Alex's Reviews > Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
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's review
Mar 16, 2011

did not like it
bookshelves: 2011, reading-through-history, rth-lifetime
Read from September 20 to 28, 2011

First of all, Oliver Twist is a shitty book. His second, following the comedic Pickwick Papers, it shows Dickens reaching for new territory: exposing the hopelessness and injustice of destitute life in London. But it's maudlin, obvious, predictable, lame. Oliver is such a simpering bitch that it's impossible to give a shit about him. Bad people want to use him; good people want to pamper him; you are bored. Dickens will write great books, but not yet.

Second, Oliver Twist is a hateful book. Dickens has created in Fagin an embodiment of bigotry; a leering, black-nailed, money-grubbing Jew who's nearly always referred to as The Jew, as though Dickens wasn't sure we'd get it. Fagin is the most memorable character in Oliver Twist, and he's inexcusable. Look, I've read a lot of Victorian novels; I'm familiar with the casual anti-Semitism that's nearly unavoidable in them; I understand the context of the time. Dickens is well beyond that context. For his time, Dickens was a hater. "It unfortunately was true," he said in his own defense, "of the time to which the story refers, that the class of criminal almost invariably was a Jew."

To be fair, not that I want to be, in the last chapters of Oliver Twist, he seems to have worked the storytelling issue out. Nancy and Sikes suddenly take over the book, although I doubt Dickens knew they would, in a climax of terrific power; and Fagin's last scene is equally powerful. But it's way too little, way too late.

This is a shitty, hateful little book. It makes me think less of Dickens. I wish he'd done better.
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Reading Progress

04/12/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-48 of 48) (48 new)

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message 2: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex Crappy. The anti-Semitism turns me off so much I've been finding excuses to read other things. I gotta crack down and get it done though.

message 3: by Anna (new)

Anna I just found another article on this topic that claims Dickens is actually using anti-semitism and violence to show the hypocrisy of so-called Christians of his day. I'm not sure I buy that interpretation. It did call to mind that new edition of Huck Finn that's coming out where the n word has been replaced with 'slave.' As much as I had a hard time reading Huck Finn because of the racially charged language, changing the text like this feels so wrong it makes me a little nauseous. Don't know if that related to how you're feeling about O'Twist right now, but it seemed relevant.

message 4: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex Yeah, I can't say I'm buying that either. Nice try though.

message 5: by Alasse (new) - added it

Alasse Seriously? Wow. I need to reread it.

message 6: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex Haven't had time to write my scathing review yet, but even if it wasn't the most anti-Semitic book I've read since...maybe since ever, it still wouldn't be very good.

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads I shall look forward to the review, then.

message 8: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex Maybe I'll get tipsified and then write it. That should work out well.

message 9: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El Dude, you're killing me.

message 10: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex Dude, this book is shitty!

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Clappity! Clappity!

Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) Gee, Alex, why don't you tell us how you really feel. ;-)

Navaneeta I wish I could show this to my English teacher. :D What a review!

message 14: by Anna (new)

Anna Just read that George Eliot took Dickens to task for only being interested in people's external characteristics and not taking the time to write psychologically developed human beings. I'm paraphrasing, but a lot of his characters seem more like caricatures

Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) Anna wrote: "Just read that George Eliot took Dickens to task for only being interested in people's external characteristics and not taking the time to write psychologically developed human beings. I'm paraphra..."

I encountered that criticism from Eliot too. In all fairness, there's probably something to it, in my opinion. Having said that though, it really doesn't take away from my overall love of Dickens' novels; and that, generally speaking, I think they did a lot of good in his time toward highlighting several significant social issues that troubled him. I speculate, of course, but one has to wonder if his use of social satire and caricature was really just part of his literary toolbox in being able to go after these issues without drawing the ire of the establishment?

message 16: by Fred (new) - rated it 4 stars

Fred Lol what a waste of time to put every story through a checklist of short sighted contemporary politically correct dogma.

message 17: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex "Hey Fred, whatcha up to this Friday night?"

"Oh, you know, posting hostile rants on strangers' book reviews on the internet."

"Sounds cool, Fred"

message 19: by Tor (new)

Tor Stumo I don't think you should expect the author of a book written in 1838 to be politically correct. I understand your discomfort with Fagin's title, but that should not cloud your whole idea of the book. An open mind is best when dealing with books written two centuries age.

message 20: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex As I said, Yagami, I've taken the context of the time into account. Casual anti-Semitism was rampant, but the anti-Semitism present in Oliver Twist was so far beyond the norms of the time that Dickens came under fire for it immediately. To reiterate: People in 1838 thought this book was anti-Semitic. This info is right there on the internet, guys. You don't have to take my word for it.

I'm gonna add a note to the top of this review saying "If you're going to yell about context, maybe read my entire review and try to know something about history first." Maybe that'll shut some of you idiots up.

message 21: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason Holy fuck this is awesome.

message 22: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason And by "this" I mean the comments as well as the review.

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads There's George du Maurier's Trilby (featuring the original Svengali), Dickens' apology for Fagan in Our Mutual Friend, and I think Trollope also wrote a Jewish character, but I can't for the life of me think of which book (Trollope was... prolific.).

