by Charles Dickens
For some reason this is one of Dickens' best-loved and most-enacted stories, after A Christmas Carol
. I really don't understand this, because among the great one's novels that I have read so far, this was my least favorite. I can't speak for everyone, however. But it was only Dickens' second novel, after all; and it has the structural weaknesses that can often beset a beginning novelist, even after his first success (The Pickwick Papers
). All the same, it is full of the variety of vividly portrayed people and emotionally intense happenings that lovers of Dickens have come to expect.
What keeps a reader ploughing through a book so thick is, usually, a great conflict that rises to a big climax and is finally resolved at the end. My main complaint with Oliver Twist is that the real conflict of the story seems to resolve itself too easily and too early. However, the characters will captivate you right to the end, as you will long to find out what happens to Fagin and the Artful Dodger and the vicious criminal Bill Sikes. Not to mention the love story between Henry and Rose, the fate of Noah Claypole, and the secret of little Oliver's mysterious parentage.
Born in a workhouse for the poor, to a mother who staggered out of nowhere and died in childbirth, his origins unknown, young Oliver is brought up from infancy under the cruel Poor Laws which Dickens helped to make notorious, and which finally got repealed in part because of this book. After the notorious incident in which the liveried Beadle finds the child's request for more porridge scandalous, he is apprenticed to a very unpleasant undertaker. Soon little Oliver runs away to London to try his luck there. He is soon taken in by a band of thieves who are determined to destroy Oliver's virtue...or destroy him. But with the help of some good people, Oliver makes his escape and helps bring the villains to justice.
Not the most perfect novel by the master who published his books serially in magazines under the pseudonym "Boz" (wait till you see the original illustrations by "Phiz"!), Oliver Twist is still a story to awaken your pity for a very gentle, vulnerable child who needs all the help he can get to grow up good and strong...and who cannot get that help from the state. It is a story to awaken your outrage at laws and philosophies that put hypocrisy in place of charity, and above all, a story to inspire needy and suffering children with the view that crime is not the only way out of a tough neighborhood...or even the best way.
As long as you can believe in a character like Oliver, who puts his virtue on the same level of importance as his very life, you can believe in the possibility of a better world. I think Harry Potter does the same thing. But he owes something to Oliver Twist.
Recommended Age: 14+
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