Oliver Twist

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Oliver Twist
Olivertwist front.jpg
Frontispiece and title-page, first edition 1838
Illustration and design by George Cruikshank
AuthorCharles Dickens
Original titleOliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress
IllustratorGeorge Cruikshank
CountryEngland
LanguageEnglish
GenreSerial novel
PublishedSerialised 1837–1839; book form 1838
PublisherSerial: Bentley's Miscellany
Book: Richard Bentley
OCLC185812519
Preceded byThe Pickwick Papers 
Followed byNicholas Nickleby 
TextOliver Twist at Wikisource

Oliver Twist, or the Parish Boy's Progress, Charles Dickens's second novel, was published as a serial from 1837 to 1839, and as a three-volume book in 1838.[1] Born in a workhouse, the orphan Oliver Twist is sold into apprenticeship with an undertaker. After escaping, Oliver travels to London, where he meets the "Artful Dodger", a member of a gang of juvenile pickpockets led by the elderly criminal Fagin.

Oliver Twist unromantically portrays the sordid lives of criminals, and exposes the cruel treatment of the many orphans in London in the mid-19th century.[2] The alternative title, The Parish Boy's Progress, alludes to Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, as well as the 18th-century caricature series by painter William Hogarth, A Rake's Progress and A Harlot's Progress.[3]

In an early example of the social novel, Dickens satirises child labour, domestic violence, the recruitment of children as criminals, and the presence of street children. The novel may have been inspired by the story of Robert Blincoe, an orphan whose account of working as a child labourer in a cotton mill was widely read in the 1830s. It is likely that Dickens's own experiences as a youth contributed as well.[4]

Oliver Twist has been the subject of numerous adaptations, including a highly successful musical, Oliver!, the multiple Academy Award-winning 1968 motion picture, Disney's animated film Oliver & Company in 1988 and the 1948 film, starring Alec Guinness as Fagin.[5]

Publications[edit]

The novel was first published in monthly instalments, from February 1837 to April 1839, in the magazine Bentley's Miscellany. It was originally intended to form part of Dickens's serial, The Mudfog Papers.[6][7][8] George Cruikshank provided one steel etching per month to illustrate each instalment.[9] The novel first appeared in book form six months before the initial serialisation was completed, in three volumes published by Richard Bentley, the owner of Bentley's Miscellany, under the author's pseudonym, "Boz". It included 24 steel-engraved plates by Cruikshank.

The first edition was titled: Oliver Twist, or, The Parish Boy's Progress.

Cover, first edition of serial, entitled "The Adventures of Oliver Twist" January 1846

Serial publication dates:[10]

  • I – February 1837 (chapters 1–2)
  • II – March 1837 (chapters 3–4)
  • III – April 1837 (chapters 5–6)
  • IV – May 1837 (chapters 7–8)
  • V – July 1837 (chapters 9–11)
  • VI – August 1837 (chapters 12–13)
  • VII – September 1837 (chapters 14–15)
  • VIII – November 1837 (chapters 16–17)
  • IX – December 1837 (chapters 18–19)
  • X – January 1838 (chapters 20–22)
  • XI – February 1838 (chapters 23–25)
  • XII – March 1838 (chapters 26–27)
  • XIII – April 1838 (chapters 28–30)
  • XIV – May 1838 (chapters 31–32)
  • XV – June 1838 (chapters 33–34)
  • XVI – July 1838 (chapters 35–37)
  • XVII – August 1838 (chapters 38–part of 39)
  • XVIII – October 1838 (conclusion of chapter 39–41)
  • XIX – November 1838 (chapters 42–43)
  • XX – December 1838 (chapters 44–46)
  • XXI – January 1839 (chapters 47–49)
  • XXII – February 1839 (chapter 50)
  • XXIII – March 1839 (chapter 51)
  • XXIV – April 1839 (chapters 52–53)

Plot summary[edit]

Oliver Twist is born into a life of poverty and misfortune, raised in a workhouse in the fictional town of Mudfog. Around the time of Oliver's ninth birthday, Mr Bumble, the parish beadle, removes Oliver from the baby farm and puts him to work picking and weaving oakum at the main workhouse. One day, the desperately hungry boys decide to draw lots; the loser must ask for another portion of gruel. This task falls to Oliver, who at the next meal comes forward trembling, bowl in hand, and begs the master for gruel with his famous request: "Please, sir, I want some more".

A great uproar ensues. The board of gentlemen who administer the workhouse offer £5 to any person wishing to take on Oliver as an apprentice. Mr Sowerberry, an undertaker employed by the parish, takes Oliver into his service. He treats Oliver better and, because of Oliver's sorrowful countenance, uses him as a mute at children's funerals. Oliver suffers torment at the hands of Noah Claypole, a fellow apprentice and "charity boy" who is jealous of Oliver's promotion, and Charlotte, the Sowerberrys' maidservant, who is in love with Noah. Oliver escapes from the Sowerberrys' house and later decides to run away to London to seek a better life.

