The adventures of Oliver Twist

by Charles Dickens

Paper Book, 1974

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

London [u.a.] : Oxford Univ. Pr., 1974.

Description

A boy from an English workhouse falls into the hands of rogues who train him to be a pickpocket. He must struggle to overcome this environment of crime.

Media reviews

Penguin Popular Classics
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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member atimco
Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress is another classic by that master of storytelling, Charles Dickens. First published in 1838, the novel is a strong protest against the cruel conditions then facing the indigent in England. Dickens is furious at the abuses of the workhouse system but he never loses control of his clipped, unrelenting sarcasm, even when speaking of daily bureaucratic villainies. He knows just how far to take it. And what is so amazing about Dickens' genius is that his invective never overtakes the story; the story is never just an excuse for the protest. Social reform is a big ingredient of Dickens' work, but his work doesn't reduce to that. Please note there are some spoilers in this review.

The storyline of Oliver Twist is very well known. Oliver, born of an unwed mother in a workhouse, suffers a deprived childhood under the tender care of parish officials (it is here that he is punished for famously asking, "Please, sir, I want some more"). At age nine Oliver is apprenticed to a coffin-maker, but is eventually driven from that harsh home. Oliver makes his way to London, where he is picked up by the Artful Dodger, one of a small gang of criminals. This gang is led by Fagin, an elderly Jew who trains the band in the art of theft and picking pockets. But Fagin has a special reason for making Oliver a thief. There is some mystery surrounding Oliver's birth, but how can it be discovered? What is the real history of his nameless mother, and why would anyone still care?

What strikes me principally about Oliver Twist is its gritty feel. Dickens doesn't hesitate in his other books to show poverty and suffering, but this story goes beyond that and portrays the individuals who people the seamy side of London in all their foulness and degradation. And yet at the same time, innocent Oliver provides the moral center of the novel. Often his innocence is taken advantage of and his naive youth manipulated, but the message is clear: moral virtue will always be rewarded in the end. This has been likened to a fairy tale, in which the good always triumph and the wicked are always punished.

I suppose it is also like a fairy tale in the sense that our hero Oliver possesses such high principles and firm moral character when all his life has been spent among other wretched children under selfish, calloused overseers. No one is naturally that good. I also found it difficult to appreciate Dickens' angelic female, Rose Maylie. Sometimes the descriptions of Rose are too flowery to bear. Perhaps Dickens overdid it just a bit to refresh himself after writing all his realistic gritty villains?

But Dickens makes up for these weaknesses with several brilliant characters, most notably Nancy, the fallen woman who is almost redeemed. Her struggle with the inexplicable desire to stay in her wretched life is probably the truest thing Dickens ever wrote. Nancy can envision a different life should she accept the help of Oliver's friends, but something in her clings instead to her old life. She returns to the scenes of her degradation, loyal even to the fiends who dragged her there — and dies for it. It is utterly tragic, and the worst of it is that she could have been different if Fagin and others had not set out to corrupt her. Little acts of selfishness can change another person's life forever.

I imagine there are essays discussing Dickens' anti-Semitism as depicted in Fagin, the foul crook who is more often than not referred to as "the Jew." It can't be denied that Fagin is a singularly distasteful character, with a stereotypical love of lucre, but I think there is a little more to it. First, the unlovely descriptions of Fagin are not that different from the descriptions of Dickens' many other villains. And somehow Dickens makes me pity Fagin, despite all his crimes. The chapter near the end that deals with Fagin's trial and state of mind after being sentenced to death is a masterpiece of psychological scrutiny, entirely believable and, in its way, heart wringing. I think Dickens pities Fagin too, not for his Jewishness but for the dreadful sneaking life he has lived and the horror of his death.

Certain moments stand out, crystalline in their emotional clarity. I think of Mr. Brownlow and Mr. Grimwig sitting across from one another with the watch between them, measuring Oliver's character. Or Nancy telling Rose through tears that "if there was more like you, there would be fewer like me." Or Sikes grinding his chair up against the wall, to keep the specter of his guilt from hovering at his back. Other moments are brilliant in their humor, like Mr. Grimwig threatening to eat his head and Mr. Giles telling of his daring exploits. There is just so much here.

