That's a very familiar copy of Our Mutual Friend: it was the copy I had at St Paul's when we did it for A-level, and seeing it on the table in the Ide Room is very uncanny (or maybe extra-heimlich) - as though I've imported a little piece of my past. On my part, of course, this was quite deliberate. We had a Dickens Birthday celebration, with various faculty and students reading selected pieces - and it was very notable how many of us went back to Formative Texts. Otherwise - where to begin to choose? So I chose the Podsnaps' dinner party, with the Foreign Gentleman, and the lumpy young man who keeps interjecting ESKER, and then stopping.
And I told a version of the story - that after The Mill on the Floss, this was, chronologically speaking, the novel that helped turn me on to reading fiction rather than history. I'm not sure, of course, that that's entirely true - I think I discovered both Zola (Germinal) and The Grapes of Wrath in between, but I suspect that I read both as if they were history. But the story that I didn't tell was that the Podsnaps' party was a piece that I'd learned, at some point, for a drama exam (o.k., it was actually called "Elocution" at school - that's how old I am), when the task was to render up something humorous. I definitely think that this was the same time that I realized fiction could be funny.
Dickens would be turning in his grave at that cake, which was almost entirely spun out of synthetic chemicals (I think he could have turned it to profitable use in American Notes). I wish I'd intervened, taken a leaf out of Rick Lee's amazing cake-designing successes at Rutgers, and suggested that we ordered something with a transfer sheet on top with Dickens book jackets on it. I'd like to have ingested a little chunk of OMF.