George Cruikshank original etching of the Artful Dodger (centre), here introducing Oliver (right) to Fagin (left)

Oliver encounters Jack Dawkins, a pickpocket known as the "Artful Dodger", and his sidekick, Charley Bates. The 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". In this way, Oliver falls in with an infamous criminal known as Fagin, who trains the boys as pickpockets.

The Dodger and Charley steal the handkerchief of an old gentleman named Mr. Brownlow and promptly flee. Mr. Brownlow sees Oliver running away in fright, and pursues him, thinking he was the thief. Mr. Brownlow has second thoughts about the boy. He takes Oliver home and cares for him. As Oliver recovers, Brownlow and his housekeeper notice that Oliver resembles a woman depicted in a portrait hanging in Brownlow's home.

Fagin, fearing Oliver might tell the police about his criminal gang, sends a young woman named Nancy, and her abusive lover, the robber Bill Sikes, to bring Oliver back to Fagin's lair. Fagin forces him to participate in a burglary. The robbery goes wrong, and the people in the house shoot Oliver in his left arm. After being abandoned by Sikes, the wounded Oliver makes it back to the house and ends up under the care of the people he was supposed to rob: Miss Rose and her guardian Mrs. Maylie.

Fagin by 'Kyd' (1889)

Fagin plots with a mysterious man called "Monks" to find and destroy evidence of Oliver's true parentage. Now ashamed of her role in Oliver's kidnapping and worried for his safety, Nancy tells Rose Maylie, who tells Mr Brownlow. Fagin realizes that Nancy is up to something and sends Noah Claypole, who has joined Fagin's gang, to find out more. Noah discovers Nancy's meeting with Rose Maylie and Mr. Brownlow. Fagin passes the information on to Sikes, who beats Nancy to death in a fit of rage.

Fagin in his cell, by British caricaturist George Cruikshank

It is revealed that Monks and Oliver are half-brothers and Monks has been attempting to have Oliver killed so that Monks may inherit their father's fortune. Brownlow asks Oliver to give half his inheritance to Monks to give him a second chance; Oliver is more than happy to comply. Monks moves to "the new world", where he squanders his money, reverts to crime, and dies in prison. Fagin is arrested, tried and condemned to the gallows. On the eve of Fagin's hanging, Oliver, accompanied by Mr Brownlow in an emotional scene, visits Fagin in Newgate Prison, in hope of retrieving papers from Monks. Fagin is lost in a world of his own fear of impending death.

Oliver lives with Mr Brownlow, who adopts him. The Bumbles lose their positions and are reduced to poverty, ending up in the workhouse themselves. All the members of Fagin's gang suffer unhappy endings, except for Charley Bates, who becomes an honest citizen, moves to the country, and eventually becomes prosperous.

Characters[edit]

  • Oliver Twist – an orphan child whose mother died at his birth; father is dead when Oliver's paternity is revealed.
  • Mr Bumble – a beadle in the parish workhouse where Oliver was born
  • Mrs Mann – superintendent where the infant Oliver is placed until age 9 who is not capable of caring for the "culprits" as she is self-centered and greedy.
  • Mr Sowerberry – an undertaker who took Oliver as apprentice
  • Mrs Sowerberry – Mr Sowerberry's wife
  • Noah Claypole – a cowardly bully, Sowerberry's apprentice
  • Charlotte – the Sowerberrys' maid, lover of Noah
  • Mr Gamfield – a chimney sweep in the town where Oliver was born
  • Mr Brownlow – a kindly gentleman who takes Oliver in, his first benefactor
  • Mr Grimwig – a friend of Mr Brownlow
  • Mrs Bedwin – Mr Brownlow's housekeeper
  • Rose Maylie – Oliver's second benefactor, later found to be his aunt
  • Mrs Lindsay Maylie – Harry Maylie's mother. Rose Maylie's adoptive aunt
  • Harry Maylie – Mrs Maylie's son
  • Mr Losberne – Mrs Maylie's family doctor
  • Mr Giles – Mrs Maylie's butler
  • Mr Brittles – Mrs Maylie's handyman
  • Duff and Blathers – two incompetent policemen
  • Fagin – fence and boss of a criminal gang of young boys and girls
  • Bill Sikes – a professional burglar
  • Bull's Eye – Bill Sikes's vicious dog
  • The Artful Dodger – Fagin's most adept pickpocket
  • Charley Bates – a pickpocket in Fagin's gang
  • Toby Crackit – an associate of Fagin and Sikes, a house-breaker
  • Nancy – one of Fagin's gang, now living with Bill Sikes
  • Bet – a girl in Fagin's gang, sometime friend to Nancy
  • Barney – a criminal cohort of Fagin
  • Agnes Fleming – Oliver's mother
  • Mr Leeford – father of Oliver and Monks
  • Old Sally – a nurse who attended Oliver's birth
  • Mrs Corney – matron for the women's workhouse
  • Monks – a sickly criminal, an associate of Fagin's, and long-lost half-brother of Oliver
  • Monks' mother – an heiress who did not love her husband
  • Mr Fang – a magistrate
  • Tom Chitling – one of Fagin's gang members, returned from abroad at the time of the murder

