Oliver Twist, Week 4 ~ and a Week 3 Wrap-up

Wherein we glance back at the third week of the #DickensClub reading of Oliver Twist; With General Memoranda, a summary of reading and discussion, and a look ahead to week four.

by George Cruikshank

“Who can tell how scenes of peace and quietude sink into the minds of pain-worn dwellers in close and noisy places, and carry their own freshness, deep into their jaded hearts! Men who have lived in crowded, pent-up streets, through lives of toil, and who have never wished for change; men, to whom custom has indeed been second nature, and who have come almost to love each brick and stone that formed the narrow boundaries of their daily walks; even they, with the hand of death upon them, have been known to yearn at last for one short glimpse of Nature’s face; and, carried far from the scenes of their old pains and pleasures, have seemed to pass at once into a new state of being.”

What a relief to see some significant peace and rest for our weary little sojourner, Oliver! Yet we know it is not over yet, and we can only wonder, with the mysterious meetings and forebodings, how long the tranquil peace of his country refuge will last…?

General Mems

If you’re counting, this coming week will be week 18 of the #DickensClub as a whole (and today Day 119), and the fourth week of Oliver Twist (our third read). Please feel free to comment below this post for the fourth week’s chapters, or to use the hashtag #DickensClub if you’re commenting on twitter.

I’d like to give a warm welcome to our newest members, Glenn, Francis, and Mary! And I’d like to welcome an honorary Club member (who is following our posts and cheering us on but won’t necessarily be in line with all the readings and discussion), a kindred spirit and Dickensian, Gina Dalfonzo!

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.

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!

Our new schedule which incorporates the break between reads will be out shortly. I’ve only heard from a few folks about how long the break should be, but looks like the majority is 2 weeks, to allow for group watching of some of the miniseries adaptations following the read.

And for those interested in a Dickens readers’ survey, Michelle Allen-Emerson recently put out a tweet to ask for participation, and the link to her page can be found here. (I think I rambled on a bit long in my contribution!)

Week Three Oliver Twist Summary (Chapters 23-34)

“Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney taking Tea,” by George Cruikshank. https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-twist.html

Even a beadle can be sentimental, as Mr. Bumble’s flirtation with Mrs. Corney, widow and matron of the workhouse, bears witness to. Their moment, however, is interrupted when news is delivered to Mrs. Corney that a poor, dying woman has something that she means to communicate before the end: that she had, long ago, robbed a poor pregnant woman of a gold locket that was intended to assist in finding those who would be able to help care for her child, Oliver.

Meanwhile, Fagin finds out from Mr. Crackit about the bungled robbery attempt, and that Oliver was shot, pulled out of the window, and left in a ditch as the others fled the scene. Fagin, who appears to be interested in Oliver beyond what his sense of Oliver’s liability to the group can justify, goes in search of a man named Monks. Having no luck, he seeks out Sikes, only to find Nancy, who wishes that Oliver were dead rather than with Fagin.

“Mr. Claypole as he appeared when his Master was out,” by George Cruikshank. https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-twist.html

Things take a turn for the Gothic as Monks enters the scene—Monks, who has been waiting for Fagin at the latter’s own residence. Monks, too, is looking for Oliver, and shows signs of some mysterious paranoia about a woman he thought he witnessed in the shadows.

But we can’t leave Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney where they were, with his approving inventory of the furniture and comforts as she left the scene we’d last witnessed, because, upon her return, the flirtation continues, with a capital declaration of love in the romantic atmosphere of alcohol and peppermint.

“‘Coals, candles, and house-rent free,’ said Mr. Bumble. ‘Oh, Mrs. Corney, what a Angel you are!’”

“‘Such porochial perfection!’”

This porochial perfection does not belong to the “fascinator” Mrs. Corney alone, but to Charlotte, whose flirtation with Noah Claypole—and vice-versa—is the subject of reproof on the part of the upright Mr. Bumble, who would never indulge in such flirtation himself!

“Oliver at Mrs. Maylie’s Door,” by George Cruikshank. https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-twist.html

Meanwhile: wounded and confused, Oliver stumbles back to the home that the men had just tried to rob. They show pity for Oliver, and take him in. While Oliver’s fate is in the balance as Rose speaks up for him, determined that he can’t be in the wrong unless it is the fault of others who have forced him into it, Oliver tells his life story, and moves his hearers. The kindhearted doctor, Mr. Losberne, tries to deflect the constable’s suspicion of Oliver as one of the accomplices—not without threatening hints towards the Maylies’ attendants, Mr. Giles and Brittles, who had discovered and shot him. Bow-street officers, Blathers and Duff, inspect the scene of the crime, and rule out Oliver’s part in the burglary.

Finally, Oliver is able to rest and recover with Mrs. Maylie and Rose, and they take him with them to the countryside, after a failed effort to find Mr. Brownlow, who has apparently moved to the West Indies. But not long after, it is Rose herself who must seek recovery and rest from a serious illness—but one from which she finally, barely, recovers. Mrs. Maylie’s son, Harry, enters the scene, and is challenged about material, worldly prospects versus his love for Rose; challenged to consider that she has some family secret related to her parents that may cast a shadow over them both.

And Oliver himself, in the midst of a sleepy doze, almost imagines the shadow of Fagin and another man, staring at him from the window…

Discussion Wrap-Up

What we Loved, and Random Whimsy

Maura is loving the layout of the site (and there are still changes to come, I just haven’t been able to get to them yet). Thanks, Maura! And our Stationmaster has chosen an excellent role model in the endearing realist, Dr. Losberne.

