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Oliver Twist > Oliver Twist Ch 1-4

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message 1: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3441 comments Mod
Chapter One

Dear Fellow Curiosities

It’s hard to believe, but here we are about to begin our discussion of Oliver Twist. It is one of Dickens’s best known novels, and has be turned into plays, musicals, television specials, Classic Comics and school performances. Fagin, Oliver, Mr Bumble, the Artful Dodger will all tumble across our pages, as will Nancy and Sikes and a host of others. We are all in for a wonderful discussion. As I read through the novel I notice that there are some chapters that are rather short. As a result, when I write my commentaries some will be shorter than others.

Please bear with me.

And so it begins ...

In most towns and cities across England could be found two structures. The first was a church. The second, and the place that will be of central concern in this first chapter, and will linger and hover throughout our book, is the workhouse. There were workhouses everywhere, which meant that there must have been people in them. What horrid places they must have been. Our hero Oliver Twist is the product of a workhouse. We read that Oliver’s mother was found lying in the street, “but where she came from, or where she was going to, nobody knows.” And so Oliver’s first home is a workhouse.

There is one short scene in the first chapter that I would like to focus upon. As Oliver takes his first breath we are told that “the pale face of a young woman was raised feebly from the pillow; and a faint voice imperfectly articulated the words, ‘Let me see the child, and die.’” And so the surgeon “deposited it in her arms. She imprinted her cold white lips passionately on its forehead; passed her hands over its face; gazed wildly round; shuttered; fell back - and died.”

Dickens enjoyed deathbed scenes, and this is the first of this novel. Perhaps there will be others. For now, however, I want to pause and look at this scene for a moment. Did you notice how Dickens focuses on the importance of the face, both in the case of the mother and that of her infant son in the brief passage? The baby has yet to be named. Did you note how Dickens uses the word “it” to describe the baby and its face? Dickens wants his readers to pay attention to a face that is important but does not have a name. There is a mystery here, one I think we need to remember.

Such a short first chapter, but in the seeming simplicity of the few paragraphs we are introduced to a world deep in despair, a place where children are routinely born without an identifiable mother or father, without a home, without any familial attachment or love, and seemingly without any promise of success in the future. As the mystery orphan child of this chapter is born, so is the potential of our novel. This will be the first Bildungsroman of Dickens’s writing career.


Thoughts

In the first chapter of Oliver Twist there are already several indications of type of novel it will become, the motifs that Dickens will feature and, indeed, motifs that will follow us throughout our entire study of Dickens. Can you point out any to us or suggest what you think is important to consider?


message 2: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3441 comments Mod
Chapter 2

Oliver’s first years of life are not pleasant. Unwanted and shunted about, he represents many thousands of children who were homeless and without family support. The “system” was less than kind. The farmed children were deprived of the barest essentials of life and the authorities were abusive at best and cruel beyond belief. In Oliver’s case, Mr Bumble, the Beadle, believed in the cane not in kindness as the way to interact with children. Bumble introduces the nine year old Oliver to the board of the workhouse who inform Oliver that he will be educated and taught a useful trade. Dickens’s opinion of the board is stark. The board, states Dickens, “established the rule, that all poor people should have the alternative (for they would compel nobody, not they), of being starved by a gradual process of the house, or by a quick one out of it.”

We read how Oliver Twist and other children were starved until one day Oliver spoke the words that have become synonymous with the novel: “Please Sir, I want some more.” From such a request to get more food, Oliver was put in confinement and an offer of five pounds was offered for anyone to take Oliver off the hands of the parish and take him on as an apprentice.

The price of Oliver not wanting not to starve was confinement. Far too often in this novel we will see how Oliver finds himself in a confined space and how this confined space is a wretched room with a lock on the door. The workhouse would like to rid itself of Oliver and so he is offered as an apprentice. The price of Oliver for his apprenticeship was established initially at five pounds. Within the first two chapters of the novel Dickens has engaged his readers in a novel that will attack some of the foundations of the British social system. I found myself wondering how much of a difference there was between the “selling” a child out for an apprentice and the selling of slaves that had just been abolished by the British.

As we read through Dickens it is remarkable how many children find themselves locked in rooms. Indeed, Victorian writers often locked their young hero/heroine in rooms. Jane Eyre comes to mind.


Thoughts

We are only a couple of weeks removed from our reading of The Pickwick Papers and yet it is already evident that Oliver Twist has a radically different mood and tone. How easy has the transition in reading been for you so far?

The first couple of chapters of Oliver Twist have been briefer than those in The Pickwick Papers. What other stylistic differences have you noted that are different between OT and PP?


message 3: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3441 comments Mod
Chapter 3

The first words of chapter three are:

“For a week after the commission of the imperious and profane offence of asking for more, Oliver remained a close prisoner in the dark and solitary room to which he had been consigned by the wisdom and the mercy of the board.”

What a masterful sentence. There is bitterness, irony, understatement, satire and foreshadowing here. We will often experience Dickens’s verbal excesses in our reading journey, but we will never be far from sentences like this either, which to me function as a verbal scalpel. In this dark room Oliver crouches and trembles and draws himself into the hard surface of the wall “as if to feel even its cold hard surface were protection in the gloom and loneliness which surrounded him.” Such a sensation of an incarcerated person will occur again in the novel. Dickens is a master of the “echo” image and setting.

One day Mr Gamfield, a chimney-sweep, who was in debt for five pounds to his landlord, saw a notice for an apprentice and decided that here was a way to cover his lack of money. What follows is a bizarre story of the board first not wanting to part with Oliver, but actually being eager to do so if they could pay less. And so, what follows is a scene where the services of Oliver become a bargaining chip where Oliver’s value as an apprentice, and thus a person, is bid down, thus diminishing his value as a human being. Indeed, one of the officials at the workhouse states that “He’d be cheap with nothing at all, as a premium ... He wants the stick, now and then: it’ll do him good;”

What follows is a scene to establish Pip as a sweep’s apprentice. We learn that “even ... a half-blind magistrate” was able to discern such indentures were wrong and dismissed the application. Undeterred, the next morning Oliver was again put “To Let” for five pounds.

Thoughts

It seems to me that the treatment of Oliver Twist has meaning on many levels. The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 was a key piece of legislation and proceeded Oliver Twist by some four years. When reading through this chapter I could not help but think how Oliver not only represented all that was wrong with the system of workhouses, but how workhouses had a taint of the slave trade attached. Oliver is an innocent who has not been given, granted, or experienced any respect as a human. From the start of his life he has been starved, dehumanized, beaten, and kept in places of dark confinement. I found it most distressing how Oliver’s value as an apprentice (or a human) is actually determined by a bidding process. This process is not to increase a person’s value but rather to diminish it, to demean the person to that of an object, a commodity.


Thoughts


How did you respond to Oliver’s treatment in this chapter?


message 4: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3441 comments Mod
Chapter 4

Oliver has escaped the avaricious claws of Mr Gamfield but that seems only to have increased Bumble’s attempt to rid the workhouse of Oliver even more. Sure enough, along comes yet another person with the delightfully Dickensian name of Mr Sowerberry who happens to be the parochial undertaker. Sowerberry and Bumble discuss death and the profits that can be made in death, how they share a mutual dislike of juries, and how Oliver would fit in nicely in the undertaking business as an apprentice. The logic seems simple to Sowerberry. Can you get enough work out of Oliver without putting too much food into him? And so off goes Oliver with Bumble to “a new scene of suffering” with Mr Sowerberry. Oliver’s tears and pleas to Bumble are futile and soon they arrive at Sowerberry’s and soon after that Oliver finds himself pushed down the stairs and into a cellar. The chapter ends with Mrs Sowerberry asking if Oliver will mind sleeping with the coffins but then answering her own question with the comment that “it doesn’t matter much anyway because there is no other place to sleep.”


