Autograph letter signed with initials, Higham, 29 September 1864 to Marcus Stone
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan before 1913
Dickens chose to collaborate with Stone for the illustrations featured in the monthly serialization of Our Mutual Friend. Dickens was specific and precise in his requirements for the illustrations of some of the novel's scenes, suggesting which characters and events should be depicted. After initially supervising Stone's work for the early parts, however, he became increasingly confident in his illustrator and permitted him to select some of the subjects to be pictured. In this letter, Dickens comments on Stone's depiction of Jenny Wren: "The Doll's dressmaker is immensely better than she was. I think she should now come extremely well. A weird sharpness not without beauty, is the thing I want."
The gestation period of Our Mutual Friend, Dickens's last completed novel, was protracted and frustrating. He decided upon the title in 1860 or 1861, invented the names of several characters, and devised some possible plot trajectories. During the summer of 1862, he told Wilkie Collins that, "sometimes, in a desperate state, I seize a pen, and resolve to precipitate myself upon a story. Then I get up again with a forehead as gnarled as the oak tree outside the window, and find all the lines in my face that ought to be on the blank paper." It was not until a further year and a half later that Dickens could report to Collins that he had completed the first two monthly parts of his next serialized novel, and admitted that he felt "quite dazed in getting back to the large canvas and the big brushes." Dickens had to work "like a dragon" to complete Our Mutual Friend by 2 September 1865. Commenting on the difficulties of the novel's complex, interconnected plot, Dickens characterized himself as "the story-weaver at his loom."
My Dear Marcus. This is the kind of man. The Doll's dressmaker is immensely better than she was. I think she should now come extremely well. A weird sharpness not without beauty, is the thing I want.