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Going a little off-topic ~ and I’m still not quite sure how this started ~ Boze, Icona, and I chimed in on the various consolations of Dickens during times of stress…

Dickens’ Theatricality and Locales

Boze brought us back to the influence of the theater in Dickens with the allusion to the self-conscious quote, “It is the custom on the stage, in all good murderous melodramas, to present the tragic and the comic scenes, in as regular alteration, as the layers of red and white in a side of streaky bacon.” Just as “visual” are Dickens’ descriptions of the locales in Oliver, all of which he would have known well, and “could see in his mind’s eye like a vision,” as Boze says, “even when the streets and alleys aren’t explicitly named”:

Boze H. comments

I mused about the theatrically Gothic turn that the book made with the introduction of Monks, and it was perhaps appropriate that I was reading these scenes during a quiet break time at work somewhere around the witching hour of the night:

Rach M. comments

Dickens’ “Writing Lab”: Narrative Structure, Foreshadowing, and the Multi-Plot Novel

Chris beautifully analyzes and summarizes our read this week, with an eye for Dickens’ masterclass (as “the master of cliffhangers”) in narrative technique and foreshadowing: the “chink in Mr. Bumble’s armor”; the “secret” of Mrs. Corney; Oliver’s physiognomy and how his face will continue to be “significant”; Monk’s mysterious motives; the “stain” on Rose Maylie:

Chris M. comments

“Tragedy can befall anyone,” the Stationmaster writes, “even good people in good circumstances.” Should we be surprised that Oliver should be so surprised at Rose’s illness and the possibility of death in one so young?

Adaptation Stationmaster and Chris M. comments

Lenny responded to Chris’ comments, too, with special emphasis to the multilayered plotting techniques employed by Dickens, particularly wondering whether the technique Dickens is developing (“multiple stories happening all at once” and the “simultaneity” of it all) will continue in future novels so strikingly:

Lenny H. comments

Chris responds:

Chris M. comment

Nancy and Rose: Shadow and Light

Chris had calculated in an earlier week that Nancy is probably about seventeen. She and Rose Maylie, therefore, would be almost the exact same age, mirrors and foils to one another. Oliver has “activated,” as Lenny writes, the maternal instinct in each. Yet, as he continues, they each have a “shadow” beyond that: “Rose’s shadow is that of renunciation (of self, of Harry); Nancy’s is that of potential emancipation and salvation. One might say, in a Jungian sense, each of these women operate as one another’s shadow!”

Here’s Lenny’s marvelous essay in full:

“Escaped/From the Vast City”: Memory and Rest, Dickens’ Romanticism, Nature and Childhood, City vs. Country

Daniel started us off in continuing the conversation of the theme of “rest” which is especially striking and welcome in this week’s chapters:

Daniel M. comments

I think we’ve all been noting the parallels between Rose Maylie and the loss of Dickens’ sister-in-law Mary Hogarth, and the descriptions of Rose bear a striking resemblance to what we know of Dickens’ perception of Mary. Here, I discuss those parallels, and the theme of rest, and the “religious significance of memory” as first brought up in the introduction. In these chapters, Dickens moves from “satirical social critic” to “Romantic” in his emphasis on Nature and the peace of the countryside that allows for such reflections on Memory ~ almost, we might say, of an existence before or beyond our birth:

Rach M. comments

Chris writes:

Chris M. comment

Lenny responds with a beautiful passage on Wordsworth; how poetry is composed from just such a state of rest and tranquility as Oliver is finally experiencing, which connects him to a more pure and natural state of being: “Rach’s idea, about the ‘significance of Memory, and Rest’ seems to parallel exactly what Wordsworth is saying here and throughout the ‘Preface’ about the importance of memory and the idea of composing from a position of tranquility…I must say that again and again in Wordsworth’s ‘Preface,’ there are MANY instances where this Romantic Poet discusses the earlier phases of one’s existence (the child’s) and how important that is in manifesting one’s growth.”

Lenny H. comments

Then Lenny shares with us a marvelous “teaser” of the first 70 lines of Wordsworth’s The Prelude to illuminate our reading:

I’ll just highlight here a passage that is especially striking:

“Whate’er its mission, the soft breeze can come
To none more grateful than to me; escaped
From the vast city, where I long had pined
A discontented sojourner: now free,
Free as a bird to settle where I will.
What dwelling shall receive me? in what vale
Shall be my harbour? underneath what grove
Shall I take up my home? and what clear stream
Shall with its murmur lull me into rest?
The earth is all before me. With a heart
Joyous, nor scared at its own liberty,
I look about; and should the chosen guide
Be nothing better than a wandering cloud,
I cannot miss my way. I breathe again!”

A Look-ahead to Week Four of Oliver Twist (3-9 May)

This week we’ll be reading Chapters 35-46, which constitute the monthly numbers XVI-XX, published July, Aug, Oct, Nov, and Dec of 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.


  1. Rach et al, I thought I’d include some opening remarks by Peter Cook in his recent book, THE ROMANTIC LEGACY OF CHARLES DICKENS as a kind of continuation and confirmation of your SUPERB analysis and beautifully coordinated restatement of the various ideas and themes the group has uncovered in its latest commentary on the part 3 reading of OLIVER. His book, which I just rented from Amazon Kindle, gives a number of key statements about the way in which it will study Dickens’ novels in the context of the “Romantic Tradition.” Having just rented it, I’ve not gotten any further than these introductory remarks, but I thought this excerpt might shed more light on the Wordsworth connection to OLIVER which we’ve been talking about, but which also looks forward to the other “Boy Novels” which fit nicely into the romantic context as defined by Wordsworth. Here is just a sample of his opening summary:

    “There are few Dickens novels and stories where the theme of childhood does not play a key role, and which could not have been discussed in Chapter 2, ‘Childhood’. However, the two wholly first-person narratives, David Copperfield (1849–50), and Great Expectations (1860–61), were chosen as they are particularly revealing in their relationship to Romanticism. Dirk den Hartog characterises Pip’s career in the latter novel as ‘a qualified version of the spiritual-cum-psychological autobiography Wordsworth had traced in The Prelude ’. Both novels can in fact be seen as Dickensian versions of The Prelude, written at different stages of Dickens’s career. I will demonstrate that the differences between their portrayals of the theme of growth from childhood to adulthood encapsulate the essence of his engagement with the Romantic child. In terms of the use of imagery too, both novels make striking use of natural images that assume the importance of characters in the novel, rather than merely scenery or setting. The elemental presences that Dickens evokes just once in David Copperfield , to embody the climactic tragedy of Ham’s death trying to save Steerforth, are present throughout Great Expectations , in the form of the marshes and estuary, as unifying devices. This chapter was originally called ‘Childhood and Education’, but as the work progressed it became apparent that the institutional connotations of the latter word are inappropriate to both the Romantics’ and Dickens’s notions of how children learn and develop. The final lines of Coleridge’s ‘Frost at Midnight’ haunt this opening chapter, and return in each of the ensuing ones.”