Thoughts

The initial chapters of Oliver Twist are different from both those of The Pickwick Papers and other Dickens novels that we have read. In what ways do you find them different?

How might we explain the differences?

Do you find the differences you have identified enhance or detract from the reading appeal of the novel Oliver Twist?


It seems that one of the early symbols of the novel is that of locked rooms, often located in lower areas of a residence which are damp and dark. I think it might be wise to focus on such physical structures as they may well represent not only physical places but psychological concepts as well. Have you seen any early examples of dark, damp, cramped and locked rooms that may also have a psychological meaning and context?


message 5: by Francis (new)

Francis | 37 comments Q - "It seems that one of the early symbols of the novel is that of locked rooms, often located in lower areas of a residence which are damp and dark. I think it might be wise to focus on such physical structures as they may well represent not only physical places but psychological concepts as well. Have you seen any early examples of dark, damp, cramped and locked rooms that may also have a psychological meaning and context?"

Interesting question. My only real familiarity with Dickens is Little Dorritt. I hadn't thought about the psychologic aspect of the dark places. In this context these scenes now remind me of Rigaud in the prison.


message 6: by John (last edited Jun 02, 2018 11:58AM) (new)

John (jdourg) | 1118 comments One of my little "hobbies" is to look closely at first sentences of novels. It's setting the table, so to speak. For instance, Catcher in the Rye started with..."If you really want to hear about it."

Maybe we do, maybe we don't.

And who cannot admire the opening of CC: "Marley was dead, to begin with."

Now with OT, one of the longer opening sentences I can remember. Liberal use of semi-colons. And everything is stating a fact through a negative. Poor Oliver, he cannot be named and the reader must look at the chapter title instead.

Well, this is my start.


message 7: by Peter (last edited Jun 02, 2018 01:24PM) (new)

Peter | 3441 comments Mod
Francis wrote: "Q - "It seems that one of the early symbols of the novel is that of locked rooms, often located in lower areas of a residence which are damp and dark. I think it might be wise to focus on such phys..."

Hi Francis

Yes indeed. Rigaud is an excellent example. I confess to being very interested in looking at how Dickens uses physical spaces to not only define a person’s wealth and stature in society but to suggest their psychology as well. Dickens’s use of language is very expressive and suggests -to me, at least - more than simply plot and physical description.


message 8: by Peter (last edited Jun 02, 2018 02:21PM) (new)

Peter | 3441 comments Mod
John wrote: "One of my little "hobbies" is to look closely at first sentences of novels. It's setting the table, so to speak. For instance, Catcher in the Rye started with..."If you really want to hear about it..."

Hi John

I am glad to read that you enjoy close readings. Each time I prepare a commentary for the Curiosities I am tempted to select a short passage from that chapter and present a close analysis of it and ask for responses and ideas from our reading group. Then, together, we could tie in the passage to the larger context of the chapter and novel. Perhaps this could be done for one chapter of the week’s commentaries.

Would you think that a worthwhile idea to consider?


message 9: by John (new)

John (jdourg) | 1118 comments Peter wrote: "John wrote: "One of my little "hobbies" is to look closely at first sentences of novels. It's setting the table, so to speak. For instance, Catcher in the Rye started with..."If you really want to ..."

Peter, I think that would be great to do. Sometimes a particular sentence illuminates something larger in a chapter (or chapters to come). If we can focus on a sentence for close reading, we might be able to divulge or decipher things that might ordinarily be overlooked.


message 10: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3441 comments Mod
John wrote: "Peter wrote: "John wrote: "One of my little "hobbies" is to look closely at first sentences of novels. It's setting the table, so to speak. For instance, Catcher in the Rye started with..."If you r..."

John

I’d probably select a paragraph or so just to give some more latitude and depth, but would keep the passage very manageable.

Let’s see if there is any interest from other Curiosities ...


message 11: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Adel | 2 comments I am new here and wonder whether I should be jumping in. Still, I wonder if I am missing something, so here goes...Oliver is not being offered for sale for 5 pounds. Rather, the person who takes him gets paid 5 pounds. That someone would have to be paid to take him is certainly demeaning, and monetization of human life is related to selling humans (slavery), but it seems the comparison is glib without being fleshed out a bit (so to speak).


message 12: by Alissa (new)

Alissa | 317 comments Regarding the "face-to-face" theme with the mother's death: I think Dickens was referencing 1 Corinthians 13 in the Bible:

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face..." -verse 12

This verse says that in our impure state, our vision of reality is tainted, like looking through a dark glass. But when we are pure, we see reality face to face, and we come to know God, as God knows us.

In OT, the nurse attending the mother sips from a dark glass bottle. She is uncouth and doesn't judge the mother accurately. She represents the soul whose vision is impure, who "sees through a glass, darkly."

The nurse says she had 13 children of her own, "all of 'em dead, except two." In 1 Corinthians 13, there are 13 verses. All of them are "dead" in the nurse's heart, except verse 2:

"And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and I have not charity, I am nothing."

This describes the parish workers as a whole. They seem to have the "gift of prophecy," constantly predicting that Oliver will be troublesome and Oliver will be hung, but they don't realize it's their own impurity, the dark glass, that causes them to see this. They "have not charity" to see the poor boy clearly, so they and their visions are "nothing."

1 Corinthians 13 is an eye-opener. It has Paul's famous speech, "Love is patient, love is kind..." (King James Version uses the word "charity"). Dickens calls our attention to this, to point out what love/charity should be, and how the parish people of his day were acting the exact opposite.


message 13: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4849 comments Mod
Alissa,

Since most Victorian readers and writers were more versed in the Bible than many modern readers are - I can speak for myself here -, it makes great sense to me to refer to passages from the Bible here. The examples you gave surely opened my eyes and brightened up my glasses. Thank you!


message 14: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4849 comments Mod
Peter wrote: "John wrote: "Peter wrote: "John wrote: "One of my little "hobbies" is to look closely at first sentences of novels. It's setting the table, so to speak. For instance, Catcher in the Rye started wit..."

Peter,

I think this a very good idea! We have often seen how full of meaning Dickens's language is when we dealt with motifs and cross-references, or the implication of aptronyms, and therefore a close reading of selected passages would definitely yield some further insight.


message 15: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4849 comments Mod
I have already finished most of my chapter recaps for next week, and one point I also mentioned more than once was the change in tone Oliver Twist provided in comparison with Pickwick Papers. I wonder how Dickens should have felt when he had to switch mood for those months when the first novel was not yet finished and the second novel had already started. Unlike one of my colleagues, who strongly dislikes Dickens, I have never really considered him as a dark and grim writer because for me, the tone of Pickwick Papers and genial characters like Dick Swiveller, Joe Gargery or the Cheeryble brothers have always proved more memorable than Dickens's sombre scenes - at least in general. Had I started my reading with Oliver Twist, however, I might have got a different impression. I must confess that I find all the terrible things, the oppression, humiliations and beatings Oliver is subjected to rather exaggerated, but then they were probably a very lifelike description of what happened to uncared-for children in Victorian times.


message 16: by Tristram (last edited Jun 03, 2018 02:40AM) (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4849 comments Mod
As to "selling" Oliver to anyone willing to take him as an apprentice, one could say that it is more like bribing someone to take Oliver off the hands of the workhouse officials. After all, Mr. Gamfield would have got both Oliver and the sum of money instead of having to pay it. Nevertheless, I think that Dickens deliberately played on the motif of slavery here because even though Oliver would not legally belong to Gamfield as a slave legally belonged to his or her master, the implications would be all the same for Oliver. After all, Gamfield would regard Oliver as his own servant and apprentice and regard himself as being entitled to do whatever he wanted to do with him. He could even work him to death without anybody caring, and this he very well knew. It was, indeed, a matter of getting out as much work as possible from a human being and putting as little food into him as was necessary to keep him "working". Like a slave, Oliver would also have nobody to turn to - for want of knowledge of the world and maybe for want of determination and experience.