I listened to this on audiobook read by Nadia May, and I understand why her work is so acclaimed. She has a warm voice and accent that wear well over the course of a long book like this. I could tell she was enjoying performing the story just as much as I was enjoying the performance. Her voice graces this story and I will certainly be looking for more audiobooks read by her.

All of this, this grand drama made up of petty cruelties, of small thefts and dramatic murders, of the uneven love between degraded man and degraded woman, of innocence, poverty, crime, desperation — all of this is Dickens' arena and he performs it like no one else. Oliver Twist reminds me why we still read classic literature today.
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LibraryThing member bragan
A while back, I decided that I really ought to read some more Dickens. So last year I picked up Great Expectations, which had a good enough story, but which kept reminding me far too much of a friend's comment that he never liked Dickens because it was too obvious they were paying him by the word. But while Oliver Twist might also be legitimately accused of wordiness, in this case that struck me as more charming than tedious, and overall I found it a much more engaging read.

The plot has enough interesting elements, certainly. There's crime and punishment, kindness and cruelty, long-held secrets, and sudden reversals of fortune. Also huge honking coincidences, but at least Dickens introduces them gradually enough to give you time to shore up your suspension of disbelief. Oliver himself, though, really isn't much of a character. He's someone to whom things happen, not one who makes things happen, and his only defining traits are innocence, piteousness, and a vague, generic sort of sweetness. But this isn't necessarily a problem; he seems to me to be filling the role of a slightly sentimentalized everychild, and on that level he works well enough.

But what really makes this worth reading isn't the characters or the plot. It's the surprising little moments of human insight, the wonderfully sly and dark satiric humor, and the sharply pointed social commentary. And, unfortunately, while there may be no more workhouses in England, the attitudes towards the poor that Dickens targets here are still too familiar and relevant even now. It's brilliant writing, and if it occasionally brings a little bit of mawkishness or melodrama along with it, I find that entirely forgivable.

Somewhat less forgivable, though, is the portrayal of Fagin as an unpleasantly stereotypical villainous Jew. Interestingly enough, despite everything about this book that I already knew through cultural osmosis, I had never even realized that he was Jewish. Dickens, however, never lets you forget it for an instant. Every other sentence, he's referred to as "the Jew." My impression is that, for whatever it's worth, at least this is more thoughtless stereotyping than active maliciousness. A brief bit of research on the internet reveals that Dickens, having had the offensiveness of this pointed out to him, later revised the last fifteen chapters or so to tone it down. Which is something, I guess, but I don't know that it helps all that much. And it really is very unfortunate, both for the obvious reasons and because without the uncomfortable overtones of anti-Semitism, Fagin really could have been quite an entertainingly smarmy character. And he actually does get some surprisingly poignant moments at the end.… (more)
LibraryThing member billiecat
Oliver Twist is, certainly, often maudlin and excessively sentimental. I confess I skimmed over most of the passages where one character or another feels the need to blubber on at length about how wonderful things are and how blessed they are! Ugh!
But I had forgotten how dark much of the book is - the descriptions of poverty and crime in the nineteenth century London rookery make you feel the grease and filth and smell the offal. If your vision of Fagin has been charmed by Ron Moody's portrayal in the film musical "Oliver!" your eyes will be opened here, where Dickens portrays him as a vile, dirty, evil and unrepentant villain. A Jewish villain, of course, and the antisemitic side of the character's description cannot be escaped, even though Dickens himself emended the book in later publications to try to de-emphasize Fagin's "jewishness."
Probably the reason the antisemitic aspect of the book gets so much attention is that the character of Fagin, like that of Sikes, and the other criminals, is far more interesting than any of the "good" characters. Oliver himself exists almost as a little puppet, to be buffetted about and rescued like a rag doll with about as much personality. Mr. Brounlow, Oliver's first patron, exists only to act as the Deus Ex Machina and explain the (many and ridiculous) coincidences that propel the plot. Even Nancy seems to become less interesting as she becomes "good," and the one false note in her otherwise shocking murder is her plea to Sikes to spare her and seek prayerful repentance.
As an early work of Dickens (his second novel, and written as he was finishing his first up), this book lacks the power of his later works. But when he is in the streets with London's criminals, or describing the ludicrous scenes in a police court (where he cut his teeth as a journalist), you see where this young man was heading.
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LibraryThing member norabelle414
free audiobook from audiobooksync.com - Little orphan Oliver Twist gets shuffled around from workhouse to abusive apprenticeship to bad people to good people back to bad people then to different good people, etc. etc.

