Oliver Twist Read-along: Post 3

Monday, February 28, 2011

Dear Mr. Dickens,

Our time together has come, for now at least, to an end. Before I tell you my thoughts on the last part of your novel, I wanted to tell you that your great granddaughter, Ms. Monica Dickens, has come to my attention recently. I have seen many positive reviews of her Persephone novel, Mariana, and hope to pick it up soon. I am intrigued to find if her style is anything like yours. I also wanted to mention to you that I will be attempting A Tale of Two Cities yet again within the year. I don't anticipate that it will prove to be any easier for me, but I hope that because our relationship has improved I will be more likely to stick it out. Finally, I wanted to let you know that I have enclosed a brief review of Oliver Twist in case anyone eavesdropping on this correspondence would like to know my thoughts sans spoilers.

I found the last third of your book to be much more exciting than any other volume. I did read a simplified version of Oliver Twist in childhood and therefore had some anticipation of what was to come. However, the events still struck me just as drastically. I think the scene that moved me most profoundly was the stark contrast between Rose Maylie and Nancy when they met in the dark. Rose is the picture of graciousness and feminine virtue, the pinnacle to which womanhood can hope to attain, while Nancy is the exemplar of degradation and degeneration, the depths to which womanhood can sink. However, both women are united in their desire to protect and nurture Oliver, and to love and be supported by a man - it is just that Rose has been in contact with a good man, while Nancy has been in contact with the worst of men. Her reasons for staying with Sikes are heartbreaking but I'm sure resonate with any woman who has stayed in an abusive relationship -
'When ladies as young, and good, and beautiful as you are,' replied the girl steadily, 'give away your hearts, love will carry you all lengths -- even such as you, who have home, friends, other admirers, everything, to fill them. When such as I, who have no certain roof but the coffinlid, and no friend in sickness or death but the hospital nurse, set our rotten hearts on any man, and let him fill the place that has been a blank through all our wretched lives, who can hope to cure us? Pity us, lady -- pity us for having only one feeling of teh woman left, and for having that turned, by a heavy judgment, from a comfort and a pride, into a new means of violence and suffering.'
Even more heartbreaking was the terrifying and gruesome murder of Nancy by the man she loves, and the way he can no longer shake the image of her pleading eyes from his mind. The fact that imagining her eyes is worse than actually seeing them is a testament to how low he is. Much of the tragedy and sorrow of Oliver's little world is alleviated by sarcasm and light speaking, but in these final scenes with Sikes you show us the real colors of that world. Well, the real colors dyed with a Victorian compound that elicits frightening, dramatic images of ghostly eyes stalking the murderer through the countryside.

I have heard that your intent in writing this novel was to exhibit the plight of the poverty-stricken and crime-ridden inhabitants of London. I think in this, you were able to remain accurate. However, in your countless fortuitous connections between Monks, Oliver Twist, the Maylies, and Mr. Brownlow, I think you may have overstepped reality just slightly. That Oliver should have found both families he was connected with in such a large country as England seems completely preposterous. However, I enjoyed discovering the connections and was happy on poor Oliver's behalf that they were found. Although of course you couldn't resist killing Dick. That was a bit unkind of you, although I guess no ending can be too happy if it is to be true to life.
Amid your thrillingly blood-chilling murder and ghost scenes, you did manage to impart a few more sarcastic insights into your more comical characters. I would just like to mention a few quotes I particularly enjoyed -
On Mr. Bumble:

But tears were not the things to find their way to Mr. Bumble's soul; his heart was waterproof. Like washable beaver hats that improve with rain, his nerves were rendered stouter and more vigorous, by showers of tears, which, being tokens of weakness, and so far tacit admissions of his own power, pleased and exalted him.

On Mr. Grimwig:
'I had serious thoughts of eating my head to-night,' said Mr. Grimwig, 'for I began to think I should get nothing else. I'll take the liberty, if you'll allow me, of saluting the bride that is to be.' Mr Grimwig lost no time in carrying this notice into effect upon the blushing girl.
And I was rather thrilled with Charley Bates' end as well. He was a character of particular annoyance for me (did you have to make him laugh every moment?) but I was glad he decided to live an honest life in the end.

Overall, kind sir, I believe you have executed a masterpiece. My time with you has been far more enjoyable than I could ever have expected, and I must thank Allie for prodding me toward the visit.

I remain, until I next dare to attempt one of your revered works,

The Story Girl.

Post script: As promised, the brief review. I'm going to be extremely lazy and just break it down into my five areas with a bit of extra detail.

Accessibility/readability: The writing can be a bit thick at times, but was in general pretty readable as long as you are willing to wade through some wordy passages.
Plot: 4. I really enjoyed Oliver's story. It did get a bit slow in the middle, but by the end I was hanging on every word.
Characters: 4. Some of the characters were extremely irritating, but in a comical way (Charley Bates, Fagin, Mr. Grimwig). Mr. Bumble was an absolute delight to me because he was so ridiculous. I also loved the development and contrast between Nancy and Rose Maylie.
Literary merit/Aesthetics: 5. I loved the writing in this book. I loved the sarcasm. I loved the contrast of poignant and comical. Definitely a masterpiece.
Personal Response: 4. It's not a "favorite," per se, but definitely an amazing work. I'm glad I read it and would recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind a heavy dose of description and sarcasm.
Overall: 4


  1. I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's my least favorite Dickens, but it was still good.

    I love the letter format. I was surprised by how gruesome the death of Nancy was.

    I remember writing down that same quote about Mr. Bumble about his heart being waterproof. I loved that description.

  2. I love your letter to Dickens! :) And I completely agree with you on the coincidences. It was too convenient that the people who came to care for and take care of Oliver were people unknowingly related to him, or close friends of his unknown family.

  3. @Kristi - What is your favorite Dickens? Now that I'm not fighting with him anymore, I am eager to get into more of his work. I was surprised by the murder scene as well.

    @Katy F. - Thanks! And yes, it just seems a little too convenient. But it does make a good story. Lucky for Oliver.

  4. Oh - I forgot about the death of Nancy! This book and I fought, but I ended up liking it. :-)


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