The George Eliot you're thinking of is probably Daniel Deronda.

message 24: by Gail (new)

Gail Ah yes, that's the one - I started reading it years ago, and got too busy/distracted with real life, but have always had at the back of my mind that I'd like to return to it. I haven't read those others you've mentioned - I've actually not read any Trollope. For some reason (probably quite illogical) I've been convinced I'd find him boring!

message 25: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Huston I find Trollope fascinating to read, the Jewish character you're thinking of is in The Way We Live Now.

message 26: by Gail (new)

Gail I should stick some Trollope on my Kindle - it's all free, so I've nothing to lose.

message 27: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Huston I would suggest some of Trollope's Pallister novels to start with -- The Eustace Diamonds is the best of them, although it is in the middle of the series. Orley Farm isn't bad either. He Knew He Was Right is massive, but worth the time.

message 28: by Kelley (new)

Kelley Simpering bitch--ha! I need to remember that one.

message 29: by Gail (new)

Gail Okay, I've downloaded those and a few others. Thanks.

message 30: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex Well, this conversation is way more interesting than Oliver Twist was. (Yes, Chris, you got that reference right.) Thanks for reminding me that Trollope really ought to happen next year. My plan was to start with Barchester Towers.

Jtbazinga You have no respect for fine works of literary art. Dickens was no "hater," he created fictional characters. While these characters may have seemed exaggerated and even stereotypical to one who approaches the book without an open mind, (like yourself, I'm assuming) in all truth, these characters were honest, vivid, carefully crafted, and realistic representations of society at the time. I wouldn't expect you to understand any more than I would, since neither of us were born into the Victorian era. But that doesn't make it reasonable for you to malign a historic novel. You have the right to voice your opinion, just be content that very few will share it. The majority, like me, will say their piece and brush you off.

message 32: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex That's a fascinating point, Bazinga, and I would love to respond in depth but I'm too busy making farting noises with my armpits.




Christopher I think you should listen to him, Alex. According to his profile, he has read one book and it was Oliver Twist, so he should know.

message 34: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason And by brushing you off, he means complaining to you about your review on your review space.

message 35: by Gail (new)

Gail I thought by brushing you off, they meant running off and never returning after they'd said their piece, so as not to have to deal with any responses!

I shouldn't laugh, but this is the first time I've come across 'drama' on Goodreads, and it entertained me! How very dare you be so unreasonable as to malign a historical novel, Alex! Anything written in the past is flawless!

message 36: by Brenna (new)

Brenna Bortell Life of the poor was terrible in this era. Dickens was portraying cold, hard life, and you have no right to criticize and laugh at the terrible lives these people led. Dickens himself had a background similar to Oliver Twist's and he partly based the book on himself.

message 37: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex Ooh, good point! You should write some fanfiction about terrible poor people on Google Drive whenever you're done watching Frasier. Maybe some of the poor people could be singing show tunes?

Thanks for being an inspiration!

message 38: by Brenna (new)

Brenna Bortell Alex, that is extremely rude. I was stating my opinion about your review of a classic novel, and a book that means a lot to me and helped me through a tough time. You should not have been that sarcastic, nor gone snooping around my profile. I am sorry about my review, I get very defensive over books I like. I am ending my discussion with you.

message 39: by Brenna (new)

Brenna Bortell Also, I'm a studies of Dickens, and all I said in my review was true facts about life then. TRUE FACTS! I said nothing personal.

message 40: by Kat (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kat Redford Anti-semitic? You are aware im sure that in dickens time jewish people were like todays illegal immigrants, he had the same victorian upper class attitude as the people who hung homosexual men for having sex, guess what he wrote his novels nearly two hundred years ago what the hell do you expect! I find it rather sad you have read one of the best novels in english literature and have taken it so seriously and personally, try harry potter?

message 41: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason Yeah, Alex. Why you take books so seriously? They're just trees splattered with ink.

message 42: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex Oh man, this might be my new favorite. Way to somehow bring hanging gay people into it, Kat!

message 43: by Kat (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kat Redford Life, get one

message 44: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex Do you think I should try 50 Shades of Gray, Kat? You seem fond of that one.

message 45: by Antonomasia (last edited May 31, 2015 02:55AM) (new) - added it

Antonomasia Both Penguin (whose edition it looks like you read) and Oxford decided to use the original 1846 text - rather than the 1867 revision in which Dickens, who'd evidently been made to think after correspondence from a Jewish woman, removed a number of the slurs. Whilst there are copies of the 1867 edition about, it's disappointing not to be able to get one with a good academic introduction and notes, and that it's not as widely available.
I'm probably more of a historical relativist than you are, but given the option, I'd still prefer to read the revised edition with less anti-Semitism. It's revised by the author so it's hardly in the same category as bowdlerised Enid Blyton and so forth. Academic publishers of classics don't always use the earliest edition - if there is any blame to be meted out here, I think contemporary publishers deserve some too.

message 46: by Davie (new)

Davie Donna You sound like a bigger bitch than Oliver Twist

message 47: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex Sick burn, dude

message 48: by Tanvika (new)

Tanvika Too harsh.

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