Our Mutual Friend, Dickens' last complete novel, gives one of his most comprehensive and penetrating accounts of Victorian society. Its vision of a culture stifled by materialistic values emerges not just through its central narratives, but through its apparently incidental characters and scenes. The chief of its several plots centres on John Harmon who returns to England as his father's heir. He is believed drowned under suspicious circumstances - a situation convenient to his wish for anonymity until he can evaluate Bella Wilfer whom he must marry to secure his inheritance. The story is filled with colourful characters and incidents - the faded aristocrats and parvenus gathered at the Veneering's dinner table, Betty Higden and her terror of the workhouse and the greedy plottings of Silas Wegg.
Charles Dickens was born in 1812 near Portsmouth where his father was a clerk in the navy pay office. The family moved to London in 1823, but their fortunes were severely impaired. Dickens was sent to work in a blacking-warehouse when his father was imprisoned for debt. Both experiences deeply affected the future novelist. In 1833 he began contributing stories to newspapers and magazines, and in 1836 started the serial publication of Pickwick Papers. Thereafter, Dickens published his major novels over the course of the next twenty years, from Nicholas Nickleby to Little Dorrit. He also edited the journals Household Words and All the Year Round. Dickens died in June 1870.