While definitely not the best of Dickens' work, Oliver Twist gets much more enjoyable once the reader comes to terms with the fact that Oliver himself is the second stupidest, most uninteresting character ever written (after Bella Swan. Actually, Oliver and Bella have a lot in common. Quick, someone write an essay about that!). All of the other now-iconic characters are interesting and well-developed and spend the entire plot doing an elaborate dance of unlikely coincidences around their weepy, bland core. (The Oliver/Bella essay is practically writing itself!). Thankfully Oliver himself barely shows up at all in the second half of the book. Definitely recommended if you like socially-conscious stories of the early 1800s, particularly the audiobook as Simon Vance is excellent.… (more)
LibraryThing member lahochstetler
I've always been intimidated by Dickens, having heard so much about his legendary wordiness and trenchant prose. This was my first attempt to seriously read Dickens, and I was pleasantly surprised at just how readable this book is. I did notice Dickens's wordiness for approximately the first two pages, but after that I was drawn into the story. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that Dickens writes with a witty sarcasm- so much for the humorless Victorians. The story of a desperately poor orphan, Oliver Twist offers a deep and complex plot, and plenty of emotional engagement. It's hard not to feel sympathy for suffering young Oliver who, by his own admission, "hasn't a friend in the world." This novel is a book about morality, and is clearly a work of social criticism. Dickens reserves his criticism not for the wealthy, who might seem the obvious target, but for social strivers. Those attempting to raise their social standing, such as the sycophantic Bumble, and the criminal miser Fagin receive the sharpest pricks of Dickens's pen. The truly wealthy are the kindest characters in the book; they are the ones who rescue Oliver and show him true kindness. Dickens kept my attention throughout this novel, I will definitely be exploring more of his canon.… (more)
LibraryThing member cmc
A bit more brutal than the version presented in the musical ``Oliver’’ and in children’s versions, and a damn sight funnier than I would have imagined in grade school.
LibraryThing member mikebridge
I agree with john257hopper; this is not a great book. The social criticism behind it is real, but this doesn't work as a novel. Oliver himself is unbelievable (and dull), and the plot feels artificial. Dickens went on to do better things.
LibraryThing member aprille
I reread this recently for the first time since I was a teenager and found (not surprisingly) that I was interested in very different parts of the story than I was when I was younger. I was much more interested in the character of Bill Sykes, and his haunted guilt, fleeing the law. There is a fabulous scene that I had not remembered where he heroically lends a hand during a fire in a desperate effort to rejoin humanity after murdering a friend. Hellfire and damnation mixed in with attempted atonement. It was really quite mesmerizing.… (more)
LibraryThing member Alera
I read it fairly quickly, major plus. I don’t know that I have an actual opinion. It was plodding and predictable…character point of view jumped around. It was a typical Dickens novel. I do however always on some level appreciate his way with words and that I can always predict how his story will play out. They never bore me…but they never completely pull me in. It’s an odd thing. I don’t know how to describe it. But, in the end, Dickens was considered one of the best…and I think I can understand that. So yes, read a Dickens novel. It’s a rite of passage. This marks my second. Have to admit I adored Great Expectations more…… (more)
LibraryThing member penguinasana
The first Dickens' I've "read" and I'll be back for more. Dickens is masterful at painting a picture of the time and his dialogue and narration is fully of biting social satire. It's great to check out the audio version. Dickens' novel was originally serialized (and one might assume, often read out loud from the paper) and thus, it translates well into audio format.… (more)
LibraryThing member Meredy
Six-word review: Deservedly classic tale of orphan's survival.

Extended review:

Despite its verbosity, sentimentality, and exaggerated characterizations, how can you not love this book? Like a dog at your feet, it's there to be loved. What else are you going to do with it?

It also turns out to be much more satirical than I ever realized. Social commentary, yes, expected; but satire? I didn't know. For example:

Mr. Bumble...had a decided propensity for bullying: derived no inconsiderable pleasure from the exercise of petty cruelty; and, consequently, was (it is needless to say) a coward. This is by no means a disparagement to his character; for many official personages, who are held in high respect and admiration, are the victims of similar infirmities. The remark is made, indeed, rather in his favour than otherwise, and with a view of impressing the reader with a just sense of his qualifications for office.

Dickens misses no opportunity to underscore the social ills of his time and place and to distribute ample helpings of blame freely up and down the social scale. He also holds us captive with a story that keeps us reading and soaking up his message.

So here they all are, the characters we know so well in so many incarnations, embedded as they are in the cultures of the English-speaking world and probably well beyond: the ever-so-good good guys: tender, mistreated Oliver; kindly, open-hearted Mr. Brownlow; sweet, sweet Rose, so impossibly angelic that it's a wonder she doesn't suffocate of her own virtue; and poor brave, doomed Nancy, without whom nothing could have turned out right; and the bad guys, not one of whom is without at least some small spark of sympathetic humanity to argue for redemption: sadistic Mr. Bumble; cocky Artful Dodger; unregenerate, duplicitous Fagin; mysterious, menacing Monks; and cruel, brutal Bill Sikes, a monster who comes to a fitting end that yet inspires horror.

Of the rambling story with its odd, protracted word-count-stretching digressions and amazing coincidences I have no comment to add to the immense body of commentary on the literature of Dickens: but to say that the story is brightest in single scenes and episodes, with the long arc serving mainly to string those together. It's in those vignettes that the brilliance of Dickens' characterization is displayed, and that, indeed, is why we fall in love.
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LibraryThing member theokester
I've seen the musical play/movie of Oliver dozens of times since I was a kid and generally know the story backwards and forwards. I anticipated there would be some differences between the book and the movie/play but didn't expect to find many surprises. Thus, I wasn't shocked by the changes I encountered but I think perhaps my history with the story may have tainted my view a little bit.

For those unfamiliar with the story, we're taken on adventures with Oliver Twist…a boy who was born to an unknown woman in a poorhouse and spent his early life in poverty and obscurity. He leaves the poorhouse on an apprenticeship and later runs away to London where he encounters a band of thieves and ruffians and struggles to find his way in the world. That's the high level view of the story.

Being a Dickens novel, there is no shortage of characters or of vivid (sometimes overly lengthy) descriptions of people, places, things and events. In addition, there is frequent coincidental interactions between characters otherwise unrelated but linked through their acquaintance with our young hero. These coincidental meetings are believable at times and at other times Dickens stretches credibility to the limit by having these people's paths cross the way they do. I definitely acknowledge that "It's a Small World" and that karma and coincidental interactions are more frequent than we may admit, but the nature and degree that they happen in Dickens is sometimes comical.

Anyway, the arc of Oliver's life is a generally depressing one. He's scorned, imprisoned, tricked, beaten and wholly maltreated in spite of him being a very angelic and innocent young boy with no vices to speak of. In fact, Oliver's character may be too perfect…with his only flaws being flaws of circumstance rather than flaws of character and behavior.

As I mentioned, I knew the general plot progression from the movie/play, but I was somewhat surprised at a couple of significant differences. The first difference wasn't very striking (the introduction of a second wealthy family) and I could see why they left it out of the movie (it just adds additional levels of detail which is interesting and insightful but doesn't really progress the story in a vital way).

The second difference was much more important and was very interesting to me. (*slight spoiler, but I'll keep it high level*). In the movie/play, the thieves are primarily "led" by Fagin and Bill Sikes. The book actually includes a 3rd character kept even more in shadowy mystery until nearly the end of the book. And once again, this 3rd character is victim to Dickens's crazy circumstantial coincidence in that he has an intriguing tie to Oliver. I found this plot point intriguing and fun to unravel, but again, it wasn't wholly vital to the core of the story so I can see why it's excluded from modern productions. Still, it was a fun new angle for me.

On the whole, I enjoyed this book. It's definitely Dickens…true to his style in many regards. The language. The characters. The settings. All very Dickens. So if you're put off by Dickens, this isn't the story for you. Granted, it is a bit lighter than some of his other works but it is heavier than Christmas Carol or shorter stories and it's definitely not near as light as the treatment given in the play/movie. Furthermore, it's more depressing than the play/movie, so if you're looking for the lighthearted fun of Fagin and Dodger that you know from the modern production, you may be disappointed.

Overall, it was an enjoyable read. It wasn't as strong to me as other Dickens work but it was still a very worthwhile read and I'm glad I read it.

****
3.5 out of 5 stars
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LibraryThing member mercmuscle73
As much as I loved watching the movie, I loved the book just as much. Reading this book is almost like getting to sit on Oliver's shoulder and watch over him as he goes through each journey. Unparalleled, I've never read a book like this before.
LibraryThing member therebelprince
Written in 1837, during Dickens' astronomical rise to success, Oliver Twist is his third major work, second novel, and the negative counterpart to its exact contemporary, The Pickwick Papers. One could argue it's still the work that has had the greatest impact on the public psyche: Dodger, Fagin, Nancy, and Bill loom large in the collective cultural consciousness, don't they? Who can forget Oliver asking for more, or the climactic tightrope walk? In truth, this is not a brilliant work. Only Fagin has any sparks of internal life, and he's an unfortunate anti-Semitic caricature common to the era. Oliver Twist, carrying the torch from some of Dickens' sentimental Sketches is a rather lifeless little twig. What works in the story is the vividness of "low" culture, and Dickens' already fierce moral stance on the inhumanity of much of 19th century English culture. Certainly a worthwhile read, but possibly the least of Dickens' "Big Fifteen". The relatively straightforward Twist will give way to the diffuse, picaresque Nicholas Nickleby, and then the real Dickens will be formed.… (more)
LibraryThing member santhony
I was a late convert to Charles Dickens. Having recently read and greatly enjoyed Dickens’s Great Expectations, David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities, I elected to purchase several other of his works. Oliver Twist was the first of these novels that I read, and sadly found to be not up to the standards of the three works cited above.

Many have seen the musical Oliver and other are certainly familiar with the story and many of the characters (Fagin, Bill Sykes and the Artful Dodger). Oliver became an orphan soon after birth and found himself in the tragic, hopeless life that met such destitute characters in Victorian England. After finally escaping from an abusive apprenticeship, he finds himself bounced back and forth between the mean streets of London (under the control of Fagin and Sykes) and the tender mercies of upper class patrons who take pity upon his condition (both physical and financial).

Having read several Dickens works prior to this one, I was aware that a period of acclimation is required before becoming comfortable with both the language and the cultural landscape, however the comfort that I eventually attained in the previous novels was more difficult to come by here. Deep into the book I found myself having a problem following some of the prose. Most frustrating, at the key point in the narrative where “all is explained”, I was at great pains to understand much of what was being related.

In addition, the book is very predictable and strains credibility in several instances. Quite simply, this is by far the weakest of the Dickens books I have sampled to date.
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LibraryThing member Bill.Bradford
First time all of the way through, although I have done portions of the book before. As with other recent Dicken's reading, Colledge's God and Charles Dickens was very helpful in putting this into context.

The most interesting thing about Oliver Twist is that it works so well without any great character development. The good are good, the bad are bad, and there are very few who do not fall into one of these two categories. The good get rewarded, the bad (finally) get what they deserve. It very much is a morality tale - using the definition of a morality tale as one that exhibits the conflict between good and evil while offering moral lessons. And it excels in this category.

