Category Archives: Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist: Read from April 24 to May 04, 2013

I’ll eat my head if I ever read Dickens again.

What was the point of this novel? Entertainment I suppose, something to read to while away the time every month when a new chapter was printed. And I kept asking myself if Dickens was trying to get at a deeper meaning here but, alas, there is nothing here to be found, my dear. We’ve been robbed.

But let’s take a closer look anyway.

The end of the novel is telling. We’re led to an island where the meanest, dirtiest, lowliest scum of all London, nay all Christendom, live. Here too is where Sikes – the worst of the worst – is hiding. Dickens begins by describing the people here as just mean, dirty castoffs, but then employs them in the right honorable task of bringing a murderer to justice. All of a sudden the dregs of society are miraculously reinvented as a willing army of angels; God’s brigade.

And that’s just one of countless examples of coincidence too convenient to catalog here.

Yet why did Dickens turn pretty much all of England into a ‘wretched hive of scum and villainy’ if the one goal he must have hoped to reach was to show how poorly the lower classes are treated. By the end it’s the upper-classes who come to the rescue, who possess the means to investigate Oliver’s past, who have the social connections to connect the dots and notarize the appropriate paperwork.

Who was Dickens writing for? Was he making fun of England’s citizens while at the same time claiming he was sticking up for them? Who in this book of meager circumstances comes off as righteous? Nancy, perhaps, and maybe Master Bates (wasted pun, by the way) and none else. Oliver, orphan that he seems, is no pleb by blood, and everyone else who raised him was a wretch, a criminal, a tool, and a coward.

So how does Oliver’s story tell us anything about society? What’s the point of Oliver existing in the first place?

As always, my biggest complaint with a lot of writers is that just because they write down that a character is having an emotion doesn’t automatically mean the author no longer has to do any work to earn our emotional engagement. Saying a character is sad, or glad, or even possess a trait, does not mean the author gets a pass for the rest of the story – they have to SHOW that a character is sad, is mad, or whatever.

Yet this is the problem with too much popular writing. An author can say ‘Bella was depressed’ and readers will eat it up even though nothing has been done to show that she’s depressed – it’s only enough to know that someone says someone else is depressed.


Good art requires work. Good reading requires work. Dickens did not do much work. Dickens got paid a lot. Dickens was a literary thief and an orphan of good taste.

And the real shame is that there were moments when the writing was quite good, where if he had utilized his characters more sympathetically we could have really had a good book here, but because he just wanted to poke fun on one page and then be expected to be taken seriously the next, that we get an uneven, and undeserving entry into the cannon.

I wonder what author’s work was turned aside in the serial publication to make room for this? I wonder what great literary talent we’ll never know about was swept aside for Dickens?

There probably was a real Oliver Twist in 19th century England, and he was probably an author who never got the chance to prove his talent or be taken in by a benevolent benefactor willing to give him a chance. We are poorer for it too.


89% done with Oliver Twist

I think anyone who writes for television should read this book so they can understand how even only one writer can get a story so far off the rails it becomes almost another story all-together.

And unlike Anna Karenina where that book is really about Levin yet still needs the character of Anna, Oliver could be written to a single minor chapter and we’d be none the wiser.


74% done with Oliver Twist

If only Dickens had invested his characters with depth, with humanity, with real emotion, would scenes such as the one when Oliver wonders how the sun can shine on a funeral day be more than just some nice writing.

But Dickens can’t have it both ways – he can’t treat everyone as a sketch to his own plot ends and then also expect us to feel emotionally engaged with these people. He can write nice words, not people.

56% done with Oliver Twist

More new characters and Oliver is unconscious again.

So let’s say that the though the book is called ‘Oliver Twist’ it’s actually about all the characters who some into contact with him. That would be all well and good, except all the characters in this books are idiots. Granted, as we meet more and more of them they get slightly better developed, but still – unfunny buffoons.

48% done with Oliver Twist

Now that there are actually some stakes for the drama to flow from, the novel is getting at least interesting.

The robbery was well described and the nature of this being a serial replete with cliffhanger endings makes the story move along with a purpose now.

I’m still not sure why Dickens didn’t leave England; he paints it as bleak, dirty and full of useless, unfeeling bums. Not very realistic.

38% done with Oliver Twist

I’ll admit surprise here upon discovering that a 19th century novel written by a man has an actual well-rounded woman character surrounded by a cast of male, moronic dopes as opposed to how every other book this century typically turns out (I’m looking at you, Tolstoy).

Still, I think I’ve counted ‘the Jew’ well over 100 times so that negates any good will his well written Nancy.

30% done with Oliver Twist

J.K. Rowling, who sometimes is compared to Dickens, is a far better storyteller. Harry Potter, though finding himself also at the mercy of things he didn’t understand or control, was also introduced as someone who did have the power to affect the world around him. He only needed to learn to control those powers.

Oliver Twist, however, has shown no such talents to earn my sympathy. He’s just a cliche.

22% done with Oliver Twist

“… there are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.”

And this is one of them.

I wonder how many times Fagan is referred to as ‘the Jew’ in the book? Unlike Conrad whose racism was a product of the times, Dickens is just a dick.

Also, why is everyone who is poor also such a terrible human? Isn’t the point of this book to shed light on the terrible London conditions of the poor?

22% done with Oliver Twist

Oliver reminds me of kid Anakin Skywalker in the terrible Star Wars prequels – a kid who has no control over the events around him and thus making it impossible for the reader to feel any dramatic tension. We’re really just going from set piece to set piece where Oliver is mistreated and can’t do anything about it.

It’s boring. Dickens is a smart guy but not a very good writer, at least not in this novel.

15% done with Oliver Twist

Dickens’ humor of describing people as things and their actions with a scientific irony does play nicely with the way all the characters treat Oliver as a thing. Obviously this is nothing new – treating people as things hearkens back to slavery and one’s enemies in wartime – but it’s also a little overdone.

Dickens really ramps up the melodrama and everyone is such a bastard that any point he’s making is wasted.

8% done with Oliver Twist

The last time I read anything by Dickens I was probably 9 or 10 years old and while I was always a good reader, I’m sure 90% of it went right over my head.

Dickens’ sarcasm and dry wit are what really stand out (much to my pleasure since that’s my style too) but his characters so far are pretty thin (pun intended).

Granted he was writing more of a social commentary, but some of these bloaks are just laughable.