Wherein we glance back at the fourth week of the #DickensClub reading of Oliver Twist; With General Memoranda, a summary of reading and discussion, and a look ahead to week five, our final week with our little sojourner.
Friends, this coming week will be our last with Oliver Twist! We’ll then begin our break between reads before beginning our fourth, Nicholas Nickleby.
What treasures we have encountered in our reading over the past weeks, and what immensely rich discussions. It was particularly difficult to shorten or sum up this week’s wonderful analyses!
I can only say a heartfelt “thank you” again, friends, for carrying the conversation so stunningly this past week. What a gold mine of insights!
If you’re counting, this coming week will be week 19 of the #DickensClub as a whole (and today Day 126), and the fifth and final week of Oliver Twist (our third read). Please feel free to comment below this post for the fifth week’s chapters, or to use the hashtag #DickensClub if you’re commenting on twitter.
This week, Boze and I will have the amended schedule posted, including the break between reads. Though it seems an age from now, this will mean that our fourth read, Nicholas Nickleby, will begin on Tuesday, 31 May, with Boze’s introduction to that work!
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 our marvelous Dickens Fellowship, 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!
Week Four Oliver Twist Summary (Chapters 35-46)
We left our little sojourner frightened by the eerie apparitions at the cottage window; the idea–the dreamlike, surreal images and voices–of Monks and Fagin were nonetheless real enough to Oliver. Harry and Dr. Losberne, however, are at a loss to find any traces of recent tracks.
Harry, who has prolonged his visit as Rose improves in health, declares his love and devotion to her. She is equally devoted to him, but will not allow him to commit himself, fearing that the mysterious secret and shadow on her name will blight him, especially considering the circles he moves in. Disheartened but not giving up, Harry begs her to listen to his appeal one more time after the passage of a year; if she is still of the same mind, he will not mention the subject again. She tearfully agrees.
“Strip the bishop of his apron, or the beadle of his hat and lace; what are they? Men. Mere men. Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes, are more questions of coat and waistcoat than some people imagine.”
Mr. Bumble has resigned both his single state and his parochial police duties and now serves both the workhouse and its mistress, Mrs. Corney, who gives him a hard time of it.
“Mr. Bumble was fairly taken by surprise, and fairly beaten. He had decided propensity for bullying; derived no inconsiderable pleasure from the exercise of petty cruelty; and, consequently, was (it is needless to say) a coward. This is by no means a disparagement to his character; for many official personages, who are held in high respect and admiration, are the victims of similar infirmities. The remark is made, indeed, rather in his favor than otherwise, and with a view of impressing the reader with a just sense of his qualifications for the office.”
Later, drinking away his troubles, Bumble is asked by the mysterious Monks to bring the lady who had spoken to Old Sally on her deathbed.
At their meeting with Monks, Mrs. Bumble née Corney tells about the pawnbroker’s receipt, discovered and redeemed by her, which proved to be for a locket enclosing a wedding ring, locks of hair, and the name Agnes with no surname. Monks, having procured both the locket and the information from Mrs. Bumble for payment, ties a weight to the former and disposes of it in the river.
Back with Fagin & Co, Nancy overhears a conversation between Monks and Fagin. Based on Monks’ disclosure, Nancy bravely seeks a meeting with Rose Maylie who is staying in town, and discloses to Rose her own part in Oliver’s history, and the information she overheard: that Monks is Oliver’s brother, and the former seeks to destroy any evidence of this; Monks wants to claim for himself an inheritance that should belong to Oliver.
Rose, filled with pity for Nancy’s situation, desperately tries to help her, but Nancy, though touched, refuses to leave Sikes. However, Nancy promises to always at London Bridge on Sunday between 11pm and midnight while she remains alive, in case of need.
Nancy, after a failed attempt to meet them due to Sikes’ irascibility and determination that she must stay home, is sought out the following Sunday, after a happy reunion between Oliver, Mr. Brownlow, and Mrs. Bedwin. Rose relays Nancy’s story to them, and they reveal it to the rest of their circle, except to Oliver.
Unfortunately, Nancy is suspected of something by Fagin, and all are noticing her nervous paleness and increasingly erratic behavior. Noah Claypole, Fagin’s new recruit (who had stolen from Mr. Sowerberry) is sent to spy on her.
On the Surrey side of London Bridge, Noah, hiding himself near the meeting place, overhears the conversation between Nancy, Mr. Brownlow, and Rose. The latter two promise not to involve Nancy’s associates in any action, and she, though painfully moved and showing an intense devotion to Rose, refuses again the many offers of help for herself.