Major themes and symbols[edit]

The Artful Dodger by Kyd (Joseph Clayton Clarke)

In Oliver Twist, Dickens mixes grim realism with merciless satire to describe the effects of industrialism on 19th-century England and to criticise the harsh new Poor Laws. Oliver, an innocent child, is trapped in a world where his only options seem to be the workhouse, a life of crime symbolised by Fagin's gang, a prison, or an early grave. From this unpromising industrial/institutional setting, however, a fairy tale also emerges. In the midst of corruption and degradation, the essentially passive Oliver remains pure-hearted; he steers away from evil when those around him give in to it, and in proper fairy-tale fashion, he eventually receives his reward – leaving for a peaceful life in the country, surrounded by kind friends. On the way to this happy ending, Dickens explores the kind of life an outcast, orphan boy could expect to lead in 1830s London.[11]

Poverty and social class[edit]

Poverty is a prominent concern in Oliver Twist. Throughout the novel, Dickens enlarged on this theme, describing slums so decrepit that whole rows of houses are on the point of ruin. In an early chapter, Oliver attends a pauper's funeral with Mr Sowerberry and sees a whole family crowded together in one miserable room. This prevalent misery makes Oliver's encounters with charity and love more poignant. Oliver owes his life several times over to kindness both large and small.[12]

Oliver is wounded in a burglary, by George Cruikshank.

Symbolism[edit]

Dickens makes considerable use of symbolism. The "merry old gentleman" Fagin, for example, has satanic characteristics: he is a veteran corrupter of young boys who presides over his own corner of the criminal world; he makes his first appearance standing over a fire holding a toasting-fork, and he refuses to pray on the night before his execution.[13]

Characters[edit]

The Last Chance, by George Cruikshank.

In the tradition of Restoration Comedy and Henry Fielding, Dickens fits his characters with appropriate names. Oliver himself, though "badged and ticketed" as a lowly orphan and named according to an alphabetical system, is, in fact, "all of a twist."[14] However, Oliver and his name may have been based on a young workhouse boy named Peter Tolliver whom Dickens knew while growing up.[15]

Bill Sikes's dog, Bull's-eye, has "faults of temper in common with his owner" and is an emblem of his owner's character. The dog's viciousness represents Sikes's animal-like brutality while Sikes's self-destructiveness is evident in the dog's many scars. The dog, with its willingness to harm anyone on Sikes's whim, shows the mindless brutality of the master. This is also illustrated when Sikes dies and the dog immediately dies as well.[16]

Nancy, by contrast, redeems herself at the cost of her own life and dies in a prayerful pose. She is one of the few characters in Oliver Twist to display much ambivalence. Her storyline in the novel strongly reflects themes of domestic violence and psychological abuse at the hands of Bill. Although Nancy is a full-fledged criminal, indoctrinated and trained by Fagin since childhood, she retains enough empathy to repent her role in Oliver's kidnapping, and to take steps to try to atone. As one of Fagin's victims, corrupted but not yet morally dead, she gives eloquent voice to the horrors of the old man's little criminal empire. She wants to save Oliver from a similar fate; at the same time, she recoils from the idea of turning traitor, especially to Bill Sikes, whom she loves. When Dickens was later criticised for giving to a "thieving, whoring slut of the streets" such an unaccountable reversal of character, he ascribed her change of heart to "the last fair drop of water at the bottom of a dried-up, weed-choked well".[17]

Allegations of antisemitism[edit]

Dickens has been accused of following antisemitic stereotypes because of his portrayal of the Jewish character Fagin in Oliver Twist. Paul Vallely writes that Fagin is widely seen as one of the most grotesque Jews in English literature, and one of the most vivid of Dickens's 989 characters.[18] Nadia Valman, in Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, argues that Fagin's representation was drawn from the image of the Jew as inherently evil, that the imagery associated him with the Devil, and with beasts.[19]

