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.
“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…?
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)
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.
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!
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…
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.
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:
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
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:
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
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.