    (Cook, Peter. The Romantic Legacy of Charles Dickens (p. 17). Springer International Publishing. Kindle Edition. )

    Cooks applications of Wordsworthian “ideas” to COPPERFIELD and EXPECTATIONS I think can easily be extrapolated to include the development of Oliver Twist’s personality and growth. In particular, the notion that David and Pip’s “stories” are retellings in one way or another of the autobiographical happenings in THE PRELUDE could include, in shorter form, Oliver’s story. This, as a group, we are just beginning to explicate–along with the myriad of other themes and ideas we’ve discovered and discussed!

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  2. Just thought I’d include this Coleridge–referred to by by Cook, above…. Parts of it–perhaps all–parallel the sentiments contained within OT, especially the City/Country contrast–with a very positive nod toward the “country” in the education of its protagonist.

    Frost at Midnight
    Samuel Taylor Coleridge – 1772-1834

    The frost performs its secret ministry,
    Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry
    Came loud—and hark, again! loud as before.
    The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
    Have left me to that solitude, which suits
    Abstruser musings: save that at my side
    My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
    ‘Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
    And vexes meditation with its strange
    And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
    This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
    With all the numberless goings-on of life,
    Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
    Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
    Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
    Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
    Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
    Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
    Making it a companionable form,
    Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
    By its own moods interprets, everywhere
    Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
    And makes a toy of Thought.

    But O! how oft,
    How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
    Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
    To watch that fluttering stranger! and as oft
    With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
    Of my sweet birthplace, and the old church-tower,
    Whose bells, the poor man’s only music, rang
    From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
    So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
    With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
    Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
    So gazed I, till the soothing things I dreamt
    Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
    And so I brooded all the following morn,
    Awed by the stern preceptor’s face, mine eye
    Fixed with mock study on my swimming book:
    Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
    A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
    For still I hoped to see the stranger’s face,
    Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
    My playmate when we both were clothed alike!

    Dear babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
    Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
    Fill up the interspersed vacancies
    And momentary pauses of the thought!
    My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
    With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
    And think that thou shalt learn far other lore
    And in far other scenes! For I was reared
    In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim,
    And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
    But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
    By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
    Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
    Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
    And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
    The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
    Of that eternal language, which thy God
    Utters, who fro eternity doth teach
    Himself in all, and all things in himself.
    Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
    They spirit, and by giving make it ask.

    Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
    Whether the summer clothe the general earth
    With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
    Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
    Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
    Smokes in the sunthaw; whether the eve-drops fall
    Heard only in the trances of the blast,
    Or if the secret ministry of frost
    Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
    Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

    –Written February 1798

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  3. It seems to me that Dickens’ second novel is built continuously on the idea of surprise. Perhaps that’s too general a statement as it probably applies to just about any novel. Narratives move from chapter to chapter, each of which tends to build expectations in the reader to the point that she or he wants to continue reading “to find out what happens next.” We readers are encouraged to continue our perusal because revelations of one kind or another exist to further our knowledge and anticipations about the characters and events that are set forth in the fictional world. No matter the extravagances of that world, we are led–in a good novel, at least, to believe in that world and the ideas and events it sets forth. And this “world” is filled with “surprises.”

    But what I’m getting at in OLIVER TWIST are the “major” TRAUMATIC surprises–usually harmful, physically and mentally– that happen as Oliver’s “pilgrimage” proceeds. These “events” seem to me to work on two levels, sometimes simultaneously–as they “happen” to Oliver as well as to me, the reader. At the same time, there are moments which lead to Oliver’s surprise but which I’m prepared for, but also to which I am, strangely, surprised at Oliver’s surprise. At the same time, there is something about these latter events which–in their depth, just throw me for a loop. Oliver, as we know, is–for one reason or another, the unwitting victim.

    For me, and of course for Oliver, the first event that really knocks us both out on a psychological and physical level, takes place in Chapter 2, where Oliver and his mates are hungry, starving, as a matter of fact, and delegate Oliver to be their “spokesperson”:

    “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 stupefied 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; pinioned him in his arm; and shrieked aloud for the beadle.”

    My heavens; this powerful and destructive activity toward this small, timid, awkward child is surely unbelievable. But of course it isn’t, for as we’ve seen , it’s just the logical outcome of the various tortures the children, if they live long enough, will be treated to akin to this kind of destructive treatment. But in the midst of this dramatic moment, I am totally gobsmacked by what has just happened to Oliver! Not only will he receive the wrath of the fat “master” with a blow on his head with the ladle but be called on the carpet by the other powers that be.

    Another traumatic moment happens when Oliver is sent out with the Dodger and Charley on his first pickpocket mission about midway through Chapter 10. We readers are more prepared for this event than Oliver because we see that he is more entertained in Fagin’s lodgings by the seeming “games” he plays with his proteges than by his having any realization about the true nature of what is going on. Fagin and the other young boys would see this activity as part of their “GROOMING” of Oliver for the work they have in store for him. Yet, we won’t know the extent of his innocence until he is faced with his next major surprise event:

    “What was Oliver’s horror and alarm as he stood a few paces off, looking on with his eyelids as wide open as they would possibly go, to see the Dodger plunge his hand into the old gentleman’s pocket, and draw from thence a handkerchief! To see him hand the same to Charley Bates; and finally to behold them, both running away round the corner at full speed!

    In an instant the whole mystery of the hankerchiefs, and the watches, and the jewels, and the Jew, rushed upon the boy’s mind.

    He stood, for a moment, with the blood so tingling through all his veins from terror, that he felt as if he were in a burning fire; then, confused and frightened, he took to his heels; and, not knowing what he did, made off as fast as he could lay his feet to”

    Oh Boy! We do see him in all his innocence coming to the realization of what is happening in front of him and, by extension, TO him. Definitely, he is really traumatized by this event to which he, in all his innocence, was unprepared for. In essence, the grooming at Fagin’s didn’t “take.” Oliver’s astonishment leaves him paralyzed and terrified. The writing is simply superb, here, as the narration allows the the reader to see FROM THE OUTSIDE Oliver’s reaction (“eyelids as wide open as they would possibly go”) as well as from the INSIDE–“with the blood so tingling through all his veins from terror”…feeling “as if he were in a burning fire.” Oliver is–to put it mildly–surprised, we readers are no doubt surprised at Oliver’s surprise, but we, like Oliver, are totally involved in the event itself and with the depth to which it is rendered.

