Our Mutual Friend was my first forray into Dickens since reading (a probably abridged version of) A Tale of Two Cities back in 8th grade. It’s a weighty tome, but in a year of reading that included Don Quixote and The Brothers Karamazov, I figured my long-book mojo would see me through. And, besides, anything for Lost, right?
Once I got used to Dickens’s paid-by-the-word style, I began to enjoy it. It was uneven, but it left me wanting to read more of Dickens’s work.
Our Mutual Friend is about money, specifically the effects of John Harmon’s inheritance on a great many Londoners of all social classes. Unfortunately, the young Harmon died before he could collect his inheritance, and so the money went to his father’s servants, the Boffins, who haven’t seen John since he was a boy. The thing is, though, Harmon isn’t dead. He faked his death to escape his money and win the heart of Bella Wilfer on his own merits.
Now, the Boffins are newly rich, and John is newly poor. Adding to the complexity of the situation, Dickens presents us with a ponderous cast of con artists, thugs, scavengers, aristocratic lawyers, a psychotic schoolmaster, a dying orphan, members of parliament, a creepy taxidermist, and captains of industry all of whom have either a desire for (and schemes to match!) or opinions about the money and its inheritors.
There are also two love stories. The first is between the lower middle class Bella and the wealthy John. The other is between dirt-poor working class Lizzie Hexam and the young aristocratic lawyer Eugene Wrayburn. Neither is a relationship that should occur, particularly the latter, as they violate the rules of class. These class rules are at the heart of Our Mutual Friend as Dickens examines the effects of love and money on various segments of mid-nineteenth century London society.
Since it was originally a serial, the book has an episodic feel, and one gets the impression that Dickens may have been making some of it up as he was going along. It’s kind of like television. Kind of like Lost, too, in that it has large cast and most of the characters are connected in ways they often don’t ever see.
So how does Our Mutual Friend connect with Lost?
It appears several times in “Live Together, Die Alone,” the Season 2 finale. The episode is the first one to explore the pre-Island life of Desmond. As he is checking out of jail (after serving two years for what we don’t know) he gets his personals including a copy of Our Mutual Friend. He says he’s read every word Dickens wrote except for this, his last novel. Desmond says he checked it with his personal effects because he didn’t want to be tempted to read it in prison since he wants it to be the last book he reads before he dies. I hope he has a few weeks notice; it’s kind of long.
Because he didn’t read it in jail he never finds the letter that Penny Widmore, the love of his life, hid inside it telling him she loves him and that she always will. As we learn more about Penny and Desmond’s romance, both in “Live Together, Die Alone” and in Season 3 flashbacks, we learn that their relationship has always been haunted by her father’s disapproval. Desmond, is not from Penny’s social class, and as a result, her father frowns on his aristocratic daughter hitching her wagon to Desmond’s working class star.
His desire to prove himself worthy of her love is what drives Desmond on his attempt to sail around the world. Of course, he gets shipwrecked on the island and is presumed dead, much like Dickens’s John Harmon. And like the lovers in Our Mutual Friend, Penny’s love is too strong to give Desmond up for lost (har-har), and her defiance of her father and desire to find Desmond are what drives her on her search that may or may not have led that boat to the island (we’ll have to wait for Season 4 to know who’s in Not Penny’s Boat).
Given the relationship between Penny and Desmond is one that transcends social class, it is fitting that Our Mutual Friend, a story of love between classes, should be the book Desmond clings to. It’s also fitting that it should appear on Lost, since so many of the characters are connected in the flashbacks by mutual friends whose mutuality is unknown by the characters on the island. Indeed, Desmond is both Jack and Libby’s mutual friend.
Lostpedia has a pretty good write-up of Our Mutual Friend that takes a look at other connections with Lost including father-daughter relationships and scavenging/hoarding.
For a list of my other Lost Book Club posts click here.
And, with a hat-tip to Brian at Lost…and Gone Forever, here’s the preview for Season 4: