Oliver Twist

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Oliver Twist
Olivertwist front.jpg
Frontispiece and title-page, first edition 1838
Illustration and design by George Cruikshank
AuthorCharles Dickens
Original titleOliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress
IllustratorGeorge Cruikshank
GenreSerial novel
PublishedSerialised 1837–1839; book form 1838
PublisherSerial: Bentley's Miscellany
Book: Richard Bentley
Preceded byThe Pickwick Papers 
Followed byNicholas Nickleby 
TextOliver Twist at Wikisource

Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress, is the second novel by English author Charles Dickens. It was originally published as a serial from 1837 to 1839, and as a three-volume book in 1838.[1] The story follows the titular orphan, who is subject to deprivation and vexation in the workhouse where he was left following the death of his mother. Indulging a dare by his starving comrades, he asks for an extra portion of gruel, and is placed into apprenticeship with an undertaker. Upon escaping to London, he meets the "Artful Dodger", a member of a gang of juvenile pickpockets led by the elderly criminal Fagin.

Oliver Twist unromantically portrays the sordid lives of criminals, and exposes the cruel treatment of the many orphans in London in the mid-19th century.[2] The alternative title, The Parish Boy's Progress, alludes to Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, as well as the 18th-century caricature series by painter William Hogarth, A Rake's Progress and A Harlot's Progress.[3]

In an early example of the social novel, Dickens satirises child labour, domestic violence, the recruitment of children as criminals, and the presence of street children. The novel may have been inspired by the story of Robert Blincoe, an orphan whose account of working as a child labourer in a cotton mill was widely read in the 1830s. It is likely that Dickens's own experiences as a youth contributed as well, considering he spent two years of his life in the workhouse at the age of 12 and subsequently, missed out on some of his education.[4]

Oliver Twist has been the subject of numerous adaptations, including a highly successful musical, Oliver!, the multiple Academy Award-winning 1968 motion picture, Disney's animated film Oliver & Company in 1988 and the 1948 film, starring Alec Guinness as Fagin.[5]


The novel was first published in monthly instalments, from February 1837 to April 1839, in the magazine Bentley's Miscellany. It was originally intended to form part of Dickens's serial, The Mudfog Papers.[6][7][8] George Cruikshank provided one steel etching per month to illustrate each instalment.[9] The novel first appeared in book form six months before the initial serialisation was completed, in three volumes published by Richard Bentley, the owner of Bentley's Miscellany, under the author's pseudonym, "Boz". It included 24 steel-engraved plates by Cruikshank.

The first edition was titled: Oliver Twist, or, The Parish Boy's Progress.

Cover, first edition of serial, entitled "The Adventures of Oliver Twist" January 1846

Serial publication dates:[10]

  • I – February 1837 (chapters 1–2)
  • II – March 1837 (chapters 3–4)
  • III – April 1837 (chapters 5–6)
  • IV – May 1837 (chapters 7–8)
  • V – July 1837 (chapters 9–11)
  • VI – August 1837 (chapters 12–13)
  • VII – September 1837 (chapters 14–15)
  • VIII – November 1837 (chapters 16–17)
  • IX – December 1837 (chapters 18–19)
  • X – January 1838 (chapters 20–22)
  • XI – February 1838 (chapters 23–25)
  • XII – March 1838 (chapters 26–27)
  • XIII – April 1838 (chapters 28–30)
  • XIV – May 1838 (chapters 31–32)
  • XV – June 1838 (chapters 33–34)
  • XVI – July 1838 (chapters 35–37)
  • XVII – August 1838 (chapters 38–part of 39)
  • XVIII – October 1838 (conclusion of chapter 39–41)
  • XIX – November 1838 (chapters 42–43)
  • XX – December 1838 (chapters 44–46)
  • XXI – January 1839 (chapters 47–49)
  • XXII – February 1839 (chapter 50)
  • XXIII – March 1839 (chapter 51)
  • XXIV – April 1839 (chapters 52–53)


Oliver Twist is born into a life of poverty and misfortune, raised in a workhouse in the fictional town of Mudfog. His unidentified mother, found on the street without a wedding ring, had died in childbirth, and his father is not even mentioned. Lacking any background, he receives his name from the pompous parish beadle and hospice manager Mr. Bumble. Oliver falls under the "protection" of the "Poor Law", under which he is entitled to a meagre subsistence.

His first nine years are spent on a baby farm, where he is supposed to be cared for by Mrs. Mann, who starves and bullies her boarders. Around Oliver's ninth birthday, Mr. Bumble removes Oliver from the farm and puts him to work picking and weaving oakum at the workhouse adjoining the hospice. The children working there receive very little food; after six months, they desperately draw lots, with the loser asking for another portion of gruel. Oliver is designated, and so following his meal, he tremblingly approaches Mr. Bumble and humbly requests another serving.