“‘I have not done this for money. Let me have that to think of. And yet—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. Bless you! God bless you. Good night, good night!’
The violent agitation of the girl, and the apprehension of some discovery which would subject her to ill-usage and violence, seemed to determine the gentleman to leave her, as she requested. The sound of retreating footsteps were audible, and the voices ceased…
Rose Maylie lingered, but the old gentleman drew her arm through his, and led her, with gentle force, away. As they disappeared, the girl sunk down nearly at her full length upon one of the stone stairs, and vented the anguish of her heart in bitter tears.”
What We Loved…
Boze lauded Dickens as “our best novelist, and Icona shared a marvelous passage, highlighting Dickens’ mastery of “cinematic” description:
Meanwhile, Cassandra, who has had to take a break, is looking forward to joining us again for Nicholas Nickleby!
Locales in Oliver Twist
Chris posted about the possible site of one of our characters (SPOILER ALERT): Cross Bones in Southwark, along Redcross Way.
I found an interesting little piece on “Nancy’s steps” on the Surrey side of London Bridge where Nancy meets with Brownlow and Rose.
Dickens’ Romanticism: the Ideal and Spirit of Childhood
In continuing our conversation about Dickens’ Romanticism, Lenny shared a passage with us from a pertinent work, The Romantic Legacy of Charles Dickens:
Lenny H. comments
He then shared with us Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight”:
Lenny H. comments
Daniel is very intrigued by the various ideas that connect to Dickens’ Romanticism (“Eden, memory, death, and Wordsworthian tranquility that gives rise to vivid emotion”) and is considering writing a separate piece for us on it:
Dickens’ “Writing Lab”: “Plot Contrivances and Coincidences”; the “Zig-Zag Narrative”; Narratives Mysterious and Surreal
Coincidences, contrivances, “clumsiness of the plotting in this section of Oliver”…Boze really gives us an insight into Dickens’ early haphazard plotting style. Perhaps, early on, Dickens was the ultimate “Pantser”? (As in, “seat-of-your-pants” style; as opposed to “Plotter.”)
Lenny adds to this, extrapolating on Dickens’ “zig-zag” narrative which we’ve been discussing related to the “multi-plot novel” that Dickens is familiarizing his readers with here. But Lenny also goes into why he is “not so bothered by these narrative inconsistencies and things that cause unresolved mysteries…and what Wordsworth in his PRELUDE speaks of as ‘Unknown modes of being’.” Lenny gives both literary and cinematic examples of the kinds of stories whose mysterious, almost surreal, narrative structures contain a psychological truth:
Lenny H. comments
“The Idea of Surprise”
Continuing with our consideration of Dickens’ plotting technique and narrative structure, Lenny considers that “Dickens’ second novel is built continuously on the idea of surprise.” He focuses particularly on the dynamic of “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.” And still, just when one thinks things can’t get any worse for our little hero, the “growing intensity” of each tragic episode of surprise continually surprises us anew.
At the same time, Lenny alludes to what could become a recurring theme/motif in Dickens as we move forward with our reading club: “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.” We’ll see this again and again, very noticeably in Dickens’ final unfinished work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Lenny H. comments
Chris responds to Lenny’s analyses with another marvelous piece. “How does one [a child], with no experience, process the ‘surprises’ of life?” Then Chris beautifully applies the theme of Oliver’s childlike surprise, to the surprise of the traumatized woman in Nancy:
Chris M. comments
“The Silent Movers and Shakers”: Dickens’ Women; Rose and Nancy as Light and Shadow; Doubling; Patterns of Abuse
One shouldn’t undervalue the homemakers and little “women of the house” that Dickens lauds again and again. Chris notes that “women at this time were not given a lot of outlets in terms of employment and that the Home became their realm”; more than that, these women are often “the silent movers and shakers of their particular novel”:
Chris M. comments
Lenny responds to Chris’ essay with insights on the abusive patterns in men like Sikes, and the haunting image of having Nancy’s voice torn out of her:
Lenny H. comments
Having A Tale of Two Cities once again on the brain–as so often happens, like the imposition of Charles I upon the mind of Mr. Dick in David Copperfield–I continue the conversation on Dickens’ women with the aspects of “doubling,” and the extremity of Nancy’s situation that justify the grand or “melodramatic” gestures:
Rach M. comments
Chris responds, seeing the pattern of abuse happening again in Charlotte and Noah:
A Look-ahead to Week Five of Oliver Twist (10-16 May)
This week, we’ll be reading Chapters 47-53, which constitute the monthly numbers XXI-XXIV, published Jan-April 1839.
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.