The Old Curiosity Club discussion

24 views
Oliver Twist > Oliver Twist: Final General Discussion

Comments Showing 1-50 of 55 (55 new)    post a comment »
« previous 1

message 1: by Peter (last edited Aug 25, 2018 01:23PM) (new)

Peter | 3444 comments Mod
Fellow Curiosities

We have reached the end of Oliver Twist. Oliver is now safe and sound and with family. It was quite the ordeal for him, and as readers we experienced much together.

For the next week let’s look back at the novel. There are no longer any worries about spoilers, an event I’m grateful for since I often worry that I will let slip something in a commentary that should not be recorded yet.

I will list some of the suggested areas and topics for discussion but please make your own contributions as well. Let the free-flowing conversation begin.

Thoughts

There is too much melodrama in Oliver Twist.

There are too many forced coincidences if the novel.

Your favourite character, and why.

How can we assess OT as an early Dickens novel?

And lots, lots more. Enjoy. Nicholas Nickleby awaits in the wings.


message 2: by John (new)

John (jdourg) | 1120 comments Light Pickwick to Darker Twist. I can perhaps expect Light Nickleby. Maybe.


message 3: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 969 comments I had problems with Twist, the melodrama, the balancing of all accounts in a single scene, the Deus ex Machinas; but I also saw glimpses of the mature Dickens, the writer whose narrative voice commanded the attention of entire countries and whose parody made short work of institutions -- Zorro with a blade.


message 4: by Alissa (new)

Alissa | 317 comments I'm glad that Oliver got a happy ending. Overall, I liked the story. It started out depressing, but picked up and got more interesting with its various twists and turns.

I liked the contrasts of the good characters vs. the bad ones, the differences in their speech, behavior, attitudes, etc. I also liked the mystery of Oliver and wondering who his parents were.

Dickens always gets me thinking about positive people vs. negative ones, which motivates me to be more of the positive type. A lot of it is simple things, like the way you talk to people and your manner towards them.

The plot seemed chaotic at times due to the large number of characters with their own dramas, but it was interesting how they all came together at the end. I didn't mind the coincidences too much. I felt like some things weren't resolved or explained well, like the hunchback incident that led to nothing, Fagin's mysterious papers, Oliver's friend Dick, and the scar on Monks's neck. I'm not sure what to make of those.


message 5: by Alissa (new)

Alissa | 317 comments My favorite character is Mr. Brownlow, because he is compassionate and tough, but always fair to people, smart, strategic, and a little bit mysterious with his concealed past, sudden disappearance, and strange quarreling friendship with Grimwig. I'm also biased towards anyone who loves books.


message 6: by John (new)

John (jdourg) | 1120 comments Alissa wrote: "My favorite character is Mr. Brownlow, because he is compassionate and tough, but always fair to people, smart, strategic, and a little bit mysterious with his concealed past, sudden disappearance,..."

I liked Brownlow as well. A vivid description of him stuck with me -- powdered wig, gold glasses, bottle-green coat, and bamboo cane.


message 7: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4853 comments Mod
Hmmm, those seemingly unfinished plot elements that you mentioned, Alissa, may really be a sign of Dickens's not yet carefully planning his novels. What really strikes me is that the jewels and the papers that Fagin hid do not occur later in the novel even though the narration made a lot of it the first, and only, time they appear. Maybe, Dickens really had something in mind with this element, which he later discarded.

I took Monk's scar as a sign that maybe he escaped the gallows once - like Jimmy Stewart in Anthony Mann's western Bend of the River. This would fit in with the general motif of hanging that plays a prominent role in the novel. But you are right: The narrator, who is normally very keen on explaining a lot, does not give us any explanation here.

