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date: 04 July 2022

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter situates Our Mutual Friend at the intersection of nineteenth-century projects of culture: the antiquarian, pedagogical, and anthropological. Silas Wegg and the doll’s dressmaker, Jenny Wren, represent competing versions of the novel’s imaginative sources in popular culture, attached to successive historical stages. Wegg is a corrupt avatar of the Romantic ballad revival, with its commitments to antiquarian nationalism and a degenerationist cultural history. Jenny personifies a communal heritage of folktales, fairy tales, and nursery rhymes, absorbed organically in childhood, anticipating the anthropological claim on these materials, in the decades after Dickens’s death, as relics of a universal ‘savage mind’. Our Mutual Friend resists both programmes, the anthropological as well as the antiquarian, in counterpoint to its well-studied critique of the acquisition of culture through formal schooling.

Keywords: Our Mutual Friend, culture, antiquarian, anthropology, ballads, fairy tales, books, recycling, waste

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