That is why I think that Dickens intended his readers to think of slavery in this respect even though, legally, it was not slavery but "just" a legal blind spot.

Slavery was probably an issue with quite a lot of Victorian authors. For example, I am reading Charles Reade's It Is Never Too Late to Mend right now, and one of the characters is a prison governour who exults in brutal treatment of his prisoners. Reade spends chapters and chapters giving us examples of his monotonous cruelty, and I have really come to hate Hawes, the governour, with all my heart. In one chapter, Hawes is given the book Uncle Tom's Cabin, and he starts reading it. He is indignant at the treatment of the slaves by their masters and of the cruel punishments they inflict on their slaves, but still, after reading his daily chapters, he gives orders as to new punishments to mete out, like torture, the shortage of food, isolation, sleep deprivation etc. He regards his prisoners as little more than animals, and he does not see the contradiction between his own cruelty and his indignation at the slaveholders' way of treating their slaves. Charles Reade, however, wanted his readers to see this very connection, and that is what leads me to believe that Victorian authors might have used the slavery issue often to point out wrongs in their own society.


message 17: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2518 comments Yes, it's impossible to not equate the use of these unattached children with the treatment of slaves (and animal cruelty, as well, as shown by Gamfield's treatment of his poor mule). Cruelty and abuse seem to be an accepted part of life for those with no power.

I was jarred by the opening of OT after basking in the warm glow of Pickwick. I haven't read enough of Boz to know just what Dickens' contemporaries experienced of his writing to that point, but those who had only read Pickwick must have been even more startled than I was to jump right in to such darkness and despair.

Alissa - I can't imagine how many Biblical references modern readers must miss in Victorian literature. It all falls into place, though, when someone points it out. I hope you'll continue to fill this gap as we go forward! Even knowing how much influence the Bible has had over Western culture, I'm always amazed to see more and more examples of it.


message 18: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2518 comments Peter wrote: In this dark room Oliver crouches and trembles and draws himself into the hard surface of the wall “as if to feel even its cold hard surface were protection in the gloom and loneliness which surrounded him...."

As I read these first four chapters, particularly the passage Peter quoted above, images of the Harlow Monkey Experiment kept popping into my head - thanks for that, Dickens :-(. Those of you who have taken some basic psych. courses will remember that Harlow deprived infant rhesus monkeys from their mothers, and they got no real interaction, let alone love and affection. He replaced them with inanimate "mothers" made of wire and boards. It was a horrible thing. But the babies, not knowing any real mother, clung to the fake ones when scared or upset. I kept picturing Oliver as the baby rhesus monkey, and that dark, cold wall as Harlow's substitute "mother". Just awful.

We do seem to have imprisonment as our theme again in OT. Are there any Dickens novels in which it's NOT a theme, I wonder? Even in Pickwick, it stands out -- in the closet at the girls' school, in the pigpen after trespassing, and ultimately in Fleet prison. Of course, it's already taken on a much darker tone in OT than even the Fleet Prison scenes.

How long will it be before we see a bird in a cage?


message 19: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3441 comments Mod
Nancy wrote: "I am new here and wonder whether I should be jumping in. Still, I wonder if I am missing something, so here goes...Oliver is not being offered for sale for 5 pounds. Rather, the person who takes hi..."

Nancy

By all means jump in with ideas, comments, and analysis. The novel’s discussion will be richer for it.


message 20: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3441 comments Mod
Alissa wrote: "Regarding the "face-to-face" theme with the mother's death: I think Dickens was referencing 1 Corinthians 13 in the Bible:

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face..." -verse..."


Hi Alissa

As Tristram noted there is much a 21C reading audience will miss. I, for one, missed your insights completely and have been busy making further annotations in my copy of Oliver Twist. Thank you.

I have prepared some of my future commentaries for this book. In a couple of chapters our characters move around London and its environs. How I wish I could “see” the streets, the churches, the pubs. A Victorian reader of the 1830’s could read and understand the sub-text of the social, economic, cultural and environmental “story” of these places and names that in all likelihood do not exist in the same context for today’s readers.

When we get to those chapters It will be interesting to puzzle out their background meanings.


message 21: by Peter (last edited Jun 03, 2018 08:07AM) (new)

Peter | 3441 comments Mod
Mary Lou wrote: "Peter wrote: In this dark room Oliver crouches and trembles and draws himself into the hard surface of the wall “as if to feel even its cold hard surface were protection in the gloom and loneliness..."

Hi Mary Lou

Thank you for mentioning the Harlow Monkey Experiment. Boy, I’m a long way removed from my university psychology course! It makes complete sense and such an event will be echoed later in the novel.

Imprisonment in its many forms and manifestations is a major trope in OT and, as you say, all of Dickens. I imagine that somewhere someone has written a paper titled “The Many Prisons of Pickwick.”

A Dickens novel without a worthy bird or two would be a disaster. Stay tuned. We will not be disappointed.


message 22: by Peter (last edited Jun 03, 2018 08:28AM) (new)

Peter | 3441 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "As to "selling" Oliver to anyone willing to take him as an apprentice, one could say that it is more like bribing someone to take Oliver off the hands of the workhouse officials. After all, Mr. Gam..."

Tristram’s mention of Uncle Tom’s Cabin reminded me of a very insightful book I just read titled A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf. In this book is a fascinating section on the friendship between George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Another book to place on the “to be read” stack?


message 23: by John (new)

John (jdourg) | 1118 comments Mary Lou wrote: "Yes, it's impossible to not equate the use of these unattached children with the treatment of slaves (and animal cruelty, as well, as shown by Gamfield's treatment of his poor mule). Cruelty and ab..."

Interestingly enough, the Victorians were steeped in their Bible and could discern the references that many modern readers cannot. But then I also think of Thomas Hardy, who if he was not an atheist was something very close to it.


message 24: by Julie (last edited Jun 03, 2018 09:43PM) (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1340 comments Tristram wrote: "As to "selling" Oliver to anyone willing to take him as an apprentice, one could say that it is more like bribing someone to take Oliver off the hands of the workhouse officials. After all, Mr. Gam..."

One Victorian who did use slavery to call attention to other abuses was Thomas Carlyle, who was a heavy, heavy influence on Dickens (there are chapters of Tale of Two Cities that were practically lifted from Carlyle's French Revolution, and Hard Times is dedicated to Carlyle). In more than one book, Carlyle compares the condition of American slaves to that of the famine Irish, making the case that the slaves were better off because their overseers owned them and therefore had a stake in their well-being and survival.

It's pretty important to note that Carlyle has a ridiculously (and I have to think willfully uninformed) rosy concept of how American slaves were actually treated, and also that he is the go-to guy if you want to find an example of racist Victorian attitudes toward both the Irish and Africans: Carlyle shocked even his contemporaries in this respect. I think Nancy's right to be careful about comparisons, especially because there are still a lot of dodgy ones being made here in the US today between slavery and things like indentured servitude (I should clarify that I don't at all mean anything anyone has said here).

