Even within the context of Charles Dickens's history as a publishing innovator, Our Mutual Friend is notable for what it reveals about Dickens as an author and about Victorian publishing. Marking Dickens's return to the monthly number format after nearly a decade of writing fiction designed for weekly publication in All the Year Round, Our Mutual Friend emerged against the backdrop of his failing health, troubled relationship with Ellen Ternan, and declining reputation among contemporary critics. In his subtly argued publishing history, Sean Grass shows how these difficulties combined to make Our Mutual Friend an extraordinarily odd novel, no less in its contents and unusually heavy revisions than in its marketing by Chapman and Hall, its transformation from a serial into British and U.S. book editions, its contemporary reception by readers and reviewers, and its delightfully uneven reputation among critics in the 150 years since Dickens’s death. Enhanced by four appendices that offer contemporary accounts of the Staplehurst railway accident, information on archival materials, transcripts of all of the contemporary reviews, and a select bibliography of editions, Grass’s book shows why this last of Dickens’s finished novels continues to intrigue its readers and critics.
Table of Contents
Contents: Introduction: Our Mutual Friend: ’the poorest of Mr Dickens’s works’; The man from somewhere: Ellen Ternan, Staplehurst, and the remaking of Charles Dickens; The cup and the lip: writing Our Mutual Friend; Putting a price upon a man’s mind: Our Mutual Friend in the marketplace; A dismal swamp? Our Mutual Friend and Victorian critics; The voice of society: Our Mutual Friend since 1870; Appendices; Bibliography; Index.
Sean Grass is the author of The Self in the Cell: Narrating the Victorian Prisoner (2003) and essays on Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Christina Rossetti, among others. He is an Associate Professor of English at Iowa State University, USA.
'Grass looks at how Our Mutual Friend came to be during a critical time in Dickens's life: his marriage had ended, his health was deteriorating, and he was returning to the monthly (rather than weekly) serial format after a decade's absence. ...This work is required reading for serious Dickens scholars. ...Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.'
'This book represents an impressive scholarly achievement and will be the authoritative critical work on the novel for years to come. The background, reception, textual history and afterlives of this most sophisticated of Dickens novels are analyzed with both rigor and gusto. An appendix reprinting all known reviews of the text is indispensable. Our Mutual Friend and its fortunes are brought alive in these pages with devotion and detail; Grass has done a great service to Dickens's last finished novel and to Dickens studies more generally.’
- Juliet John, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK and author of Dickens and Mass Culture
'I found this book to be both interesting and very readable, to the point that I will now re-read Our Mutual Friend with a better and different frame of mind, now having an appreciation of the circumstances under which it was written.’
- NSW Dickens Society
'Grass's book provides a useful, all-in-one resource for understanding the publishing history and larger context of Our Mutual Friend. It is a scholarly book written with flashes of Dickensian humor. ... I would have gladly welcomed a book like this several years back ... '
- New Books on Literature 19 (NBOL 19)
’... clearly written and well researched... This volume, handsomely illustrated, will be of greatest use for students wishing to understand the place of Our Mutual Friend in critical history. Sean Grass has done well at contextualizing the creation and publication of this novel, and at reflecting changing critical attitudes toward Dickens’s last completed novel.’
- Dickens Quarterly
"By opening with the scornful critique of one who would go on to become another literary great, Grass sets the stakes high for his own efforts: he is out to prove Henry James wrong. With this book, the results of rigorous and probing research recounted in energetic prose and with captivating storytelling, Grass fully succeeds… By illuminating the context around the writing, publishing, and reception of this novel, Grass succeeds in providing a rich resource towards the growing scholarship on Dickens’s final work, and more than drowns out the harsh words of a young American critic that have too often dwarfed the book itself."
- Pamela Casey, McGill University, School of Information Studies, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada