Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

The book is Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. It was first published in 1837. I read the 2003 Penguin classics edition. I read it in 2021-2022. Winter time is great for reading Dickens. 

I read it because it was Winter time. Cold and dark is when to read Dickens. I read A Tale of Two Cities last Winter. Maybe it will become a tradition. Read Dickens over December/January time.  

I liked the variety of characters the most. Oliver, the poor little orphan boy. Mr. Bumble the egotistical blowhard beadle. Had to look up what a “beadle” was. Apparently it’s like a church employee or something. Still not really sure. Like a deacon maybe but for the Anglican Church it’s more of a full-time position. Not sure. 

Sikes the cruel “housebreaker,” which I guess means burglar. 

Fagin, the Jew! Conniving is the best word for him. Sinister. Pretends to be on your side but turning all the screws behind everyone’s back. 

All the poor street gang type people. Nancy, the prostitute. The Artful Dodger. There was also a character named Charley Bates that Dickens kept referring to as Master Bates, and my 12-year-old mind couldn’t handle it. The bad guys were the most interesting as is usually the case. 

I liked the ups and downs Oliver experienced in the story. One minute he’s in the orphanage, the next he’s an apprentice to an undertaker, and then he’s on the street again and gets picked up by the Artful Dodger and the gang. Then he’s with some nice people who love him and want to take care of him. Then he’s snatched back by the gang. He has absolutely no control of his state in life. He’s constantly being jerked into new environments and has to assume he’ll be there forever. He’s powerless. That’s a very relatable situation. I feel like much of my life has been me reacting to certain circumstances I’ve found myself in by no choice of my own. No goals set and achieved. Just reacting and surviving. It’s not great. 

The good characters sort of all blended together for me. They were all so Victorian. Shocked and appalled at ghastly behavior and swooning and swaying over the littlest things. They were the least interesting batch of characters. It might explain why I’ve culturally heard of Fagin and the Artful Dodger but never of any of the good characters. 

The more I reflect on it, the more I hate the ending. I don’t want to spoil anything but this is a very old novel. If you know what that means for villains and how they fair, then I don’t have to say much more. Everything just seemed a little too convenient, almost unbelievably so. I’ll just say everyone gets what they deserve. And that’s kind of boring. 

The villains were compelling. The good characters, not so much. The villains had more depth and dimensions to them. The good characters were cardboard cutouts. 

I felt angst for Oliver. He was so naive, almost stupidly so. If you’re going to be poor and powerless you have to be a little bit smarter than this. He was constantly in “the wrong place at the wrong time.” It’s as if he was completely unaware that there were liars and thieves in the world. And maybe he was. But he shouldn’t have been. Young people need to know that there are predators out there waiting to use and abuse them. Children shouldn’t live in fear of every new person, but they need to be a little bit smarter than Oliver. 

Emulate the heroes? I mean yeah, I guess. Take care of pitiful orphans when they fall on your doorstep with a gunshot wound. I don’t know if I needed 400 pages to learn that lesson. 

While Sikes is the most violent, Fagin is probably the most dangerous villain because at times you think he’s on Oliver’s side. And maybe he wants to be. That would make him a more deplorable character, because not only is he a liar and a manipulator but he’s also a coward. Because maybe he has the sense to see some inkling of error in his ways but he’s unwilling or too cowardly to act on it. At least with Sikes there is a certain blindness to his villainy. Fagin is a villain with his eyes open and a measure of awareness of his treachery. That’s scary. 

I’d recommend it to anyone with a reader’s attention span. Dickens takes the long route to get to his point sometimes. I tend to drift towards authors with more brevity in their delivery. I have a reader’s attention span, but this tried my patience. 

If you’re into classic literature this is a good read.

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