This e-book was originally released in serial format, to match how the book was originally released. That gave me a greater appreciation of how the book was originally experienced.
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LibraryThing member Cynfrank
Martin Jarvis is the best reader of Dickens I have come across. I resently downloaded "A Tale of Two Cities," think I'd read before only to find I hadn't. I had gotten it for free from audible.com. I got a copy of it, but like Jarvis's reading of it so much that I found myself following along with the book. I can't listen to books I've not read. When I saw the unabridged version of Oliver Twist was available read by Mr. Jarvis, I immediately downloaded it and am very much enjoy Oliver's journey once again brought to vivid life by Martin Jarvis. I think this would easily keep kids of all ages entertained as well as adults.… (more)
LibraryThing member shanaqui
I always loved Oliver Twist the most of the Dickens books I've read. He seemed to come to life in my head the most of all Dickens' characters.
LibraryThing member read.to.live
If this had been my first Dickens novel, I never would have read another. The protagonist, for the most part, is acted upon instead of acting. His great heroic moment takes place when he runs away from home and walks 70 miles to London (a moment he remembers in great excitement at the end of the book). But for the remainder of the story, he merely suffers, miserably and passively, as he is humiliated, degraded, hunted, starved, sickened, and beaten. As a reader it is too much to bear, because Oliver has no way to fight back. If he only had an internal monologue that kept him strong, mentally, that might have been enough to maintain my empathy; but when he is just a simple, blank slate of a suffering child, his misery does not make a satisfactory read. Even in the chapters of the happy ending, he sits passively as adults explain his (convoluted) history.

Fair disclosure. I did not manage to finish the book. I got up to the point where Oliver has to relinquish his clean, new suit of clothes for the rags he had thought were gone forever; and I just couldn't bear his suffering anymore and had to stop. I read the rest of the plot on wikipedia; and then read the last few chapters, to decide whether the ending was brilliant enough to justify trudging through the novel. When I discovered, instead, that the ending was just long passages of exposition regarding missing members of Oliver's family, I felt satisfied with the decision not to continue. Normally, I don't post a review when I haven't finished the book; but this time I decided to go ahead just to encourage anyone who agrees with me about this book not to give up on Dickens altogether: I can recommend Hard Times and Great Expectations, and will give the remainder of the oeuvre a try.

Side note: Perhaps if I had read this with my eyeballs, instead of by audiobook, I would have been able to finish it; since I could have read it very quickly. But by audiobook, you are forced to completely digest each sentence.
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LibraryThing member eglinton
Finally getting to the end of these rambling Victorian sagas, it's easy to be infuriated at the ludicrous revelations and disclosures, legacies and dying wishes that tie it all benevolently up, that subdue all the vitality and humour of the characters with the saccharine promise of a bland and safe future. Because the rogues and oddities usually do make for the best scenes. But whatever the quibbles, Dickens' heartiness and sentiment wins us over. The dull worthiness and small role of the title character, Oliver, is another surprise; you could forget he's in it at times. But there's always enough that us going on: eccentric characters, evocative descriptions, memorable set-pieces. And of course the rousing versions in song and stage that come after: "We've taken to you so strong..."… (more)
LibraryThing member john257hopper
It may be sacrilege to say so, but this is really not that great a novel. The bits we are most familiar with from screen adaptations make it seem better than it is, but there are lots of rather dull, rambling parts that almost made me lose interest altogether. Plus the fact that Oliver himself is such a bland cipher that I found it hard to feel much sympathy for him.

Actually, it's probably an interesting example of an author yet to develop his true writing skills (Dickens was only 25 when he wrote this).
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LibraryThing member Cecrow
The preface to my edition was helpful in many respects, pointing out that Oliver is intentionally a passive hero, intended to represent goodness surviving however surrounded by evil. That threatens to make Oliver rather a boring character, but for me he generated a lot of pathos. As Dickens writes at one point, "what could one poor child do?" The characters of most interest of course are the novel's infamous villains, the Artful Dodger and Fagin especially, who make distinct impressions with their descriptions, dialogue and actions.

The constant identification of Fagin as a Jew I was forewarned about and it did make me uncomfortable, although I read sufficiently into the background of this novel that I was able to make a peace with Dickens' use of it. I also abided the infamous truckload of coincidences directing the plot. What I didn't expect - and appreciated - was the narrative tone, filled with (arch? caustic? sarcastic?) commentary on the goings-on. This novel has humour to rival that of The Pickwick Papers, but it's decidedly darker in tone and aimed at social commentary. I'm amused by the foreshadowing of personality through character naming - although, "Mr. Fang" sounds like a Chinese villain from a James Bond thriller, not a white police magistrate in 19th century London.

