OLIVER TWIST : Wordsworth ClassicsChrles Dickens
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Unromantically Portrays The Sordid Lives Of Criminals, And Exposes The Cruel Treatment Of Orphans In London In The Mid-19th Century
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Introduction and Notes by Dr Ella Westland, University of Exeter & Illustrations by George Cruickshank.
Oliver Twist is Charles Dickens’s second novel. First published in serial form in 1837, the work was later compiled into a novel. The novel has been adapted into many a screenplay and movie, and is often referenced in popular culture. Oliver Twist follows the life of the titular Oliver on the streets of London in the early 19th century.
Dickens had already achieved renown with The Pickwick Papers. With Oliver Twist his reputation was enhanced and strengthened. The novel contains many classic Dickensian themes – grinding poverty, desperation, fear, temptation and the eventual triumph of good in the face of great adversity.
Oliver Twist is born in a workhouse in 1830s England. His mother, whose name no one knows, is found on the street and dies just after Oliver’s birth. Oliver spends the first nine years of his life in a badly run home for young orphans and then is transferred to a workhouse for adults.
After the other boys bully Oliver into asking for more gruel at the end of a meal, Mr. Bumble, the parish beadle, offers five pounds to anyone who will take the boy away from the workhouse. Oliver narrowly escapes being apprenticed to a brutish chimney sweep and is eventually apprenticed to a local undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry. When the undertaker’s other apprentice, Noah Claypole, makes disparaging comments about Oliver’s mother, Oliver attacks him and incurs the Sowerberrys’ wrath. Desperate, Oliver runs away at dawn and travels toward London.
Outside London, Oliver, starved and exhausted, meets Jack Dawkins, a boy his own age. Jack offers him shelter in the London house of his benefactor, Fagin. It turns out that Fagin is a career criminal who trains orphan boys to pick pockets for him. After a few days of training, Oliver is sent on a pickpocketing mission with two other boys. When he sees them swipe a handkerchief from an elderly gentleman, Oliver is horrified and runs off.
He is caught but narrowly escapes being convicted of the theft. Mr. Brownlow, the man whose handkerchief was stolen, takes the feverish Oliver to his home and nurses him back to health. Mr. Brownlow is struck by Oliver’s resemblance to a portrait of a young woman that hangs in his house. Oliver thrives in Mr. Brownlow’s home, but two young adults in Fagin’s gang, Bill Sikes and his lover Nancy, capture Oliver and return him to Fagin.
Fagin sends Oliver to assist Sikes in a burglary. Oliver is shot by a servant of the house and, after Sikes escapes, is taken in by the women who live there, Mrs. Maylie and her beautiful adopted niece Rose. They grow fond of Oliver, and he spends an idyllic summer with them in the countryside. But Fagin and a mysterious man named Monks are set on recapturing Oliver.
Meanwhile, it is revealed that Oliver’s mother left behind a gold locket when she died. Monks obtains and destroys that locket. When the Maylies come to London, Nancy meets secretly with Rose and informs her of Fagin’s designs, but a member of Fagin’s gang overhears the conversation. When word of Nancy’s disclosure reaches Sikes, he brutally murders Nancy and flees London. Pursued by his guilty conscience and an angry mob, he inadvertently hangs himself while trying to escape.
Mr. Brownlow, with whom the Maylies have reunited Oliver, confronts Monks and wrings the truth about Oliver’s parentage from him. It is revealed that Monks is Oliver’s half brother. Their father, Mr. Leeford, was unhappily married to a wealthy woman and had an affair with Oliver’s mother, Agnes Fleming. Monks has been pursuing Oliver all along in the hopes of ensuring that his half-brother is deprived of his share of the family inheritance. Mr. Brownlow forces Monks to sign over Oliver’s share to Oliver. Moreover, it is discovered that Rose is Agnes’s younger sister, hence Oliver’s aunt. Fagin is hung for his crimes. Finally, Mr. Brownlow adopts Oliver, and they and the Maylies retire to a blissful existence in the countryside.
“Oliver Twist” addresses various social issues prevalent during Dickens’ time, including poverty, crime, and the harsh treatment of orphans. The novel exposes the dark underbelly of society while also highlighting themes of morality, redemption, and the innate goodness of individuals.
The character of Oliver Twist, with his innocence and resilience in the face of adversity, has become an iconic figure in literature. The novel’s vivid depictions of London’s slums, memorable characters, and Dickens’ satirical social commentary have contributed to its enduring popularity and critical acclaim.
Oliver Twist features some of the author’s most enduring characters, such as Oliver himself (who dares to ask for more), the tyrannical Bumble, the diabolical Fagin, the menacing Bill Sikes, Nancy and ‘the Artful Dodger’. For any reader wishing to delve into the works of the great Victorian literary colossus, Oliver Twist is, without doubt, an essential title.
About the Author :
Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, in Landport, Portsea, England. He died in Kent on June 9, 1870. The second of eight children of a family continually plagued by debt, the young Dickens came to know not only hunger and privation,but also the horror of the infamous debtors’ prison and the evils of child labor. A turn of fortune in the shape of a legacy brought release from the nightmare of prison and “slave” factories and afforded Dickens the opportunity of two years’ formal schooling at Wellington House Academy.
He worked as an attorney’s clerk and newspaper reporter until his Sketches by Boz (1836) and The Pickwick Papers (1837) brought him the amazing and instant success that was to be his for the remainder of his life. In later years, the pressure of serial writing, editorial duties, lectures, and social commitments led to his separation from Catherine Hogarth after twenty-three years of marriage. It also hastened his death at the age of fifty-eight, when he was characteristically engaged in a multitude of work.
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