I also noticed that Oliver himself became more and more unimportant in the course of the novel. In fact, I sometimes caught myself referring to him as a McGuffin: The first chapters suggest that his life, and his development will be in the centre of the narration. Considering that the full title of the novel is Oliver Twist; or, the Parish Boy's Progress it's reasonable to assume that Dickens intended to give us more about Oliver's story originally, putting his moral development in the focus (like this happens in the case of Christian in The Pilgrim's Progress. Then, however, Dickens's interest in mysterious crime and, most obviously, in characters like Bill Sikes and Nancy must have carried the narrator's focus away - which is good, by the way, because Nancy is a far more interesting, ambivalent and believable character than Oliver "Please, don't be angry with me, good sir!" Twist. In fact, I enjoyed reading the book much more this time than last time, and this was thanks to my focus on Nancy.


message 8: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 969 comments There does seem to be a change in the direction of the story midway through, and the end seems rushed, like someone got tired of it and needed to end it now. This could account for loose ends like jewels not being mentioned again.

There really isn't, in my opinion, a justification for Oliver disappearing like that, unless he became a burden to author and reader alike. An odd story, in my opinion, because all the bad characters are more believable than the good ones.


message 9: by Mary Lou (last edited Aug 26, 2018 02:47PM) (new)

Mary Lou | 2519 comments I think I could have bought into all of the coincidences if they'd been more carefully plotted. Biggest among these was Monks finding Oliver in the first place. Had that been explained to my satisfaction, I might have been more willing to believe some of the things that followed.

This really was an ensemble cast without a protagonist, despite the book being eponymous. Unlike Pip, for example, Oliver didn't really have too much to do with the action in the story. Things happened to him and around him. Really, the book is more about Monks, even though we don't know of his existence until we're well in. And the central setting is certainly Fagin's den, where Oliver spent relatively little time.

I, too, liked Brownlow, as he was one of the more believable (and likable) characters, as well as those in his orbit -- Mrs. Bedwin and Grimwig. As you've learned by now, my favorite characters are often the ones with whom I'd enjoy spending time. Minor flaws and endearing quirks, but good people.

After reading Pickwick, Oliver was a bit of a disappointment to me. Like John, I hope for a lighter Nickleby, or at least one with more light moments to give it some balance. The only time I remember cracking a smile while reading Oliver was when Bumble was dancing around the room. He provided the only humor in the novel, and most of that was negative and cynical ("The law is a ass!). Charlie was easily amused, but not amusing.

FYI -- I watched the three adaptations of OT that I have on my shelves at home (the musical, the Polanski version, and the 2007 BBC mini-series). I liked some of the casting in the BBC version, but the one I thought was the best overall was the Polanski movie. Whoever wrote the screenplay, it was the plot that - dare I say it - I wish Dickens had actually written. Much less convoluted, but in keeping with the spirit of the original.


message 10: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 969 comments Mary Lou wrote: "Beiggest among these was Monks finding Oliver in the first place...."

Monks' recognizing Oliver was too much. I believe Monks said he knew who he would be (meaning parentage, I believe) as soon as he saw him. Way, Way over the edge.


message 11: by John (new)

John (jdourg) | 1120 comments The BBC productions of Dickens are so good. Gillian Anderson as a very very haunting Miss Havisham.... but I digress.


message 12: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1341 comments Alissa wrote: "Dickens always gets me thinking about positive people vs. negative ones, which motivates me to be more of the positive type. A lot of it is simple things, like the way you talk to people and your manner towards them. ..."

Alissa, agreed. A friend once told me he hated Dickens because his novels have a narrative voice that often tells you very intrusively what to think in the book. I've been trying to figure out why that doesn't bother me ever since, and I think part of it is that the narrator sets up bad behavior so scathingly--for instance in the opening chapters of Oliver--that you can never forget it, and never see that kind of behavior again without wanting to call it out, even in yourself. It's not that you're being told what to think (you already know), it's just that you're given a very striking way to word it.

The same voice also enjoys the company of the kindly people so much that you want to enjoy that company too. Most of the time, anyway. There is a sugary line I find difficult to cross with the narrator sometimes, i.e. Rose.


message 13: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4853 comments Mod
Yes, Julie, Dickens's narrative voice going on and on over certain heroines like Rose, Little Nell, Ruth Pinch, Florence Dombey and Lizzy Hexam is very hard to bear. I usually give these passages, e.g. Ruth's preparing her pudding, and Little Nell's boring everyone around her out of their wits, a diagonal reading.

