I remember the first novel I purchased by Charles Dickens for my own enjoyment and not for school. I was vacationing near Jackson Hole, Wyoming and I completed the books I brought sooner than anticipated. I wandered into a bookstore and picked up a copy of The Pickwick Papers. I loved the novel. Previously, I had read Great Expectations in school and again I enjoyed the novel. Somehow I lost my way. I didn’t pick up any other copies of his works.
When I started my 1001 novels you must read project I noticed that Dickens had ten novels on the list. Only one other author, J. M. Coetzee, matches Dickens record. I decided to start a Dickens project. Then I heard that we were moving to England and I thought that was the perfect time to work on my project. I decided to read all ten on the list in one year. I had concerns. He writes large novels. Would I get through them while also leaving time for other novels? Also, would I get burned out? I loved The Pickwick Papers, but was some of this due to the fact that I read this novel while spending time in The Tetons, one of my favorite places in the world. Was I associating my happy memories of the novel with my memories from my vacation?
I brushed aside the concerns and joined some reading challenges to help me stick to my own project. And now I can report that I completed the first of ten. I no longer fear that I won’t like his writing. I adore it. However, I’m still worried that I won’t finish all of them this year. But I am on track of reading one a month to give myself some wiggle room for those larger tomes. And a couple of them are pretty short.
Oliver Twist is the second novel Dickens published. The first was The Pickwick Papers, which was a light-hearted novel filled with comedic characters and scenes. Oliver’s story is not. The orphan starts off in the world living in a workhouse, where he is not shown an ounce of love by any of his caretakers. The only person who cared for him, was another boy, named Dick. When Oliver decides to run away from the workhouse, Dick wishes Oliver well and says God bless you. Oliver is surprised by his words. “The blessing was from a young child’s lips, but it was the first that Oliver had ever heard invoked upon his head; and through the struggles and sufferings, and troubles and changes, of his after life, he never once forgot it.”
The young orphan decides to walk to London. Along the way he meets Jack Dawkins, better known as the Artful Dodger. The innocent Oliver is seduced by the Dodger’s claim that he knows a man who will feed him and give him a place to sleep. What Oliver does not realize is that the Artful Dodger is a criminal who is taking him into a den of thieves headed by Fagin. At first Oliver thinks that the residents in the home make handkerchiefs. However, one day when he joins the Artful Dodger and Charley Bates to make some he realizes that they are pickpockets. He is stunned. And when the two boys steal one, Oliver is mistaken by Mr. Brownlow to be the criminal. At the police station the truth comes out and Mr. Brownlow takes Oliver home. When Fagin learns of Oliver’s situation he is determined to get Oliver back. Will Oliver ever be able to escape the evil Fagin for good?
Dickens novel is a scathing rebuke of the effects of the industrialized age for the poor living in 19th-century England. His images of the suffering leave a lastly impression on the reader. His use of satire helps drive the point home about the injustices of the Poor Laws, without repulsing the reader with one deplorable image after another. And throughout the narrative, Oliver never succumbs to the evil he is surrounded with and stays a sweet loving boy offering the reader hope that there is still good in the world. But will his goodness overcome the wickedness in the world?
I really enjoyed reading Oliver’s tale. Up next is Nicholas Nickleby, the third novel by Charles Dickens.
This post is my last post for Charles Dickens Month hosted by Fig and Thistle. It was a fun event to join and I would like to thank the host. The writer’s 200th birthday is on February 7th.