Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens is one of those classic stories that everyone thinks they know– that is, until they actually sit down to read the novel in its entirety. Prior to starting this book in the middle of a flight from England back to the States, I thought this would be the simple story of an orphan boy struggling to survive in Victorian England. This novel is exactly that– and so, so much more complicated. I should have known that nothing Dickensian could ever be simple!
The first thing that struck me is how violent, unsettling, and sad this novel is compared to what I thought it would be– though I suppose this should be expected from Dickens. A constant stream of Poor Oliver! ran through my head the entire time I was reading, especially in the beginning before I realized that this would be the tone of the whole novel. Unfortunately, the unrelenting dark tone of the novel ultimately made it seem as though the plot dragged on for far too long. There are only so many unpleasant plot twists one can endure before it all seems too much. The plot itself wasn’t slow– there were plenty of surprises along the way– but the unwavering misfortunes that occur made the books seem much longer than it needed to be.
The major redeeming quality of this book for me was Dickens’ clever, witty writing. While his characters may be over-the-top at times, the exaggerated characteristics they possess all say important things about society in the Victorian Era. For instance, the fact that Mr. Bumble is willing to give Oliver away reflects the harsh reality that orphans during this time period had to face as poverty reigned in urban areas. There’s no denying that Dickens was a masterful writer and storyteller, weaving bits of everyday life into his fiction.
“But, tears were not the things to find their way to Mr. Bumble’s soul; his heart was waterproof.”
I don’t have a lot to say about Oliver Twist in general because I have rather lukewarm feelings toward the novel. I didn’t love it nearly as much as I adored Great Expectations, but I didn’t completely dislike it, either. Personally, I feel as though this might have been a timing misjudgment on my part– I tend to be a mood reader, and starting this novel on a long flight when I was tired and didn’t have the energy to focus on Dickens’ curving, swerving plots. I’d definitely be willing to give it another chance in the future!
I would recommend this to anyone who, like me before I read this novel, thinks they know the story of Oliver Twist– chances are that you’ll be at least a bit surprised!
What are your thoughts on Oliver Twist? Do you have a favorite Dickens novel? Let me know in the comments section below!