With my recent blues I have not been in the mood for brand new reads, choosing to get lost in childhood favourite The Hobbit instead. Once I had finished that I decided to move onto Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens because I thought it would be a good go-between of the new and the familiar. I have never read the novel before but it is very hard not to know the story of the little orphan Oliver due to the musical, films, and television adaptations. This turned out to be a wonderful choice. I found a lot of comfort in discovering known to me characters in their original context.
Oliver Twist is a harrowing adventure that follows a young orphaned boy trying to survive in Victorian England. Oliver is born in the work house which in Victorian times then places a stain upon his character by others in the community. A stain Oliver finds very hard to escape from. While I have always felt sorry for Oliver from other sources I have seen the character in, I was not prepared for how much more the novel would make me feel. Any child in Oliver’s position would be heart-breaking to read about but Oliver is no ordinary child; he has such a pure and honest heart that many in the novel just don’t wish to acknowledge. I found it hard to put this novel down because I was so keen to see Oliver escape his situation, but as he seems to escape one bad situation he falls into other just as bad situations. Dickens highlights very successfully in this novel what a vicious cycle life could be like for a pauper child in this time period.
Before reading Oliver Twist I had only read one other novel by Dickens which was Nicholas Nickleby. This was some years ago now. I do remember enjoying the story and characters however I found the language hard to get into. With several more years of reading experience I was hoping I would have better luck with my second foray into Dickens work, and I was right. I still feel Dickens’s use of language is rather convoluted and highly detailed but it didn’t take me long to get into the flow of the style. Once I was into the style I found I was free to just get lost in the story. And boy, can Dickens weave a wonderful story.
What I was surprised about how much of an adventure Oliver Twist turned out to be. Before reading this I always imagined all the story took place in the back streets of London but there are in fact many locations and situations Oliver finds himself in. What I feel really makes the story though are all the interesting and colourful characters that Oliver meets during his journey. The pompous and silly Beagle Mr Bumble, slimy Noah Claypole, the slick Artful Dodger, the kind and patient Mr Brownlow, the angelic Rose, the fallen Nancy, the dark and brutal Sikes, and of course the one we all know; the sneaky, conniving and ruthless old Jew Fagin. And that is only mentioning about half of the characters! I think the variety of strong characters is maybe the secret as to why Dickens novels have been so well-loved and adapted over the years.
Oliver Twist is a wonderfully touching and insightful fictional look into a world gone by. I highly recommend reading this novel. This is now my 6th book towards The Classics Club. I am now really looking forward to cracking open my copy of Great Expectations.
Have you read this novel? Did you enjoy it?