Locations in London
Locations outside London
Anti-Semitism, ingrained into English society at the time Oliver Twist was written (1837), manifest itself in Dickens' depiction of Fagin. Dickens expressed surprise when the Jewish community complained about the stereotypical depiction of Fagin. Later, when Dickens sold his London residence, Tavistock House, to a Jewish couple, whom he befriended, he was compelled to make restitution. In his novel, , Dickens created , a positive Jewish character. Dickens also, when editing Oliver Twist for the Charles Dickens edition of his works, eliminated most references to Fagin as "the Jew."
Blathers and Duff, who responded to the attempted robbery of the Maylie home, were officers in the famous . This group operated as London's police force from 1750 until they were incorporated into Metropolitan Police in 1829.
The Bow Street Runners earned their income through rewards and private fees and gained much of their information through the use of informers. Because they were mobile and traveled all over England, they were much more effective at catching criminals than the stationary London Watch.
When Mr. Bumble tries to pass the guilt of the stolen locket and ring off on his wife, Mr. Brownlow informs him that in the eyes of the law Bumble was the more guilty of the two because the law assumes that his wife operated under his direction.
"If the law supposes that" Bumble states, in what has become one of the most quoted lines in Dickens, "the law is a ass - a idiot. If that's the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience-by experience."
In the opening chapters of Oliver Twist Dickens attacks the , enacted in 1834. Previously it had been the burden of the parishes to care for the poor through alms and taxes, the needy could go to the parish workhouse or apply for 'outdoor relief', which enabled them to live at home and work outside jobs. The new law banded parishes together into unions, each union had a workhouse, and all those seeking relief were required to become inmates in the workhouse. The new law made seeking relief as undesirable as possible.
The workhouse was little more than a prison for the poor. Civil liberties were denied, families were separated, and human dignity was destroyed. The meager diet instituted in the workhouse prompted Dickens to quip that the poor were offered the choice of "being starved by a gradual process in the house, or by a quick one out of it."
Oliver is justified in being terrified to be apprenticed to Mr Gamfield the chimney sweep. Small boys were sought out by sweeps because they were small enough to be lowered into chimneys to brush away the soot. Such boys were called apprentices but in actuality had oftentimes been sold into slavery by their impoverished parents. Also, as in Oliver's case, children of the workhouses were apprenticed in order to keep down costs to the parish.
Sweeps felt that the optimum age for an apprentice was 6 years of age but boys as young as 4 were used. Tales of boys getting stuck in the flues and suffocating or burning to death were common. The practice was finally abolished in 1875.
Help save the workhouse that
inspired Oliver Twist!
Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:
'Please, sir, I want some more.'
The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupified astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.Dickens' life during the serialization of Oliver Twist
Feb 1837 - Apr 1839
Dickens' age: 25-27
Moves from chambers at Furnival's Inn to house at 48 Doughty Street
Catherine's sister dies
Grieving for his beloved sister-in-law Dickens misses deadlines for the only time in his life. Monthly issues of and Oliver Twist are not published.
Finishes serialization of
Dickens and leave for Yorkshire to do research for Nicholas Nickleby
Serialization of Nicholas Nickleby begins
Oliver Twist published in 3 volumes. Dickens revised the monthly parts for the publication which was the first published under Charles Dickens instead of Boz. Monthly serialization in Bentley's Miscellany continues.
The illustrations for Oliver Twist by (1792-1878) are thought by many to be some of the finest for any Dickens novel. is a particularly effective illustration, conveying the feeling of isolation and anxiety of Fagin's last hours.
Cruikshank had formerly provided illustrations for Dickens' but after Oliver Twist never illustrated another Dickens work. Author and artist remained friends through the 1840s until Cruikshank, formerly a heavy imbiber, became a zealous supporter of temperance. Dickens, in favor of moderation, took exception to Cruikshank's fanatical ravings on temperance and the friendship deteriorated.
In 1872, two years after Dickens' death, Cruikshank claimed that the plot and many of the characters from Oliver Twist had been his idea, a claim which Dickens' friend and biographer, , vehemently denied.
Modern scholars cautiously concede that at least some of the ideas for the novel's origins could have been Cruikshank's.
