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Old 08-25-2010, 09:31 PM   #367
Pavlos
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I'm making my way through Dickens's distinctly sinister final novel, Our Mutual Friend. Old Harmon's 'profitable dust heaps' are left to young John Harmon. But when Young Harmon is found dead in the River Thames, the fortune defaults to the dustman Nicodemus Boffin whose subsequent descent into miserliness and the ramifications on a London centred upon the corpse-strewn and rotting Thames the novel charts.

Quote:
In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no need to be precise, a boat of dirty and disreputable appearance, with two figures in it, floated on the Thames, between Southwark bridge which is of iron, and London Bridge which is of stone, as an autumn evening was closing in.

The figures in this boat were those of a strong man with ragged grizzled hair and a sun-browned face, and a dark girl of nineteen or twenty, sufficiently like him to be recognizable as his daughter. The girl rowed, pulling a pair of sculls very easily; the man, with the rudder-lines slack in his hands, and his hands loose in his waistband, kept an eager look out. He had no net, hook, or line, and he could not be a fisherman; his boat had no cushion for a sitter, no paint, no inscription, no appliance beyond a rusty boathook and a coil of rope, and he could not be a waterman; his boat was too crazy and too small to take in cargo for delivery, and he could not be a lighterman or river-carrier; there was no clue to what he looked for, but he looked for something, with a most intent and searching gaze. The tide, which had turned an hour before, was running down, and his eyes watched every little race and eddy in its broad sweep, as the boat made slight head-way against it, or drove stern foremost before it, according as he directed his daughter by a movement of his head. She watched his face as earnestly as he watched the river. But, in the intensity of her look there was a touch of dread or horror.

Allied to the bottom of the river rather than the surface, by reason of the slime and ooze with which it was covered, and its sodden state, this boat and the two figures in it obviously were doing something that they often did, and were seeking what they often sought. Half savage as the man showed, with no covering on his matted head, with his brown arms bare to between the elbow and the shoulder, with the loose knot of a looser kerchief lying low on his bare breast in a wilderness of beard and whisker, with such dress as he wore seeming to be made out of the mud that begrimed his boat, still there was a business-like usage in his steady gaze. So with every lithe action of the girl, with every turn of her wrist, perhaps most of all with her look of dread or horror; they were things of usage.
Like so many of Dickens's later novels, Our Mutual Friend is filled with those spectral hands that reach out from the past to push and prod events in our present (that 'witch of the place' Miss Havisham springs to mind) and how later generations are shaped by what has gone before.


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I 'gin to be a-weary of the sun,
And wish the estate o' the world were now undone.

Last edited by Pavlos; 08-25-2010 at 09:41 PM.
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