‘A parish child – the orphan of a workhouse – the humble, half-starved drudge – to be cuffed and buffeted through the world, despised by all, and pitied by none’
Dark, mysterious and mordantly funny, Oliver Twist features some of the most memorably drawn villains in all of fiction – the treacherous gangmaster Fagin, the menacing thug Bill Sikes, the Artful Dodger and their den of thieves in the grimy London backstreets. Dicken’s novel is both an angry indictment of poverty, and an adventure filled with an air of threat and pervasive evil.
But nature or inheritance had implanted a good sturdy spirit in Oliver's breast. It had had plenty of room to expand, thanks to the spare diet of the establishment
Despite being very aware of Oliver Twist as a concept, I had little idea what I was getting myself into. And Oliver Twist is so much funnier than I expected it to be – in the beginning, at least.
Oliver looked very worn and shadowy from sickness, and made an ineffectual attempt to stand up, out of respect to his benefactor, which terminated in his sinking back into the chair again; and the fact is, if the truth must be told, that Mr. Brownlow's heart, being large enough for any six ordinary old gentlemen of humane disposition, forced a supply of tears into his eyes, by some hydraulic process which we are not sufficiently philosophical to be in a condition to explain.
I think I enjoyed the first half of Oliver Twist more than the second. This is a long 400 pages that felt like it kept getting longer. Dickens’ flowery language was expected, but it didn’t make it easier to read. By the end, I was pretty over the dramatics – everyone in the 1800s was apparently a ball of emotion, ready to explode at a moment’s notice. There were too many characters – way more than necessary – and some sentences take up whole pages. Even some of the chapter titles could be considered paragraphs… did Dickens have an editor?
I’m not entirely certain that Fagin’s Jewishness needed to be mentioned quite so many times when no one else’s religion was brought to our attention… I guess that Dickens’s ability to sympathise with the impoverished fails to include needy Jewish people. Many of these characters deserve empathy, unfortunately, I started to lose patience with most of them in the end. Overdramatic and unnecessarily complicated, I went on a journey from loving to suffering from beginning to end, leaving the entire experience feeling fairly average, if not worse. Honourable mention to the gentleman in the white waistcoat from the beginning, who I wish made more appearances throughout.
'I never was more convinced of anything in my life,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat, as he knocked at the gate and read the bill next morning: 'I never was more convinced of anything in my life, than I am that that boy will come to be hung.'
That same evening, the gentleman in the white waistcoat most positively and decidedly affirmed, not only that Oliver would be hung, but that he would be drawn and quartered into the bargain.
I’ve come to accept that I’m not a lover of the classics, but so far, Austen definitely has my vote over Dickens.