I like his wry comments on some of his less admired characters, though - and I think that Oliver Twist leaves no doubt that Dickens himself must have liked writing about shady scoundrels like Fagin, ruthless brutes like Sikes and hapless women like Nancy, who feel reminded of what their life could have been like, if they had had a true friend in their early years. Maybe, Dickens wanted to avoid writing too sensational a novel in the Newgate spirit - if I remember correctly, some passages in the foreword to OT point in that direction - and that is why he had his novel centre on a character like Oliver. Oliver is so honest and good that no one could reproach Dickens with glorifying the lives of criminals in his novels - a reproach writers of Newgate novels had to take into account. So, in other words, Oliver maybe provided an alibi for Dickens to write about the London underworld and on ambivalent characters like Nancy.

As to his coincidences, I'd also say that Monk's ability to recognize a boy he had never seen really beats it all. It shows how Dickens might have been at a loss as to combine the different threads of the novel - and, as I already said before, it might also be a sign of Monk's being a character that was conceived in the course of the writing process, to give Oliver some kind of background.


message 14: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6381 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "Yes, Julie, Dickens's narrative voice going on and on over certain heroines like Rose, Little Nell, Ruth Pinch, Florence Dombey and Lizzy Hexam is very hard to bear. I usually give these passages, ..."

I knew it! I knew once you came home I'd get to read such grumpiness that's been missing - well, almost missing - for over a month now. I don't know how you held it in that long. Oh, and poor, poor Rose, poor, poor Ruth, poor, poor Florence, poor, poor Lizzy, and most importantly poor, poor Little Nell. :-)


message 15: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6381 comments Mod
Alissa wrote: "I'm glad that Oliver got a happy ending. Overall, I liked the story. It started out depressing, but picked up and got more interesting with its various twists and turns.

I liked the contrasts of ..."


Me too.


message 16: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4853 comments Mod
Kim wrote: "Tristram wrote: "Yes, Julie, Dickens's narrative voice going on and on over certain heroines like Rose, Little Nell, Ruth Pinch, Florence Dombey and Lizzy Hexam is very hard to bear. I usually give..."

I am sure that The Old Curiosity Shop will witness us having wonderful discussions, Kim! As to grumpiness, when I was in Argentina, it was winter, but Winter had to keep to His bed for a couple of days, due to a severe cold, and so I stood in for Him. They all welcomed Him back most heartily ;-)


message 17: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2519 comments As we've been reading Nicholas Nickleby, I've thought back on Pickwick and Twist. I can't, for the life of me, figure out how it became one of his most taught classics. It has moments of brilliance, some fascinating characters, and an intriguing plot line. Despite that, Dickens fails miserably in bringing it together and making it work. And we all seem to agree that Oliver is entirely too angelic and boring.

While Dickens certainly doesn't need me as a publicist, I think a lot more people would read and enjoy him more if OT hadn't been their introduction to his work. I've read it twice now, and it shall remain at the bottom of my list of favorites. I doubt I'll return to it again. :-(


message 18: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3444 comments Mod
Mary Lou wrote: "As we've been reading Nicholas Nickleby, I've thought back on Pickwick and Twist. I can't, for the life of me, figure out how it became one of his most taught classics. It has moments of brilliance..."

It was A Tale of Two Cities that hooked me forever as a fan of Dickens.

What was the novel that worked its magic on you and other Curiosities?


message 19: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4853 comments Mod
Maybe, OT is read in class because it is conveniently short - at least, for Dickens's standards and those of the Victorian novel - and it has a child as its protagonist, although the more closely you look the more pale and flat this protagonist is. If I had to read Dickens in class, I would choose either GE or TOT, because those books are also short and offer protagonists that go through some kind of development (Pip and Sydney).

