Day 323: Oliver Twist

Cover for Oliver TwistOliver Twist was one of the first adult books I read as a child, although I believe that David Copperfield was the very first one. This book is, of course, Dickens’ famous indictment of the British treatment of and attitudes toward the poor, as followed through the adventures of Oliver Twist, an innocent and hapless young orphan.

Oliver is born in the workhouse after his mother dies in childbirth without identifying herself. He is named by the beadle and brought up at a baby farm, the intent of which seems to be to starve as many babies to death as possible. The story really begins when Oliver is 10 years old and is moved to the workhouse to begin an illustrious career picking oakum, which is unraveling and picking apart old ropes. There he is voted by the boys to be their representative in asking for another bowl of thin gruel at mealtime (or rather is the only one naive enough to agree to do it).

This act brands Oliver as a malcontent, and he is apprenticed out to a coffin maker with dispatch. His employer seems disposed to be kind, but he is bullied by a “charity boy,” Noah Claypole, as well as by the housemaid and the coffin maker’s wife. Finally, after being unjustly punished for standing up for himself, he runs away.

Oliver’s adventures lead him to London, where he innocently falls in with a gang of thieves lead by the infamous Fagin. Oliver’s struggles to make his way in life without becoming a criminal and the mystery of his identity are the focuses of the rest of the book.

Although this novel has a few amusing and lovable characters, it is fairly grim compared to some of Dickens’ later efforts. It is merciless in its satire of institutions such as the workhouse and the law courts. Oliver himself is more of a symbol for goodness than a fully developed character, yet we are touched by his plight.

It is a long time since I read this novel, and I found I had forgotten just how complex the plot is. Although I do not feel that it is as good as some of Dickens’ later works, as his first serious novel, it is compelling reading.

5 thoughts on “Day 323: Oliver Twist

  1. May 28, 2013 / 3:46 pm

    I just started following your blog because your book choices are eclectic and I am always looking for good ideas for future reads! Two questions: Do you have a bibliography in your blog of books you have written about? How do you find your book ideas?

    • whatmeread May 28, 2013 / 3:50 pm

      Hi! Hmm, do you mean you would like me to make a list of all the entries? I guess I could do that and figure out a place to post it where everyone could look at it.

      I do a certain amount of reading of reviews to pick books, usually NY Times and Washington Post, but I also just tend to pick up what looks interesting at the book store. Some of the reviews I have posted are from books I have read so many times that I can remember everything about them, so they are not always recent reads (although they usually are).

      Thanks for your comments. Let me know if that’s what you mean by a bibliography, and I’ll attempt to provide one, although I’ll have to reconstruct it from my blog postings.–Kay at whatmeread

      • May 29, 2013 / 3:27 pm

        Yup! You got it! Just a quick look at your choices on your blog somewhere. I call my “My Library” – just those books I blogged about – not actually all the books Iove 🙂 Soon I hope to “fancy it up” by adding the post next to the book listing.

      • whatmeread May 29, 2013 / 3:33 pm

        That’s a good idea! I’m working on it now. Do you think it would be better divided by subgenre? I’m already dividing it into Fiction and Nonfiction. I have decided not to put links to the post on mine, because WordPress counts those as comments, which will mess up my comments area, but I am going to include keywords from my Cloud Tag so that people can find the books easier if they want to. Thanks!

      • whatmeread May 30, 2013 / 3:36 pm

        Hi there, I had more than 300 books to list, so I didn’t do them in one list. If you have a moment to take a look at what I did, I’d appreciate any comments. I didn’t include the publishing information because for my purposes it didn’t seem necessary. Instead, I tried to provide keywords to make it easier for readers to find the reviews. If I could have figured out a way to link to a Word document or PDF, I would also have attached the complete list. Please let me know what you think.

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