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LOST Reading Project: Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

Posted by Sherry on 8/21/2007 in Adult Fiction, LOST Project |

From the introduction (Penguin Classics edition) to Our Mutual Friend:

Most of the life in Dickens’s last completed novel tends to a state of suspended animation. Nothing seems certainly dead nor entirely alive.”

Well, if that motif doesn’t relate to the TV series LOST . . . Fans have been trying to decide whether the survivors of Oceanic Flight are alive or dead or someplace in-between ever since the series began.

p. 130 I’ve discovered a new word, and a very useful one at that: Podsnappery.

. . . The world got up at eight, shaved close at a quarter-past, breakfasted at nine, went to the City at ten, came home at half-past five, and dined at seven. . . . As a so eminently respectable man, Mr. Podsnap was sensible of its being required of him to take Providence under his protection. Consequently, he always knew exactly what Providence meant. . . . And it was very remarkable (and must have been very comfortable) that what Providence meant, was invariably what Mr. Podsnap meant.
These may be said to have been the articles of a faith and school which the present chapter takes the liberty of calling, after its representative man, Podsnappery.”

Having read a little over half of the book, I would now say that it’s not so much about suspended animation as it is about pretending to be dead or the advantages of playing dead and changing identities. One of the main characters is a man who allows everyone around him to believe he is drowned, takes on an alternate identity, and lives a life of observation as he watches to see the effect of his death on those he leaves behind. Two young ladies find a hideaway on a rooftop to escape the hard realities of their poverty-stricken lives. One of the young ladies, Jenny, feels as if she were dead when she’s up high above the city on the rooftop:

‘How do you feel when you are dead?’ asked Fledgeby, much perplexed.

‘Oh, so tranquil!’ cried the little creature, smiling. ‘Oh, so peaceful and so thankful! And you hear the people who are alive, crying, and working, and calling to one another down in the close dark streets, and you seem to pity them so! And such a chain has fallen from you, and such a strange good sorrowful happiness comes upon you!'”

Is this feeling of escape from the real world exactly what Jack and maybe some of his cohorts miss in the last episode of LOST Season Three? They’ve escaped death-in-life on the island and now they wish they could go back and again be above or outside of the real world.

Other characters in the book run away to their own hiding places, in the world but hidden away: Lizzie Hexam and Betty Higgins to the country, the Boffins hide themselves in their Bower, the incessant London fog hides everyone and everything. Many of the Losties are also escaping or hiding from the real world: certainly Kate and Sawyer, Shannon and Sayid, Claire and Charlie are hiding , running away from something or someone in their past. LOST Island is a great sanctuary, but as Season Three ended, their cover had been blown.

Some other obvious connections between LOST, the TV series, and Our Mutual Friend are: lots of strained father-daughter relationships (Kate, Penelope Widmore, Lizzie Hexam, Sun, Jenny Wren, Pleasant Riderhood), the effect of the sudden aquisition of great wealth (Hurley, Mr. Boffin), a profusion of peculiar characters whose stories intertwine (everybody in both stories).

I’ll write some more thoughts when I finish the book. I just thought that those of you who are missing LOST might like something to ponder, and a book recommendation, too. I’m enjoying the eccentric characters in Our Mutual Friend, and I would suggest that Desmond read it sooner rather than later. Wanting a certain book to be the last one you read before your death is all poetic and romantic-sounding, but the plan has some practical difficulties. How do you decide when death is imminent but far enough away to give you time to finish a Dickens tome before it’s too late?

Author Steven Berlin Johnson on LOST Season Two and Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend.

Lostpedia on Our Mutual Friend.

More about my LOST Reading Project.

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