    Quite a bit later–in Chapter 20, to be exact–we readers are treated to another event which, in itself is not exactly surprising to us but again its rendering by Dickens in all its wonderful and wonderous detail, is almost as incapacitating to the reader (ME, in fact) as it is to Oliver:

    “And now, for the first time, Oliver, well-nigh mad with grief and terror, saw that housebreaking and robbery, if not murder, were the objects of the expedition. He clasped his hands together, and involuntarily uttered a subdued exclamation of horror. A mist came before his eyes; the cold sweat stood upon his ashy face; his limbs failed him; and he sank upon his knees.

    ‘Get up!’ murmured Sikes, trembling with rage, and drawing the pistol from his pocket; ‘Get up, or I’ll strew your brains upon the grass.’

    ‘Oh! for God’s sake let me go!’ cried Oliver; ‘let me run away and die in the fields. I will never come near London; never, never! Oh! pray have mercy on me, and do not make me steal. For the love of all the bright Angels that rest in Heaven, have mercy upon me!’

    The man to whom this appeal was made, swore a dreadful oath, and had cocked the pistol, when Toby, striking it from his grasp, placed his hand upon the boy’s mouth, and dragged him to the house.”

    As before, we readers are allowed an “inside view” of what’s going on with Oliver, but also see and hear with the “outside view” his physical and vocal response to the terrible event which he has literally been “thrust” into. Of course, he, in all his innocence, is petrified by what has happened to the extent that he has nearly fainted. The outside view as well as the inside view are what surprise the reader I suspect, especially because of the intensity with which they are drawn by the author. In his innocence, Oliver wails, “have merch upon me!”–a plea that goes unheeded by the evil young men who are his captors and initiators! Oliver is surprised by this event, and we are hugely surprise by the “totality” of this event, as Oliver advances into the Maylie residence and is shot by Giles. Anticipation, leads to surprise multiplied by surprise as experienced by ALL of the participants in this episode.

    As I write about this subject, I am beginning to see a larger phenomenon at work, and that is the growing intensity of each of these traumatic episodes. It is as though Oliver must truly suffer his way through his journey, with growing worries, distractions, and evil deeds and strange mysteries. In Chapter 33, we see Oliver suffering greatly with the near-death illness of Rose, but there is more to come that will again challenge his notions of what is probable in this weird and wacky world he inhabits. He is sent out by Mrs. Maylie to deliver important letters when he is confronted by a mysterious stranger who–as Oliver has experienced before, threatens to do great harm to this small boy. During this moment, Oliver’s surprise is OUR surprise. We have no idea of what is going on:

    “‘Hah!’ cried the man, fixing his eyes on Oliver, and suddenly recoiling. ‘What the devil’s this?’

    ‘I beg your pardon, sir,’ said Oliver; ‘I was in a great hurry to get home, and didn’t see you were coming.’

    ‘Death!’ muttered the man to himself, glaring at the boy with his large dark eyes. ‘Who would have thought it! Grind him to ashes! He’d start up from a stone coffin, to come in my way!’

    ‘I am sorry,’ stammered Oliver, confused by the strange man’s wild look. ‘I hope I have not hurt you!’

    ‘Rot you!’ murmured the man, in a horrible passion; between his clenched teeth; ‘if I had only had the courage to say the word, I might have been free of you in a night. Curses on your head, and black death on your heart, you imp! What are you doing here?’

    The man shook his fist, as he uttered these words incoherently. He advanced towards Oliver, as if with the intention of aiming a blow at him, but fell violently on the ground: writhing and foaming, in a fit.”

    Up to now, this happening is about the strangest thing we have seen and experienced in this novel. We are just as confused as Oliver by what this man is doing and saying. His statement, “‘Curses on your head, and black death on your heart, you imp! What are you doing here?’” is both scary and whets our curiosity, as it implies that this man has some kind of history with Oliver. But what can it be and why has it driven this ugly fellow to be so nasty to our hero? And then, in front of Oliver and we READERS, this strange being falls to the ground in the midst of some kind of “fit.” Has Oliver ever seen the like. Have we readers ever seen the like. What a strange “surprise” this is….

    In many respects, we can only admire the ways in which this novel penetrates the psychology of its various inhabitants. Although Oliver is the centerpiece for at least the first 2/3’s of the novel, there are many other characters whose mental states Dickens seems to want to express. One of those “states” has to do with something akin to hallucinations–and these psychic events seem to follow after dire events that cause various characters to imagine otherworldly phantasms. Sikes and Fagin’s psychic events come to mind. But Oliver is treated to an out of body experience that can only be accounted for by the totality of trauma he has experienced to this point in the novel. Here we are in Oliver’s study in Chapter 34:

    “Oliver knew, perfectly well, that he was in his own little room; that his books were lying on the table before him; that the sweet air was stirring among the creeping plants outside. And yet he was asleep. Suddenly, the scene changed; the air became close and confined; and he thought, with a glow of terror, that he was in the Jew’s house again. There sat the hideous old man, in his accustomed corner, pointing at him, and whispering to another man, with his face averted, who sat beside him.

    ‘Hush, my dear!’ he thought he heard the Jew say; ‘it is he, sure enough. Come away.’

    ‘He!’ the other man seemed to answer; ‘could I mistake him, think you? If a crowd of ghosts were to put themselves into his exact shape, and he stood amongst them, there is something that would tell me how to point him out. If you buried him fifty feet deep, and took me across his grave, I fancy I should know, if there wasn’t a mark above it, that he lay buried there?’

    The man seemed to say this, with such dreadful hatred, that Oliver awoke with the fear, and started up.

    Good Heaven! what was that, which sent the blood tingling to his heart, and deprived him of his voice, and of power to move! There—there—at the window—close before him—so close, that he could have almost touched him before he started back: with his eyes peering into the room, and meeting his: there stood the Jew! And beside him, white with rage or fear, or both, were the scowling features of the man who had accosted him in the inn-yard.