A great uproar ensues at this perceived act of rebellion. The workhouse's board of directors offers £5 to any person wishing to take on Oliver as an apprentice. Oliver is eventually taken into the service of the parish undertaker Mr. Sowerberry. He treats Oliver better and, because of Oliver's sorrowful countenance, uses him as a mute at children's funerals. Oliver draws the jealousy of clumsy co-apprentice Noah Claypole, as well as the vindictiveness of the Sowerberrys' maidservant Charlotte, who is in love with Noah. One day, Noah insults Oliver's mother with an air of false compassion, and an enraged physical altercation ensues. Oliver flees from the Sowerberrys' house and later decides to run away to London to seek a better life.

George Cruikshank original etching of the Artful Dodger (centre), here introducing Oliver (right) to Fagin (left)

Oliver encounters Jack Dawkins, a pickpocket known as the "Artful Dodger", and his sidekick, Charley Bates. The Dodger provides Oliver with a free meal and tells him of a gentleman in London who will "give him lodgings for nothing, and never ask for change". In this way, Oliver falls in with an infamous criminal known as Fagin, who trains the boys as pickpockets.

The Dodger and Charley steal the handkerchief of an old gentleman named Mr. Brownlow and promptly flee. Mr. Brownlow sees Oliver running away in fright, and pursues him, thinking he was the thief. Mr Brownlow has second thoughts about the boy. He takes Oliver home and cares for him. As Oliver recovers, Brownlow and his housekeeper notice that Oliver resembles a woman depicted in a portrait hanging in Brownlow's home.

Fagin, fearing Oliver might tell the police about his criminal gang, sends a young woman named Nancy, and her abusive lover, the robber Bill Sikes, to bring Oliver back to Fagin's lair. Fagin forces him to participate in a burglary. The robbery goes wrong, and the people in the house shoot Oliver in his left arm. After being abandoned by Sikes, the wounded Oliver makes it back to the house and ends up under the care of the people he was supposed to rob: Miss Rose and her guardian Mrs. Maylie, both of whom treat Oliver well, moved by the tragic stories he tells them.

Fagin by 'Kyd' (1889)

"Monks", a man of whom nothing is known, teams up with Fagin, but reproaches him for failing to make a criminal out of Oliver and sully his reputation. Monks and Fagin agree to prevent Oliver from learning of his past, as Monks is related to Oliver in some fashion. Back in Mudfog, Mr. Bumble has married the local almshouse's wealthy governess Mrs. Corney, but their union is disastrously marred by their incessant quarreling. One day, Mr. Bumble encounters Monks and is bribed for information on Oliver. In a subsequent secret meeting between Monks, Bumble and Corney, they dispose of a ring and medallion that once belonged to Oliver's mother. Monks reports to Fagin of the deed, but Nancy, racked with guilt for her role in Oliver's kidnapping and having surreptitiously overheard their scheme to seize him, immediately leaves to inform Rose Maylie, who tells Mr. Brownlow. One evening, Sikes questions Nancy and forbids her from leaving the house when he fails to get a precise answer. Fagin grows suspicious of Nancy and decides to uncover her secret.

Meanwhile, Noah falls out with the Sowerberrys, steals a sum of money, and flees to London with Charlotte, who has become his fiancée. Under the pseudonym "Morris Bolter", he joins Fagin's gang, while Charlotte devotes herself to prostitution. During Noah's stay with Fagin, the Dodger is arrested for possession of a stolen silver snuffbox and is deported to Australia. Noah, assigned by Fagin to spy on Nancy, finds that Nancy regularly meets with the Brownlows and Maylies for the sake of Oliver's welfare. Fagin passes the information on to Sikes, who beats Nancy to death in a fit of rage and flees. Haunted by Nancy's ghost and increasingly consumed with fear as news of the murder spreads throughout the countryside, Sikes returns to London in search of a hiding place. He is quickly recognized by an angry mob and accidentally hangs himself in his attempt to escape via the rooftops.

Fagin in his cell, by British caricaturist George Cruikshank

Mr. Brownlow forces Monks to divulge his secrets: his real name is Edward Leeford, and he is Oliver's paternal half-brother. Although legitimate, he is the fruit of a loveless marriage, as his father truly loved Agnes, Oliver's mother. Monks had spent years attempting to find and kill Oliver to secure their father's fortune. Brownlow begs Oliver to give half his inheritance to Monks and grant him a second chance, to which Oliver is more than happy to comply. Monks emigrates to America, but squanders his money, relapses into crime, and dies in prison. Fagin is arrested and sentenced to the gallows. The day before his execution, Oliver and Mr. Brownlow visit him in Newgate Prison. Fagin, terrorized by the prospect of what awaits him, lies lost in a feverish world of daydreams.

