Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
One of the lovely things about having a cosier, quieter January is dipping back into the classics. Thinking this might be a chance to tick off another BBC Big Read title, I had a yearning to read Oliver Twist. I'd not read this for years! And then was astonished to discover that Oliver Twist did NOT feature in the Top 100. Instead coming in at #182. Other Charles Dickens novels appear in the Top 100, so why not Oliver? I want answers.
The story of the orphan Oliver, who runs away from the workhouse to be taken in by a den of thieves, shocked readers with its depiction of a dark criminal underworld peopled by vivild and memorable characters - the arch-villain Fagin, the Artful Dodger, the menacing Bill Sikes and the prostitute Nancy. Combining elements of gothic romance, the Newgate novel and popular melodrama, Oliver Twist created an entirely new kind of fiction, scathing in its indictment of a cruel society and pervaded by an unforgettable sense of threat and mystery.
It is always interesting reading a book later on in a different part of your life. I first read this (or rather an abridged version) as a child and heavens to read it now, found it quite blood-curdling and violent. The description of Bill Sikes' actions and consequences of said actions are described in vivid, gory detail.
As always with Dickens, the power of his rich writing is sublime. Wonderful descriptions of unforgettable characters described in every unpleasant detail. Victorian London is truly brought to life, I could see the streets spring up around me, complete with its smell and noise. It's really quite remarkable.
Dickens also provides an interesting social commentary on the day. The Workhouse and Poor Laws make us understand why as commented in A Christmas Carol 'that many would rather die' then go there. Corruption, separation from husbands, wives, and children, with little nourishment or care. It's truly ghastly.
Oliver himself is a beacon of life in this bleak world, even when surrounded by characters such as Fagin or Sikes. His goodness shines throughout. But Dickens had a lot of fun with Fagin. Forget the singing Fagin from the musical Oliver! Dickens' Fagin is just about as corrupt as it is possible to imagine, thinking nothing of turning his colleagues over to the hangman.
And so, I thoroughly enjoyed my return visit to Oliver Twist and got to savour this brilliant novel. I'm firmly becoming a fan of Mr Dickens. But I still have no idea why this came in at #182?