Nancy (Oliver Twist)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Nancy (Oliver Twist)
Lotten Olsson.jpg
actress Lotten Olsson in the role of Nancy in 1910
First appearance Oliver Twist
Created by Charles Dickens
Portrayed by Elita Proctor Otis
Constance Collier
Doris Lloyd
Gladys Brockwell
Georgia Brown
Shani Wallis
Kay Walsh
Kate Bridal
Jodie Prenger
Kerry Ellis
Hattie Rainford
Sophie Okenedo
Samantha Barks and others.
Information
Nickname(s) Nance
Gender female
Occupation Prostitute [1]
Thief (formerly), and Bar Maid
Title Miss

Nancy is a fictional character in the novel Oliver Twist, in its film versions, and in the stage and film version of the musical Oliver!. She is a member of Fagin's gang and the lover, and eventual victim, of Bill Sikes.

Though it is never explicitly stated in the novel, it is strongly implied that Nancy is a prostitute as well as a thief. Dickens expressly asserted this in his preface to the novel's 1841 edition ("the boys are pickpockets, and the girl is a prostitute").

Despite her criminality, Nancy is portrayed as a sympathetic figure, whose concern for Oliver overcomes her loyalty to Sikes and Fagin. By the climax of the novel she is emaciated with sickness and worry, and filled with guilt about the life she is leading.

Background[edit]

Nancy was corrupted at a young age by Fagin, the receiver of stolen goods who persuades downtrodden youths to do his bidding. Her exact age is not mentioned in the book, although she says she has been a thief for 12 years (and began working for Fagin when she was half Oliver's age). From this it can be deduced that she is probably around seventeen. She is typically depicted in her teens or mid 20s in film versions of the novel. She apparently looks older than her years, as she tells Rose Maylie "I am younger than you would think, to look at me, but I am well used to it."

Nancy is one of the members of Fagin's gang that few, if any, know about in central London, since she has recently moved from the suburbs — something referred to by Sikes when he and Fagin, concerned that Oliver might inform on them, are trying to convince her to attend his impending trial after he is mistakenly arrested for pickpocketing ("No one around here knows anything about you"). Her excuse for not attending is that she does not wish anyone to know about her; nevertheless, she winds up attending it, presumably after having been physically threatened by Sikes.

Description[edit]

Nancy swooning. The "plump" Nancy as portrayed by George Cruikshank

In the novel she drinks heavily. She is described thus when she first appears:

In the original illustrations by George Cruikshank, Nancy is depicted as stout and fleshy, with a round bulbous face.[2]

By the end of the novel Nancy has dramatically lost weight through anxiety. She is described as "so pale and reduced with watching and privation, that there would have been considerable difficulty in recognising her as the same Nancy who has already figured in this tale."[3]

In the preface Dickens says in writing Nancy's speeches, he deliberately avoided using the crude language that would have been used by a person like Nancy:

Instead Nancy and her friend Bet are introduced using faux-genteel terminology, portrayed as if seen though Oliver's innocent eyes, but recognisably ironic to the reader. Bet's brash refusal to get something for Fagin is described as "a polite and delicate evasion of the request" showing "the young lady to have been possessed of natural good-breeding."[5] Nancy's visit to the magistrates is described in similar language. Only later, when Nancy speaks to Rose, does she explicitly describe herself as degraded and corrupted. Their criminal enterprises are spoken of in euphemisms, creating for the reader a "game of guessing the crime".[4]

Relationship to Oliver[edit]

Nancy meets Mr. Brownlow and Rose at London Bridge to plan how to save Oliver

Nancy, who is fiercely protective of Oliver and harbours a great deal of motherly affection and pity for him, tries to prevent him from being kidnapped a second time, after Oliver has finally managed to find safety in the household of the Maylie family, whom Sikes tried unsuccessfully to rob. She gives Rose Maylie and Mr. Brownlow, Oliver's benefactor, information about Oliver's evil half-brother Monks, who is in league with Fagin. However, she has managed to keep Bill's name out of it. But Fagin has sent a spy (Noah) out after her, and when the spy reports on what he has heard and seen, Fagin, furious at what she has done, tells Sikes about her actions. However, he twists the story just enough to make it sound as if she informed on him, knowing that this will probably result in her being murdered and thus silenced. It is her murder and the subsequent search for Sikes, her killer, that helps bring down Fagin's gang.

In the musical Oliver!, Monks does not appear at all, and Oliver is still in the clutches of the gang when Nancy tries to help him. She makes arrangements to return him to Mr. Brownlow on London Bridge at midnight, if Brownlow goes with no police. Sikes discovers that she is up to something, secretly follows her and Oliver to the bridge, and beats her to death on the spot after assuming that she has betrayed him. As in the novel, this is what brings down Fagin's gang, although Fagin is never caught in the musical, nor is he an accomplice to Nancy's murder (in a new scene written for the film version of the musical, the horrified Fagin tells Sikes "You shouldn't have done that!").

Nancy is murdered in her house in the novel, and in all film versions except the stage musical, 1968 musical and the 1997 made-for-television film of the novel.

Nancy commits one of the most noble acts of kindness in the story when she ultimately risks her life to help Oliver. Her character represented Dickens' view that a person, however tainted by society, could still retain a sense of good. One of the main reasons Dickens puts Nancy in Oliver Twist is so that she can be contrasted with the pure, gentle Rose Maylie.

Role of the character[edit]

Nancy lying dead, by James Mahoney

Dickens was criticized for using a character that was a thief. Dickens, however, defended his decision in the Preface to the story when it appeared in novel-form, explaining that it was his intention to show criminals, however petty, in "all their deformity", and that he had thought that dressing Nancy in anything other than "a cheap shawl" would make her seem more fanciful than real as a character.[1]

Nancy is one of literature's earliest examples of the stock character of the “tart with a heart”—the stereotypical character of a tragic or fallen woman who makes her way through life through crime but is still a good and compassionate person.

The steps leading up to London Bridge, at the foot of which, in the film of the musical Oliver!, Nancy is murdered, are named "Nancy's Steps". The plaque at the steps incorrectly states that Nancy was murdered there in the novel, in which she was actually murdered in her house.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Stated by Charles Dickens in the preface of the 1841 edition of "Oliver Twist"
  2. ^ Kitten, F., Dickens and his Illustrators, Redway, 1899, pp.10-11.
  3. ^ Dickens, C., Oliver Twist, Chapter 39.
  4. ^ a b Wolff, Larry, 'The Boys Are Pickpockets, and the Girl Is a Prostitute': Gender and Juvenile Criminality in Early Victorian England from Oliver Twist to London Labour", New Literary History, Vol. 27, No. 2, Spring, 1996, pp.227-249.
  5. ^ Dickens, C., Oliver Twist, Chapter 13.

External links[edit]