ‘Bad Child’. She is elfin like but is not what she seems as she can see through people. In order to cope with her hard life she invents a fairytale quality to it and she herself references fairy tale characters to describe some of the people she encounters, like ‘Godmother’ for Mr. Riah, because she knows he is good. But Riah, who is a Jew, is employed by an unscrupulous userer Mr. Fledgeby as his perfect front man to his money lending business and of course society accepts this version as the reality whereas the reverse is the truth.
In the end it is goodness and love and friendship that wins out against the falsity of the love for material wealth and status.
As Jenny Wren says of her friend Lizzie Hexam ‘she is more to be relied upon than silver and gold’.
Dublin Unitarian Church