Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Oliver Twist Readalong Post 1: Volume 1 (Ch. 1-22).

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!

Katy F.


  1. I am glad that you are having a better experience this time around with Dickens. I think his style kind of stays the same just that he perfects and refines it as he gets older. For example, he is very good at humor and playfulness which I think is more exuberant in works like The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist but Dickens refines this into a delicious cutting wit and matured satire as his writing progresses. But this is just a theory from my experience of reading only a handful of his works. Here is the link to my first post...


    Can't wait to see what others have to say...see you on the 17th:)

  2. I completely agree about practically everything you said. I've only read two of Dickens's works (A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations), and I like Oliver Twist more than the other two put together. It's a faster read, and it's funnier. I could tell Dickens knew what he was talking about when he described the brutal treatment of children in the orphanage and in the workhouse. :)

    Here's my readalong post: http://yourmovedickens.blogspot.com/2011/02/oliver-twist-readalong-part-1.html

  3. I loved Oliver Twist, it's one of my favorite Dickens novels. Your experience with Great Expectations confirms what I've long believed, teaching classics to kids that are too young will just turn them off forever. I didn't read Dickens until senior year in college and I was really afraid, but I ended up loving it (yes, it was Great Expectations!)

    It is a different from Bleak House since it's one of his earliest, but I can't quite explain why. I think as his works got longer, the storylines and plots got more complicated and with more characters. I always recommend OT as a good first Dickens because it's one of the first that I read and loved.

  4. Here's my readalong post: http://fewmorepages.blogspot.com/2011/02/oliver-twist-readalong-book-1.html

    This is only my second time reading Dickens (A Christmas Carol was the first, and I liked that).

    The way he portrayed Fagin annoyed me, and then sweet and innocent Oliver is almost too sweet and innocent for my taste. But I'm still sympathetic to him.

  5. Here is my link.


    I'm completely the opposite. I loved Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol, but I'm kind of on the fence about this one. It's interesting, but I'm not loving it like the other Dicken's novels I've read. The style is different and it's simpler. I didn't read Dickens until after I'd already graduated college. I think not being forced to read it may have helped.

    Constantly calling Fagin "The Jew" has been bothering me too.

  6. I haven't gotten through the first book, so I'm a little behind everyone here. I have to say that reading the description of the workhouse and how the orphans are treated is just mind blowing to say the least. To think that people treated children this way is appalling. I'm sure some of this is true. I mean how would you come up with some of this stuff, unless you either experienced it yourself or major investigating. Anyways, I'm okay with reading the book so far. He has held my interest and I'm looking forward to see where Oliver goes and if he finds out who is mother really was, or even his father. I hope so.

    Love, Mom

  7. By happy chance 'Oliver Twist' is the first book on my personal "Books that have been on my shelf for way to long" reading challenge and I started reading it the day before you announced the read along. I have always viewed Dickens with some trepidation having once seen his picture in the dictionary next to the definition of "verbose". The only other Dickens book I've read is 'A Christmas Carol' which starts out with the sentence "Marley was dead." Okay, that's short and to the point but then he went on for three pages explaining exactly how dead he was. I've heard he was paid by the word and after that, I believed it.

    That said, I was very pleasantly surprised by Twist. I have the same complaints as many of you about Dickens' treatment of Fagin and his saccharine sweet portrayal of Oliver but I really enjoyed reading what is, its core, a witty and biting social satire. Here we see society, portrayed as the man in the waistcoat who, while clad in the external raiment of purity condemns Oliver to the gallows for the crime of hunger. Magistrate Fang, a thinly veiled caricature of Allan Stewart Laing, an actual magistrate of the day, starts by almost condemning a victim of theft and then sentences Oliver to hard labor even though there is no evidence against him.

    So far I am enjoying my second taste of Dickens and expect that it won't be too many more years before I try him again. I have been curious about "Great Expectations".

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  9. I'm with Kristi - I love A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, and Bleack House, but only made it about a quarter into Oliver Twist before stopping. It was like pulling teeth to get that far and it would take me days to pick it up again every time I set it down. I finally gave up and decided to try again another time. Maybe part of it was that I was reading it in the summer and it's not a summery book. And maybe it just didn't feel like Dickens to me, which might explain why you're enjoying it more!