In 1868, with his health rapidly declining, Dickens began a of Britain.
For this tour Dickens added a very passionate and dramatic performance of the murder of Nancy from Oliver Twist, despite pleas from his family not to include it, fearing for his health.
Many believe that the energy expended in these performances, which he read with such passion and violence that woman fainted in the aisles, hastened his early death in June, 1870.
"He was a snub-nosed, flat-browed, commonfaced boy enough; and as dirty a juvenile as one would wish to see; but he had about him all the airs and manners of a man. He was short for his age; with rather bow-legs, and little, sharp, ugly eyes. His hat was stuck on the top of his head so lightly, that it threatened to fall off every moment and would have done so, very often, if the wearer had not had a knack of every now and then, giving his head a sudden twitch, which brought it back to its old place again. He wore a man's coat, which reached nearly to his heels. He had turned the cuffs back, half-way up his arm, to get his hands out of the sleeves, apparently with the ultimate view of thrusting them into the pockets of his corduroy trousers; for there he kept them. He was, altogether, as roystering and swaggering a young gentleman as ever stood four feet six, or something less, in his bluchers."
Oliver Twist and
the London Poor
Dr. Ruth Richardson's wonderful exploration of Dickens' childhood home on Norfolk Street, London and the influence of the workhouse located nearby.
Oliver Twist - Published in monthly parts Feb 1837 - Apr 1839
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Dickens' second novel tells the story of the orphan Oliver set against the seamy underside of the London criminal world. Published in monthly parts in Miscellany, partly concurrent with and , the novel was illustrated by .
Dickens did not originally plan to have the story of Oliver to be a novel. The story was begun as a continuation of the Mudfog (based on Chatham, his childhood home) story he wrote for the first edition of Bentley's Miscellany. Michael Slater, in his biography Charles Dickens, relates that by the sixth installment of the story he resolved to make the book the first of two novels he was contracted to write for Richard Bentley and began to introduce details in the story that hinted at future plot complications.
In this departure from the merry world of Pickwick, Dickens targets the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 which renewed the importance of the workhouse as a means of relief for the poor.
Dickens was severely criticized for introducing criminals and prostitutes in Oliver Twist, to which Dickens replied, in the preface to the Library Edition of Oliver Twist in 1858, "I saw no reason, when I wrote this book, why the very dregs of life, so long as their speech did not offend the ear, should not serve the purpose of a moral, at least as well as its froth and cream." The novel was well received but not with the adulation of Pickwick.
One of the most dramatized of Dickens' works, Oliver Twist was appearing in 10 theaters in London before serialization of the novel was even completed. lists nearly 25 film versions, the first in 1906. Academy Award winning filmmaker Roman Polanski is the latest to bring the little orphan boy to the silver screen.
Plot (contains spoilers)
An infant is born of a dying mother in a parish workhouse. Old Sally, attending the birth and death, takes from the dying woman a locket and ring. Bumble, the beadle, names the boy Oliver Twist. Oliver is sent to an infant farm, run by Mrs Mann, until he is 9 years old, at which time he is returned to the workhouse.
The orphans at the workhouse are starving due to callous mistreatment and cast lots to decide who among them will ask for more gruel on behalf of the group and Oliver is chosen. At supper that evening, after the normal allotment, Oliver advances to the master and asks for more.
Oliver is branded a troublemaker and is offered as an apprentice to anyone willing to take him. After narrowly escaping being bound to a chimney sweep, a very dangerous business where small boys are routinely smothered being lowered into chimneys, Oliver is apprenticed to the undertaker, Sowerberry.
Oliver fights with Noah Claypole, another of the undertaker's boys, after Noah mocks Oliver's dead mother. After being unjustly beaten for this offense, Oliver escapes the undertaker's and runs away to London.
On the outskirts on the city Oliver, tired and hungry, meets Jack Dawkins who offers a place to stay in London. Thus Oliver is thrown together with the band of thieves run by the sinister Fagin. Oliver innocently goes "to work" with Dawkins, also known as the Artful Dodger, and Charlie Bates, another of Fagin's boys, and witnesses the real business when Dawkins picks the pocket of a gentleman. When the gentleman, Mr. Brownlow, discovers the robbery in progress Oliver is mistaken for the culprit and, after a chase, is captured and taken to the police. Oliver, injured in the chase, is cleared by a witness to the crime and is taken by the kindly Brownlow to his home to recuperate.
