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Customer Review

43 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Little Orphan Oliver, January 14, 2005
This review is from: Oliver Twist (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Oliver Twist is one of Dickens' early novels - he worked on The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby simultaneously - and one of his best loved. It has what you would expect from him: memorable characters, evocative descriptions, melodrama, pathos (more often bathos) and a plot that relies on completely incredible coincidences. These latter are sometimes explained away by the characters themselves as being ordained by Fate, benign or otherwise, and must have been more acceptable to a Victorian readership than to one of the present day, who are likely to groan at each 'who should it be but' revelation.

The crossovers with Pickwick and Nickleby are noticeable. For example, The Artful's court appearance is clearly intended to be as funny as Sam Weller's, although it pales by comparison.

The most famous character is of course Fagin, and Dickens' casual anti-Semitism in his treatment of him is another thing that might discomfit the modern reader. He references him as The Jew, always in a derogatory manner. That this is a reflection of contemporary attitudes can be seen from Scott's Ivanhoe, in which Jewish characters are treated with similar hostility and contempt. But it is not the main characters that are most successful - and especially not the title character himself, who is innocent and bland beyond belief - but the supporting cast; Mr. Bumble and his lady, the servants in the house that gets burgled, the old bachelor who keeps threatening to eat his own head, and many others. They make the book a delight.

As always, Dickens is the master of descriptive narrative and he conjures a grim and compelling view of Victorian London's underside.

If you have not yet read any Dickens, this is not a bad book with which to start, although for younger readers (teens) I would recommend Hard Times as their first. Either book will probably leave you, like Oliver, wanting more.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 9, 2007 5:26:55 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 9, 2007 5:29:45 PM PST
When reading any work of literature from another time period, it is always important to keep in mind the historical context in which it was written. Antisemitism prevailed throughout much of history and was not really addressed until World War II. It is reflected in literature throughout time from Dickens and Scott, as you mentioned, to even the bard himself, Shakespeare. It is important to remember, then, not to judge a writer by what were the prevailing notions of the time period. While antisemitism may be socially unacceptable today, it wasn't during Dickens' time and it's possible that Dickens even capitalized on the reading publics antisemitic sentiments to make his book more appealing.

Posted on Feb 1, 2007 6:02:34 PM PST
Thanks so much for including the suggestion that I might want to start my teenager out with a different Dickens....... as a parent I really appreciate the tip.

In reply to an earlier post on May 26, 2011 8:22:32 AM PDT
Dickens himself was uncomfortable with the anti-Semitism in Oliver Twist, and tried to rectify it with the humble, generous, almost holy character of Riah in Our Mutual Friend.
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