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Oliver Twist (Vintage Classics) by Charles…

Oliver Twist (Vintage Classics) (edition 2008)

by Charles Dickens, George Cruikshank (Illustrator)

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14,587144138 (3.84)629
Title:Oliver Twist (Vintage Classics)
Authors:Charles Dickens
Other authors:George Cruikshank (Illustrator)
Info:Random House UK (2008), Paperback, 432 pages
Collections:Your library

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Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

  1. 85
    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Leishai)
  2. 10
    Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (swampygirl)
  3. 21
    Jack Dawkins by Charlton Daines (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Unauthorised sequel about the life of the Artful Dodger as an adult when he returns to England.
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    The Adventures of Nathaniel Swubble: The Story of a Parish Boy's Childhood by Lilian Margaret Spencer (millylitre)
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    The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton (Waldstein)
    Waldstein: Another look at Victorian corruption and crime. More comprehensive and more sinister.

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Charles Dickens

Oliver Twist

Penguin Popular Classics, Paperback [1994].

12mo. 511 pp.

First published in Bentley's Miscellany, February 1837 – April 1839.
First published in book form, 1838.
Penguin Popular Classics, 1994.


(Here Be Dragons, e.g. spoilers!)

This novel is a triumph of substance over style. Verbose and convoluted, with erratic punctuation and somewhat pretentious vocabulary, it would be foolish to pretend it is well-written. It is not. This is to be expected, of course. Dickens was only 25-26 years old when he wrote it, and even the born writer is after all human. And we all know what manner of writing and publication flourished in those ancient times and how it affected novelists. That said, the prose is quite readable and sometimes contains powerful passages. Consider, for example, these Hamletian reflections on sleep and death:

Gradually, he fell into that deep tranquil sleep which ease from recent suffering alone imparts; that calm and peaceful rest which it is pain to wake from. Who, if this were death, would be roused again to all the struggles and turmoils of life; to all its cares for the present; its anxieties for the future; more than all, its weary recollections of the past!

The story is almost relentlessly grim. The only comic relief, such as it is, comes from the savage satire of the cruel hypocrites who cross Oliver’s way, be they beadles, undertakers or criminals. When Dickens aims at the sadistic system of raising orphans, he is a little too crude (“What a novel illustration of the tender laws of England! They let the paupers go to sleep!”), but when his targets are the sadists themselves, he is rather effective. Isn’t it wonderful to read that Mr Fang, the police magistrate, made “a comical effort to look humane” or to see the phrase “affectation of humanity” attached to Fagin? Dickens seems to find it hard to resist making fun of his characters, even in scenes which are presumably serious, but now and then, for a sentence or two, he can surprise with some profound insight into human nature or a fascinating contemporary touch. Two of my favourite examples are the essence of being funny and what must be one of the first references to photography in fiction:

But, making Oliver cry, Noah attempted to be more facetious still; and in his attempt, did what many sometimes do to this day, when they want to be funny. He got rather personal.

The man that invented the machine for taking likenesses might have known that would never succeed; it's a deal too honest. A deal,' said the old lady, laughing very heartily at her own acuteness.

Oliver begins as a rather shadowy figure. After his first nine years, of which we are told next to nothing, he emerges as a weepy and pathetic boy. So he remains until the end. This is because he is very passive: a lot happens to him, but he seldom does anything. We are not often told how persons and events affect him, either. Indeed, several times he quite disappears from the pages for many chapters on end. “Humiliation is the shortest path to a man’s heart”, said a character invented one hundred years after the death of Dickens.[1] This is certainly true. Not the least remarkable thing about Oliver Twist, a Christ-like figure of apparently incorruptible virtue, is that he endures a great deal of humiliation without turning into a monster of depravity.

The large cast of other characters is what makes this book an enduring classic. There is little complexity and no subtlety in them. What they do have in abundance, however, are individuality, variety and vitality. Of course, the characters also have a great deal of atrocious melodrama in them – people burst in tears and fall to their knees rather easily in this novel – but this is the necessary evil that must be endured.

The picture of the Victorian underworld that Dickens presents here is neither as comprehensive nor as haunting as Michael Crichton’s in The Great Train Robbery (1975). Nevertheless, it is from those “drunken men and women [who] were positively wallowing in filth” that the most memorable characters emerge. As usual, the good guys are less interesting than the bad ones. Nothing titillates the presumably respectable reader more than reading about disreputable characters. The trio of villains, uneven as they are, is one of the chief assets of the novel. Only Fagin, however, is assured of villainous immortality. The back cover of this edition describes him as “satanic”. This is a nice summary of smart, amoral, manipulative and dangerous. Bill Sikes is just brutal and cruel, sometimes impressively so, but rather too dumb and crude to be of lasting interest. Monks would have made a great villain, but Dickens never did more than sketch him. Mr Bumble, that giant heap of callous pomposity with a “waterproof” heart (impervious to tears, that is), could have been an excellent villain, too. But he is much too funny for that.

