Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress, is the second novel by English author Charles Dickens. It was originally published as a serial from 1837 to 1839, and as a three-volume book in 1838. The story follows the titular orphan, who, after being raised in a workhouse, escapes to London, where he meets a gang of juvenile pickpockets led by the elderly criminal Fagin, discovers the secrets of his parentage, and reconnects with his remaining family.
In an early example of the social novel, Dickens satirises child labour, domestic violence, the recruitment of children as criminals, and the presence of street children. The novel may have been inspired by the story of Robert Blincoe, an orphan whose account of working as a child labourer in a cotton mill was widely read in the 1830s. It is likely that Dickens's own experiences as a youth contributed as well, considering he spent two years of his life in the workhouse at the age of 12 and subsequently, missed out on some of his education.
The novel was first published in monthly instalments, from February 1837 to April 1839, in the magazine Bentley's Miscellany. It was originally intended to form part of Dickens's serial, The Mudfog Papers.George Cruikshank provided one steel etching per month to illustrate each instalment. The novel first appeared in book form six months before the initial serialisation was completed, in three volumes published by Richard Bentley, the owner of Bentley's Miscellany, under the author's pseudonym, "Boz". It included 24 steel-engraved plates by Cruikshank.
The first edition was titled: Oliver Twist, or, The Parish Boy's Progress.
XVIII – October 1838 (conclusion of chapter 39–41)
XIX – November 1838 (chapters 42–43)
XX – December 1838 (chapters 44–46)
XXI – January 1839 (chapters 47–49)
XXII – February 1839 (chapter 50)
XXIII – March 1839 (chapter 51)
XXIV – April 1839 (chapters 52–53)
Oliver Twist is born into a life of poverty and misfortune, raised in a workhouse in the fictional town of Mudfog. The children working there receive very little food; after six months, they draw lots, with the loser asking for another portion of gruel. Oliver is designated, and so he approaches workhouse manager Mr Bumble and humbly requests another serving. A great uproar ensues at this perceived act of rebellion.
Oliver is removed from the workhouse and sent into the service of undertaker Mr Sowerberry. One day, jealous co-apprentice Noah Claypole insults Oliver's mother and an enraged physical altercation ensues. Oliver runs away to London to seek a better life.
Oliver meets a young man named Jack Dawkins who calls himself "the Artful Dodger", offers him food and lodging and takes him to meet an infamous criminal known as Fagin, who trains orphan boys as pickpockets. Oliver innocently begins Fagin's training, but when he goes out with the Dodger and another boy and sees them stealing a handkerchief from an old gentleman named Mr Brownlow, he realizes the truth. While the Dodger and the other boy escape, Oliver is pursued, apprehended, formally arrested and tried before Magistrate Fang. Interceding for Oliver, Brownlow takes him home and cares for him. As Oliver recovers, Brownlow and his housekeeper notice that Oliver resembles a woman depicted in a portrait hanging in Brownlow's home.
Worried that Oliver might incriminate him and his gang, Fagin sends a young woman named Nancy and her abusive lover, the robber Bill Sikes, to abduct Oliver and bring him back to Fagin's lair. Fagin forces him to participate in a burglary planned by Sikes. The robbery goes wrong; while Sikes escapes, Oliver, after having been wounded, ends up in the care of the people he was supposed to rob: Miss Rose and her guardian Mrs. Maylie.
A mysterious man, known only as "Monks," teams up with Fagin, to prevent Oliver from learning of his past. Monks bribes Mr Bumble and his new wife, the former Widow Corney, for information on Oliver. Together, they dispose of a ring and medallion that had once belonged to Oliver's mother and had been stolen from her after she died. Nancy, racked with guilt for her role in Oliver's kidnapping, secretly spies on them and passes the information on to Rose Maylie, who tells Mr Brownlow. Meanwhile, the Artful Dodger is arrested for pickpocketing, tried and sentenced to Transportation to Australia.
Noah Claypole, who had fled to London with the Sowerberry's maid Charlotte after robbing Mr Sowerberry, joins Fagin's gang. Following Fagin's orders, he follows Nancy and discovers that she regularly meets with the Brownlows and Maylies for the sake of Oliver's welfare. Fearing that Nancy has betrayed him and Sikes (which, unknown to him, she has refused to do), Fagin passes the information on to Sikes, who beats Nancy to death in a fit of rage and goes into hiding. He is recognized by an angry mob and attempts to flee. Going to Fagin's hideout, he learns that Fagin has been arrested. When the mob catches up to him, he tries to escape over the rooftops by swinging on a rope, but while he is about to loop the rope about himself a vision of the dead Nancy's staring eyes terrorizes him into losing his balance; in the fall, the looped rope catches him around the neck and hangs him.