But Carlyle does make for another example of a Victorian pointing out the kind of hypocrisy that Tristram mentions was also portrayed in Reade (people who feel troubled by oppression only when it's a long way from home); and we have already seen Dickens in Pickwick mocking Rev. Stiggins, who wants to help West Indian infants but apparently not so much that he'll join the boycott of West Indian sugar. So it wouldn't surprise me to see Dickens riffing further on this kind of theme, even if it's not so explicit in Oliver Twist.


message 25: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1340 comments Peter wrote: "John wrote: "Peter wrote: "John wrote: "One of my little "hobbies" is to look closely at first sentences of novels. It's setting the table, so to speak. For instance, Catcher in the Rye started wit..."

I like this idea: nobody does sentences better than Dickens! One of the things I like most about his writing is how beautiful it is just line for line.


message 26: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1340 comments Peter wrote: "Chapter One

Dear Fellow Curiosities

It’s hard to believe, but here we are about to begin our discussion of Oliver Twist. It is one of Dickens’s best known novels, and has be turned into plays, mu..."


I'm so enjoying this discussion. Oliver Twist is one of the novels I've taught a lot, but I never noticed the emphasis on the face that Peter pointed out, or that the nurse drinks from a dark glass (it's "green" twice, in case we missed it the first time, and yet I missed it anyway) while overlooking a point about charity--thanks Alissa! There's so much going on here.

One question this section raises for me is whether Oliver is a special person (as the emphasis on his face would seem to suggest), or whether what happens to him is a matter of luck. Everyone always remembers him as the boy who asks for more, but the only reason he asks for more is that the kids all agreed somebody should, and he drew the short straw.

At this point I feel like the novel can't decide whether it's a fairy tale, in which Oliver is an orphaned but exceptional Cinderella, or a social problem novel, in which whether we thrive or not depends less on our innate virtue than on our circumstances.


message 27: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Adel | 2 comments I am all in favor of close reading, whether of a sentence or a “passage.”


message 28: by John (last edited Jun 04, 2018 02:27AM) (new)

John (jdourg) | 1118 comments There is a lot on information on the internet regarding close reading. A lot of it is teacher-based: a how to for students.

I thought this particular essay to be a helpful guide. The author boils close reading down to: understanding, noticing, and explaining.

I also agree with Julie about the wonderful sentencing that Dickens is so adept at.

http://teachingcollegelit.com/tcl/?pa...


message 29: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3441 comments Mod
Julie wrote: "Peter wrote: "Chapter One

Dear Fellow Curiosities

It’s hard to believe, but here we are about to begin our discussion of Oliver Twist. It is one of Dickens’s best known novels, and has be turned ..."


Hi Julie

Your question of whether OT is following the pattern of a fairy tale or it is a social problem novel is intriguing. Could it be that Dickens is using the fairy tale format to explore in detail a social problem? So many layers and possibilities. Are you, like me, amazed that Dickens was creating so much at such an early age?

I totally agree with you that there is much going on in this novel. Alissa’s insights were great. And now, thanks to your comments, I will pay more attention to the fairy tale elements as well.


message 30: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3441 comments Mod
Nancy and John ... and everyone

First, thanks for your comments and information. I have read and listened to John’s attachment. It is insightful and certainly will help centre anyone who is interested in learning more about close reading. The comments in Part IV about Easter egg hunts made me laugh. So true. Thanks for the link John.

At present I am preparing my commentary for chapters 38-41. It is my practice to get as far ahead in the novel we are reading as possible. Then, when comments such as fairy tales that Julie raised or Biblical links that Alissa offered occur, I can go back to my earlier but yet-to-be-read commentaries to our group and tinker a bit with the outline and “Thoughts.” An imperfect plan at best, but hopefully it keeps our various interests alive throughout the book.

What I will do in OT is offer a short passage for close reading in one of the chapters 38-41. By holding off so long it will give us the opportunity to do both a close reading and to link and look back at the chapters already read to see patterns. For those who choose not to do a close reading I will provide my regular rambling commentary.


message 31: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4849 comments Mod
Peter,

It is interesting to see how you go to work when preparing your introductory chapter comments. I usually never go further than one or two weeks, i.e. I have nearly finished my chapter recaps for next weekend by now but not even started reading the chapters following after that. Another interesting thing is that Julie mentioned Cinderella here, because in doing my comments, I also compared Oliver to a fairy-tale Cinderella (although it might be that I rephrased that expression in the end; I cannot remember now). It just struck me that all possible misfortunes and humiliations are heaped upon the head of our poor protagonist, and I was wondering whether all this would not be a bit too much for a little boy like Oliver to bear untainted.


message 32: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3441 comments Mod
Tristram

One of the reasons I can get ahead in these commentaries is the fact that I am retired. That makes a world of difference. Also, my wife and I are heading to Toronto tomorrow to visit our new grandson and family for the rest of June. Somehow I am getting the feeling that to find large, quiet chunks of time over the next month as we visit with family and friends will be difficult, if not impossible. :-))


message 33: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 969 comments Hello Everyone!

Poor Oliver, placed in a system that's sole purpose seems to be to perpetuate itself, is "raised by the hand" and lives a dreary life without prospects. Moved back and forth between locations, supervised and "protected" by a series of guardians whose only common trait -- what makes them interchangeable -- is the indifference with which they treat their wards, take no notice of their their plight until Oliver asks for seconds. Immediately identified as a troublemaker, it's out the door for him, and they are willing to pay 5 pounds to get it done. Wonder how many mouths that would have fed?

Then we come to the magistrates, two elderly men hard of seeing, perhaps of hearing, and who fall asleep on the job; and it is they who take notice. Having seen the fright on Oliver's face, one asks what the matter is, and after Oliver explains, the two nullify the contract, and send Oliver back to the workhouse.

Two old guys, probably the least likely of all those we have met to care, do their job. My question is why is this passage here? Do they care? Why after all the uncaring do we come across these two? What's Dickens point?


message 34: by Xan (last edited Jun 04, 2018 11:37AM) (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 969 comments Peter wrote: "Far too often in this novel we will see how Oliver finds himself in a confined space and how this confined space is a wretched room with a lock on the door...."

Just my thoughts on this.

We've spoken of prisons before. This may be a special type of prison, one designed to make you forget the prisoner. The forgotten, unspoken of, abandoned children of London are all over the place. The only way to live and walk in their midst is to ignore them, to pretend they are not there. To think of them leads to horrible conclusions.

A jail cell has bars, but prisoner and guard can see through the bars. It's not easy to ignore the prisoner if you still see him. A room with a locked door cannot be looked into or out of. It's easy to forget who might be within it.

Oliver behind these locked doors -- already two of them, I believe -- may represent the problem no one wants to face and would rather ignore.


message 35: by Xan (last edited Jun 04, 2018 11:54AM) (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 969 comments Peter wrote: "Do you find the differences you have identified enhance or detract from the reading appeal of the novel Oliver Twist?...."

This is a very different Dickens -- at least up to this point -- an angrier, more straightforward Dickens. He wants us to know what he thinks of the workhouse system, and the treatment of abandoned children, specifically. And maybe he wants us to think the same.


message 36: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3441 comments Mod
Hi Xan

Good to hear from you.

Yes, The early chapters of Oliver Twist are a change of direction from the overall tone of PP. I really liked your insight into the fact that behind a door you cannot see anyone. The prisoner or person becomes invisible. Certainly this suggests that the poor children of London were “unseen.” What an interesting comment of yours that with bars both the guard and prisoner can still see each other.

As for the elderly magistrates who are the most sympathetic people towards Oliver. A great question.


message 37: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 969 comments Thanks, Peter.

The other thing that struck me about the magistrates is how astutely they sized up Bumble the Beadle (I'm liking that appellation) and reprimanded him.


message 38: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 969 comments Enjoying some of these chapter titles.

