Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens - Book Review # 128

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Oliver Twist
by Charles Dickens

The story of the orphan Oliver, who runs away from the workhouse only to be taken in by a den of thieves, shocked readers when it was first published. Dickens's tale of childhood innocence beset by evil depicts the dark criminal underworld of a London peopled by vivid and memorable characters—the arch-villain Fagin, the artful Dodger, the menacing Bill Sikes and the prostitute Nancy. Combining elements of Gothic Romance, the Newgate Novel and popular melodrama, Dickens created an entirely new kind of fiction, scathing in its indictment of a cruel society, and pervaded by an unforgettable sense of threat and mystery.
From goodreads.com

I’ve being staying away from Charles Dickens, because I’ve always considered him to be a British version of Fyodor Dostoyevsky: brilliant, however impossible to read without wanting to kill all characters at first and yourself afterwards. I don’t know where I got this impression from. I don’t know what made me draw parallels between these two authors. Nonetheless, this notion was strong and inviolable.

I only read one Dickens before – A Christmas Carol. I loved it dearly and found no resemblances with Dostoyevsky’s works, which made me doubt my impression until I found out that A Christmas Carol wasn’t your typical Dickens. I was mingling with the idea of reading Dickens for a while and only about two weeks ago I decided that if I will not try him now, I should just cross him out of my under the radar authors list and be done with it. And so I cracked Oliver Twist open.

Oliver Twist was a serialized novel, first published monthly over period of time of two years. Dickens never planned his novels, so when the first part was published already, he had no idea how he will end it. He began Oliver Twist as a social satire; and even though I generally love satire endlessly, Dickens sardonic language was annoying me a great deal. It seemed to me farfetched, forced and somehow cartoonish.

However, as Dickens plans changed with Oliver Twist, so did his language. Closer to the middle of the novel, Dickens started to get attached to Oliver’s character. The story of Oliver Twist became personal for him, as he lived through something similar as a boy. At this point sarcastic language started to fade away and my affection started to grow. By the end of the novel, I admitted that my impression that Dickens resembled Dostoyevsky was completely incorrect.

If Dickens would have planned his novels he should have started Oliver Twist with something like “once upon a time in the land far far away”, because he certainly finished it in a manner of “and they lived happily ever after.” I do like a fairy tales sort of endings. However, in case of Oliver Twist the difference between the beginning and the end is so striking that such ending is utterly out of place. Nevertheless, I don’t consider it to be a Dickens’ fault, I rather think of it as a problem of Victorian tradition to serialize novels.

Overall, I enjoyed Oliver Twist. And to these of you, who have ever started it but couldn’t finish (I know there are lot of people like this), I advise to try sticking with the book until about the middle and I’m sure you will see this novel completely different after that.


Post a Comment