Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Oliver Twist

"'There are a good many books, are there not my boy?' said Mr. Brownlow"
"'A great number, sir,' replied Oliver; 'I never saw so many.'"
(p. 107)

I have returned to Dickens after a brief hiatus and find myself immersed in Oliver Twist, his second novel, but his first novel in the modern sense, since Pickwick Papers was more a group of picaresque adventures and related short tales than a novel. Once again there are famous characters, perhaps as familiar to people as any outside of A Christmas Carol; thus Mr. Bumble, the Beadle, the 'Artful Dodger', Fagin, Bill Sykes and Nancy as well as Oliver himself seem to be almost real historical figures rather than characters from a Victorian novel. Dickens style is still fairly simple, he has not matured as a novelist, and the book strikes this reader, who first read it as a teenager, to be a novel written for teens rather than adults. However if you read between the lines and meditate on the nature of some of the relationships you can find the 'adult' novel that is there as well. Interestingly, Dickens has the narrator speak directly to the reader from time to time, at one point claiming "I am his biographer," when commenting on Oliver's entrance into the Sowerberry undertaking establishment, and his unfortunate experience of Noah Claypole's "ill treatment" of him.

The novel is divided into three books and the first one introduces Oliver, the young innocent recalcitrant orphan who deigns to ask for "more" and thus finds the catalyst for his adventures into the world beyond the workhouse. From living with undertakers, and sleeping in a coffin, to discovering the world of the upper middle class and books with the Brownlows he is buffeted about, yet seems fated to find his home in the world of orphan boys under the leadership of Fagin. The first book ends with a bit of a cliff-hanger in the episode with Oliver abetting Syke's burglary escapade. But we all know that is not the end. . .

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Penguin Classics, New York. 2003 (1837)


Lisa said...

I read David Copperfield and A Christmas Carol in junior high or high school and for some reason, despite the esteem that Dickens is held in by so many, I've always been a little reluctant to read him. I think your description fits the lingering impression I have of Dickens. I'll be interested in hearing what else you have to say about Oliver Twist.

By the way, my Oliver will always the the 1968 (or near there) movie musical. My mother was a big fan of musicals and I think I can still sing every song from Oliver, Carousel and The Roar of the Greasepaint the Smell of the Crowd. They don't make them like that anymore :)

James said...

The Roar of the Greasepaint the Smell of the Crowd is one of my favorites, a unigue musical.
If you want to try Dickens I would recommend Great Expectations which, in my opinion, is his best novel. My own personal favorite, however, is David Copperfield.