Chapter III

Relates How Oliver Twist Was Very Near Getting A Place Which Would Not Have Been A Sinecure

Sinecure, indeed!!!


message 39: by Alissa (new)

Alissa | 317 comments Julie,
Great insight about Oliver being a Cinderella. Dickens was called a parable writer by some, so it's possible that OT is a fairy tale story, possibly about resisting evil, or how to deal with evil. Parables blend spiritual lessons with real world stuff, so he also highlights the social problems. There's elements of both for sure.


message 40: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6367 comments Mod


"Oliver Asking for More"

Chapter 2

George Cruikshank

Text Illustrated:

For the first six months after Oliver Twist was removed, the system was in full operation. It was rather expensive at first, in consequence of the increase in the undertaker's bill, and the necessity of taking in the clothes of all the paupers, which fluttered loosely on their wasted, shrunken forms, after a week or two's gruel. But the number of workhouse inmates got thin as well as the paupers; and the board were in ecstasies.

The room in which the boys were fed, was a large stone hall, with a copper at one end: out of which the master, dressed in an apron for the purpose, and assisted by one or two women, ladled the gruel at mealtimes. Of this festive composition each boy had one porringer, and no more — except on occasions of great public rejoicing, when he had two ounces and a quarter of bread besides.

The bowls never wanted washing. The boys polished them with their spoons till they shone again; and when they had performed this operation (which never took very long, the spoons being nearly as large as the bowls), they would sit staring at the copper, with such eager eyes, as if they could have devoured the very bricks of which it was composed; employing themselves, meanwhile, in sucking their fingers most assiduously, with the view of catching up any stray splashes of gruel that might have been cast thereon. Boys have generally excellent appetites. Oliver Twist and his companions suffered the tortures of slow starvation for three months: at last they got so voracious and wild with hunger, that one boy, who was tall for his age, and hadn't been used to that sort of thing (for his father had kept a small cook-shop), hinted darkly to his companions, that unless he had another basin of gruel per diem, he was afraid he might some night happen to eat the boy who slept next him, who happened to be a weakly youth of tender age. He had a wild, hungry eye; and they implicitly believed him. A council was held; lots were cast who should walk up to the master after supper that evening, and ask for more; and it fell to Oliver Twist.

The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The master, in his cook's uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served out; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver; while his next neighbours nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:

"Please, sir, I want some more."

The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupified astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.

"What!" said the master at length, in a faint voice.

"Please, sir," replied Oliver, "I want some more."



Commentary:

Because this illustration had achieved iconic status, the publishers chose to use it from Bentley's Miscellany for the frontispiece for the single-volume edition. Even prior to the completion of its serial run in April 1839, Richard Bentley published the novel as a triple-decker in November 1838 to capitalise on the serial text's popularity.

By now, the scene in the workhouse in the initial (February 1837) number of The Adventures of Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress is familiar to even non-English speakers as a result of dramatisations on film and even such cartoons as Oliver Asks for a Doggy Bag, even though few would identify it with an obscure Victorian periodical entitled Bentley's Miscellany, in which the novel first appeared in twenty-four monthly instalments, each with a single-page steel engraving by caricaturist George Cruikshank. Born in the workhouse where his mother died shortly after childbirth, for all but the first of the first nine years of life Oliver has been raised in Mrs. Mann's baby farm, on his ninth birthday, under Bumble's tutelage, the boy returns to "learn a useful trade" (picking oakum, in fact), if he does not succumb to the workhouse regimen, which tends to starve boys to death. In this celebrated scene, a rake-thin Oliver holds centre stage as the spokesman for the famished inmates, his role forced upon him through the drawing of lots. The overfed "master" scowls at the temerity of the scrawny waif, while the eight other survivors of the starving system look on in suspense, and the matron expresses utter astonishment (left rear).





message 41: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6367 comments Mod
Some forty years later (and over thirty years after Cruikshank's death), with the centenary of the novelist's birth approaching, the rage for "extra illustrations from Dickens", unabated since the 1880s, resulted in such publishers as Raphael Tuck Character Sketches from Dickens providing wealthy connoisseurs with expensive, limited edition chromolithographs. Joseph Grego's reproducing Cruikshank's 1866 watercolours for the Oliver Twist illustrations as an art book must have been very expensive in 1911, and commanding a high price it would have had a limited appeal — but then only three hundred were printed. The coloured illustrations, based facsimile on those created by Cruikshank himself shortly after the conclusion of the novel's serial run, are not colourized wood- or steel-engravings like those in A Christmas Carol, but true chromolithographs, like Kyd's studies in two books of "extra" illustrations that he published in 1889 and 1892, and in the Player's cigarette card series of 1912.

The complete set of twenty-four working tracings of the original designs for "Oliver Twist," some of which exhibit variations from the finished etchings, realised £140 at Sotheby's in March 1892. Water-colour replicas of all the subjects were prepared by Cruikshank in 1866 for Mr. F. W. Cosens, which the artist supplemented by thirteen smaller drawings and a humorous title-page, the entire series being reproduced in colour for an edition de luxeof "Oliver Twist," published by Chapman & Hall in 1894. [Kitton 14]

In the preface to the 1911 collector's edition of Cruikshank's water-colours for two novels and an historical commentary, art historian Joseph Grego notes that Cruikshank rarely produced water-colours, preferring to illustrate books with "dainty pencil sketches, occasional finished in pen and ink".

For collectors prepared to pay a premium, Cruikshank did occasionally turn out hand-tinted "finished water-colour" drawings from such series as William Harrison Ainsworth's Tower of London and Windsor Castle. However, the bulk of his work is in black-and-white steel-engravings:

Cruikshank was a most dexterous artist in this monochrome branch, his earlier artistic experiences having been almost exclusively in the walk of aquatinted etchings; all his early book illustrations, his caricatures, and satirical plates — social or political — were uniformly etched by his hand in the most spirited fashion, after hi ready sketches and rough studies, and when the outline etching was bitten in, Cruikshank elaborately worked out his colour suggestions, for dark and light shade, with a brush over the first-etched outline, in tones of sepia or India ink, for the guidance of the professional 'aquatinters' — the school of artists to whose trained skill was entrusted the task of completing these plates to produce the effect of highly finished washed drawings in monochrome.

Initially Grego does not directly allude to the controversy over who was the actual originator of the characters and plots of Dickens's Oliver Twist and Ainsworth's The Miser's Daughter, but lauds Cruikshank's work as "pictorially unfolding" the progress of the parish boy in the "realistic romance" of the "great literary genius" of Charles Dickens, implying thereby that author and illustrator are co-presenters of the story, and by implication co-originators. However, subsequently he describes Cruikshank's claim for "fuller recognition, to the point of feeling it a deep personal grievance that the respective 'gifted authors' had wilfully adopted all his best ideas, without the formality of acknowledging their literary obligations and indebtedness to the artist himself". Grego suggests that Cruikshank's Hogarthian conceptions were his own and admirably complemented the textual notions of his literary "collaborateurs," Dickens and Ainsworth, and that the illustrations in both instances are indicative of Cruikshank's own artistic genius — "confessedly the evidences of the drawings completely justify his not unreasonable contention". Grego seems to accept unreservedly Cruikshank's contention that he designed the entire suite of Oliver drawings prior to Dickens's composing the serial instalments, despite the fact that one finds quite the opposite view of the novel's creation in the Cruikshank-Dickens correspondence in the Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens, volume one. Grego goes so far as to quote a portion of Cruikshank's letter to The Times that describes how Cruikshank supposedly invited Dickens to his own home to enact ("described and performed") for the young writer the character of 'Fagin' "for Mr. Dickens to introduce into the work as a 'receiver of stolen goods'".
The text of the novel Oliver Twist follows, but, instead of Dickens's numbering and chapter titles, Grego presents the chapters with the titles of Cruikshank's illustrations, thereby reinforcing the notion that Cruikshank was the originator of the storyline.

