Town mouse on the joys of Dickens

Most of last week was spent in the car so much so that I succeeded in listening to all 28 CDs of David Timson’s superb reading of Our Mutual Friend. It’s my favourite Dickens novel.

Nearly all the story takes place in London. It’s not the London of Oliver Twist’s ‘rookeries’, but the waterside London of Limehouse Hole and the crazily anthropomorphic Six Jolly Fellowship Porters pub; the London of the Wilfers’ Pooterish residence at Holloway, where the first floor is vacated for a mysterious lodger; the London of dismally pompous houses near Cavendish Square, of harmless Twemlow living in as much gentility as he could afford over a stables in St James’s, of giant dust mounds north of what is now King’s Cross, of the streets around Smith Square, where Thomas Archer’s ‘very hideous church with four towers at the corners’ is described as ‘resembling some petrified monster, frightful and gigantic, on its back with its legs in the air’.

Through the whole novel flows the Thames, like life itself, indifferently carrying all manner of cargo out to the open sea. It’s a fairy story, in which the heroines, however lowly born, speak grammatically and the worst of the villains die in the river, of course. A fairy story, but, just as Dickens intended, I wept: very inconvenient when driving.