Wherein we glance back at the second week of the #DickensClub reading of Oliver Twist; With General Memoranda, a summary of reading and discussion, and a look ahead to week three.
“I have saved you from being ill-used once: and I will again: and I do now…for those who would have fetched you, if I had not, would have been far more rough than me. I have promised for your being quiet and silent: if you are not, you will only do harm to yourself and me too: and perhaps be my death…”
Poor Oliver! After the first bit of true rest and recovery and care that is shown to him, he is instantly swept up again into the life of Fagin, Sikes, and their accomplices. He has found a compromised protector…will that be enough to save him?
This past week, we’ve discussed the possibility of altering the reading schedule just enough to accommodate a week or two of a break in between each read. This would serve several purposes: to help some of the readers who are behind to catch up; for the purposes of more in-depth discussion; for the composition of special interest posts; to do a group watch of an adaptation of the book we’ve just completed. As far as the poll goes, the group is unanimous on the break, though at least one who is mostly here for the discussion likes it as is. So, before Boze and I rework the schedule, the only question remains…one week, or two? Thoughts? Please comment below…
If you’re counting, this coming week will be week 17 of the #DickensClub as a whole (and today Day 112), and the third week of Oliver Twist (our third read). Please feel free to comment below this post for the third week’s chapters, or to use the hashtag #DickensClub if you’re commenting on twitter.
No matter where you’re at in the reading process, a huge “thank you” for reading along with us! We’re forever grateful for shares and retweets from all! Including friends new and old, our marvelous Dickens Fellowship, Dr. Christian Lehmann, Dr. Pete Orford, and all of our Dickensian heroes, for helping to build our reading community. And a huge thank you to The Circumlocution Office for providing such an online resource for us!
We’d love to have new readers join us. If you’re interested: the schedule is in my intro post here, and my introduction to Oliver Twist can be found here. Boze’s most marvelous post on Fagin and antisemitism in Oliver Twist can be found here, and is an ongoing conversation. If you have been reading along with us but are not yet on the Member List, I would love to add you! Please feel free to message me here on the site, or on twitter.
Week Two Oliver Twist Summary (Chapters 12-22)
At the opening of Chapter 12, we finally have a little respite for poor Oliver, as he is taken care of at Mr. Brownlow’s lodgings by the kindly Mrs. Bedwin. There, Oliver is strangely affected by the mysterious portrait of a woman. Mr. Brownlow, too, is startled by the likeness between Oliver and this woman. Shortly after this scene, during which Oliver faints, the portrait is removed.
Fagin berates his apprentices, Charley and the Dodger, for coming back without Oliver. Fearful that Oliver is a liability, Fagin has Nancy look into it. She goes to the police station, pretending to be Oliver’s concerned sister, and find out that the kindly gentleman from the trial had taken Oliver to his own home in Pentonville, and she and a couple of the boys go in search of him.
Mr. Brownlow is visited by his grumpy and jaded friend, Mr. Grimwig, who is of the opinion that Oliver is not to be trusted. When an errand to Mr. Brownlow’s bookseller is needed requiring the delivery of expensive books and a five-pound note, Grimwig all but challenges Brownlow to send Oliver, who is very willing to prove himself and be useful. Brownlow does so. Nancy, however, with the assistance of Bill Sikes, re-kidnaps Oliver, pretends again (for the sake of the onlooking crowd) to be the concerned sister.
Shortly after, Nancy, who is already regretting her part in the whole scheme, comes to the defense of Oliver who is being threatened with a beating and stripping (in order to sell off his good clothes) by Fagin. We come to learn that Nancy, too, had been one of Fagin’s apprentices from when she was about half Oliver’s age; clearly, something about him moves her deeply, and brings out the maternal instincts.
Mr. Brownlow advertises a reward for any person who can bring him information on Oliver’s whereabouts; Mr. Bumble himself visits, and convinces Brownlow that Oliver is not to be trusted. And that gentleman, who has been disappointed in the past instances of misplaced trust, asks that Oliver’s name never be mentioned again by Mrs. Bedwin nor anyone else.
“‘Never let me hear the boy’s name again. I rang to tell you that. Never. Never, on any pretence, mind!…’
“Oliver’s heart sand within him, when he thought of his good kind friends; it was well for him that he could not know what they had heard, or it might have broken outright.”
Meanwhile, Fagin manipulates Oliver’s emotions and sense of reliance by first isolating and imprisoning him, and then bringing him into the company of the other boys, feeling that he will be grateful for any company rather than being alone, and thereby develop a sense of loyalty towards them. And his loyalty is tried when Fagin suggests him as a boy small enough to fit the bill for one who can fit into the window-frame of a house that Sikes intends to rob, along with his accomplices, Crackit and Barney.
” ‘Well, he is just the size I want,’ said Mr. Sikes, ruminating.
‘And will do everything you want, Bill, my dear…he can’t help himself. That is, if you frighten him enough.'”
Nancy encourages Oliver to see it through. In her private talk with Oliver, Nancy shows herself to be conflicted and compromised; Oliver realizes that “he had some power over the girl’s better feelings.”
“You can’t help yourself. I have tried hard for you, but all to no purpose. You are hedged round and round; and if ever you are to get loose from here, this is not the time.”
As Oliver realizes the part he is supposed to play and as Sikes lowers him into the house through the window, Oliver resolves that, instead of opening the street-side door for Sikes and his companions, he will instead risk death to run and warn the family; but they are already awake, and, finding Oliver trespassing, shoot him. Sikes lifts the bloodied child back through the window and they all flee the scene.