    It was but an instant, a glance, a flash, before his eyes; and they were gone. ”

    This is an extended “inside view” that just resonates with meaning and reverberates with psychic energy. The imagery, the voices, the reaction that Oliver has to all of this phantasm is rife with mystery. Again, as with the other events I’ve been discussing, Oliver is paralyzed both mentally and physically. And we readers get to “feel” on both levels, what Oliver feels. This is a classic example of how the novel forces in the reader a kind of simultaneous response to the information at hand. We are invited, closely, to share with Oliver his astonishment and total perplexity about this strange situation.

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  4. As someone who’s very interested in Dickens’s plotting abilities, I was struck by a line in Michael Slater’s biography about the clumsiness of the plotting in this section of Oliver. As he tees up the end of the story Dickens seems to have realized that he needs to begin preparing a happy ending for the poor boy, which necessitates the scene in which old Sally reveals the gold locket and hints at secrets yet to be revealed. There’s a well-known anecdote about how the director of a stage version of Oliver that was already running before the novel had even ended approached Dickens and asked him how the story was going to end; Dickens replied that he didn’t know. Dickens may have been exaggerating a little, but it’s clear that he hadn’t worked it all out from the beginning, as he would in his more meticulously constructed later novels. As Slater notes, “Dickens has to rely on his readers not remembering the first installment of Oliver well enough to recall that there had been no opportunity” for his mother’s deathbed confession. The plot of Dickens’s next book, Nicholas Nickleby, would come in for similar criticisms, including from Dickens himself, who lamented that he had to “spoil” a certain number with some heavy-handed plot contrivances and coincidences in order for the story to resolve in the way he intended. One character in the book even lampshades the barely hidden story machinery by saying, “I don’t believe now … that there’s such a place in all the world for coincidences as London!”

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    1. Yeah, boze, this very question about “plotting” in OLIVER has come up several times as we saw in Chris’ earlier statement regarding the time where Oliver was left in the ditch, dying–as the novel moved forth with other subplots, for several chapters. Maybe because the novel was delivered in installments has something to do with what I called last week the “zig zag narrative.” Each “number”–as and while it is being written–seems to gather its own momentum Peopled with its own interesting cast of characters, in a way that forms a kind of story unto itself. It’s as though Dickens couldn’t help himself as he continued to gather together so many interesting characters (interesting, at least to himself) and just kept on putting them out there, to the extent that, suddenly, to his surprise, an installment’s length had been fulfilled. In dealing with this idea of narrative progression yesterday, I was toggling back and forth between chapters to get more of a handle on just what you are talking about. I haven’t arrived at any definitive ideas, here, though I believe that this Dickens’ novel (maybe many others) was, in its writing, mostly character-driven and that plotting, though important to some extent, just got left on the back burner, so to speak, until Dickens suddenly realized that certain aspects of the story had to be “cleaned up.”

      There is also this: In spite of the dark and deadly passages of OIVER, the novel was, essentially, comic, so in the manner of many “dark” comic novels and dramas (I think of Shakespeare and Jane Austen), there will be a point where, no matter how weird and inconsistent, there will be the sudden recognition that a comic ending is a necessity and will have to develop sooner or later, maybe planned for or not. The convention just calls for it to “happen.’ There will be marriages (sometimes multiple) as we see at the ending of PICKWICK, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, etc. and that would have to BE in the case of OLIVER. Very early on in his novel writing career, it seems, Dickens wants the “comic closure” typical of Romantic Comedies. So we have these “mini romantic comedies in the midst of a novel that seems morally devoted to darker, other more societal issues. In OLIVER, the “romance” between Rose and Harry is just that. But their romantic connection happens in the LATTER stages of the novel rather than from the first of the novel, as we can see in the more “conventional” romantic comedies. That is, we can’t call OLIVER a “romantic comedy” (I think) but a (melo) drama with a late “romantic comedy” imbedded in its very curious plot construction.


      As an aside: For some reason, I’m not so bothered by these narrative inconsistencies and things that cause unresolved mysteries. The “modern novel” from Joyce, Dorothy Richardson, Virginia Woolf, has taught me to enjoy mystery and what Wordsworth in his PRELUDE speaks of as “Unknown modes of being.” It seems to me, certain things can remain mysterious without being solved–including, as Chris mentions in her essays that follow, the continued “love” of Nancy for Sikes! That Dickens understood how unfathomable this was–to him and his readers–is just a marvelous indication of his insight into destructive and self-destructive human behaviors. Mystery for mysteries sake?

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      1. Oh boy, here’s a postscript: Speaking of my acceptance of and love of “mystery” in narrative, I’ve just been reflecting on the films that I’m become most devoted to over the years. (Sorry, Boze, you got me started here!) My top five favorite movies in no particular order–L’AVVENTURA, WILD STRAWBERRIES, PERSONA, THE CONFORMIST, and VERTIGO–all contain at their hearts a mystery or many mysteries–which go unresolved or at least partially so. I’m not sure if these narrative “gaps” or unclosed or undisclosed “openings” (for lack of better words) are what draw me into their narrations, but I think that on some point that they “click” psychologically–and, in other ways; I’m always, at some level, trying to fathom what might well be the unfathomable. (Right now I’m almost at a loss for words to explain myself in this regard.) To be sure, I’m also aware of the overabundance of narrative intensity and drama on the psychological level–mine and in these films. What’s driving these protagonists to do what they have done and are doing, and what has really happened (?), because a lot of the “action” takes place in the “unreliable” minds of these key characters, as they render material perceived “fact’s”–in flashbacks, psychological inserts, and so forth.

        Another two favorites–Bunuel’s UN CHIEN ANDELOU, and Robert Wiene’s THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI–the first, one of the worlds great early surrealist films, the second, an early classic expressionist film–THRIVE on mystery, and as I think back to both the expressionistic and surrealist moments in OLIVER, I am suddenly aware of Dickens embodiment of these two genre elements. British literature going back way before Dickens is filled with dreams and hallucinations–Chaucer for example in his very complex “dream visions” for surrealistic methodology, and the Gothic Novel as written by “Monk” Lewis, Ann Radcliffe, and Horace Walpole for their expressionistic tendencies–EACH of which find their way into OLIVER. These various narratives (filmed or written) are filled with, if not devoted to, gaps, openings, unknowns which either become their dominant focus, or which, by their very presence, enrich their stories .

