Reanimation, Regeneration, Re-evaluation: Rereading Our Mutual Friend

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Leona Toker's essay "Decadence and Renewal in Dickens's Our Mutual Friend," published in a section under the somewhat ghoulish heading "Restored from Death," takes up the Jamesian disdain for Dickens's last novel as a product of an exhausted mine (though James seems to refer to a permanent exhaustion of mind), and suggests that the plot reveals an underlying trend of degeneration. This in a novel that has been taken as an exemplary tale of moral regeneration, beginning with John Harmon's rise from the dead in the river, a baptismal resurrection which slips out of one mystery that is never solved—the identity of the body fished out of the river,into another—John Harmon's identity,—which becomes only too transparent, however much the author is at pains to conceal the secret. But not only James is dissatisfied with this "large loose baggy monster" (to borrow a phrase from the Preface to The Tragic Muse [The Portable Henry James 477]), and the feeble attempt at a Christian eschatology does not wash with many postmodern readers. As Toker points out, it is not John Harmon who changes his identity—he has been simply masquerading as someone else in order to submit Bella to the gold dust test (or, all that glisters is not love). Rather, Toker argues, it is Eugene Wrayburn who rises, like Lazarus, from his death−bed, transformed morally into a better person, worthy of marrying Lizzie Hexam.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-44
JournalConnotations: a journal of critical debate
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Feb 2010


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