Queer studies of the Victorian period have debated female homoeroticism's relationship to heterosexuality. Critics debate whether female dyads contest or support courtship and marriage. For Martha Vicinus, the Victorians saw women's friendships as an “unnamable threat to social norms,” while Sharon Marcus contends that they celebrated such relations and that same-sex “relationships worked in tandem with heterosexual exchange.” In Our Mutual Friend, Dickens belongs to both camps, showing women's connections as pervasive and disruptive. He celebrates women's erotic friendships precisely because they threaten heterosexual exchange: Abbey Potterson and Jenny Wren seek to protect Lizzie Hexam from her family and suitors; Sophronia Lammle gives Georgiana Podsnap a space away from her father to articulate her own feelings. These relationships that shelter women from heterosexual predation disappear in the novel's second volume. I argue, however, that we shouldn't read this disappearance as the unqualified triumph of normative relations. Mutual attraction continues to flicker—between Jenny and Abbey, Lizzie and Bella Wilfer—and the novel's heroines only accept marriage proposals once suitors cast off predatory designs and demonstrate an affection that resembles that of the female friends who have sustained them throughout the novel.

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