Oliver is kindly treated at the Brownlow home and, after a period of recuperation, is sent on an errand by Mr Brownlow to pay a local merchant 5 pounds and to return some books. On carrying out this charge Oliver is captured by Nancy and Bill Sikes and returned to Fagin's den of thieves.
Mr Brownlow, thinking that Oliver has run away with his money concludes that Oliver was a thief all along. This assumption is further strengthened when Bumble the beadle, answering an ad in the paper, placed by Brownlow, for information concerning Oliver, gives a disparaging opinion of Oliver.
Oliver is forced by Fagin to accompany Sikes in an attempted robbery, needing a small boy to enter a window and open the door for the housebreakers. The robbery is foiled when the house is alarmed and, in the ensuing confusion, Oliver is shot.
Oliver is nursed back to health at the home of the Maylies, the house Sikes was attempting to burglarize. Oliver imparts his story to the Maylies and Doctor Losberne.
The mysterious Monks, revealed to be Oliver's half brother, teams up with Fagin in an attempt to recapture Oliver and lead him into a life of crime thereby negating the unknowing Oliver's claim to his rightful inheritance which would then go to Monks.
Sike's woman, Nancy, having compassion for Oliver, overhears Fagin and Monk's plan and tells Rose Maylie in the hope of thwarting the plan. Rose recruits Mr. Brownlow, Dr. Losberne, and others.
Bumble the beadle has married the matron of the workhouse, Mrs. Corney. The former Mrs. Corney, attending the death of Old Sally, has taken the locket and ring that Sally had taken from Oliver's mother on her deathbed. Monks buys this locket and ring from the Bumbles hoping that in destroying it that Oliver's true identity will remain hidden.
Mr. Brownlow and Rose Maylie meet Nancy on London Bridge and she tells them where to find Monks. Fagin has had Nancy followed and, enraged, tells Sikes that Nancy has betrayed them. Sikes brutally murders Nancy and flees to the country.
Monks is taken by Mr. Brownlow. Fagin is captured and sentenced to be hung. Sikes, with a mob on his tail, accidentally hangs himself trying to escape. The Bumbles are relieved of their position at the workhouse, become paupers, and are now inmates at the same workhouse they once managed.
Oliver is revealed to be the illegitimate son of Edwin Leeford and Agnes Fleming. Leeford has fathered the evil Edward (Monks) through a failed former marriage. After seducing Agnes, Edwin dies, leaving a will which states that the unborn child will inherit his estate if "in his minority he should never have stained his name with any public act of dishonor, meanness, cowardice, or wrong" in the event of which all would go to Edward (Monks), hence Monk's attempt to corrupt Oliver via Fagin.
Monks is given half of Oliver's inheritance by Mr. Brownlow, who had been a friend of Edwin Leeford, in the hope that he will start a new life. Monks flees to America where he quickly squanders his portion and dies in prison. Rose Maylie is revealed to be the sister of Agnes Fleming who is adopted by the Maylies after her parents die, therefore Rose is Oliver's aunt.
Oliver collects his inheritance and is adopted by Mr. Brownlow. Rose marries longtime beau, Harry Maylie.
Character descriptions contain spoilers
Oliver Twist Links:
- The Literature Network
- Herb Moskovitz
The Anatomy Act of 1832
Before 1832 only the bodies of murderers could legally be used for dissection by medical students. This caused a to supply the demand.
With the passage of the unclaimed bodies from prisons and workhouses would be donated for this cause. The terrifying thought of having your body dissected after death became yet another powerful deterrent to entering the workhouse system.
Dickens alludes to the recently enacted Anatomy Act when he has Oliver's mother's body disappear. Ruth Richardson, in her book , says "It is part of the subtext of the novel that the poor young woman who dies in its opening pages was being dissected while her son was being starved."
Indeed, at the end of the novel as Oliver and Rose stand at the tomb of Agnes Dickens says in the text "Within the alter of the old village church there stands a white marble tablet, which bears as yet but one word: AGNES. There is no coffin in that tomb..."
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