What’s it all about?:
The story of the orphan Oliver, who runs away from the workhouse only to be taken in by a den of thieves, shocked readers when it was first published. Dickens’s tale of childhood innocence beset by evil depicts the dark criminal underworld of a London peopled by vivid and memorable characters — the arch-villain Fagin, the artful Dodger, the menacing Bill Sikes and the prostitute Nancy. Combining elements of Gothic Romance, the Newgate Novel and popular melodrama, in Oliver Twist Dickens created an entirely new kind of fiction, scathing in its indictment of a cruel society, and pervaded by an unforgettable sense of threat and mystery.
What did I think?:
This novel by Charles Dickens is an undeniable classic, and has been immortalised in a lot of people’s minds by the excellent film that was directed in 1968 starring Ron Moody, Harry Secombe, and Oliver Reed. Dickens opens our eyes to a very different London, reeking of poverty and pickpockets to tell the story of a young orphan named Oliver, who runs away from his apprenticeship to a coffin-maker. After meeting the notorious Artful Dodger on the road, he is taken under the wing of Fagin, a “gentleman” who runs a gang of thieves – mainly young boys. Poor Oliver does not do too well on his first outing as a potential pickpocket, he is mistakenly arrested, but then taken into the house of the kind Mr Brownlow, once it is realised that he is not a thief. But life never runs smoothly for Oliver as while carrying out an errand for Mr Brownlow, he is re-captured by Fagin’s gang and forced to complete a burglary assignment with the menacing and terrifying Bill Sikes. He has one friend in this criminal web thankfully, the wonderful Nancy, who has a soft spot for Oliver and assists him as much as she can which leads to incredible dangers for her. At the end of the novel, a lot of mysteries regarding Oliver and his parentage are tied up, leading to hope and happiness for the young orphan in the future.
I do love the story of Oliver Twist and it was a “must pick” for our Kid-Lit challenge this year. The way in which Dickens announces the poverty and hardship of the poor, and the cruel treatment of orphans is almost revolutionary, and his analysis of the social classes in comparison is second to none. Morally speaking, Oliver is the perfect child and resists the many opportunities thrown his way to turn to the dark side, and become just another pickpocket on the streets. The characters written in this novel are also absolute classics – the gang leader Fagin with his jewel-hoarding and fondness for a silk handkerchief, the loveable and tragic Nancy and the evil Bill Sikes are just a few in a list that remain fondly etched on my memories. What did surprise me whilst reading was the anti-semitism displayed by Dickens, as he rarely refers to Fagin by his name, but just as The Jew! And obviously, there is the old stereotype of hoarding treasures like a miser that he attributes to the character, which our current times would claim to be discriminatory and racist. That aside, this is a beautiful classic that I think everyone should read, and that I think will continue to delight readers for years to come.
Please see Chrissi’s fabulous review HERE
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):