Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

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.

Mel u  


Jaime Anderson said...

I really like the idea of reading all of his books in publication order. Sounds like a good goal for next year:)

Mel u said...

Jamie Anastasiow-if one started now you could easily read all of Dickens novels by his 200th birthday-in Feb 2012-thanks so much for your comments-

Rebecca Chapman said...

I have always had a lot of trouble being interested in Dickens. I find his books really hard to get into. But I am a fan of the movie of Oliver Twist and I own the book, so given you think it is an easy read, it will have to be the next Dickens book that I read I think.

Shelley said...

Oliver Twist is not my favorite of Dickens, but still enjoyable with some great characters. It's been a while since I've read it, but I tend to agree that the "evil" characters are much more interesting.
I did not realize that next year will be his 200th birthday. I'm thinking of the same thing as Jaime above, at least the ones I haven't read yet!

Suko said...

I've always loved this story by Dickens. Wonderful review!

Short Story Slore said...

I finally got through Oliver Twist last year and as much as I love his prose - beautiful - this book fell flat for me. I think I need to read some of his other novels to get a better feel for Dickens because I really want to like him.

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

I am 100% with Ford on that one. You're ahead of me here - I still have three unread Dickens novels ahead of me.

Some of the "good" characters - Rose and her suitor, whatshisname - are not merely uninteresting - they barely exist. They're just borrowed from other, weaker, forgotten novels. There's not that much more to Oliver himself. He is, at least, admirably tenacious.

It takes Dickens a while to solve this problem. By David Copperfield, 13 years later, he's certainly got it fixed.

Ash said...

I've never read anything by Charles Dickens, I guess I always assumed I would get to him in a class but it doesn't look like that is going to happen. Which of his books would you suggest reading first?

Unknown said...

When you get around to David Copperfield, you'll find a scoundrel character who gets almost the exact ending you have imagined for Fagin and the Dodger.

And, like Am Readers says above, there are many memorable good characters in the later novels.

Mel u said...

C B James-I read all the novels in publication order about 15 years ago-I was imaging a novel that starts with Fagin and the gang arriving in Australia!

Mel u said...

Becky-Dickens has his flaws-give him another try-maybe something short like "A Christmas Carol"

Shelley-Oliver Twist was only his second novel done at 26-try David Copperfield maybe

Suko-thanks as always

Short Story Sunday-maybe try one of his short works, even the very sentimental "A Christmas Carol"

Amateur Reader-I should reread David Copperfield and Great Expectations soon-I really expect the book blog community all over the world to really be into Dickens in Feb 2012 for his 200th birthday

Ash-maybe David Copperfield

Lower Wessex said...

I love your idea for the sequel: when I see Fagin and the Dodger skipping off together at the end of the film that's what I'll imagine now. Did you read an edition with the original illustrations? The picture of Fagin in his cell still haunts me.

Mel u said...

Lower Wessex-yes my edition of Oliver Twist had the original illustrations-I am glad you like my alternative ending-!!thanks for your comment and visiting my blog

Anonymous said...

i really like this story lines. its so meaningful story i;ll never read any story of charles dickens