Rose Maylie, who turns out to be Oliver's maternal aunt, marries Harry and enjoys a long life. Oliver lives happily with Mr. Brownlow as his adoptive son. Noah becomes a semi-professional police informant. The Bumbles lose their positions and are reduced to poverty, ending up in the workhouse themselves. All the members of Fagin's gang suffer unhappy endings, except for Charley Bates; revolted by Nancy's murder, he turns against Fagin and becomes an honest citizen, moves to the country, and eventually becomes prosperous.


  • Oliver Twist – an orphan child whose mother died at his birth; father is dead when Oliver's paternity is revealed.
  • Mr. Bumble – a beadle in the parish workhouse where Oliver was born
  • Mrs. Mann – superintendent where the infant Oliver is placed until age 9 who is not capable of caring for the "culprits" as she is self-centered and greedy.
  • Mr. Sowerberry – an undertaker who took Oliver as apprentice
  • Mrs. Sowerberry – Mr. Sowerberry's wife
  • Noah Claypole – a cowardly bully, Sowerberry's apprentice
  • Charlotte – the Sowerberrys' maid, lover of Noah
  • Mr. Gamfield – a chimney sweep in the town where Oliver was born
  • Mr. Brownlow – a kindly gentleman who takes Oliver in, his first benefactor
  • Mr. Grimwig – a friend of Mr. Brownlow
  • Mrs. Bedwin – Mr. Brownlow's housekeeper
  • Rose Maylie – Oliver's second benefactor, later found to be his aunt
  • Mrs. Lindsay Maylie – Harry Maylie's mother. Rose Maylie's adoptive aunt
  • Harry Maylie – Mrs. Maylie's son
  • Mr. Losberne – Mrs. Maylie's family doctor
  • Mr. Giles – Mrs. Maylie's butler
  • Mr. Brittles – Mrs. Maylie's handyman
  • Duff and Blathers – two incompetent policemen
  • Fagin – fence and boss of a criminal gang of young boys and girls
  • Bill Sikes – a professional burglar
  • Bull's Eye – Bill Sikes's vicious dog
  • The Artful Dodger – Fagin's most adept pickpocket
  • Charley Bates – a pickpocket in Fagin's gang
  • Toby Crackit – an associate of Fagin and Sikes, a house-breaker
  • Nancy – one of Fagin's gang, now living with Bill Sikes
  • Bet – a girl in Fagin's gang, sometime friend to Nancy
  • Barney – a criminal cohort of Fagin
  • Agnes Fleming – Oliver's mother
  • Mr. Leeford – father of Oliver and Monks
  • Old Sally – a nurse who attended Oliver's birth
  • Mrs. Corney – matron for the women's workhouse
  • Monks – a sickly criminal, an associate of Fagin's, and long-lost half-brother of Oliver
  • Monks's mother – an heiress who did not love her husband
  • Mr. Fang – a magistrate
  • Tom Chitling – one of Fagin's gang members, returned from abroad at the time of the murder

Major themes and symbols[edit]

The Artful Dodger by Kyd (Joseph Clayton Clarke)

In Oliver Twist, Dickens mixes grim realism with merciless satire to describe the effects of industrialism on 19th-century England and to criticise the harsh new Poor Laws. Oliver, an innocent child, is trapped in a world where his only options seem to be the workhouse, a life of crime symbolised by Fagin's gang, a prison, or an early grave. From this unpromising industrial/institutional setting, however, a fairy tale also emerges. In the midst of corruption and degradation, the essentially passive Oliver remains pure-hearted; he steers away from evil when those around him give in to it, and in proper fairy-tale fashion, he eventually receives his reward – leaving for a peaceful life in the country, surrounded by kind friends. On the way to this happy ending, Dickens explores the kind of life an outcast, orphan boy could expect to lead in 1830s London.[11]

Poverty and social class[edit]

Poverty is a prominent concern in Oliver Twist. Throughout the novel, Dickens enlarged on this theme, describing slums so decrepit that whole rows of houses are on the point of ruin. In an early chapter, Oliver attends a pauper's funeral with Mr Sowerberry and sees a whole family crowded together in one miserable room. This prevalent misery makes Oliver's encounters with charity and love more poignant. Oliver owes his life several times over to kindness both large and small.[12]

Oliver is wounded in a burglary, by George Cruikshank.


