Chapter the First: In Which Things Are Introduced


Charles Dickens was an English novelist, who lived in the nineteenth century. He was born in 1812 and died in 1870, at age of 58. This prolific novelist has been praised, condemned, idolised, and ‘read’. He gained success with the serialized publication of The Pickwick Papers in 1836. His next publication, Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy’s Progress, serialized throughout 1837-9, is our focus, right now.

The aim of these posts is to reclaim Dickens as entertaining and fun. In an age without television, Dickens’s texts are drama-filled performances. He crafted his novels to reflect acted entertainment. Indeed, where Dickens wrote Oliver, now the Charles Dickens House Museum, 48 Doughty Street in London, upon the lectern that he designed for his American reading tour stands his novel, scrawled with his own writing. His words hang in the air, a crescendo of emotion that falls, into the abyss, on empathetic ears.

Dickens lived in an age that has been characterised by the surge of modernity and progress. And, although considered a golden age of trade and wealth, poverty and debt were very real crises of the age—as they remain today. Throughout many of Dickens’s novels, but especially in Oliver Twist and Little Dorrit, he created a realistic and non-idealized portrait of poverty and crime. As we will see, crime and cruelty are not restricted to the underclasses, but even the (very) rich and landed classes may commit crimes. Such a theme becomes more apparent in Little Dorrit, but we’ll talk about that in another serial edition.

When Oliver was serialized, Victoria became Queen of England, so England was not yet encapsulated under the moniker, Victorian. Brought up under the care of a strict mother, Victoria and her reign have been characterised by propriety and chastity. The perception of Victorians as pure and chaste, is, perhaps, drawn from Victoria’s later obsession with the purity of her children, especially her sons. But we must also remember that Victoria and her husband were madly in love with each other, had many children, and were a very intimate couple. If anything, we learn from this example that the Victorian era is wrought with contradictions and anxieties about those contradictions–much like any age.

Dickens’s depiction of poverty and crime in Oliver Twist toys with those anxieties and contradictions. His cast of characters include crime lords, robbers, prostitutes, bumbling parochial authorities, cruel relatives, and kindhearted guardians. Yet, although these characters are identified by these labels, if Michel Foucault has taught us anything, we know that these characters also defy their labels. Except, perhaps, the kindhearted guardians.

Before I give too much away (and spoilers will be included in these posts), let’s meet our characters:


(from the left) Charley Bates, Oliver Twist, Artful Dodger, (behind) Bill Sikes, Fagin, and Nancy. [Illustration by Phiz. or Hablot knight Browne]

In this print, we meet the motley crew of London’s crime world: the young boys recruited into Fagin’s service, the resisting Oliver, Bill Sikes–the housebreaker, Fagin–the head of the crew, and Nancy–trained by Fagin to steal, but her gender and association to crime signifies her fall from grace. Nancy, is one of the more complex and beautiful characters.



(from left) Mr. Brownlow, Mrs. Bedwin, Oliver’s Mother (in image), and Oliver. [Illustrated by Phiz.]

Meet Mr Brownlow. His portly figure shows he is well-fed, and has a comfortable income. The room features peacock feathers, reminding the viewer that Empire is not far from the reaches of a man like Mr Brownlow. Indeed, the painting that holds up the feathers, has palm trees, a reclining female figure, and turbaned figures. The print presents us with a claustrophobic scene, in the corner or a kitchen, but the world opens up through the painting on the wall. Additionally, Mr Brownlow appears to be looking at the painting on the wall, extending our gaze beyond the plot, rather than at comparing Oliver and the other painting on the wall, the portrait of Oliver’s mother. Finally, Mrs, Bedwin is Mr. Brownlow’s housekeeper, and she is the type of woman that you could imagine would always have a cup of sweet tea and a hug ready.



(from left) Oliver (seated), Fagin, and Monks (illustrated by Phiz.)

Such a brilliant illustration. Dickens’s writing at this part is also brilliantly frightening. Monks is a name we’ll want to recall.


The workhouse women, Mrs. Bumble (neé Corney), and Mr. Bumble (formerly the parochial beadle)

The workhouse women, Mrs Bumble (neé Corney), and Mr Bumble (formerly the parochial beadle)

Mrs Bumble chastising Mr Bumble. Ugh. Just desserts? Yes. Mr Bumble is too innocently named. He is not a bumbling man; he is greedy, lazy, and hypocritical. He treats the orphans under his care with cruelty and contempt. He will feature in an upcoming post, so, let’s look forward to that.



