Our Mutual Friend and Dickens’ Train Accident

May marks the 150th anniversary of the first appearance of Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend. It was the last complete novel published during the author’s lifetime, and was serialized in monthly parts between May 1864 and November 1865.

ourmutualfriend2Dickens was still working on the novel on June 9, 1864, when the South Eastern Railway train carrying him and his mistress Ellen Ternan from Kent to London derailed over a viaduct. Dickens was able to escape his compartment through a window and rescue Ternan and her mother, and then helped tend to the victims (there were 40 injured and 10 fatalities from the crash). He returned to the train car to rescue his manuscript before being evacuated to London, but Dickens was so shaken by the accident that he was two and a half pages short for the monthly episode he’d been writing, which was ultimately published in August 1865.

Special Collections owns a set of the monthly parts of Our Mutual Friend as well as a second set of parts bound up in two volumes by a London binder after all the parts had been issued.

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