Concerning Bella's Husband

September 7, 2020

UC Santa Cruz undergraduate student, Helen Everbach, demonstrates how Dickens captures a loving and intimate moment between newlyweds, Bella Wilfer and John Rokesmith, in Our Mutual Friend.



Hi, my name is Helen Everbach, I work with the Dickens Project. I am in Santa Cruz, California right now, and I would like to talk about a passage from Our Mutual Friend, because I'm a real sucker for romance, and I think that this passage is really romantic and cute.

So, this passage comes from [Book the Fourth–A Turning] Chapter Five of Our Mutual Friend. The chapter's title is "Concerning the Mendicant's Bride," which is a reference to how John is poor. So, to give you context, the characters of importance here are Bella Wilfer and John Rokesmith. And, John Rokesmith comes from a poor background--so does Bella--but Bella is adopted into this wealthy household, the Boffin's, and she meets John because he's a worker there. And he falls in love with her and they ended up running away together.

And this is her visiting her parents after the two of them have eloped because her parents didn't go to the wedding because they eloped.

'I think it must have made you rather cross, dear Ma and Lavvy, and I know it is deserved that you should be very cross. But you see I had been such a heedless, heartless creature, and had led you so to expect that I should marry for money, and so to make sure that I was incapable of marrying for love, that I thought you couldn't believe me. Because, you see, you didn't know how much of Good, Good, Good, I had learnt from John. Well! So I was sly about it, and ashamed of what you supposed me to be, and fearful that we couldn't understand one another and might come to words, which we should all be sorry for afterwards, and so I said to John that if he liked to take me without any fuss, he might. And as he did like, I left him. And we were married with Greenwich church in the presence of nobody--except an unknown individual who dropped in,' here her eyes sparkled more brightly, 'and half a pensioner. And now, isn't it nice, dearest Ma and Lavvy, to know that no words have been said which any of us can be sorry for, and that we are all best of friends at the pleasantest of teas!'

Having got up and kissed them again, she slipped back to her chair (after a loop on the road to squeeze her husband round the neck) and again went on.

'And now you will naturally want to know, dearest Ma and Lavvy, how we live, and what we have got to live upon. Well! And so we live on Blackheath, in the charm–ingest of dolls' houses, de–lightfully furnished, and we have a clever little servant who is decidedly pretty, and we are economical and orderly, and do everything by clockwork, and we have a hundred and fifty pounds a year, and we have all that we want, and more. And lastly, if you would like to know in confidence, as perhaps you may, what is my opinion of my husband, my opinion is--that I almost love him!'

'And if you would like to know in confidence, as perhaps you may,' said her husband, smiling, as he stood by her side, without her having detected his approach, 'my opinion of my wife, my opinion is–.' But Bella started up, and put her hand upon his lips.

'Stop, Sir! No, John, dear! Seriously! Please not yet. A while! I want to be something so much worthier than the doll, the doll's house.'

'My darling, are you not?'

'Not half, not a quarter, so much worthier as I hope you may some day find me! Try me through some reverse, John--try me through some trial--and tell them after that, what you think of me.'

'I will, my Life,' said John. 'I promise it.'

That's my dear John. And you won't speak a word now; will you?'

'And I won't,' said John, with a very expressive look of admiration around him, 'speak a word now!'

She laid her laughing cheek upon his breast to thank him, and said, looking at the rest of them sideways out of her bright eyes: 'I'll go further, Pa and Ma and Lavvy. John don't suspect it–he has no idea of it–but I quite love him!'

I think that this is a really cute passage because Bella and John, I think, had a really cute and healthy relationship. It starts out with him, kind of like, being in love with her and her not being interested in him. But as you can see from this passage, by the point that they're married, they really do genuinely love each other and respect each other.

I think that that's really cool and their relationship develops over the rest of the book as you learn or secret details of what John is hiding about his past. But I really appreciate it that they are in love and that she teases him. And I think it's just really cute, this idea that she's talking to her parents, while she's leaning against his chest, she's like, don't tell my husband, but I love him. Because that's cute and feels very modern to me.

So that's the passage I've chosen. I hope you all have a wonderful day. And, talk to you again another time!



helen.jpgHelen Everbach has loved Dickens's novels since childhood when her father would read them aloud to her and her siblings before bed. She is studying Feminist Studies and Literature at UC Santa Cruz, fostering kittens, and always keeping up with her love of reading. Bella and John remain her favorite Dickens couple, although the Boffins come a close second.



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