..............and that's all I can tell you without giving away big, big parts of the story. The colored illustrations I will be dropping in where they belong. Peter, let me know what you think. I never realized that Dickens had trouble with another illustrator. It sounds like the Seymour troubles all over again.




message 42: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6367 comments Mod


Starvation in the Workhouse

Chapter 2

Harry Furniss

1910

Text Illustrated:

The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The master, in his cook's uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served out; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver; while his next neighbours nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:

"Please, sir, I want some more."

The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupified astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.

"What!" said the master at length, in a faint voice.

"Please, sir," replied Oliver, "I want some more."

The master aimed a blow at Oliver's head with the ladle. . .


Commentary:

In James Mahoney's redrafting of the celebrated scene for the The Household Edition in 1871, a rake-thin Oliver innocently gestures towards the fat master with his bowl. Nothing separates the the viewer from the naive boy in penitential uniform, and the focal point of the picture is clearly the boy and the master, the largest figures in the picture. Whereas in the original 1837 steel engraving the overfed "master" scowls at the temerity of the scrawny waif, while the eight other survivors of the starving system look on in suspense, Mahoney has turned the master's face away from the reader, and has repositioned the matron, who now expresses merely modest astonishment (centre rear) at Oliver's unorthodox behaviour. Although the lineaments of the scenario are much the same in Furniss's reinterpretation, the overall effect is far more kinetic and emotionally charged — an not without some comic distortion and melodramatic exaggeration. In particular, Furniss has given the tiny protagonist a look of stern defiance wholly absent in previous interpretations in this David-versus-Goliath confrontation of scrawny underdog taking on the corpulent establishmentarian figure in what amounts to Socialistic propaganda. Whereas previous illustrators have focussed on the plump, incredulous functionary and the emaciated petitioner, Furniss presents the entire social context of the dramatic moment, placing the eight other boys, individually realised, in the foreground so that the reader approaches the lithograph as if it were a theatrical scene, including two shocked elderly female assistants (upper centre).


message 43: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6367 comments Mod


Oliver Asks for More

Chapter 2

James Mahoney

Commentary:

"Oliver Asks for More," James Mahoney's first regular illustration for Dickens's The Adventures of Oliver Twist, Household Edition, 1871. In a north of England workhouse, Oliver, acting as the spokesman for the other inmates of the instiution, dares to request an additional helping of gruel from the "fat, healthy" master of the workhouse. The well-fed functionary stares in disbelief, as in the original George Cruikshank illustration for Bentley's Miscellany in February 1837.


Born in the workhouse where his mother died shortly afterwards, for all but the first of the first nine years of life Oliver has been raised in Mrs. Mann's baby farm; on his ninth birthday, under the tutelage of the self-important parish Beadle, Mr. Bumble, the boy now returns to "learn a useful trade" (picking oakum, in fact — hardly a skill), if he does not succumb to the workhouse regimen, which tends to starve boys to death. In Mahoney's redrafting the celebrated scene for the Household Edition in 1871, a rake-thin Oliver innocently gestures towards the fat master with his bowl. Whereas in the original 1837 steel engraving the overfed "master" scowls at the temerity of the scrawny waif, while the eight other survivors of the starving system look on in suspense, Mahoney has turned the master's face away from the reader, and has repositioned the matron, who now expresses merely modest astonishment (centre rear) at Oliver's unorthodox behaviour. However, the steel engraving has subtleties that the woodblock-engraving necessarily lacks, and the overall effect of the Mahoney illustration is that it is derivative rather than original, relying for its full meaning not merely on a textual passage in the next chapter, but on the reader's knowledge of the original illustration.


message 44: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6367 comments Mod


Oliver and the Master of the Workhouse

Chapter 2

Charles Pears

1912

Commentary:

Dickens's original illustrator, George Cruikshank in Bentley's Miscellany began the novel's serial run with a realisation of the scene in the workhouse refectory when Oliver, egged on by the other starving inmates, dares to challenge the authority of the parochial functionary by asking for a second helping. Subsequent illustrators including Harry Furniss in 1910 and Charles Pears in 1912 have included a version of the scene in their programs.

Pears' title is revealing, for this is a study in contrasts rather than a political cartoon assailing the excesses of cost-saving measures in parochial workhouses of the early Victorian era. Gone, therefore, are the shocked attendants and the breathless audience of pauper boys who have drawn lots to make Oliver their spokesman; the confrontation is between binary opposites entirely, the corpulent, balding, middle-aged, perfectly normal official and the small, rake-thin, large-headed boy in ill-fitting clothing. No previous treatment brings the confrontation of these two opposites — establishmentarian figure and rank outsider — down to these bare essentials; here, Oliver is not acting a spokesperson selected by fate (the drawing of lots) to ask for more on behalf of his fellow paupers — an engaged audience in previous treatments. Rather, in Pears Oliver tentatively approaches the big man with the ladle. The unflustered Master, in respectable middle-class tailcoat (despite the apron) is mildly curious and somewhat surprised, but hardly indignant or shocked at the effrontery of the small petitioner. Diffidently, Oliver asserts himself against an institution (as personified by the Master and the brick cooking facility behind him) wholly lacking in empathy for the indigent children in its charge. Both Oliver and the Master in this revision are closely based on the previous treatments by the original illustrator, George Cruikshank, and Pears' immediate predecessor, Harry Furniss. The juxtaposition and poses of the two Pears figures are virtually identical to those in the Cruikshank original, but the aperture behind the matron in the earlier illustration has become a stout wooden door immediately behind the Master here, as if he blocks Oliver's passage. The middle space between boy and man in Pears is occupied by the small ladle, by which the illustrator seems to be implying that Oliver will be successful in his suit. In contrast to visual satirist Furniss's exaggerated caricature of the adults' disbelief at the tiny Oliver's temerity, Pears offers realistic portraiture, figures of more realistic proportions, and possessing far less emotional expressions, so that one must read Dickens's text to assess Oliver's motives and the Master's reaction. Furniss's theatrical crowd scene has shrunk to a momentary conversation between just the child and adult, a conversation devoid of an audience of which Furniss makes readers a part.

In James Mahoney's redrafting of the celebrated scene for the The Household Edition in 1871, a rake-thin Oliver innocently gestures towards the fat master with his bowl. Nothing separates the the viewer from the naieve boy in penitential uniform, and the focal point of the picture is clearly the boy and the master, the largest figures in the picture. Whereas in the original 1837 steel engraving the overfed "master" scowls at the temerity of the scrawny waif, while the eight other survivors of the starving system look on in suspense, Mahoney has turned the master's face away from the reader, and has repositioned the matron, who now expresses merely modest astonishment (centre rear) at Oliver's unorthodox behaviour. Although the lineaments of the scenario are much the same in Furniss's reinterpretation, the overall effect is far more kinetic and emotionally charged — an not without some comic distortion and melodramatic exaggeration. In particular, Furniss has given the tiny protagonist a look of stern defiance wholly absent in previous interpretations in this David-versus-Goliath confrontation of scrawny underdog taking on the corpulent establishmentarian figure in what amounts to Socialistic propaganda. Whereas previous illustrators have focussed on the plump, incredulous functionary and the emaciated petitioner, Furniss presents the entire social context of the dramatic moment, placing the eight other boys, individually realised, in the foreground so that the reader approaches the lithograph as if it were a theatrical scene, including two shocked elderly female assistants (upper centre).

