I know this is probably a strange thing to do, but I reached Chapter 39 and thought, ‘I’ve had enough.’ I’ve never read the novel before, though I have read and enjoyed David Copperfield, Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend, but Oliver Twist is one of those books I feel I already know really well.
This is because I’ve seen the musical film Oliver! dozens of times. The musical cuts many of the scenes and minor characters and rightly so. I know this was originally serialized, but it really does go off on some boring tangents, when all you really want to do is reach a conclusion. Plus, the most interesting characters by far are Bill Sikes, Nancy, Fagin and The Artful Dodger, who are largely forgotten around the barren half-way mark.
I think the reason I’ve given up, is due to a really dull sub-plot, involving a sweet girl called Rose who fits the Victorian idea of female perfection (‘Angel of the home’). That is, she is beautiful and insipid. Oliver too, is a character it is difficult to like, because he is too perfect. I’m not saying that I don’t value ‘goodness’, far from it. It’s just that Oliver’s innocence and meekness mean that he is more a puppet than a person. I enjoyed the scene when he fought with the undertaker’s assistant, Noah Claypole, because it made him more human, but otherwise he seems like a passive milksop.
Oliver Twist raises interesting questions regarding ‘nature vs. nurture’. Indeed, whether Oliver will be corrupted, should he remain in the company of Fagin et al, is a major theme of the novel. Nancy, at one point wishes Oliver dead, because he provides a constant reminder to her of what she has lost and her part in his corruption. Nancy seems to feel her loss of innocence and mourn her opportunity to be someone else – someone who hasn’t been brutalized and criminalized.
This, of course, is my modern take on a Victorian text; one that was written before psychology existed as a field of study. However, Dickens knew people and had an instinct for ‘character’. There are some wonderful characters in this novel, but I wish that it had stuck with them and tightened up the meandering plot.
I know the ending already, but I may skip forward a few chapters to the exciting part! Sometimes, bad people are simply more interesting to read about.