Where I disagree with the preface analysis is its statement that Oliver's tidy ending bespeaks a lack of imagination about how to end his story more realistically, as though Dickens shied away from addressing the truth about the lives of kids on the streets. I think we only need to look at Nancy, the Dodger, Oliver's friends he left behind, and a host of other characters to see where this life typically led. If Oliver is spared, it's to spare the readers (and not to lose their following; there will be opportunities to explore tragedy later, once he has them firmly in hand.) Dickens did perform a great service by introducing realistic lower classes to literature instead of romanticizing or avoiding them.

Dickens is difficult to get into at first and always a slow read for me, but never because he is boring; only because what he writes is so rich that I don't want to overlook a word of detail. Pickwick was hilarious and Oliver Twist has pulled my heartstrings, Nicholas Nickleby I read some years ago and liked its theatricality. Happily there's still many more novels to read.
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LibraryThing member moonglade
Dickens' novel reads like a Beethoven Symphony [No.9] or a very rich chocolate cake. A magnificent tale but one that leaves you sated for at least a few months (I won't return to Dickens for a bit longer than that I would imagine). Dickens does a good job weaving what I would consider a complex fairy-tale. Oliver is our purely good protagonist who is the victim of the evil Fagin and Monk's machinations. Although the characters don't give the reader much to ponder over, I think the deep plot and satisfying conclusion justify its title of masterpiece.… (more)
LibraryThing member Smiler69
The story follows the progress of the orphaned Oliver Twist, as he is taken from the orphanage to the workhouse and then to an undertaker as an apprentice. Cruelly taunted by another jealous apprentice, he is beaten for lashing out, after which he runs away to London on foot—a distance of 70 miles which he covers in one week. Upon arrival he meets the Artful Dodger who offers Oliver some food and a place to sleep and brings him to an old Jewish man called Fagins. The old man and his gang of pickpockets teach Oliver how to steal gentlemen's handkerchiefs. Through a series of events, Oliver is taken in by a rich and kind gentleman who sees that Oliver is a sincere and gentle soul and decides to give the boy a home and offer him an education. But Fagins arranges to have Oliver brought back to him, and along with his brutal accomplice Bill Sikes, the orphan is forced to continue in a life of crime. Many many trials and tribulations and heartbreak ensue, and eventually, with a good dose of luck and serendipity all's well that ends well.

I very much enjoyed the ironic tone of Dickens as he describes the conditions of the poor who were subject to the New Poor Law at the time, which in fact did little to help them and in many ways made their lives even more miserable. This novel is a powerful social commentary as is well known, and it's easy to see where Dickens' sympathies lie. The lengthy narrative of this story which was originally published in monthly instalments is best enjoyed in small doses and I found that trying to listen to too many chapters at once kept me from enjoying the excellent quality of the writing and quickly became tedious. With the exception of Nancy, a young prostitute and Bill Sikes' girlfriend who decided to do all she could to help young Oliver—and came to a very brutal end for that reason—most of the characters were shown as being either all good or all bad.

This was especially problematic for me in the portrayal of Fagan—usually referred to as 'The Jew'—who was depicted as a reprehensible, cruel and grotesque creature throughout; a real caricature of the miserly Jew at his absolute worst. When he was accused of anti-semitism, Dickens asserted that he had simply meant to depict a specific kind of criminal, who at that time just so happened to usually be a Jewish man, and apparently tried to remedy to that by referring to him mostly as the less offensive 'Fagan' in the last chapters of the serial. But even though allowing for the fact that the novel was written at a time when prejudices were openly aired, it was hard for me to bear and took away from my general enjoyment of the story, to which I would have otherwise given a higher rating.
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LibraryThing member steadfastreader
Dear FSM! What a hard read this was -- and I didn't even read it, I listened to it on audiobook during my commute. I've seen several movie adaptations of this book - NONE of them capture the dark, depressing rone that this book sets. Read it if you're looking for a challenge.

Audiobook.
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