Nevertheless, OT was the first Dickens novel I read as a thirteen-year old or so, and we also had a simplified version of it in our English classes. As a child, I liked the book much more than I do now but that was because of the sensationalist crime parts.

The most magic was and is worked on me by Bleak House.


message 20: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2519 comments My answer is probably the same as Kim's will be: A Christmas Carol. God bless us, everyone!


message 21: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6381 comments Mod
I shouldn't have to answer such a question.


message 22: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1341 comments I have until Friday to pick one Dickens novel for a class to read next term, so I'm appreciating this commentary and thinking now it won't be Oliver Twist.


message 23: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3444 comments Mod
Julie wrote: "I have until Friday to pick one Dickens novel for a class to read next term, so I'm appreciating this commentary and thinking now it won't be Oliver Twist."

Hi Julie

I’m not sure what the overall format or focus of your course will take, but may I do a bit of lobbying? After all the usual titles for a course that has a place for Dickens chances are Dombey and Son will not be on the list.

I think it is Dickens’s most underappreciated novel. We have interesting characters, a strong and intriguing character in Edith Dombey, a wonderful cast of supporting characters and if you want to focus on women in the novel may I suggest reading the chapter on Dombey and Son from Bleak Houses: Marital Violence in Victorian Fiction. Professor Surridge teaches at UVic and is a very delightful and interesting person.


message 24: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2519 comments Julie wrote: "I have until Friday to pick one Dickens novel for a class to read next term, so I'm appreciating this commentary and thinking now it won't be Oliver Twist."

Dombey is good. I think in high school, I might have also liked Our Mutual Friend or Hard Times.


message 25: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1341 comments Peter wrote: "Julie wrote: "I have until Friday to pick one Dickens novel for a class to read next term, so I'm appreciating this commentary and thinking now it won't be Oliver Twist."

Hi Julie

I’m not sure wh..."


I am very open to lobbying, but I have to say the biggest obstacle to me adopting Dombey and Son by Friday is that I've never read it.

That said, it might be kind of fun to read a book I've never read with a class. The course is on serial literature, so it could add to the serial experience of the book if nobody in the room knows where it's going at all. I have certainly enjoyed reading week-to-week here with other blind readers.


message 26: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1341 comments Mary Lou wrote: "Julie wrote: "I have until Friday to pick one Dickens novel for a class to read next term, so I'm appreciating this commentary and thinking now it won't be Oliver Twist."

Dombey is good. I think i..."


Hard Times has the advantage of the current events angle, which would overlap nicely with something like the Serial podcast.

Too many good books.


message 27: by John (last edited Oct 17, 2018 03:45AM) (new)

John (jdourg) | 1120 comments Julie wrote: "Mary Lou wrote: "Julie wrote: "I have until Friday to pick one Dickens novel for a class to read next term, so I'm appreciating this commentary and thinking now it won't be Oliver Twist."

Dombey i..."


If I can cast my vote, it would be Hard Times. It strikes me as a very teachable book that offers lessons and encourages thought, a book that students can take to -- and it sometimes seems to me it is overlooked in the Dickens canon.


message 28: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4853 comments Mod
Julie,

One of the things I never leave out of my considerations when teaching a book at school - apart from content-related considerations and the interests of students, of course - is the length of a book. I don't know how much time you have for the book. In Germany, spending eight weeks on one novel is quite a lot of time already ... So, if I were to teach a Dickens novel at a school in Germany, time frames would narrow the choice down to OT, HT, GE and TOTC. - DS is a brilliant novel, and as Peter says, woefully underestimated, but it is quite long and half the class may get lost in all those pages :-)


message 29: by John (last edited Oct 17, 2018 10:42AM) (new)

John (jdourg) | 1120 comments In looking back, I wish that a teacher of mine had considered American Notes. I realize not a novel, but it is a brilliant book.

What would be fascinating to read along with in a classroom setting is the whole contemporaneous look at the United States in 1842. He covers everything, travel, politicians, other writers, the cities, how they looked, how they were set up, and even had a personal audience with the President at the time, along with a strong challenge to the evils of slavery.