Mr Brownlow has Monks arrested and forces him to divulge his secrets: he is actually Oliver's half-brother and had hoped to steal Oliver's half of their rightful inheritance. Brownlow begs Oliver to give half his inheritance to Monks and grant him a second chance, to which Oliver happily agrees. Monks emigrates to America, but squanders his money, relapses into crime and dies in prison. Fagin is arrested and sentenced to the gallows. The day before his execution, Oliver and Mr Brownlow visit him in Newgate Prison and learn the location of the documents proving Oliver's identity. Bumble and his wife lose their jobs and are forced to become inmates of the workhouse. Rose Maylie, who turns out to be Oliver's maternal aunt, marries and enjoys a long life. Oliver lives happily with Mr Brownlow as his adopted son.
Oliver Twist – an orphan child whose mother died at his birth; father is dead when Oliver's paternity is revealed.
Toby Crackit – an associate of Fagin and Sikes, a house-breaker
Nancy – one of Fagin's gang, now living with Bill Sikes
Bet – a girl in Fagin's gang, sometime friend to Nancy
Barney – a criminal cohort of Fagin
Agnes Fleming – Oliver's mother
Mr. Leeford – father of Oliver and Monks
Old Sally – a nurse who attended Oliver's birth
Mrs. Corney – matron for the women's workhouse
Monks – a sickly criminal, an associate of Fagin's, and long-lost half-brother of Oliver
Monks's mother – an heiress who did not love her husband
Mr. Fang – a magistrate
Tom Chitling – one of Fagin's gang members, returned from abroad at the time of the murder
Major themes and symbols
In Oliver Twist, Dickens mixes grim realism with merciless satire to describe the effects of industrialism on 19th-century England and to criticise the harsh new Poor Laws. Oliver, an innocent child, is trapped in a world where his only options seem to be the workhouse, a life of crime symbolised by Fagin's gang, a prison, or an early grave. From this unpromising industrial/institutional setting, however, a fairy tale also emerges. In the midst of corruption and degradation, the essentially passive Oliver remains pure-hearted; he steers away from evil when those around him give in to it, and in proper fairy-tale fashion, he eventually receives his reward – leaving for a peaceful life in the country, surrounded by kind friends. On the way to this happy ending, Dickens explores the kind of life an outcast, orphan boy could expect to lead in 1830s London.
Poverty and social class
Poverty is a prominent concern in Oliver Twist. Throughout the novel, Dickens enlarged on this theme, describing slums so decrepit that whole rows of houses are on the point of ruin. In an early chapter, Oliver attends a pauper's funeral with Mr Sowerberry and sees a whole family crowded together in one miserable room. This prevalent misery makes Oliver's encounters with charity and love more poignant. Oliver owes his life several times over to kindness both large and small.
Dickens makes considerable use of symbolism. The "merry old gentleman" Fagin, for example, has satanic characteristics: he is a veteran corrupter of young boys who presides over his own corner of the criminal world; he makes his first appearance standing over a fire holding a toasting fork, and he refuses to pray on the night before his execution.
In the tradition of Restoration Comedy and Henry Fielding, Dickens fits his characters with appropriate names. Oliver himself, though "badged and ticketed" as a lowly orphan and named according to an alphabetical system, is, in fact, "all of a twist." However, Oliver and his name may have been based on a young workhouse boy named Peter Tolliver whom Dickens knew while growing up.
Bill Sikes's dog, Bull's-eye, has "faults of temper in common with his owner" and is an emblem of his owner's character. The dog's viciousness represents Sikes's animal-like brutality while Sikes's self-destructiveness is evident in the dog's many scars. The dog, with its willingness to harm anyone on Sikes's whim, shows the mindless brutality of the master. This is also illustrated when Sikes dies and the dog immediately dies as well.
Nancy, by contrast, redeems herself at the cost of her own life and dies in a prayerful pose. She is one of the few characters in Oliver Twist to display much ambivalence. Her storyline in the novel strongly reflects themes of domestic violence and psychological abuse at the hands of Bill. Although Nancy is a full-fledged criminal, indoctrinated and trained by Fagin since childhood, she retains enough empathy to repent her role in Oliver's kidnapping, and to take steps to try to atone. As one of Fagin's victims, corrupted but not yet morally dead, she gives eloquent voice to the horrors of the old man's little criminal empire. She wants to save Oliver from a similar fate; at the same time, she recoils from the idea of turning traitor, especially to Bill Sikes, whom she loves. When Dickens was later criticised for giving to a "thieving, whoring slut of the streets" such an unaccountable reversal of character, he ascribed her change of heart to "the last fair drop of water at the bottom of a dried-up, weed-choked well".
