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Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Format: Digital Edition
Oliver Twist is born in a work house to a single mother who immediately expires. He grows up with other workhouse orphans and when he reaches the age of 8 or 9, is apprenticed out. The authority’s at the workhouse try to pawn him off onto a chimney cleaner, who has gone through several apprentices. Oliver is scared of the man and begs the civil magistrate to not make him go with him. This puts the workhouse Authorities in a bad light and they hold a grudge against Oliver for the rest of the book.
Eventually he is apprenticed to a coffin maker and funeral director. He is liked by the man and treated well, but the other apprentice and the wife both turn against Oliver and make his life miserable. The older apprentice makes some disparaging remarks about Oliver’s mother and Oliver attacks him. He is locked in a room and the workhouse Authorities sent for. The wife and apprentice spin a tale about Oliver trying to kill them and the coffin maker has no choice but to believe their story. Oliver is locked up for a week. This decides him on running away to London.
On his way to London he meets up with a boy named Jack Dawkins, or the Artful Dodger. Artful hooks Oliver up with food and shelter and introduces to him to Fagin, a jew of apparent ill-repute. It becomes apparent to Oliver that he has fallen in with thieves and during one caper is mistaken for a thief himself. This puts him in the way of Mr. Brownlow.
Mr Brownlow takes pity on Oliver and takes him into his house. He begins to educate him and bring him back to full health. Fagin, however, knows something about Oliver and won’t let him go. He sends his minions all over London searching for him and eventually a bullish brute named Sikes and his woman Nancy find Oliver. They kidnap him off the streets by pretending he is a runaway. Fagin begins working on corrupting Oliver so as to make him a common thief like his other kids.
Oliver is sent on a job with Bill Sikes and another man to rob a house filled with silver plate. Oliver intends to give the alarm once he is in the house but is shot by the butler instead. Sikes grabs him and all 3 make their getaway. Oliver is left to fend for himself in a ditch and returns to the house next morning seeking aid. He is presumed dead by Sikes.
Oliver tells his tale and Mrs Maylie and her adopted niece take pity on him. He has a long recovery time and once better they contact Mr Brownlow. Unfortunately, he has left for India and no one knows when he will be back.
During all of this Fagin has been in communication with a fellow named Monks and rages against Sikes losing Oliver. Lots of drama ensues and Sikes ends up killing his lover Nancy and goes on the run. Fagin and Monks are confronted by Mr Brownlow and it turns out that Monks is Oliver’s older half-brother and that Oliver is supposed to inherit everything. Oliver and Monks split the inheritance, Monks heads off to the new world and Fagin and his crew are all chased down. Sikes ends up hanging himself while attempting escape and Fagin is hung in Newgate, the Old Bailey, where ever it is that criminals are hung.
Mrs Maylie’s adopted niece turns out to be Oliver’s aunt and she marries Mrs Maylie’s only son. All the good people live happily ever after, the bad are killed and the in-between either reform or become very bad people and meet a just end.
This was a good Dickens book but by no means could I rank it as a favorite. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as a starting place.
For whatever reason, the “serial”ness of this story really hit me. In the books I’ve read so far I’ve not noticed that even though they too were all written serially. I can’t point to anything that caused that notice but the more I read the more irritated (not really the right word, but that’s the best approximation I can think of right now) I became. But really, that’s about the only complaint I have about the book.
Well, I have to admit I didn’t understand why Bill Sikes was so freaked out, and everybody else, by his murdering Nancy. Didn’t murder go on all the time? So why would the populace be in such an uproar about it, especially for a whore? It would be nice to know murder statistics for London at that time as say opposed to now. I don’t care enough to go do “research” though. * shivers *
Whenever Dickens uses a child as a main character, they tend to be rather passive in the story. Everybody else around them is doing everything and makes the story. Oliver was no Little Nell (from The Old Curiosity Shop) but he was not kicking ass and taking names. Pretty much he just recovered from being starved, shot, kidnapped, being sick, etc. He was the center spoke about which the whole wheel of the story revolved.
In his introduction Dickens states that he set out to show that the criminal element were not the jolly swags portrayed in some stories. He was afraid of evil being shown as wonderful and nifty and enticing the young people into a life of sordid squalor and death. Huh, evil being portrayed as good, sounds familiar doesn’t it? Some things really don’t change. Dickens does a fantastic job of showing just how vile the life of crime is. Between the cringing of Fagin to the bombastically violent Sikes, you see that crime isn’t being Robin Hood and His Merry Band, not even close.
I also simply love Dickens’ writing. You can tell he is being paid by the word, as some of his sentences, when boiled down, say something like “And the sun was shining” but he’ll end up using several comma separated thoughts with an semi-colon to string things along. Normally that kind of padding bothers me and in other books I’ll excoriate the writer to within an inch of their life, but when it comes to Dickens I’m not just ok with it, but I LIKE it. Weird, isn’t it?
Man, this review has gone on way longer than I thought. So, I really enjoyed this book with a few caveats. Start somewhere else with Dickens and work your way towards this.