Turn Back The Clock

Book Review

Oliver Twist

Author:  Charles Dickens

Published By: Barnes & Noble, Inc.

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

            We all have heard the tale of the young orphan, Oliver Twist, who makes the egregious error of asking a cook in a workhouse in Victorian-era England for a second helping of gruel.  The request was so preposterous to those operating the warehouse at the time that the poor orphan was instantly labeled an insolent malcontent who should be gotten rid of at once.  As an indirect result, the Oliver comes under the tutelage of an older man named Fagin who trains young runaways in the art of thievery, thus keeping all suspicion away from himself and directing the attention of the law upon his young charges.  Despite never having read Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, one would be hard-pressed to state that he has never heard of some variation of the tale.  I, myself had heard bits and pieces and seen cartoon adaptations, but had never read the actual book.  Soon after having read A Christmas Carol, The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens, I found that I wanted to read more of that amazingly talented man’s work.  Thus, I picked up the Complete and Unabridged Collector’s Library edition of Oliver Twist at the local Barnes & Noble.

            Having read the book, I was surprised to discover that the tale is so much more than I imagined.  Yes, the story follows a poor orphaned boy from the moment of his birth and onward through his hardship of a life.  And yes, he does eventually fall in with a band of thieves.  However, there is so much more story surrounding those events that I never was aware of.  Oliver Twist is a tale of social injustice, human kindness, deceit, and a love that knows no bounds bound all wrapped up within 600 gilded pages (the Collector’s Library edition) of small print.  Charles Dickens is a genius of a writer.  Detail is his specialty and one can instantly see the scene in his mind while reading the intricate descriptions provided by Dickens.  The reader instantly takes pity on young Oliver and develops a vested interest in his story, rooting for some happiness to enter the poor boy’s life and cringing at every injustice the boy suffers through.  We are overjoyed to see Oliver realize that there is such a thing as human kindness and that these acts of kindness are often bestowed without any expectations in return.  Oliver’s story is made yet even more intriguing when we discover that there is a mystery behind his parentage.  There are secrets behind his birth that a mysterious character linked to Fagin’s band of cohorts would do anything to keep.

            Throughout Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens wry sense of humor bares light on the social injustices of the times (1837-1839).  He doesn’t just comment on the ill-conceived notions of the poor houses and workhouses and the laws that made the cruelty within legal.  Dickens also attacks the legal system itself, often showing how unjust crime and punishment were – how men of affluence often received lighter punishments for their crimes and how those of the lower classes were often guilty before being proven innocent.  He also throws light on the abuses poor children often suffered at the hands of their apprentices, such as in these lines about a chimney sweep interested in receiving money to make Oliver his apprentice: “As Mr. Gamfield did happen to labour under the slight imputation of having bruised three or four boys to death already, it occurred to him that the board had, perhaps, in some unaccountable freak, taken it into their heads that this extraneous circumstance ought to influence their proceedings.”  Dickens makes it fairly clear that such occurrences happened regularly enough that they were considered inconsequential.

            In this day of labor laws and child abuse laws, one wonders how the story of Oliver Twist can relate to today’s youth.  It’s simple – this is history – it really happened.  Conditions such as these dictated the laws and procedures that are in effect today.  However, Oliver Twist is not just a historical novel.  It is also one of social commentary about conditions that still occur in today’s society.  How often have we heard of people with little or no funds trotted off to jail because they didn’t have the money to pay for an adequate representation at trial?  Later, we may discover that these individuals spent years in prison for a crime they did not commit simply because they were presumed guilty from the start and never received an adequate opportunity to prove their innocence.  We’ve all heard of the stories in the news of the well-known actor or affluent socialite who got a much lighter punishment for a crime than your average everyday citizen might expect.  This is something that occurs in every day society and as such, makes this book timeless.

            For anyone who has difficulty with Charles Dickens’ writing style, I say to them – stick it out.  The verbiage may be a tad difficult, but the story is well-worth the read.  I highly recommend purchasing the Barnes & Noble Collector’s Library edition of Oliver Twist for several reasons.  One, the book is pocket-sized and therefore, easy to carry around.  Two, it has a built-in bookmark which can be a necessity for someone attempting to read a very descriptive, 600-page novel.  Third, the occasional illustrations included are humorous.  Fourth, the gilded pages are a special touch, truly making the book a pretty addition to your literary collection.  Finally, at $5.95 U.S., who wouldn’t find this book an excellent value?!


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