Our Mutual Friend and the
daughter's book of the dead
Many of the stories we have been telling in this book reach a bitter end in Our Mutual Friend. The attempt to locate value in the golden heroine; the attempt to win the daughter a portion of her own; the attempt to free the novel from the darkest toils of the inheritance plot - all, in Our Mutual Friend, notoriously come to dust. Not surprisingly, the end of the novel has garnered as much opprobrium as the conclusion of any Dickens novel, and reflects the problems of closure these final chapters have been tracing: what would be enough; who profits; who renounces; and what is to be done? All problems of closure - value, reward, and the promise of future happiness - seem concentrated in this novel, and seem, moreover, to topple unpleasantly on readers' heads, like so much matter in a finally overfull closet.
The novel begins in an equally concentrated way: a father and a daughter row a small boat across the Thames “In these times of ours”; behind them they tow the body of a drowned man. 1 The plot will expand from these central elements, but it will not add to them: in the course of the novel, two daughters will choose between two fathers and pledge absolute loyalty to them; two daughters will cross the water to find happiness; and two daughters will marry men who have been drowned and found dead. They will find happiness through labor, but they will neither speak nor write their own plots — in contrast to all the other legacies of Dickens's oeuvre, theirs will come through death and not through reading. But the novel will find its true inheritance by turning these daughters into wives: the proper end of this novel is to bring a dead man to life by teaching him to say one magic word, and that word is “wife. ” The daughter, in this book, has no word of her own, and only by renouncing plotting can she fill her place; only by becoming property can she inherit; only by the absolute alienation of property can any be held on to; and only by the deepest distrust of the magic of fictions can Dickens write his last novel.
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Publication information: Book title: Dickens and the Daughter of the House. Contributors: Hilary M. Schor - Author. Publisher: Cambridge University Press. Place of publication: Cambridge, England. Publication year: 1999. Page number: 178.
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