        Oh boy, Boze–one thing leads to another, doesn’t it?

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  5. Lenny – Terrific analysis! Seeing the world through Oliver’s eyes – through a child’s eyes! This is what made this novel so unique in 1837 – an extended fairy tale, if you will. How does one, with no experience, process the “surprises” of life? How are the surprises to be integrated into one’s psyche going forward? Do they traumatize one to the point of numbness or inability to cope, or do they help one grow to be fully functional?

    I’d like to use your example to trace Nancy’s response to surprise –

    Her trauma at the hands of Fagin began when she was “not half as old” as Oliver – say five years old – has lain dormant for twelves years and only comes to the surface when she recaptures Oliver and passes Newgate prison. Suddenly, in Oliver, she begins to see what her life has been and the why and how of it. She does her best to protect Oliver from the brutality of Fagin & Sikes, but her ability to do so is limited. She cannot save him from being used for the burglary, but she does her best to prepare him, though she can only tell him to do as he is told and doesn’t offer specifics as to what that might be. Fortunately for Oliver, the bungled burglary turns out to be a good thing while for Nancy it leads to an uptick in anxiety, stress and trauma.

    Having surreptitiously heard all the intrigue between Fagin and Monks regarding Oliver, Nancy finds herself caught between a rock and a hard place. It’s no wonder she’s become haggard and hysterical! She MUST help Oliver to save her own soul, but she CANNOT go against the Gang, or Fagin, or most importantly to her, Bill. The honor among thieves code (as outlined by Fagin to Noah in Ch 43) accounts for her loyalty to the Gang and to Fagin, but her loyalty to Bill is based on that most unfathomable of concepts – Love. Nancy loves Bill. Why she loves him is anybody’s guess, even she doesn’t know – “I don’t know what it is . . . I only know that it is so . . . I am drawn back to him through every suffering and ill usage, and should be, I believe, if I knew that I was to die by his hand at last.” The important thing is that because she loves him she won’t give him up. Her love for him, however, doesn’t preclude her from drugging him to give herself time to search out and talk with Rose Maylie.

    To do this Nancy must enter the (to her) foreign world of the posh West-End of London, and she must summon all her courage to enter the house where Rose is staying and request/beg/insist that a message be taken to Rose. She is met with “virtuous disdain” and “a vast quantity of chase wrath in the bosoms of four housemaids” before the “intercession” of “the soft-hearted cook” effects the delivery of her message. While she waits she must listen “to the very audible expressions of scorn, of which the chaste housemaids were very prolific.” This snobbish ill-treatment she expects. But in spite of it, she is shown to a room where she will meet Rose. As she waits she reflects:

    “The girl’s life had been squandered in the streets . . . but there was something of the woman’s original nature left in her still; and when she heard a light step approaching . . . and thought of the wide contrast which the small room would in another moment contain, she felt burdened with the sense of her own deep shame, and shrunk as though she could scarcely bear the presence of her with whom she had sought this interview.
    “But struggling with these better feelings was pride . . . even this degraded being [Nancy] felt too proud to betray one feeble gleam of the womanly feeling which she thought a weakness, but which alone connected her with that humanity, of which her wasting life had obliterated all outward traces when a very child.”

    So, when Rose appears Nancy is defiant and “tossed her head with affected carelessness” and complains of her ill treatment. Rose responds as only Rose would, by apologizing for the behavior, designating it as meaningless in relation to what Nancy has to say, and expressing her openness to hearing what Nancy has to say.

    “The kind tone of this answer, the sweet voice, the gentle manner, the absence of any accent of haughtiness or displeasure, took the girl completely by surprise, and she burst into tears.”

    Here is Lenny’s surprise – Rose’s behavior is so completely foreign to what Nancy expected, to what she is accustomed to – to her experience. It allows Nancy, perhaps for the first time, to drop her defenses and speak truthfully and from the heart, and in the soothing presence of Rose, Nancy is able to relay her information to the one person who will, first, believe her and, second, take action to safeguard Oliver. But Rose’s influence is not strong enough to completely tear down the years of conditioning that have worked on Nancy: “I am chained to my old life. I loathe and hate it now, but I cannot leave it.”

    The risks Nancy takes effect her physically as well as mentally – it’s as if her body doesn’t know how to process these new feelings.. Panic attacks leave her utterly exhausted and she begins to exhibit frequent and abrupt mood swings and hysterical behavior which leave Bill, Fagin and the Gang scratching their collective head. These behaviors put her ability to continue passing information on to Rose in jeopardy. They also lead to Fagin’s “conceived the idea . . . that Nancy, wearied of the housebreaker’s brutality, had conceived an attachment for some new friend”, and hopes to take advantage of this as he too wants to be rid of Sikes. And so he sets Noah Claypole to spy on Nancy to discover something he can use to persuade (i.e., blackmail) her “to consent to poison him”. Fagin’s villainy knows no bounds we can only shudder for Nancy’s fate at his hands.

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  6. I also want to add thoughts about Rose Maylie. For all her sentimental sweetness, Rose is pretty level headed and active here. In a relatively calm manner she thinks through the Nancy-Oliver situation and determines the best, really the best, course of action. She enlists the help of the rediscovered Mr Brownlow and they form the Save Oliver Committee which draws up a plan of action.

    Here is the contradiction in Dickens’s “angelic” “passive” “sentimental” women. Rose Maylie is the first of this type in Dickens’s novels who are typically criticized for being sappy, weak, sentimental, unrealistic. But these very women are often strong, level headed, active (though often behind the scenes), supportive (often to an extreme degree) – they are the rocks upon which the heroes stand and thrive. The “busy little woman” who selfishly puts everyone before her – Kate Nickleby, Little Nell, Mary Rudge, Ruth Pinch, Florence Dombey, Agnes Wickfield, Esther Summerson, Sissy Jupe, Amy Dorrit, Lucie Manette, Biddy, Lizzie Hexam, Rosa Bud – at least one in every novel going forward. In my humble opinion, these women are under-appreciated by critics who do not understand the role of – what shall I call it? – the woman of the house (I don’t really like this – must think of a better appellation). And while Dickens does often go a little too far, he’s pretty accurate in describing how this type operates – I’m speaking from my own 30+ years’ experience as a stay-at-home mom who has raised four active boys (now young men) and who is married to a successful entrepreneur who can’t seem to find his socks. But I digress.

