Welcome to the first post (of three) for the Oliver Twist readalong hosted here at A Literary Odyssey.
If you have been around and reading my posts for any length of time, you have probably noticed that I am not the biggest fan of Mr. Charles Dickens. I blame it on a first horrible experience with Great Expectations, ninth grade English, and my unwillingness to read the novel.
Since then, I have given Dickens a few more chances. I "read" part of Hard Times in college and hated it. I read A Christmas Carol and the only saving grace was the fact that it was a story I knew well before going into it. I reread Great Expectations as book #10 in this project of mine (and still hated it), and recently participated in a readalong of Bleak House and guess what, hated it.
So Dickens and I meet again. And I am glad that I have so many of you along for the ride. And if you were coming here, expecting to hear me rant and rave about the atrocities of Mr. Dickens once more, well...
You were wrong.
I actually kind of like Oliver Twist. It shocked me too. But from the beginning, this was a story that captured my attention and drew me in. Perhaps it is the tone the narrator takes from the very beginning;
"Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter," (3).
I love the tone and the feeling of despair that I get as the reader. After reading this (lengthy-it IS Dickens), I knew that I was going to be captivated by the story. While unhappy and sober, I am captivated by it. I want to know what happens to poor Oliver Twist.
The first section of the book (of 3), introduces us to Oliver and takes us through the beginnings of his miserable little life. He is orphaned as an infant, his mother dying shortly after giving birth to him, and spends the beginning few years of his life under the care of a horrible woman.
After a certain time, he taken to a workhouse. It is here that we have that famous line;
"Please, sir, I want some more," (15).
We watch as Oliver is humiliated for asking for more food, estranged from the other boys, and determined to be a horrible example of a human being. He is degraded, called names, and seen as worthless by the men in charge of the workhouse.
He is misunderstood and craving love and care. Of course, being an orphan, poor, and homeless, Oliver is not deserving of love and care from anyone. After all, who would care for a young boy?
I know that Dickens purpose in many of his novels is showing the plight of the poor, and that is evident in the treatment of Oliver and the other poor characters we encounter. It enrages me now to know that people were treated this way. In some areas, prejudices like this still occur. It saddens me, to know that a young boy can be so misunderstood because his stomach is still growling and deemed a troublemaker.
Oliver eventually escapes (I cheered), only to find himself in the hands of a man and his group of young, pick-pocketing boys. They take Oliver in and we watch as Oliver misunderstands what they want of him. Again, I felt awful reading about Oliver's naivety regarding crime and life on the street. I rooted for him when he was taken in and cared for, but of course, that nasty man found him and brought him back.
Speaking of that man, he is always referred to as "the Jew," or something more derogatory. At first I wasn't offended, thinking Dickens was just trying to tell us more about him, but after he is repeatedly referred to in that way, I started to get annoyed. Can we please just call him by his name Dickens?
The first section ends shortly after Oliver finds himself back in this lair of thieves. When I finished, I found myself thinking how fast the 180 pages flew by, and how much Dickens seemed to cram into those pages.
I find this novel, and the writing style, to be far different from my other experiences with Dickens. While at times some of the writing is still a little much for me, I didn't find it as offensive as I did in some other novels (*ahem* Bleak House). The story also seems fairly straight forward...and simpler in some way. It is deceptive in that way. As a reader, you think you are only learning about Oliver's life from an offhanded and uncaring perspective, but you can see where Dickens is trying to subtly draw our attention-like to the conditions in the workhouse. Very clever Charles, very clever.
But I come away from the first section wanting to read more and not wanting to bash my head in. That is a huge improvement from my previous experiences. Let us hope that Charles doesn't disappoint me.
What did you think? For those of you who have read things by Dickens other than Oliver Twist, do you find that there is a difference in style?
For those participating in the readalong, please comment below and leave a link to your post. I will link it here so that others can find your thoughts and comment.
The second post on the next 14 chapters is scheduled for the 17th. See you then!