Engagement in Reading
Daniel and the Stationmaster got the conversation going this week, and the latter emphasized the amazing readability and engagement of Oliver, in spite of the darker tone which contrasts so strikingly from Pickwick:
And Steve remarked on the cliffhanger of Chapter 14’s ending:
Dickens’ Narrative Technique; Darkness and Light; Movement and Rest; Melodrama and Theatricality; Nancy
We’ve discussed, bringing us back to Pickwick, the “Heart of Darkness” within London and Society, as Lenny called it; Dickens’ social conscience, and the “moral conscience” alluded to by Daniel; the darkness and light within our characters ~ both so uniquely conflicted in Nancy.
It was difficult to “break up” this week’s themes, and the coherence of thought of these essays; each theme is so bound up in the others, and many revolve around the key moment in Chapter 20 when Nancy reveals to Oliver her own troubled psyche and conscience as she grapples with how to help him. This all connects to what we’ve discussed in the theater and melodrama in Dickens.
Most of these below are in “gallery mode”; click on each image to see the comment enlarged.
Boze, as a writer, focused on the narrative techniques employed by Dickens; how he draws us to sympathize with our characters and make each so unique. He reflects on Pullman’s point about the cinematic/visual quality of Dickens’ writing:
Boze H. comments
I added thoughts about the Pullman essay; Dickens’ theatricality and “preternatural energy”:
Rach M. comments
The Stationmaster, however, thinks the more visual media, however, can’t quite do justice to Dickens’ marvelous words:
The crucial scene in Chapter 20 begins as follows, with Nancy wanting to “put down the light” that hurts her eyes:
“Oliver raised the candle above his head: and looked towards the door. It was Nancy.
‘Put down the light,’ said the girl, turning away her head. ‘It hurts my eyes.’
Oliver saw that she was very pale, and gently inquired if she were ill. The girl threw herself into a chair, with her back towards him: and wrung her hands; but made no reply.
‘God forgive me!’ she cried after a while, ‘I never thought of this.’
‘Has anything happened?’ asked Oliver. ‘Can I help you? I will if I can. I will, indeed.’
She rocked herself to and fro; caught her throat; and, uttering a gurgling sound, gasped for breath.”
Chris focuses in on Nancy, Oliver’s unexpected protector, “a prostitute” who “had no doubt been a child prostitute” who is “also a battered woman and the victim of predatory, decidedly older, men.” Now, she is becoming “suddenly aware”:
Chris M. comments
Lenny agrees. Here’s the opening statement from his essay which I’ll put below in full:
“Extraordinary analysis, Chris. Nancy’s caught between the light and dark worlds–as we’ve been calling them throughout our discussion of Dickens, starting with the SKETCHES. And you do such a good job of pointing this out. Oliver in his goodness and innocent youth, obviously stands for the lighter end of the spectrum–should he not be completely and irrevocably drawn into the Fagin/Sykes milieu as the other boys have experienced.”
I started out discussing the themes of Movement versus Rest: the incessant and inhuman nature of the former here; the peace and beauty of the latter as Dickens so often conveys it. I then discuss the theatricality of Dickens, the strangeness of his imagination (Ackroyd), and my disagreement with Tomalin about Nancy:
Rach M. comments
Lenny challenges Tomalin’s idea from his own experience of such anxiety/panic attacks:
Lenny H. comments
But but beyond the realism, Lenny focuses in on the “progression” in the personalities of Oliver and Nancy, and how, in a way, they have changed places, as he has activated something long dormant in her, and he takes on a more adult role:
Lenny H. comments
Steve focuses in in Chapter 17 and how “Dickens already was becoming adept at pulling heart strings and going straight for the jugular”:
Chris asks the question, on Nancy:
“How far will Nancy go to protect Oliver? Is it even really Oliver she is protecting? Or is she motivated by something – someone – else?”
Anima and Archetypes
We’re still zooming in on Chapter 20, and Lenny gives us a Jungian analysis of the role reversals, the activation of what is dormant within our characters, and how Nancy, “by summoning (up) and protecting Oliver (as archetype and person), she is beginning to protect and ‘save’ a part of her OWN ‘self,’ the child segment that, before she comes into the novel , she’s ‘split off’ and buried within her unconscious”:
For those who weren’t reading the Ackroyd piece that Chris shared (due to spoilers), I shared a passage that was particularly striking:
“…his whole conception of Oliver Twist seems to have changed. He recreated Rose Maylie in the image of his dead sister-in-law, of course, but even before that happy resurrection much of the topical and polemical intent of the novel is abandoned and Dickens introduces a slower, more melancholy note which comes to pervade most of its subsequent pages. In fact it can be said that Dickens now introduces something of English Romantic poetry—Wordsworthian, in particular—into his fiction, and it has often been claimed that it is precisely this new presence which marks the true distinction of Oliver Twist. Dickens brings into his novel ideas of innate beauty, of childhood innocence, of some previous state of blessedness from which we come and to which we may eventually return. It is in these passages that his prose seems instinctively to move with poetic cadence and diction. It is as if the death of Mary Hogarth had broken him open, and the real music of his being had been released—and how powerful it becomes when it is aligned both with his helpless memories of his own childhood and with the greatest extant tradition in English poetry.”
Lenny wrote a beautiful piece on this topic, focusing in on Wordsworth’s idea that “The Child is father of the Man”:
Lenny H. comments
A Look-ahead to Week Three of Oliver Twist (26 April-2 May)
This week, we’ll be reading Chapters 23-34, which constitute the monthly numbers XI-XV, published Feb-June 1838.
You can read the text in full at The Circumlocution Office if you prefer the online format or don’t have a copy. There are also a number of places (including Gutenberg) where it can be downloaded for free.