Dickens has been accused of portraying antisemitic stereotypes because of his portrayal of the Jewish character Fagin in Oliver Twist. Paul Vallely writes that Fagin is widely seen as one of the most grotesque Jews in English literature, and one of the most vivid of Dickens's 989 characters. Nadia Valman, in Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, argues that Fagin's representation was drawn from the image of the Jew as inherently evil, that the imagery associated him with the Devil, and with beasts.
The novel refers to Fagin 274 times in the first 38 chapters as "the Jew", while the ethnicity or religion of the other characters is rarely mentioned. In 1854, The Jewish Chronicle asked why "Jews alone should be excluded from the 'sympathizing heart' of this great author and powerful friend of the oppressed." Dickens (who had extensive knowledge of London street life and child exploitation) explained that he had made Fagin Jewish because "it unfortunately was true, of the time to which the story refers, that that class of criminal almost invariably was a Jew." It is widely believed that Fagin was based on a specific Jewish criminal of the era, Ikey Solomon. Dickens commented that by calling Fagin a Jew he had meant no imputation against the Jewish people, saying in a letter, "I have no feeling towards the Jews but a friendly one. I always speak well of them, whether in public or private, and bear my testimony (as I ought to do) to their perfect good faith in such transactions as I have ever had with them." Eliza Davis, whose husband had purchased Dickens's home in 1860 when he had put it up for sale, wrote to Dickens in protest at his portrayal of Fagin, arguing that he had "encouraged a vile prejudice against the despised Hebrew", and that he had done a great wrong to the Jewish people. While Dickens first reacted defensively upon receiving Davis's letter, he then halted the printing of Oliver Twist, and changed the text for the parts of the book that had not been set, which explains why after the first 38 chapters Fagin is barely called "the Jew" at all in the next 179 references to him. A shift in his perspective is seen in his later novel Our Mutual Friend, as he redeems the image of Jews.
An abridged version narrated by Martin Jarvis was released on audio cassette in 1994, later on CD, as part of the Talking Classics series (TC NCC 004) by Orbis. Mr. Jarvis later narrated an unabridged version in 2006 for Audible Studios.
Oliver & Company (1988), Disney full-length animated feature inspired by the story of Oliver Twist. The story takes place in modern-day New York City, with Oliver (voiced by Joey Lawrence) portrayed as an orphaned kitten, the Dodger as a street-wise mongrel with a mix of terrier (voiced by Billy Joel), and Fagin (voiced by Dom DeLuise) as a homeless bum who lives on the docks with his pack of stray dogs that he trains to steal so he can survive and repay his debt to loan shark Sykes (voiced by Robert Loggia).
1996-97: Saban's Adventures of Oliver Twist, a 52-episode animated American-French co-production where the story is downplayed for younger viewers, in which Oliver loses his mother in a crowd rather than being dead and the characters are represented by anthropomorphic animals. Oliver in this version is a young dog.
2001: Escape of the Artful Dodger, an Australian TV series set as a sequel, where Dodger and Oliver are sent to the colony of Australia.
1941-42, BBC Home Service in 8 parts, adapted by Audrey Lucas, with David Baxter (Oliver Twist), Malcolm Keen (Fagin), Leonard Thorne (The Artful Dodger), Belle Chrystall (Nancy) and Allan Jeaves (Bill Sikes)
1952, BBC Home Service in 12 parts, adapted by Giles Cooper, with Wilfrid Downing (Oliver Twist), John Gabriel (Fagin), Brian Smith (The Artful Dodger), Helen Shingler (Nancy) and Ralph Truman (Bill Sikes)
1970, BBC Radio 4 in 12 parts, adapted by Giles Cooper, with Stephen Bone (Oliver Twist), Peter Woodthorpe (Fagin), Dennis Conoley (The Artful Dodger), Patricia Leventon (Nancy) and John Hollis (Bill Sikes)
^Donald Hawes, Who's Who in Dickens, Routledge, London, 2002, p.75.
^Johnson, Edgar (1 January 1952). "4 – Intimations of Mortality". Charles Dickens His Tragedy And Triumph. Simon & Schuster Inc. Archived from the original on 2 October 2011. Retrieved 8 February 2009.
^Souvik Chatterji Master of Law from Warwick University, Coventry, UK, footnote  (2007). Influence of Bengali Classic Literature in Bollywood films.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
^Howe, Desson (18 November 1988). "Oliver & Company". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 16 October 2016. Retrieved 1 March 2018.