Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Oliver Twist Readalong--Check in #1

I've been wanting to read Oliver Twist for years.  I finally purchased a copy this past November.  This readalong came up at the perfect time.

Oliver Twist was orphaned when his mother died shortly after childbirth and was moved from orphanage, to a workhouse, and to an apprenticeship.  Each place he was treated appallingly.  In a particularly fearful moment, Oliver runs away and makes his way to London.  There he falls in with a band of thieves.

With biting social commentary, it's obvious how Dickens feels about the treatment of the poor during this time period.  Based on his background, having been in a workhouse himself, it's understandable why he feels so strongly.  His insights into humanity are spot on, and he doesn't limit his criticism to the wealthy.  Noah, a charity-boy (slightly above an orphan), was pleased at the fortune of having Oliver around so that he finally had someone to torment, as he had been tormented.  The narrator sarcastically remarks,
This affords charming food for contemplation.  It shows us what a beautiful thing human nature sometimes is, and how impartially the same amiable qualities are developed in the finest lord and the dirtiest charity-boy.
It's angering to read about how the orphans were treated as almost sub-human.  Mr. Bumble even remarks that, "What have paupers to do with soul or spirit?  It's quite enough that we let 'em have live bodies."  Uh!  How awful!

On a lighter note, I love Dickens' humor and sarcasm.  I found it amusing that Mr. Bumble, one of the most despicable characters in his treatment of others, was proudly wearing his buttons displaying the scene of "The Good Samaritan."  Mr. Grimwig created some great comedic moments with his ridiculous, "I'll eat my head!" mantra.

The scene in Mr. Brownlow's study when Oliver is marveling at his books is one of my favorites.  At one point Mr. Brownlow says to Oliver,
You shall read them if you behave well...and you will like that much better than looking at the outsides--that is, in some cases, because there are books of which the backs and the covers are by far the best parts.
To which Oliver replies, "I suppose they are those heavy ones, sir."  I got a chuckle out of that.

I've read a few other Dickens' novels and really loved them.  I'm sort of on the fence about this one.  There are some shining moments.  I'm interested, but not invested (if that even makes sense).  I'm hoping that the next section will really pull me in.

In a bit a randomness, my six-year-old received an assignment this past weekend to choose a famous Victorian person or invention and share it with the class.  When I asked him what he wanted to do he said, "Do you know Charles Dickens?  He's a writer."  He was amazed that we had several of his books at home and that I was currently reading one.  He did his little report yesterday on Dickens' 199th birthday and he thought that was pretty cool.  We discovered that Dickens is buried at Westminster Abbey, and since we're heading to London on holiday next week so we will be sure to make a stop there.


  1. Oh, I love that story about your little boy! I wonder if someday he will remember that presentation as introducing him to a real enjoyment of literature. And I loved Mr. Brownlow and his book-loving ways, especially when he accidentally steals the book from the bookseller.

  2. What a sweet anecdote about your son...made me smile:) I too loved the part when Oliver is in Brownlow's library. I hope he gets a chance to read those books. Before I read Dickens I had no idea he was so funny...nobody ever talked about that aspect of his writing...but it is one of the main reasons I love him.

  3. Oh I love that story! So sweet!

    I really do love Dickens' humor and sarcasm. I wish that it was stronger in his other novels (at least the ones I have read so far). I'm excited to see what his other titles have in store for me.

    I'm curious to see where Dickens takes this, and how far he'll push the tragedy.

    Thanks for participating!

  4. I'm actually kind of jealous that you're going to Westminster Abbey. Also, your son sounds adorable, and I'm sure he'll grow up loving reading as much as you do. :)

    I was also surprised by the humor in the novel, especially the sarcasm. It's so biting.

  5. such a brave soul for undertaking another heavy classic for a read-along! i teach OT every fall--it's required summer reading for our incoming freshmen--and they generally don't like it. :( it's a bit of a tough slog and dickens can be quite verbose. keep at it--and enjoy your visit to london!

  6. This is one of his earlier works, right? Maybe that has something to do with the shining moments but not as polished as some of the others? I haven't read this one but really want to--I was disappointed when I learned that the readalong would fall alongside Ulysses (don't know how that Allie does it!).

    Dickens has the best characters doesn't he? Love his humor and sarcasm, too. And fun about your son! I love little serendipitous moments like that.

  7. L.L.--I really hope he grows up to love literature as much as I do.

    Stacy--I too was surprised by Dickens humor the first time I read one of his books.

    Allie--I'm glad I'm not the only one that doesn't already know the plot. I'm also curious to see where this story is headed.

    Darlyn--I'll have to take a picture of Westmister Abbey. I'm hoping there is some type of gravestone for Dickens for me to take a photo of. I'll make sure to post it if I do.

    Nat--Thanks! This one does feel more of a slog to me than the others I've read (Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, and A Tale of Two Cities). I'm hoping it will pick up in the second half.

    Trish--I think Oliver Twist was his second novel. I seem to enjoy his later ones more. I completely understand not wanting to read anything along with Ulysses. I can't figure out how Allie does it either. She must be Superwoman.