Even lacking the support of the Master's female assistants, in Pears' treatment the functionary is in an unequal contest with the wraith of a boy. Although a rebel as a result of social pressure, Oliver here is relatively nondescript; what strikes us about the petitioner is his awkward thinness. In contrast, as the writer of the introduction to the Centenary volume, A. C. Benson, notes,

All the richness of the book, all its characterisation, lies in the evil, grotesque, tainted, pompous figures which it contains.

The first of these is Bumble, the parish beadle; the second is the Master of the Workhouse: large, unpleasant, mean-spirited, self-serving functionaries of a heartless system designed not to cure poverty but to eliminate by systematic starvation the boys who would otherwise grow up to be charges upon the state in prisons, refuges, and union workhouses. The scene in Pears is all very well, with a bemused rather than an outraged authority whose hyperbolic reaction in Furniss and Cruikshank both amuses the readers and prods them, as comfortable members of the book-buying and periodical-consuming middle class, to ponder whether such enormities as Bumble and the Master of the Workhouse should be tolerated in a progressive, democratic society. In short, what Pears' treatment substitutes for Dickensian mirth and indignation is mere portraiture.


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Kim | 6367 comments Mod


"Oliver Escapes Being Bound to a Sweep"

Chapter 3

George Cruikshank

Text Illustrated:

"I have no doubt you are, my friend," replied the old gentleman: fixing his spectacles more firmly on his nose, and looking about him for the inkstand.

It was the critical moment of Oliver's fate. If the inkstand had been where the old gentleman thought it was, he would have dipped his pen into it, and signed the indentures, and Oliver would have been straightway hurried off. But, as it chanced to be immediately under his nose, it followed, as a matter of course, that he looked all over his desk for it, without finding it; and happening in the course of his search to look straight before him, his gaze encountered the pale and terrified face of Oliver Twist: who, despite all the admonitory looks and pinches of Bumble, was regarding the repulsive countenance of his future master, with a mingled expression of horror and fear, too palpable to be mistaken, even by a half-blind magistrate.

"The old gentleman stopped, laid down his pen, and looked from Oliver to Mr. Limbkins; who attempted to take snuff with a cheerful and unconcerned aspect.

"My boy!" said the old gentleman, "you look pale and alarmed. What is the matter?"

"Stand a little away from him, Beadle," said the other magistrate: laying aside the paper, and leaning forward with an expression of interest. "Now, boy, tell us what's the matter: don't be afraid."

Oliver fell on his knees, and clasping his hands together, prayed that they would order him back to the dark room — that they would starve him — beat him — kill him if they pleased — rather than send him away with that dreadful man.

"Well!" said Mr. Bumble, raising his hands and eyes with most impressive solemnity. "Well! of all the artful and designing orphans that ever I see, Oliver, you are one of the most bare-facedest."

"Hold your tongue, Beadle," said the second old gentleman, when Mr. Bumble had given vent to this compound adjective. [Chapter 3, "Relates How Oliver Twist was Very Near Getting a Place, Which Would Not Have Been a Sinecure."


Commentary:

Oliver's experience in asking for more, despite the beating he took for his temerity, leads him to defend himself when he percies himself to be ill-used or ill-served by callous authority. As a chimney sweep, he probably would not have survived childhood owing to the health and safety hazards associated with how boys were deployed in the trade.

Again, Oliver astonishes an authority figure — this time, the parish Beadle, Mr. Bumble — by daring to assert himself. Oliver is dwarfed by the adults who will determine his future: Mr. Bumble in uniform; the master of the workhouse, Mr. Limbkins (centre, in front of the magistrate's death), taking snuff and disregarding the boy entirely; the sooty chimney-sweep Mr. Gamfield, whose villainous countenance is in complete contradiction of the magistrate's describing him as "an honest, open-hearted man"; the wigged old gentleman, the presiding magistrate, left.




message 46: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6367 comments Mod


Oliver refuses to be Bound over to the Sweep

Chapter 3

Harry Furniss

1910

Text Illustrated:

It was the critical moment of Oliver's fate. If the inkstand had been where the old gentleman thought it was, he would have dipped his pen into it, and signed the indentures, and Oliver would have been straightway hurried off. But, as it chanced to be immediately under his nose, it followed, as a matter of course, that he looked all over his desk for it, without finding it; and happening in the course of his search to look straight before him, his gaze encountered the pale and terrified face of Oliver Twist: who, despite all the admonitory looks and pinches of Bumble, was regarding the repulsive countenance of his future master, with a mingled expression of horror and fear, too palpable to be mistaken, even by a half-blind magistrate.

"The old gentleman stopped, laid down his pen, and looked from Oliver to Mr. Limbkins; who attempted to take snuff with a cheerful and unconcerned aspect.

"My boy!" said the old gentleman, "you look pale and alarmed. What is the matter?"

"Stand a little away from him, Beadle," said the other magistrate: laying aside the paper, and leaning forward with an expression of interest. "Now, boy, tell us what's the matter: don't be afraid."

Oliver fell on his knees, and clasping his hands together, prayed that they would order him back to the dark room — that they would starve him — beat him — kill him if they pleased — rather than send him away with that dreadful man.

"Well!" said Mr. Bumble, raising his hands and eyes with most impressive solemnity. "Well! of all the artful and designing orphans that ever I see, Oliver, you are one of the most bare-facedest."


Commentary:

Again, Oliver astonishes an authority figure — this time, the parish Beadle, Mr. Bumble — by daring to assert himself. In both the Cruikshank original and the Furniss revision, Oliver is dwarfed by the adults who will determine his future: looking piously heavenward in Cruikshank but merely indignant in Furniss, Mr. Bumble in uniform; the master of the workhouse, Mr. Limbkins (centre, in front of the magistrate's desk), taking snuff and disregarding the boy entirely; the sooty chimney-sweep Mr. Gamfield, whose villainous countenance is in complete contradiction to the magistrate's describing him as "an honest, open-hearted man"; and the benevolent, elderly magistrate with poor vision. Furniss has reorganised the scene so that the trustees (rear) play a diminished role in the hearing. For Chapter 3, "Relates How Oliver Twist was Very Near Getting a Place, Which Would Not Have Been a Sinecure"), Harry Furniss has provided a reinterpretation of the same Cruikshank illustration, magnifying the already considerable proportions of the self-important beadle, Mr. Bumble, with a diminutive Oliver squeezed between the beadle's massive stomach and the bow-legged, sour-faced chimney-sweep (exactly as depicted in his ornamental title-page).

Furniss has revised the original composition so that Oliver's persecutors, Gamfield the chimney-sweep and Bumble the parish beadle, are prominent (shown in close-up, so to speak), and the chief of the board of trustees, the kindly "magistrate" who actually attends to Oliver's wishes, is considerably reduced and placed in he background; moreover, he is hardly in his stern look in this Furniss re-working an anticipation of the humanitarian Mr. Bownlow. The Master of the Workhouse, Mr. Limkins, is now just an unsympathetic head enjoying snuff and disregarding the proceedings entirely. What matters to Furniss is communicating Oliver's genuine terror at the prospect of succumbing to black-lung disease as Gamfield's apprentice. The analeptic reading makes the plate less suspenseful as the reader has already encountered the text realised three pages earlier.


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"Liberal terms, Mr. Sowerberry, liberal terms!"

Chapter 4

James Mahoney

Text Illustrated:

"By the bye," said Mr. Bumble, "you don't know anybody who wants a boy, do you? A porochial 'prentis, who is at present a dead-weight; a millstone, as I may say, round the porochial throat? Liberal terms, Mr. Sowerberry, liberal terms?" As Mr. Bumble spoke, he raised his cane to the bill above him, and gave three distinct raps upon the words "five pounds": which were printed thereon in Roman capitals of gigantic size.