(from left) Rose Maylie, Mr Brownlow, Nancy, and Noah Claypole (illustrated by Phiz.)

Pictured above, Rose Maylie and Mr Brownlow learn of the whereabouts of Monks. Noah eavesdrops on Fagin’s orders. Rose is the adopted child of Mrs Maylie, and her gentle heart and status of orphan makes her the perfect character to care for Oliver. More on that later!


Next week, I will upload a post about Poverty, Poor laws, and the Virtue of Wealth. I look forward to opening a dialogue about Dickens and his texts.

Heaps of Love,
WordPlay Xx

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Oliver Twist Quotations


I have the Penguin English Library (paperback) edition. This post will be updated frequently.

  • Oliver cried lustily. If he could have known that he was an orphan, left to the tender mercies of church wardens and overseers, perhaps he would have cried the louder.
    (Dickens, 4)
  • For the next eight or ten months, Oliver was the victim of a systematic course of treachery and deception—he was brought up by hand.
  • ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’ (15)
  • He only cried bitterly all day; and when the long, dismal night came on, he spread his little hands before his eyes to shut out the darkness, and crouching in the corner, tried to sleep, ever and anon waking with a start and tremble, and drawing himself closer and closer to the wall, as if to feel even its cold hard surface were a protection in the gloom and loneliness which surrounded him. (18)

Heaps of love,

Word Play



‘I make him com…

‘I make him come?’ cried Barnaby, pointing to the bird. ‘Him, who never goes to sleep, or so much as winks! — Why, any time of night, you may see his eyes in my dark room, shining like two sparks. And every night, and all night too, he’s broad awake, talking to himself, thinking what he shall do to-morrow, where we shall go, what he shall steal, and hide, and bury. I make him come! Ha ha ha!”

Barnaby on Grip, the raven.  ~~ Barnaby Rudge Charles Dickens


Found: Used Copies of Barnaby Rudge and Our Mutual Friend

Found: Used Copies of Barnaby Rudge and Our Mutual Friend

Barnaby Rudge, Ladies and Gentlemen



And so it begins!

According to the blurb on the back:
“The cheerful, cosy domesticity of the Maypole Inn; the uneasy relationship of dull-witted, tyrannical John Willet and elegant, cold-hearted John Chester and their sons; the sinister activities of the apprentices plotting to overthrow their masters: all these plunge the reader in the opening chapters into the tense atmosphere of England just before the Gordon Riots.  When the storm breaks and Lord George Gordon embarks on his crazed ride into London, the action explodes into violence and mayhem.  In his handling of the three riot leaders, one of them Barnaby Rudge (mentally blighted  [what does that even mean] by a crime committed at his birth), and in his depiction of an infuriated mob storming through the streets of London to burn down Newgate prison, Dickens is at his most brilliant and terrifying.”

I’ve marked off 100p segments which are my weekly reading goals.  Accordingly, it should take me about 6-7 weeks; we will see with the ebb and flow of research and writing I have to do.

Additionally, I’ve decided to do 100p themed reviews and *fun* historical summaries.  We’ll see what I can come up with between now and page 143.

Bye my sweeties.

p.s this is what Goodreads has to say about the matter

Dickensian Tips for Yule Tidings and Beyond

Hear ye- Hear ye;;  A serial reader intends to crack a spine or two this
here year.

I have decided to undertake a Dickensian endeavour.  I will be outlining a reading schedule and attempt to make my way through a few of Dickens’s larger works, but Christmas Carol will be reserved for the month of December.  I will be setting myself about two months for the larger books, but may end up taking longer depending on school and, hopefully, work.

So the plan, so far, is: 

November (and into December) – Barnaby Rudge (if it can be found used)
December – Christmas Carol
January&February&March –  Our Mutual Friend (This text is properly long…oh dear)
April&May – Oliver Twist
June&July – A Tale of Two Cities

Dickens I have read: Great Expectations and Little Dorrit.
Dickens I want to read: The Old Curiosity Shop, Dombey and Son, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

If you have any suggestions as to books I should shift or alter, then I will consider a shift.  Of course, none of these are set in stone, due to availability of texts and my own schedule of research and essays.

Do look out for the future Dickensian tips of the day that will follow; mostly through twitter, but I may do a compilation of the most effective remedies to our ailments.