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9 of Earth - Bella Wilfer


Bella Harmon née Wilfer;

Reginald Wilfer aka The Cherub aka Rumty.


Our Mutual Friend

      Bella Wilfer is, as her name suggests, beautiful and willful. At the beginning of Our Mutual Friend, she is also shallow, proud, and shamelessly focused on riches. She is, in Dickens' own words, “So insolent, so trivial, so capricious, so mercenary, so careless, so hard to touch, so hard to turn!” Her sole interest in marriage and most other things is "money, money, money, and what money can make of life.” Promised to John Harmon in matrimony by his father, the miser Old Harmon, both her qualms over choice of husband and hopes for wealth are quashed when her would-be husband is found dead.


 Bella is certainly not unaware of her own character. As she says of herself to her father: “when I became disappointed of my splendid fortune, and came to see it from day to day in other hands, and to have before my eyes what it could really do, then I became the mercenary little wretch I am.” An unabashed fortune hunter, she turns down a proposal from John Rokesmith because in her appraisal he isn't good enough for her. Indeed, the only man good enough for Bella who isn't filthy rich it seems is her father, Reginald “Rumty” Wilfer. Dickens describes Mr. Wilfer as an overgrown boy, often likening the man-child to a cherub. Bella's profuse fawning over her father can be at times uncomfortable, another variant of the young girl and father-figure relationship seen repeatedly in Dickens' work. Here, he adds to this recurring Victorian trope the elements of an infantilized adult and incest.


 Through this affection for her father, and the cruel treatment of poor John Rokesmith by the nouveau riche Mr. Boffin, Bella's views on the value of money over love shift throughout the novel. In the end, she marries Rokesmith for love and they have a child together before the truth is unearthed that he is none other than her long-lost fiancé, John Harmon, inheritor of the Harmon estate. In this way, Dickens manipulates the baser aspects of Bella's character, the way a falconer mans the raptor in their care toward the retrieval of a specific quarry. It may not be surprising then that in Bella Wilfer can be glimpsed Dickens' secret lover, Nelly Ternan. Nelly, too, was young and headstrong, concerned naturally enough as a working girl and mistress with her place - financial and otherwise - in Victorian society. Initially, Dickens acted as benefactor to Nelly and her family, but as her defences lowered and she eventually became his lover over time, he became her Rumty and Rokesmith wrapped up in one.


 At the beginning of Our Mutual Friend, Bella disparages of becoming, through marriage, little more than a doll in a doll's house. The mettle she shows in rejecting the sentimentality of love early on in the novel also affords her a clear vision of the Victorian model of marriage in which a wife is but one object among many in her husband's chattel. Dickens seems to make of Bella's mother an unsympathetic termagant in the literary service of contrast and comic relief, but as the Bella of the early novel would've seen, such a woman - upon whom devolve the realities of the household - is made bellicose and risible through common enough circumstance. In this way, definite cracks are visible in the dollhouse Dickens constructs as he strains tendentiously to make of his Bella/Nelly a doll. The clothes sewn by the cripple Fanny Cleaver don't fit; instead, the name she fashions for herself - Jenny Wren - augers Ibsen's A Doll's House.


Shorthand : Much comfort – belongings – sound of body – clear of sight – verve and wisdom – material success – prosperity all around – hints of devious means – perhaps rapture – alchemy - clipping of wings – warming – charming – domesticated dreams.

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