A collective read commences!

Dear Charlie,

To think I was ever worried about finding material to write to you about once I’d finished my reading challenge!

I’m nearly finished Claire Tomalin’s biography of you, but I’ll save that for another post – it’ll give you a chance to prepare yourself for a sometimes unflattering account, particularly of your later life. I hope death has mellowed you a little when it comes to your personal failings or we may have a falling out.


Our Mutual Friend originally ran from May 1864 to November 1865

Today, though, I wanted to share with you something that I wish you were alive to see. From May 2014 to November 2015, Birkbeck, Universityof London is hosting a public reading of Our Mutual Friend in its original installments. As well, each month will feature an article examining the events and themes of that installment. Reading the first article, and reading the comments, it’s clear that this will be decidedly more erudite than these humble missives.

Being now a certified Dickens groupie, I am of course participating. It’ll be interesting to observe the differences between this more leisurely pace of reading and my original let’s-read-a-freaking-enormous-book-in-ten-days timetable that, while enjoyable, was hardly the way the book was originally intended to be read.


Most of the ads for Victorian products are less than appealing nowadays, but I would absolutely buy all of these things because chocolate. (Also, how tragic is it that Icelandic moss cocoa not a thing anymore?)

It’s early days yet, but already it’s been a treat to mull over the first few chapters and the common elements that tie them together, even though each takes place in a vastly different setting with characters of vastly different social standing. As well, being able to see the installments in their original green covers and hemmed in by fascinating contemporary advertisements gives it a whole new consumerist vibe. This is fiction for the masses (even if it didn’t end up selling as well as everyone expected), and I’m looking forward to seeing how pairing this populist format with scholarly discussion plays out.

Added to the mix of green covers and intelligent discussion, however, is a gloriously 21st century addition to the project. A group of enthusiastic volunteers have signed up to portray each of the characters (major, minor, wooden, skeletal and stuffed) on Twitter. You can see the first installment summarized on Storify. I am absolutely signed up as one of the characters (although I can’t tell you who I am because I don’t want to give it away), and I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to be notified that a fictional character is following me, or to see the brilliant blending of plot detail with anachronistic references to modern life.

You’d be as pleased as your famous gin punch, I’m sure, to watch the plot unfold through these characters’ slightly irreverent eyes.

Speaking of which, I must go and check my feed.

Affectionately yours,