Dickens makes considerable use of symbolism. The "merry old gentleman" Fagin, for example, has satanic characteristics: he is a veteran corrupter of young boys who presides over his own corner of the criminal world; he makes his first appearance standing over a fire holding a toasting fork, and he refuses to pray on the night before his execution.[13]


The Last Chance, by Cruikshank.

In the tradition of Restoration Comedy and Henry Fielding, Dickens fits his characters with appropriate names. Oliver himself, though "badged and ticketed" as a lowly orphan and named according to an alphabetical system, is, in fact, "all of a twist."[14] However, Oliver and his name may have been based on a young workhouse boy named Peter Tolliver whom Dickens knew while growing up.[15]

Bill Sikes's dog, Bull's-eye, has "faults of temper in common with his owner" and is an emblem of his owner's character. The dog's viciousness represents Sikes's animal-like brutality while Sikes's self-destructiveness is evident in the dog's many scars. The dog, with its willingness to harm anyone on Sikes's whim, shows the mindless brutality of the master. This is also illustrated when Sikes dies and the dog immediately dies as well.[16]

Nancy, by contrast, redeems herself at the cost of her own life and dies in a prayerful pose. She is one of the few characters in Oliver Twist to display much ambivalence. Her storyline in the novel strongly reflects themes of domestic violence and psychological abuse at the hands of Bill. Although Nancy is a full-fledged criminal, indoctrinated and trained by Fagin since childhood, she retains enough empathy to repent her role in Oliver's kidnapping, and to take steps to try to atone. As one of Fagin's victims, corrupted but not yet morally dead, she gives eloquent voice to the horrors of the old man's little criminal empire. She wants to save Oliver from a similar fate; at the same time, she recoils from the idea of turning traitor, especially to Bill Sikes, whom she loves. When Dickens was later criticised for giving to a "thieving, whoring slut of the streets" such an unaccountable reversal of character, he ascribed her change of heart to "the last fair drop of water at the bottom of a dried-up, weed-choked well".[17]

Allegations of antisemitism[edit]

Dickens has been accused of portraying antisemitic stereotypes because of his portrayal of the Jewish character Fagin in Oliver Twist. Paul Vallely writes that Fagin is widely seen as one of the most grotesque Jews in English literature, and one of the most vivid of Dickens's 989 characters.[18] Nadia Valman, in Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, argues that Fagin's representation was drawn from the image of the Jew as inherently evil, that the imagery associated him with the Devil, and with beasts.[19]

The novel refers to Fagin 274 times[20] in the first 38 chapters as "the Jew", while the ethnicity or religion of the other characters is rarely mentioned.[18] In 1854, The Jewish Chronicle asked why "Jews alone should be excluded from the 'sympathizing heart' of this great author and powerful friend of the oppressed." Dickens (who had extensive knowledge of London street life and child exploitation) explained that he had made Fagin Jewish because "it unfortunately was true, of the time to which the story refers, that that class of criminal almost invariably was a Jew."[21] It is widely believed that Fagin was based on a specific Jewish criminal of the era, Ikey Solomon.[22] Dickens commented that by calling Fagin a Jew he had meant no imputation against the Jewish people, saying in a letter, "I have no feeling towards the Jews but a friendly one. I always speak well of them, whether in public or private, and bear my testimony (as I ought to do) to their perfect good faith in such transactions as I have ever had with them."[23] Eliza Davis, whose husband had purchased Dickens's home in 1860 when he had put it up for sale, wrote to Dickens in protest at his portrayal of Fagin, arguing that he had "encouraged a vile prejudice against the despised Hebrew", and that he had done a great wrong to the Jewish people. While Dickens first reacted defensively upon receiving Davis's letter, he then halted the printing of Oliver Twist, and changed the text for the parts of the book that had not been set, which explains why after the first 38 chapters Fagin is barely called "the Jew" at all in the next 179 references to him. Later, we see a shift in his perspective as he redeems the image of Jews in Our Mutual Friend[18]

Film, television and theatrical adaptations[edit]




The earliest known playbill of a production of Oliver Twist. Marylebone Theatre, 1838