The novel refers to Fagin 274 times[20] in the first 38 chapters as "the Jew", while the ethnicity or religion of the other characters is rarely mentioned.[18] In 1854, The Jewish Chronicle asked why "Jews alone should be excluded from the 'sympathizing heart' of this great author and powerful friend of the oppressed." Dickens (who had extensive knowledge of London street life and child exploitation) explained that he had made Fagin Jewish because "it unfortunately was true, of the time to which the story refers, that that class of criminal almost invariably was a Jew."[21] Dickens commented that by calling Fagin a Jew he had meant no imputation against the Jewish people, saying in a letter, "I have no feeling towards the Jews but a friendly one. I always speak well of them, whether in public or private, and bear my testimony (as I ought to do) to their perfect good faith in such transactions as I have ever had with them."[22] Eliza Davis, whose husband had purchased Dickens's home in 1860 when he had put it up for sale, wrote to Dickens in protest at his portrayal of Fagin, arguing that he had "encouraged a vile prejudice against the despised Hebrew", and that he had done a great wrong to the Jewish people. While Dickens first reacted defensively upon receiving Davis's letter, he then halted the printing of Oliver Twist, and changed the text for the parts of the book that had not been set, which explains why after the first 38 chapters Fagin is barely called "the Jew" at all in the next 179 references to him.[18]

Film, television and theatrical adaptations[edit]

Film[edit]

Television[edit]

Theatre[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Oliver Twist | Introduction & Summary". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  2. ^ Donovan, Frank. The Children of Charles Dickens. London: Leslie Frewin, 1968, pp. 61–62.
  3. ^ Dunn, Richard J. Oliver Twist: Heart and Soul (Twayne's Masterwork Series No. 118). New York: Macmillan, p. 37.
  4. ^ Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Kiddy Monster Publication. p. Summary.
  5. ^ a b "Oliver and Company". 1988. Retrieved 13 February 2017.
  6. ^ Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist, or, The Parish Boy's Progress Edited by Philip Horne. Penguin Classics, 2003, p. 486. ISBN 0-14-143974-2.
  7. ^ Ackroyd, Peter (1990). Dickens. London: Sinclair-Stevenson. p. 216. ISBN 1-85619-000-5.
  8. ^ Bentley's Miscellany, 1837.
  9. ^ Schlicke, Paul (Editor). Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 141.
  10. ^ "Masterpiece Theater on PBS.org". PBS. Archived from the original on 13 August 2014. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
  11. ^ Miller, J. Hillis. "The Dark World of Oliver Twist" in Charles Dickens (Harold Bloom, editor), New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987, p. 35
  12. ^ Walder, Dennis, "Oliver Twist and Charity" in Oliver Twist: a Norton Critical Edition (Fred Kaplan, Editor). New York: W.W. Norton, 1993, pp. 515–525
  13. ^ Miller, ibid, p. 48
  14. ^ Ashley, Leonard. What's in a name?: Everything you wanted to know. Genealogical Publishing, 1989, p. 200.
  15. ^ Richardson, Ruth. "Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor." Oxford University Press, USA, 2012, p. 56.
  16. ^ "NovelGuide". Archived from the original on 30 March 2003. Retrieved 30 September 2012.
  17. ^ Donovan, Frank, The Children of Charles Dickens, p. 79.
  18. ^ a b c Vallely, Paul (7 October 2005). "Dickens' greatest villain: The faces of Fagin". independent.co.uk. The Independent. Archived from the original on 5 December 2008. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  19. ^ Valman, Nadia (2005). "Dickens, Charles (1812–1870)". In Levy, Richard S. (ed.). Antisemitism, A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC–Clio. pp. 176–177. ISBN 1-85109-439-3.
  20. ^ "The Project Gutenberg eBook of Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens".
  21. ^ Howe, Irving (31 May 2005). "Oliver Twist – introduction". ISBN 9780553901566.
  22. ^ Johnson, Edgar (1 January 1952). "4 – Intimations of Mortality". Charles Dickens His Tragedy And Triumph. Simon & Schuster Inc. Retrieved 8 February 2009.
  23. ^ Souvik Chatterji Master of Law from Warwick University, Coventry, UK, footnote [2] (2007). Influence of Bengali Classic Literature in Bollywood films.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  24. ^ Howe, Desson (18 November 1988). "Oliver & Company". The Washington Post. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
  25. ^ Michael Caine and Lena Headey’s Modern-Day ‘Oliver Twist’ Sells to Saban
  26. ^ Saban Films Acquires Charles Dickens Retelling 'Twist'
  27. ^ "Oliver Twist: Episode 1". BBC Programme Index. BBC. Retrieved 21 September 2021.
  28. ^ "Oliver Twist". BBC. 25 July 2007. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  29. ^ "All-star cast announced for BBC adaptation of Oliver Twist". BBC. 13–29 October 1985. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
  30. ^ Theatres in Victorian London - Victorian Web
  31. ^ Coveney, Michael (17 March 2017). "Oliver!: The real story of Britain's greatest musical". The Independent. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
  32. ^ Gillinson, Miriam (27 July 2017). "Oliver Twist review – artful production gets lost down blind alleys". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 1 January 2020.

External links[edit]

Online versions
Critical analysis