Nancy is a poignant, almost tragic, study of innate goodness tarnished for good by the lack of social opportunities. She is by far the most complex and compelling character in the whole book. This is because she is the only one who tries to bridge the two worlds. The fact that she fails only makes her more affecting. Why does she refuse to save herself when she has, to use a cliché, a once-in-a-lifetime chance? Well, she is clearly in love with Bill Sikes, for one thing. What’s more, she hopes to reform and transform him. Now, love is a notoriously unreliable guide to people. It is her love, no doubt, that makes Nancy misjudge Bill so badly. It is unjust to blame her, though. She is neither the first nor the last woman who falls for the wrong man – or vice versa. The fact remains that virtually all of her scenes – her impulsive defence of Oliver, her clandestine meeting with Rose, her refusal of Fagin’s advances (if that’s the word), her final confrontation with Sikes – are the most memorable and emotionally involving scenes in the novel as far as I’m concerned. It is in these moments (and a few others, e.g. Fagin’s last night in jail or Oliver’s meeting with Dick before his flight) that I am convinced there is something special in Dickens, something that far too many novelists have never possessed.

The fact remains that the four greatest novelists the world has ever known, Balzac, Dickens, Tolstoi and Dostoievsky, wrote their respective languages very indifferently. It proves that if you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and if you have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.[2]

This is true of Oliver Twist, my first encounter with Dickens (better late than never). I would be reading him again. For one thing, I am curious if he improves his style in the later novels. More importantly, I would like to know how his social satire and characterisation would develop – I hope they would. In terms of pure storytelling, there is little room for improvement. Only very occasionally is the padding a little too obvious: for the most part it is impeccable. If you happen to think somewhere in the middle that this or that chapter is irrelevant, the chances are that in the end you would be wrong. Apart from the sheer virtuosity of the narrative, “that perhaps you must be a novelist thoroughly to appreciate”[3], I take from this novel to my subconscious Nancy and Fagin, two unforgettable characters for very different reasons. Not bad for a lad of 26, is it?

[1] Andrew Wyke in Anthony Shaffer’s play Sleuth (1970).
[2] W. Somerset Maugham, A Writer’s Notebook (1949), “1941”.
[3] W. Somerset Maugham, Books and You (1940), chapter 1. ( )
3 vote Waldstein | Apr 24, 2016 |
I first read this after seeing the 1960's film musical. Loved it then. When I reread it as an adult, I was a little less more impartial. But I still enjoyed the imagery, the characters and the commentary on society. ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
I first read this after seeing the 1960's film musical. Loved it then. When I reread it as an adult, I was a little less more impartial. But I still enjoyed the imagery, the characters and the commentary on society. ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
I am in the process of adding all the books I have read in my life. This is not easy because I always like to add a review but sometimes I do not remember or get confused if I liked the book or was it the movie.

My parents had bought some classics for us kids and this book was one of us. I liked it a lot. ( )
  Marlene-NL | Mar 12, 2016 |
Workhouse and first jobs
Oliver Twist is born into a life of poverty and misfortune in a workhouse in an unnamed town (although when originally published in Bentley's Miscellany in 1837 the town was called Mudfog and said to be within 75 miles north of London). Orphaned almost from his first breath by his mother’s death in childbirth and his father’s unexplained absence, Oliver is meagerly provided for under the terms of the Poor Law, and spends the first eight years of his life at a baby farm in the 'care' of a woman named Mrs. Mann. Along with other juvenile offenders against the poor laws, Oliver is brought up with little food and few comforts. Around the time of the orphan’s ninth birthday, Mr. Bumble, a parish beadle, removes Oliver from the baby farm and puts him to work picking oakum at the main workhouse (the same one where his mother worked before she died). Oliver, who toils with very little food, remains in the workhouse for six months, until the desperately hungry boys decide to draw lots; the loser must ask for another portion of gruel. The task falls to Oliver, who at the next meal tremblingly comes forward, bowl in hand, and makes his famous request: "Please, sir, I want some more."