Perhaps more for a history class than an English class, but darn, who better than to bring a novelist's eye to what life was like back then.


message 30: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6381 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "Julie,

One of the things I never leave out of my considerations when teaching a book at school - apart from content-related considerations and the interests of students, of course - is the length ..."


Please tell me you taught TOCS at least once.


message 31: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1341 comments Kim wrote: "Tristram wrote: "Julie,

One of the things I never leave out of my considerations when teaching a book at school - apart from content-related considerations and the interests of students, of course..."


I fear TOCS is the only Dickens I started and did not finish.

I am counting on raging discussions with all of you to get me through it this time around.

Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions. I have a day still to think it over. Whichever I go with, I'm tempted also to throw in a couple of Pickwick chapters, to give a sense of how the installment idea got going.


message 32: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4853 comments Mod
Julie,

Maybe you won't have to teach a whole novel but can pick decisive chapters from various Dickens novels, tying them together via a topic, e.g. female characters in Dickens's novels? A colleague of mine once did a nice sequence on "Tyranny in Shakespeare" in which she discussed not one single play but scenes from various plays.


message 33: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4853 comments Mod
Kim wrote: "Please tell me you taught TOCS at least once. "

I'd rather show my students the strong side of Dickens ;-)


message 34: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6381 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "Kim wrote: "Please tell me you taught TOCS at least once. "

I'd rather show my students the strong side of Dickens ;-)"


Grump.


message 35: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4853 comments Mod
No, just willing to imbue my students with a passion for literature.


message 36: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6381 comments Mod
See message 34.


message 37: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1341 comments I ended up going with Hard Times. I enjoy it, especially the Gradgrind family, and it does have the advantages of being shortish and (useful for a class on serials) doubling as a commentary on its times--which I guess all of Dickens does, but HT does a little differently.

I'm thinking of folding in some Pickwick chapters as well, though, just to show the evolution of the form a bit.

This way I get to save Dombey to read for the first time with you all.


message 38: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2519 comments I assume you teach high school, Julie? I think HT is a good choice. They will certainly be drawn in by the school and teaching methods, and I'd think the circus (and the dog!) would keep them more interested than some of Dickens other novels. Let us know what they think


message 39: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1341 comments Mary Lou wrote: "I assume you teach high school, Julie? I think HT is a good choice. They will certainly be drawn in by the school and teaching methods, and I'd think the circus (and the dog!) would keep them more ..."

I teach university undergrads, but I think they'll also appreciate the education parts. Some of them are planning to be teachers, so, you know. For the good of the cause!

I found myself thinking of the circus in HT when we were reading about the theatre in NN. The NN theatre feels like a draft of the HT circus: same general concept, but better executed in the latter I think.


message 40: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3444 comments Mod
Julie wrote: "I ended up going with Hard Times. I enjoy it, especially the Gradgrind family, and it does have the advantages of being shortish and (useful for a class on serials) doubling as a commentary on its ..."

Julie

Good choice with HT. Short makes sense. A couple of chapters from Pickwick will make a nice contrast in tone and style and allow you to show your students how illustrations often formed part of the readers’ experience.

What other novels did you select? My fingers are crossed that you will enjoy DS with us when it comes around.


message 41: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4853 comments Mod
Kim wrote: "See message 34."

Yes, you are talking about someone called Grump ... Do I know him or her?


message 42: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6381 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "Kim wrote: "See message 34."

Yes, you are talking about someone called Grump ... Do I know him or her?"


I think you do, I know your wife does.


message 43: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4853 comments Mod
Julie,

HT seems a very wise choice to me because you have the Coketown chapters, which can be used as an introduction to how industrialization shaped towns and the countryside in general. You can even throw in some Robert Owen, if you want. As to Mr. Gradgrind and his philosophy of teaching facts, you might take your students on an excursion on utilitarianism. Mr. Bounderby's discourse on how difficult it is to get a divorce can be could be used to take a look at Victorian marriage and gender roles.

