Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1838, 485 pages)
When I saw Allie of A Literary Odyssey was hosting a read a long on Oliver Twist I decided it was time to reacquaint myself with Dickens. About 15 years or so ago I read all of his novels in publication order. It was one of the great reading experiences of my life. During this period I read nothing but Dickens and I was lucky enough to be in London shortly after I finished the last book and I went to the Dickens House Museum. Ford Madox Ford in The March of Literature says the best of Dickens is on a par with Chaucer and Dante. (By best of Dickens Ford means Great Expectations, David Copperfield and Bleak House).
Oliver Twist is Dickens's second novel. Dickens (1812 to 1870-UK) , though not an orphan like Oliver, grew up in extreme poverty. He was a professional writer and his books were all initially published in serial fashion in popular magazines.
One of the most famous lines in all of English literature can be found in Oliver Twist. Even those of us who have not read the novel yet most likely know it: "Please sir, I want some more". Numerous movies have been made of Oliver Twist and this scene in the orphanage is always one of the highlights.
The read along is generating a lot of good posts in which the various themes of the book are explored. I will just make a few observations on the book. To me the best part of the book is the time we spend with Fagin and his youthful gang. I did find it more than a bit annoying when Fagin was over and over referred to not by his name but as "The Jew". I found the "evil" characters better realized and more interesting than the "good" ones. I loved it when Dickens gave his descriptions of life in London. I felt very bad for Nancy and I hate Bill.
The book was a bit predictable and most people will know the plot from movies and even TV cartoons before they read it any way. People who do not like his work sometimes say it is too sentimental. This is what Oscar Wilde famously thought.
After completing Oliver Twist I had an idea for an alternative ending. Fagin and The Artful Dodger and the rest of the gang all get transported to Australia. Fagin founds a trading company which turns in time into one of the biggest banks in Australia. He is treated as person of great import to his face but is still called "The Jew" behind his back. Fagin is often quoted in local newspapers as he is famous for his astute observations. He claims he never made the quotation most often attributed to him: "I never know who the real thieves were until I started my own bank". The Artful Dodger strikes it rich in an opal mine and ends up married to the daughter of an English Baron, Charlie Bates starts a sheep ranch and marries into an Aborigine tribe. The other dozen or so boys and girls that get transported all have their adventures.
This time next year will be the 200th birthday of Dickens. My guess is the book blog world will all over him then. Oprah has picked two of his books for her book club, Great Expectations and Tale of Two Cities.
Oliver Twist is not a "hard book" and you do not need a guide of any kind to enjoy it. Give Oliver Twist a chance, have a little patience and I think you will be very glad you read it. There are parts of Oliver Twist, in the descriptions of life in the poor side of London, that are simply amazing.