"Please, sir, I want some more."A great uproar ensues. The board of well-fed gentlemen who administer the workhouse, while eating a meal fit for a mighty king, offer five pounds sterling to any person wishing to take on the boy as an apprentice. A brutal chimney sweep almost claims Oliver, but, when he begs despairingly not to be sent away with "that dreadful man" a kindly old magistrate refuses to sign the indentures. Later, Mr. Sowerberry, an undertaker employed by the parish, takes Oliver into his service. He treats Oliver better, and, because of the boy's sorrowful countenance, uses him as a mute, or mourner, at children's funerals. However, Mr. Sowerberry is in an unhappy marriage, and his wife takes an immediate dislike to Oliver – primarily because her husband seems to like him – and loses few opportunities to underfeed and mistreat him. He also suffers torment at the hands of Noah Claypole, an oafish but bullying fellow apprentice who is jealous of Oliver's promotion to mute, and Charlotte, the Sowerberry's maidservant, who is in love with Noah.

One day, in an attempt to bait Oliver, Noah insults the orphan’s late mother, calling her "a regular right-down bad 'un". Oliver flies into an unexpected passion, attacking and even besting the much bigger boy. Mrs. Sowerberry takes Noah's side, helps him subdue Oliver, punches and beats Oliver, and later compels her husband and Mr. Bumble, who has been sent for in the aftermath of the fight, into beating Oliver again. Once Oliver is sent to his room for the night, he does something that he hadn't done since babyhood - breaks down and weeps. Alone that night, Oliver finally decides to run away. He wanders aimlessly for a time, until a well-placed milestone sets his wandering feet towards London.

[edit] The Artful Dodger and Fagin
During his journey to London, Oliver encounters one Jack Dawkins, who is also affectionately known as the Artful Dodger, although young Oliver is oblivious to this hint that the boy may be dishonest. Dodger provides Oliver with a free meal and tells him of a gentleman in London who will "give him lodgings for nothing, and never ask for change". Grateful for the unexpected assistance, Oliver follows Dodger to the gentleman’s residence. In this way, Oliver unwittingly falls in with an infamous Jewish criminal known as Fagin, the "old gentleman" of whom the Artful Dodger spoke. Ensnared, Oliver lives with Fagin and his criminal associates in their lair at Saffron Hill for some time, naively unaware of their criminal occupations. He believes they make wallets and handkerchiefs.

Later, Oliver innocently goes out to "make handkerchiefs" because of no income coming in, with two of Fagin’s underlings: The Artful Dodger and a boy of a humorous nature named Charley Bates. Oliver realises too late that their real mission is to pick pockets. Dodger and Charley steal the handkerchief of an old gentleman named Mr. Brownlow, and promptly flee. When he finds his handkerchief missing, Mr. Brownlow turns round, sees Oliver, and pursues him. Others join the chase and Oliver is caught and taken before the magistrate. Curiously, Mr. Brownlow has second thoughts about the boy – he seems reluctant to believe he is a pickpocket. To the judge's evident disappointment, a bookstall holder who saw Dodger commit the crime clears Oliver, who, by now actually ill, faints in the courtroom. Mr. Brownlow takes Oliver home and, along with his housekeeper Mrs. Bedwin, cares for him.

Oliver stays with Mr. Brownlow, recovers rapidly, and blossoms from the unaccustomed kindness. His bliss, however, is interrupted when Fagin, fearing Oliver might "peach" on his criminal gang, decides that Oliver must be brought back to his hideout. When Mr. Brownlow sends Oliver out to pay for some books, one of the gang, a young girl named Nancy, whom Oliver had previously met at Fagin's, accosts him with help from her abusive lover, a brutal robber named Bill Sikes, and Oliver is quickly bundled back to Fagin's lair. The thieves take the five pound note Mr. Brownlow had entrusted to him, and strip him of his fine new clothes. Oliver, dismayed, flees and attempts to call for police assistance, but is ruthlessly dragged back by the Dodger, Charley and Fagin. Nancy, however, is sympathetic towards Oliver and saves him from beatings by Fagin and Sikes.

In a renewed attempt to draw Oliver into a life of crime, Fagin forces him to participate in a burglary. Nancy reluctantly assists in recruiting him, all the while assuring the boy that she will help him if she can. Sikes, after threatening to kill him if he does not cooperate, sends Oliver through a small window and orders him to unlock the front door. The robbery goes wrong, however, and Oliver is shot. After being abandoned by Sikes, the wounded Oliver ends up under the care of the people he was supposed to rob: Rose Maylie, her guardian Mrs. Maylie (unrelated to Rose and raising her as her own niece), and Harry Maylie (Mrs. Maylie's son who loves Rose). Convinced of Oliver’s innocence, Rose takes the boy in and nurses him back to health in 1837.

[edit] Mystery
Meanwhile, a mysterious man named Monks has found Fagin and is plotting with him to destroy Oliver's reputation. Nancy, by this time ashamed of her role in Oliver's kidnapping, and fearful for the boy's safety, goes to Rose Maylie and Mr. Brownlow to warn them. She knows that Monks and Fagin are plotting to get their hands on the boy again and holds some secret meetings on the subject with Oliver's benefactors.