  10. So glad to hear that you're enjoying this Dickens. I can't put my finger on why but I feel like it is somewhat different from Great Expectations and Bleak House and thus more appealing.

    My post: http://bookworm1858.blogspot.com/2011/02/oliver-twist-post-1.html

  11. This is my first Dickens other than A Christmas Carol, and I am having a little bit too much fun with it. :)

    Oliver Twist Post 1

  12. Oliver Twist Part 1

    love love love it so far. Never thought I'd enjoy Dickens. Great book and great characters.

  13. The straightforward narrative worked for me too, and I'm surprised at how quickly and easily I'm reading. And impressed with how much social commentary is being slipped seamlessly into the story.

  14. I was also surprised at how quickly I was drawn into the story! Here's my link:


  15. Hi lovely! Here's my Oliver Twist post - with a few reservations, I'm liking it as much as you!



  16. This is my fourth Dickens novel (Great Expectations being my favorite, *ahem*) and the very first thing I noticed was the difference -big big difference- in prose and style. And it was not a welcome difference, by any means.

    I absolutely despise some of Dickens' earlier works because they're so annoying over-written. Dickens wrote for money, and he got paid per word, so those long, long sentences (like the first one you quoted above) are there solely for the purpose of cha-ching, bringing in twopence. Knowing this, it made the first 80+ pages very difficult for me, because I was annoyed and irritated and I knew Dickens was capable of saying what need to be said in about 1/3 of the words he was using.

    I've been pushing on, though, and I too got to the end of Part 1 (and beyond) far quicker than I thought. I don't know why, but this one really is a page-turner. It doesn't feel that interesting or entertaining or engrossing, but somehow I look up, and I'm twenty or thirty pages further along than I was just moments previous. It's bizarre, but good - I guess.

    I still don't like the page-for-pay style, because it's anti-literary to me, but I'm getting past it. I don't mind the derogatory descriptions much, either, because it's honest to the times (Dickens wasn't such a pleasant fellow himself, really). It's uncomfortable at times (the many descriptions of thieves and peddlers as "Jews" bothered me, I admit - had it been exclusive to Fagin, I could have let it slide - but it's a bit bleh).

    Ah, well, here's to pushing on with the classics!

  17. And, oops, this is my 5th Dickens, actually. I forgot about A Tale of Two Cities. I read it soon after reading Les Miserables, which was a mistake because Les Miserables completely outshines Two Cities.

  18. I am totally failing with any kind of Dickens related reading at the moment, but instead, I'm passing on this award to you :-) sorry about the unrelatedness of the comment!

  19. So glad you're having a better experience with Dickens this time around... too bad those highs school English classes turn so many kids off. I finished Bleak House just a couple of months ago, so it's still too soon for me to tackle another Dickens. Great Expectations is my favorite, but I'll be curious to see how this evolves for you!

  20. My first Dickens was the obligatory reading of Great Expectations as a 9th grader (I loved it, though). I also read A Tale of Two Cities in high school and loved it. My experience with Hard Times in college was not so positive, but I read (most of) Oliver Twist in my junior year of college and it drew me in, too. However, I waited too late to start it and had to cram, cram, cram to try and read it by the time I got to class. That's the main reason I was looking forward to re-reading it, but with some unexpected events on the homefront this week, I haven't been able to revisit it. Thanks for the push to do this when I get the chance. It really was a great book.

  21. This is my first try at reading Oliver Twist. I've read Hard Times, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield.
    Oliver and David are similar in character because both born under similar circumstances, both are easy for the reader to adore and want to rescue.
    David Copperfield is my #1 favorite book.
    I love the underlying motive of Charles Dickens which masks itself in satire. He is wanting to prick the conscience of the reader in regards to those in society that need our help, not our judgment and scourge.
    I am not finished with book 1 yet, but will be soon.

  22. Here is a link to my post on Oliver Twist


  23. I hated David Copperfield and gave up, and the only other dickens I've read is A Christmas Carol.

    Really enjoyed the first section of this book... surprisingly so, although the antisemitism got to me a bit, as much as I know it was a sign of the times. That said, I didn't quite have the energy/time for three posts on the book but I'm still reading along and I'll probably write one for the second section.