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Oliver Twist | Introduction & Summary". Encyclopedia Britannica. Archived from the original on 22 August 2019. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  2. ^ Donovan, Frank. The Children of Charles Dickens. London: Leslie Frewin, 1968, pp. 61–62.
  3. ^ Dunn, Richard J. Oliver Twist: Heart and Soul (Twayne's Masterwork Series No. 118). New York: Macmillan, p. 37.
  4. ^ Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Kiddy Monster Publication. p. Summary.
  5. ^ a b "Oliver and Company". 1988. Archived from the original on 30 May 2019. Retrieved 13 February 2017.
  6. ^ Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist, or, The Parish Boy's Progress Edited by Philip Horne. Penguin Classics, 2003, p. 486. ISBN 0-14-143974-2.
  7. ^ Ackroyd, Peter (1990). Dickens. London: Sinclair-Stevenson. p. 216. ISBN 1-85619-000-5.
  8. ^ Bentley's Miscellany, 1837.
  9. ^ Schlicke, Paul (Editor). Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 141.
  10. ^ "Masterpiece Theater on PBS.org". PBS. Archived from the original on 13 August 2014. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
  11. ^ Miller, J. Hillis. "The Dark World of Oliver Twist" in Charles Dickens (Harold Bloom, editor), New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987, p. 35
  12. ^ Walder, Dennis, "Oliver Twist and Charity" in Oliver Twist: a Norton Critical Edition (Fred Kaplan, Editor). New York: W.W. Norton, 1993, pp. 515–525
  13. ^ Miller, ibid, p. 48
  14. ^ Ashley, Leonard. What's in a name?: Everything you wanted to know. Genealogical Publishing, 1989, p. 200.
  15. ^ Richardson, Ruth. "Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor." Oxford University Press, USA, 2012, p. 56.
  16. ^ "NovelGuide". Archived from the original on 30 March 2003. Retrieved 30 September 2012.
  17. ^ Donovan, Frank, The Children of Charles Dickens, p. 79.
  18. ^ a b c Vallely, Paul (7 October 2005). "Dickens' greatest villain: The faces of Fagin". independent.co.uk. The Independent. Archived from the original on 5 December 2008. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  19. ^ Valman, Nadia (2005). "Dickens, Charles (1812–1870)". In Levy, Richard S. (ed.). Antisemitism, A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC–Clio. pp. 176–177. ISBN 1-85109-439-3. Archived from the original on 1 June 2022. Retrieved 30 December 2020.
  20. ^ "The Project Gutenberg eBook of Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens". Archived from the original on 16 July 2019. Retrieved 2 July 2019.
  21. ^ Howe, Irving (31 May 2005). "Oliver Twist – introduction". ISBN 9780553901566. Archived from the original on 26 March 2022. Retrieved 26 December 2021.
  22. ^ Donald Hawes, Who's Who in Dickens, Routledge, London, 2002, p.75.
  23. ^ Johnson, Edgar (1 January 1952). "4 – Intimations of Mortality". Charles Dickens His Tragedy And Triumph. Simon & Schuster Inc. Archived from the original on 2 October 2011. Retrieved 8 February 2009.
  24. ^ Souvik Chatterji Master of Law from Warwick University, Coventry, UK, footnote [2] (2007). Influence of Bengali Classic Literature in Bollywood films.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  25. ^ Howe, Desson (18 November 1988). "Oliver & Company". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 16 October 2016. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
  26. ^ "Michael Caine and Lena Headey's Modern-Day 'Oliver Twist' Sells to Saban". 25 November 2019. Archived from the original on 26 November 2019. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  27. ^ "Saban Films Acquires Charles Dickens Retelling 'Twist'". The Hollywood Reporter. 25 November 2019. Archived from the original on 26 November 2019. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  28. ^ "Oliver Twist: Episode 1". BBC Programme Index. BBC. Archived from the original on 26 March 2022. Retrieved 21 September 2021.
  29. ^ "Oliver Twist". BBC. 25 July 2007. Archived from the original on 1 June 2022. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  30. ^ "All-star cast announced for BBC adaptation of Oliver Twist". BBC. 13–29 October 1985. Archived from the original on 6 July 2018. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
  31. ^ "Theatres in Victorian London - Victorian Web". Archived from the original on 17 March 2020. Retrieved 17 March 2020.
  32. ^ Coveney, Michael (17 March 2017). "Oliver!: The real story of Britain's greatest musical". The Independent. Archived from the original on 18 May 2017. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
  33. ^ McLean, Craig (4 September 2010). "Rock's outsider: Phil Collins interview". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 10 January 2022. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  34. ^ "Oliver!: The real story of Britain's greatest musical". The Independent. 17 March 2017. Archived from the original on 18 May 2017. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
  35. ^ Gillinson, Miriam (27 July 2017). "Oliver Twist review – artful production gets lost down blind alleys". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 1 January 2020. Retrieved 1 January 2020.

External links[edit]

Online versions
Critical analysis