    Dickens knew this type of woman well – his paternal grandmother was a Housekeeper, his mother had to navigate her husband’s inability to manage money, his sister-in-law Georgina ran his household for over 30 years, and he worked closely with Angela Burdett-Coutts, the richest woman in England, on many philanthropic endeavors, to name a few. And we need to remember that women at this time were not given a lot of outlets in terms of employment and that the Home became their realm, if you will. My point is, this character type in Dickens shouldn’t be so quickly discounted – very often they are the silent movers and shakers of their particular novel.

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    1. Lovely stuff, Chris. Your comments about the “strengths” (and weaknesses) of these two female characters are fabulous and, if they run counter to much of the discussion regarding them by Dickens’ critics, so much the better. But I’ve run out of time, now (gotta get breakfast ready) so I’ll reply to these fine comments later when I can do them more justice!

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      1. Hi Chris: I thought I’d throw this quote from Chapter 44 into the pot to illustrate how deeply Nancy is “imprisoned” by her relationship with Fagin and Sikes–especially by Sikes–who exhibits such horrible brutality toward her.

        “‘Tell him to let me go, Fagin. He had better. It’ll be better for him. Do you hear me?’ cried Nancy stamping her foot upon the ground.

        ‘Hear you!’ repeated Sikes turning round in his chair to confront her. ‘Aye! And if I hear you for half a minute longer, the dog shall have such a grip on your throat as’ll tear some of that screaming voice out. Wot has come over you, you jade! Wot is it?’

        ‘Let me go,’ said the girl with great earnestness; then sitting herself down on the floor, before the door, she said, ‘Bill, let me go; you don’t know what you are doing. You don’t, indeed. For only one hour—do—do!’

        ‘Cut my limbs off one by one!’ cried Sikes, seizing her roughly by the arm, ‘If I don’t think the gal’s stark raving mad. Get up.’

        ‘Not till you let me go—not till you let me go—Never—never!’ screamed the girl. Sikes looked on, for a minute, watching his opportunity, and suddenly pinioning her hands dragged her, struggling and wrestling with him by the way, into a small room adjoining, where he sat himself on a bench, and thrusting her into a chair, held her down by force. She struggled and implored by turns until twelve o’clock had struck, and then, wearied and exhausted, ceased to contest the point any further. With a caution, backed by many oaths, to make no more efforts to go out that night, Sikes left her to recover at leisure and rejoined Fagin.”

        I suppose by now, in this later stage of the novel, we have become accustomed to the violent behavior of Sikes toward just about anyone of his acquaintance–Oliver, Fagin, Bates, etc., but we can’t help but be startled again and again by his violent behavior toward Nancy. We want to presume that they are some kind of “couple” but the dynamics between them demonstrate something quite different. The “coupling”–for lack of a better word, is primarily one-sided if, because as you have pointed out, Nancy loves Sikes. This is almost unbelievable to the average reader, I suppose. but there is another side to this equation: his behavior is ferocious, sadistic, overbearing, so much so, that I doubt the possibility of love coming from him toward her. Thus, He uses his behavior not only to scare her but to control her–to put her in his cage. His strength, his mannerisms, his voice are all geared to put her in her place, a “place” where she is little more than a mechanism for his evil and greedy intentions and “needs.” She is, in short, a useful cog in the criminal machine that Fagin and Sikes operate. Yet she stays with him, still seems to love him–at least on some level. There is, then, SOME kind of tie that she can’t break.

        So, then, it’s hard to understand her “loving” a man who would threaten to have his dog grab her by the throat to tear out her “voice.” And it appears that this is one of the things that Sikes fears most about Nancy, her talking, her pleading, her attempt to put into their relationship some kind of human interaction. But in this “modern time” of ours, this behavior we only know too well. Almost every day, we read about or hear about, or see, writ large on the tube, a story or stories that deal with violence against women, violence committed by men who need to control their partners–to their death. “If I can’t control her, stop her from talking, stop her from thinking, I’ll do the ultimate in control and kill her.” In real life, Gabby Petito comes to mind. We watched that story on the telly as it evolved and probably knew the outcome before it had become “official.” We even saw her and her partner on tv talk about a lovers’ spat, and that all would be worked out in time. In some way, she, for me, became a modern-day Nancy. And so, here we are, again, debating the portrait that Dickens has made in the late 1830’s- a story we have come to know all too well. Gabby Petito was strangled–something akin to Sikes threat that his dog could tear the voice out of Nancy.

        Abuse of women by men, brought upon women by men who say they love their wives, partners, etc., and then try to destroy them. Liane Moriarty’s BIG LITTLE LIES comes to mind when I try to understand the dynamics between Sikes and Nancy. In that novel (and Serial) there is some weird sadistic/masochistic interchange between the couples relationship that defines their “love” for each other. But from Nancy’s perspective, there is more going on, here. Her relation with Sikes is born of the terrible image of her self that has been channeled to her through her relationship with Sikes, Fagin and the personnel she has known all her life. She, in her own mind, is ranked just a little above the very dirt that she walks on. This is learned behavior, borne upon her by those she has lived with ever since she was a little girl. This personal history has also put her in her “place.”