"Gadso!" said the undertaker: taking Mr. Bumble by the gilt-edged lappel of his official coat; "that's just the very thing I wanted to speak to you about. You know — dear me, what a very elegant button this is, Mr. Bumble! I never noticed it before."

"Yes, I think it rather pretty," said the beadle, glancing proudly downwards at the large brass buttons which embellished his coat. "The die is the same as the porochial seal — the Good Samaritan healing the sick and bruised man. The board presented it to me on New-year's morning, Mr. Sowerberry. I put it on, I remember, for the first time, to attend the inquest on that reduced tradesman, who died in a doorway at midnight."

"I recollect," said the undertaker. "The jury brought it in, 'Died from exposure to the cold, and want of the common necessaries of life,' didn't they?"

Mr. Bumble nodded.

[. . . .] "Well; what about the boy?"

Oh!" replied the undertaker; "why, you know, Mr. Bumble, I pay a good deal towards the poor's rates."

"Hem!" said Mr. Bumble. "Well?"

"Well," replied the undertaker, "I was thinking that if I pay so much towards 'em, I've a right to get as much out of 'em as I can, Mr. Bumble; and so — and so — I think I'll take the boy myself."


Commentary:

Having failed in his attempt to have Oliver bound over as an apprentice, Bumble now approaches the local undertaker, dangling before him the five-pound emolument as he is very much aware of Sowerberry's interest in turning a profit on the coffins that he supplies to the Guardians of the workhouse — apparently, as he confides to Bumble, Sowerberry derives greater profits from supplying coffins for emaciated rather than well-fed boys: business has been brisk these past few months under the new starving regimen.

In a north of England town, the parish beadle, Mr. Bumble, again attempts to find a place for eleven-year-old Oliver Twist, having failed in his initial endeavour, namely placing the boy with a chimney-sweep as an apprentice. The dramatic courtroom scene in which Oliver begged not to be bound over to the chimney-sweep had been the subject of George Cruikshank's illustration for the second monthly instalment in Bentley's Miscellany in March 1837, Oliver Escapes Being Bound to a Sweep.

In James Mahoney's sequence, there is no equivalent to the scene in which Oliver pleads with the board of guardians that he not be placed with the local chimney-sweep, Mr. Gamfield, as he realizes how dangerous such a trade can be. In place, then, of this celebrated scene, in the Household Edition Mahoney has elected to describe the behind-the-scenes negotiations that proceed as a result of Oliver's successful appeal. Whereas Gamfield had knocked the board's premium to three pounds fifteen shillings (the textual scene surrounding the plate occurs in chapter 3), Bumble is able to extract the full premium of five pounds from the undertaker.

Although the scene is well realized in the particulars of Bumble's uniform, Sowerberry is altogether too dapper. In the text, he is merely

a tall, gaunt, large-jointed man, attired in a suit of threadbare black with darned cotton stockings of the same colour, and shoes to answer. His features were not naturally intended toi wear a smiling aspect, but he was in general rather given to professional jocosity.

Mahoney has inserted an elderly woman with a cane into the background to suggest the poor upon whom both vultures in the foreground play. Here is one of those parish poor who die of "exposure to the cold, and want of the common necessaries of life" because the guardians run the reief system like a business. The illustrator captures well Bumble's hucksterism and Sowerberry's wavering in his decision to take Oliver. However, Mahoney's Bumble, although accoutred correctly, is far less hyperbolic than Cruikshank's in manner, and Mahoney's Sowerberry less interesting facially than Eytinge's in the Diamond Edition; in fact, the reader is left to surmise Sowerberry's facial expression as Mahoney has shown him only from the back — and Sowerberry does not appear again in the Household Edition volume.

Indeed, so marginal a character and visually uninteresting is the undertaker in need of an apprentice that he does not appear in Furniss's 1910 sequence at all; rather, Furniss relegates him, contemplating the five-pound poster, to a mere thumbnail in the upper left-hand register of Characters in the Story, the ornamental frame for the title-page.


message 48: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 969 comments Kim wrote: ""Oliver Asking for More"
Chapter 2

George Cruikshank

Text Illustrated..."


Captures the malnutrition of the children. Thanks, Kim.


message 49: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4849 comments Mod
Xan,

It's nice to have you back! You were asking the question why it was, of all people, those two magistrates that did their job properly when all the others proved careless and callous. This little detail struck me as odd as well, and when I gave it some thought - the famous three-pipe problem , it occurred to me that maybe, Dickens wanted to criticize the new Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which was partly influenced by Malthus and Jeremy Bentham - from Hard Times we know that Dickens was not too fond of utilitarianism - and whose major aim was to decrease the costs of poor relief rather than to really help and support the poor. This has probably to be seen in connection with Malthus's extremely pessimistic ideas about the increase in population and the alleged problem of keeping up with regard to resources.

According to the new Poor Law, public welfare and relief were only to be had by the inmates of workhouses, i.e. by those who submitted to a rigid treatment curtailing their personal liberties so that only very desperate people would receive poor relief. Our narrator summarizes this new development with the remarkable sentence

"So, they established the rule, that all poor people should have the alternative (for they would compel nobody, not they), of being starved by a gradual process in the house, or by a quick one out of it."


Officials like Bumble and the gentleman in the white waistcoat are representatives of this new system and as such presented as callous with regard to the poor, whereas the older magistrates are probably not as yet as cold-hearted as to be influenced by the new ideas.

However, we also get the following passage:

"It was the critical moment of Oliver's fate. If the inkstand had been where the old gentleman thought it was, he would have dipped his pen into it, and signed the indentures, and Oliver would have been straightway hurried off. But, as it chanced to be immediately under his nose, it followed, as a matter of course, that he looked all over his desk for it, without finding it; and happening in the course of his search to look straight before him, his gaze encountered the pale and terrified face of Oliver Twist: who, despite all the admonitory looks and pinches of Bumble, was regarding the repulsive countenance of his future master, with a mingled expression of horror and fear, too palpable to be mistaken, even by a half-blind magistrate."


In other words, for all the magistrate's tendency to behave humanely towards Oliver, the fact that he really did so was more to do with a coincidence and his not finding the inkstand at once, because otherwise he, too, would have acted according to routine. The magistrate is kinder-hearted than the representatives of the new system, but at the same time he is old and no longer quite perceptive. Probably, he will not be of much help in the long run against the new mainstream.


message 50: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4849 comments Mod
In connection with Mr. Bumble I would like to point out another passage that I found remarkable. It is from Chapter 4, when Mr. Bumble takes little Oliver to his new employer, Mr. Sowerberry. On their way, Oliver's heart opens and he bewails his own loneliness and despair:

"'No, no, sir,' sobbed Oliver, clinging to the hand which held the well-known cane; 'no, no, sir; I will be good indeed; indeed, indeed I will, sir! I am a very little boy, sir; and it is so--so--'

'So what?' inquired Mr. Bumble in amazement.

'So lonely, sir! So very lonely!' cried the child. 'Everybody hates me. Oh! sir, don't, don't pray be cross to me!' The child beat his hand upon his heart; and looked in his companion's face, with tears of real agony.

Mr. Bumble regarded Oliver's piteous and helpless look, with some astonishment, for a few seconds; hemmed three or four times in a husky manner; and after muttering something about 'that troublesome cough,' bade Oliver dry his eyes and be a good boy. Then once more taking his hand, he walked on with him in silence."


Now we all know that Dickens is often charged with creating black-and-white-characters rather than showing the ambiguity in his characters' personalities. The passages I have highlighted seem to show me, however, that even Mr. Bumble's heart is not wholly flint and brimstone. What do you think are Mr. Bumble's feelings here?


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