Reviewer: Tall, Short, Tiny & a Pickle
Reading Oliver Twist was my first foray into the novels of Charles Dickens. I have vivid memories of lying in the sun at my parents’ house, reading the copy my mother had read when she was at school. It is fair to say that Oliver Twist was an excellent introduction to to the Dickensian world, and I have been a huge fan ever since.
If you haven’t yet read Oliver Twist, you will no doubt be familiar with it in its screen and stage adaptations. That famous scene where Oliver dares to ask for more gruel is etched in many memories as a poignant moment in a tragic tale.
In brief, Oliver Twist is a young orphan who finds himself journeying towards London. Along the way, he meets a young pickpocket (Jack Dawkins, aka The Artful Dodger) who tells of a place where he can get free board with a group of “gentlemen”. Oliver is an innocent, naive, good-hearted boy who often doesn’t see the true nature of people, and agrees to join Dawkins in London, where he finds himself surrounded by a host of delightfully-unsavoury characters. The leader of this group, Fagin, is a criminal with a devilish nature; he tricks and corrupts young men, and is often portrayed as shying from daylight, prayer and anything of a decent nature. Ultimately, the decency of Oliver’s character wins out, and we have a happy ending where good triumphs evil, but Dickens tells a very interesting story along the way.
He paints a very dramatic, miserable picture of poverty, unusual for a time when many writers glossed over the plight of the poor. The novel reflects on the effects of industrialism on the working classes of England, and states that many resorted to theft and crime in order simply to survive. However, Oliver’s character is different – he remains innocent and decent throughout the novel, regardless of the situations he finds himself in, and never resorts to the life of crime presented to him. He speaks properly, compared to the rest of the poor, and from the outset, I found myself hoping that better things would be in store for him.
I am a fan of Dickens’ writing style, and as I said earlier, this was the novel that cemented my love for his work. I enjoy his descriptive passages, the realism of his characters and their plights, and the interactions between them. He describes his characters so well, down to the last tic, that when I saw a local stage production of this a number of years ago, I was pleased to see the actor playing Fagin had adopted his mannerisms perfectly.
Passages such as:
The sun, – the bright sun, that brings back, not light alone, but new life, and hope, and freshness to man – burst upon the crowded city in clear and radiant glory. Through costly-coloured glass and paper-mended window, through cathedral dome and rotten crevice, it shed its equal ray.
serve to create a powerful image as you read, and the novel is filled with such eloquent descriptions. There are, in true Dickens-fashion, moments of comedy, which serve to cut through the inherently sombre nature of the story:
“Bless their dear little hearts!” said Mrs. Mann with emotion, “they’re as well as can be, the dears! Of course, except the two that died last week.”
If you’ve never ventured to read anything by Charles Dickens, this would be my recommendation as the place to start. An incredibly good read, with a happy ending that sees good triumph over evil in that ultimate of symbolic and moral battles.
A well-deserved 5 out of 5 stars from me.