        As you say, then, Chris, it’s no wonder that she has to deal with the “surprise” of meeting Rose within the nexus of Rose’s so different life and the personality that was spawned by it, and which guaranteed Rose an entirely different and productive lifestyle, even though Rose, too, is darkened by her thoughts of her own suspect birth. Yet, unlike Nancy, she has the freedom to talk, to share her intimate thoughts, to exist on a plane which seems so normal to us. Nevertheless, that Nancy visits Rose is really a tribute to her heroism and inner strength. And that Rose would accept the visit by Nancy and receive her with such kindness and understanding is a tribute to HER heroism. But neither of them can quite work out Nancy’s commitment to Sikes. It’s one of the central MYSTERIES of the novel that Dickens presents us with, and that we’ll just have to live with and be sad about–along with the way too many real life and fictional episodes like it. That Dickens took on this ambiguous phenomenon during the 1830’s in such Depth is a sad but real literary treasure. That he felt compelled to act it out, himself, hundreds of times, just tells me that right to the end of his life, he was still searching for the truths behind this tragedy.

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    2. There are actually some of those characters whom I love and some I…don’t. Rose Maylie is neither my favorite nor my least favorite. But, anyway, I’d actually probably criticize them more for being all the same if I lived during Dickens’s time. But as I live in modern times when the “busy little woman” heroine is less in vogue, I actually enjoy them as a change of pace. And I don’t think Dickens is popular enough at the moment that we need to worry about writers being pressured into making all leading ladies like this. 😉

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  7. Greetings, Inimitables!

    In reading the rich, variegated commentary on the novel, I’m reminded of the process of hearing a great Mozartian symphony, then going to a master class about it, followed by a re-listening. The second encounter with the great work is more satisfying than the first.

    It is a kind of movement from innocence through experience to a “second innocence.”

    Your deep reflections are, for me, like the master class. I’m going to re-encounter OT via Jonathan Pryce’s magnificent rendering.

    I’m assimilating your vast perspectives, and cannot begin to comment on even a fraction of them.

    I am captivated by the “thread” of Eden, memory, death, and Wordsworthian tranquility that gives rise to vivid emotion . . . and the challenging perspective of a dear friend, who is a rabbi. After experiencing together a Mahler symphony celebrating child-like innocence, my friend mused, “But, do we really wish to remain children?”

    He shared that a strong Jewish theme is growth through learning, including the school of hard knocks. Wisdom.

    A great mystery in Dickens (and in life) is how a soul exposed again and again to brutality and the other forms of human evil remains essentially innocent, pure of heart.

    Innocence, experience, and second innocence (purity of heart). There seems to be something of this movement in personality formation in the best of Dickens’ characters.

    Thank you for the gift of these splendid musings!


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  8. Wow, friends & Dickensians! Your comments this week are immensely rich, and so multifaceted that I will have the Dickens of a time trying to shorten and summarize ~ they really are whole essays of their own, and can lead us down such wonderful byways of analysis!

    Lenny, I’ve been looking for that Romantic Legacy of Charles Dickens, because I absolutely MUST read it!!!

    I’m so grateful to everyone so beautifully carrying the conversation during a week that, personally, has been a challenge. (All good, just a transitional period…) And now, it’s time to work on the wrap-up, so I won’t even try to add much here, but will save it for our final week. (Things will ease up a bit this week, but will really settle down the following, as we take our break between books.)

    I think the only thing I’ll add for the time being is how much I am struck again by Dickens’ *doubling*. We see this of course most literally and strikingly in A Tale of Two Cities, with Darnay/Carton ~ and it’s on my mind (but when is it Not?) because I’ve gone back to the audiobook of A Tale during some longer drives this week. (I can never be far from that novel.) Here, we have the doubling of Rose and Nancy, as has been a major topic of conversation. I can almost *hear* Carton’s own regret at seeing his “double,” Darnay, and what he *might have been*, had Fate been kinder to him, or had his choices been different. And while there is a kind of ferocity, as Chris mentioned, about Nancy’s initial reaction to Rose, which might also be envy for seeing in her what she herself might have been, there is also a dogged devotion, as we soon see by the *actions* of Carton, as with Nancy, if not the apparent/outward *attitude*.

    I was also thinking of this passage, when Mr. Lorry in A Tale is speaking of Miss Pross, that she is one of those people “found only among women—who will, for pure love and admiration, bind themselves willing slaves, to youth when they have lost it, to beauty that they never had, to accomplishments that they were never fortunate enough to gain, to bright hopes that never shone upon their own sombre lives. He knew enough of the world to know that there is nothing in it better than the faithful service of the heart; so rendered and so free from any mercenary taint, he had such an exalted respect for it, that in the retributive arrangements made by his own mind—we all make such arrangements, more or less—he stationed Miss Pross much nearer to the lower Angels than many ladies immeasurably better got up both by Nature and Art, who had balances at Tellson’s.”

    Unlike Pross to Lucie, we know that Rose and Nancy are probably about the same age, but the same devotion is shown here: she won’t take money from Rose, but wants something of her own, for remembrance (that Memory, again!): “give me something that you have worn: I should like to have something–no, no, not a ring–your gloves or handkerchief–anything that I can keep, as having belonged to you, sweet lady.”

    Rereading Oliver, I say again that I wholeheartedly disagree with Tomalin’s view that Nancy is the failure of the novel. Both her extreme terror, extreme reckless devotion, all strike me as real. Though most of us can’t relate to the *continuous suffering and extremity* of circumstances that Nancy has endured, I think we can most of us relate to certain extreme passages within our own life when everything is writ large, and the choices are no longer understated. It is life or death, the light or the shadow, and the mixture of the two struggling within us is going to cause a struggle as vivid as anything we can imagine in a melodrama. It’s the soul that’s at stake.

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  9. Lenny – Love you piece! I just want to add re Bill’s control of Nancy. After he restrains her from keeping her 1st meeting with Rose and she has calmed down, Sikes returns to Fagin and laments that he “thought I had tamed her, but she’s as bad as ever.”

    Compare this with Noah’s behavior toward Charlotte, especially in Chapter 42. Fagin witnesses it and comments to Barney: “I like [Noah’s] looks. He’d be of use to us; he knows how to train the girl already.” And Noah, looking for Fagin’s approval, says: “‘She’s kept tolerably well under, ain’t she, sir?’ He asked, as he resumed his seat, in the tone of a keeper who has tamed some wild animal.’”

    And Rach – to your comments re doubling — I always worry about Charlotte because I know the Bill-Nancy cycle will be repeated in her relationship with Noah. Charlotte, too, for some unfathomable reason, loves Noah who has absolutely no apparent redeeming qualities.

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