I am sure you will have not so hard times with Hard Times ;-)


message 44: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4853 comments Mod
Kim wrote: "Tristram wrote: "Kim wrote: "See message 34."

Yes, you are talking about someone called Grump ... Do I know him or her?"

I think you do, I know your wife does."


We spent yesterday afternoon and the morning of today putting up some new cupboards in our kitchen, and whenever it would not work properly - e.g. the good wallplugs were suddenly missing - I would from time to time show a fit of grumpiness. So, guilty as charged ;-)


message 45: by Julie (last edited Oct 27, 2018 10:13AM) (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1341 comments Tristram wrote: "You can even throw in some Robert Owen, if you want..."

I used to be a bit of a Robert Owen enthusiast. I even had a T-shirt. (They sell them at his American experimental community in New Harmony, Indiana, and I was living not too far from there in Chicago at the time.)

As for other novels, I'm still working it out. It's not a 19th century class so I have some contemporary examples in mind, like the original Serial podcast where the story got mixed up in the crime investigation it was trying to report about. Then there's these people who have decided the way to distribute a novel is on cell phones: https://www.serialbox.com/ The quality of the books I've looked at so far is sometimes uneven, but (as you may have noticed) so is early Dickens. Also it's kind of fun that there's a sequel to The Woman in White, which Dickens serialized in All the Year Round, so they seem to be aware of their history.


message 46: by David (new)

David Taylor (datamonkey) | 53 comments I took a couple of weeks off from Dombey and Son to read Oliver Twist and thought it was brilliant - obviously an amazing step forward from the PP which I wasn't too keen on.

Since I was reading Oliver on my own, as it were, I haven't read the discussions here very closely although I will do. However one thing that's bothering me, that I might have missed - who is the young lady in the portrait in Mr Brownlow's house that resembles Oliver and causes him to faint ? I'm guessing Agnes ?


message 47: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2519 comments David wrote: "...who is the young lady in the portrait in Mr Brownlow's house that resembles Oliver and causes him to faint ? I'm guessing Agnes ?..."

My memory isn't what it used to be (and it never was all that good to begin with), but I think it was Agnes, Oliver's mother. Someone will surely correct me if I'm wrong.

Under the heading of "different strokes for different folks" - I liked Pickwick so much more than I liked Oliver Twist! Except for the extraneous tales Dickens inserted in the narrative, Pickwick is among my favorites. I love the humor and warmth, but it's got enough of a dark side to keep it from being frivolous.

I'm not reading Dombey, but I hope you'll be joining the Copperfield discussion coming up. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


message 48: by David (new)

David Taylor (datamonkey) | 53 comments Thanks Mary Lou - I must admit that I struggled to keep track of all the relationships that were suddenly revealed in the closing chapters of Oliver Twist.
A bit like a few people here, I found them a bit of a stretch of credibility too, but it didn't take away from the book which I found a bit of easy reading compared to Dombey...
I know that Pickwick has lots of fans here, but I thought it dragged, particularly without an overarching story thread, and Sam drove me mad with his way of talking. The stretches of conversation between him and his father gave me a headache, and reminded me of Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins.
Sorry !


message 49: by David (new)

David Taylor (datamonkey) | 53 comments Sorry - last question now, and then I'll stop re-opening this thread...

What does Noah Claypole end up doing to "earn" a living ? It seems to be some sort of con trick involving pretending to be injured outside pubs, but I don't quite understand where he gets money out of it.

Can anyone explain for me ?


message 50: by Mary Lou (last edited Jun 21, 2020 04:36AM) (new)

Mary Lou | 2519 comments David wrote: "What does Noah Claypole end up doing to "earn" a living ? ..."

I couldn't remember, but my Dickens Encyclopedia (money well spent!) says:

...Fagin sent him to spy on Nancy, after whose murder Noah turned evidence against the Jew. He finally set up on his own account as an informer.


« previous 1
back to top