Meanwhile Noah Claypole has fallen out with the undertaker Mr. Sowerberry, stolen money from him and moved to London. Charlotte has accompanied him- they are now in a relationship. Using the name "Morris Bolter", he joins Fagin's gang for protection. During Noah's stay with Fagin, the Artful Dodger is caught with a stolen silver snuff box, convicted (in a very humorous courtroom scene) and transported to Australia. Later, Noah is sent by Fagin to "dodge" (spy on) Nancy, and discovers her secret. Fagin angrily passes the information on to Sikes, twisting the story just enough to make it sound as if Nancy had informed on him (in reality, she had shielded Sikes, whom she loves despite his brutal character). Believing her to be a traitor, Sikes beats Nancy to death in a fit of rage, and is himself killed when he accidentally hangs himself while fleeing across a rooftop from an angry mob.

[edit] Resolution

Fagin in his cell.Monks is forced by Mr. Brownlow (an old friend of Oliver's father) to divulge his secrets: his real name is Edward Leeford, and he is Oliver's paternal half-brother and, although he is legitimate, he was born of a loveless marriage. Oliver's mother, Agnes, was their father's true love. Mr. Brownlow has a picture of her, and began making inquiries when he noticed a marked resemblance between her face, and the face of Oliver. Monks has spent many years searching for his father's child — not to befriend him, but to destroy him (see Henry Fielding's Tom Jones for similar circumstances). Brownlow asks Oliver to give half his inheritance (which proves to be meager) to Monks because he wants to give him a second chance; and Oliver, to please Brownlow, complies. Monks then moves to America, where he squanders his money, reverts to crime, and ultimately dies in prison. Fagin is arrested and condemned to the gallows; in an emotional scene, Oliver goes to Newgate Gaol to visit the old reprobate on the eve of his hanging, (where he is already dying of some unspecified illness and burning-up with a fever).

On a happier note, Rose Maylie turns out to be the long-lost sister of Oliver's mother Agnes; she is therefore Oliver's aunt. She marries her long-time sweetheart Harry, and Oliver lives happily with his saviour, Mr. Brownlow. Noah becomes a paid, semi-professional informer to the police (a "stoolie", or "stoolpigeon" in American terminology). The Bumbles lose their jobs (under circumstances that cause him to utter the well-known line "The law is a ass") and are reduced to great poverty, eventually ending up in the same workhouse where they once lorded it over Oliver and the other boys; and Charley Bates, horrified by Sikes's murder of Nancy, becomes an honest citizen, moves to the country, and works his way up to prosperity.

( )
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 131 (next | show all)
Oliver Twist, a meek, mild young boy, is born in the workhouse and spends his early years there until, finding the audacity to ask for more food, he is made to leave. Apprenticed to an undertaker by Mr Bumble, Oliver runs away in desperation and falls in with Fagin and his gang of thieves where he begins his new life in the criminal underworld.

Under the tutelage of the satanic Fagin, the brutal Bill Sikes and the wily Artful Dodger, Oliver learns to survive, although he is destined not to stay with Fagin but to find his own place in the world.

With its terrifying evocation of the hypocrisy of the wealthy and the depths to which poverty pushes the human spirit, Oliver Twist is both a fascinating examination of evil and a poignant moving novel for all times.
added by letonia | editPenguin Popular Classics

» Add other authors (177 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Dickensprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cruikshank, GeorgeIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fairclough, PeterEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ghiuselev, IassenIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heilig, Matthias R.abridged bysecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hoppé, E.O.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Horne, PhillipEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
House, HumphryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Howe, IrvingIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jarvis, MartinNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnson, EdgarIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kelk, C.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Le Comte, EdwardAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lee, JohnNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leopoldo de Verneuil, EnriqueTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Méndez Herrera, JoséTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mahoneij, J.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Margolyes, MiriamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
May, NadiaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nix, GarthIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oddera, BrunoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Slater, MichaelIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, Lawrence BeallIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilson, AngusIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.
Please, sir, I want some more.
If the law supposes that, the law is a ass-- a idiot.
What have paupers to do with soul or spirit? It's quite enough that we let 'em have live bodies.
"We have none of us long to wait for Death. Patience, patience! He'll be here soon enough for us all."
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This is the main work for the book Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.

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This book is in public domain in the USA and the e-book is available free online ...

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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141439742, Paperback)

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, 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. 

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:01 -0400)

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Scathing in its indictment of a cruel society and pervaded by a sense of threat and mystery, this novel is peopled with some of the most famous characters in literature. Elements of the Gothic Romance jostle with those of the Newgate novel and popular melodrama forging a style entirely Dickens'.… (more)

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