Home  •  Forum  •  Blogs  •  E-Mail  •  Support Categories
MyCopper Categories Finance Travel Real Estate Games Autos Entertainment
Nearly Relevant
Nonsense, Fiction, and Miscellaneous Things

'Oliver Twist', Charles Dickens
      Charles Dickens has the unfortunate luck of having been allocated with both Late Modern English and a nascent, utilitarian industrial revolution.   Shakespeare had  poetic, lyrical, Middle English and  a strong monarchy.   This utilitarianism which characterizes Dicken's era can hamper . . . whoa, whoa, whoa!  On second thought  bemoaning Dickens bad historical luck is equivalent to bemoaning despotism's bad luck at coexisting with humanism.  Stuff happens as we used to say in the '80s.  In the case of Charles Dickens - thank goodness stuff happened; Had he not been burdened of the utilitarian he, probably, wouldn't have been as great an author.  As it is, despite the era, he is more Shakespearean than some others considered Shakespearean.  His writing should be considered ineluctable by anyone with some literary interest.
     Orphaned child Oliver  - the title character of Charles Dicken's Oliver Twist1 - survives life as a ward of the state then becoming an unwillingly aid of the thief Fagin and his abettors .  The life of these characters occurs during the beginnings of the industrial revolution and the events serve to comment on those conditions as well as an individuals shouldering their responsibilities.  However, in being labeled as social critique or social commentary the book's literary aspects are being done a disservice.
     For me, the characters are the most significant element.   They are impassioned, ardent, fiery, stimulated, enthused, selective.  Most importantly, they are prideful of  their respective selves; By this I mean that within circumstances of a societal setting the characters stand up for themselves with a fully engaged loquaciousness. They rarely if ever present a tight-lipped concealment.  Rarely is a character silent in a way which 'speaks volumes'.  Instead they let the effects of their dialogue fall where it may:
     "Juries" said Mr. Bumble, grasping his cane tightly, as was his wont when working into a passion:  "juries is ineddicated, vulgar, grovellng wretches.
     "So they are," said the undertaker.
     "They haven't no more philosophy nor political economy about 'em then that," said the beadle, snapping his fingers contemptuously.
     "No more they have," acquiesced the undertaker."
     "I despise 'em," said the beadle, growing very red in the face.
     "So do I," rejoined the undertaker.2

      The dialogue of the beadle and the undertaker is not - in my opinion - of acquiescence;  It is of supporting an impassioned response.  The undertaker avoids giving a contrary view - which he may or may not hold, but he doesn't acquiesce. Instead he mollifies.  The undertaker is never taken aback by the beadles 'working himself into a passion.'  The undertaker quickly and rather forcefully rejoins with the likes of  "No more they have"  and  "So do I.", refusing to let the beadles passion rule without a respectable seconding.  Such backing requires a great deal of character by the undertaker himself.  Thus both characters are strongly autonomous, as are all the book's characters.
     The undertakers calm, in addition to being a powerful contrary to the beadles 'very  red in the face' expression is also somewhat comical. The undertaker is agreeing with the beadle as if to say "Yeah, let 'em have it beadle!  They'll wish they'd suffered a cannon shot from 2 or 3 feet away rather than the wrath of the beadle!'  This comicality softens the potential sharpness of the beadles passion;  It creates a moderating and relaxing effect.  It is not infrequent
with Dickens that this kind of moderation occurs.   Dickens seems so respectful of the character's autonomy and passions that  'silence which speaks volumes' will not suffice for his characters.  Neither will intimations be good enough to pass as suspense, nor hints good enough to pass as inter-character tension. It could be said that Dickens authorial judgement is one in which discourse, even if frightfully impassioned, is civil and he (Dickens) will not put up with any of his characters shrinking from an obligation of discourse, regardless of the passions involved.

Another example:
"By what authority am I kidnapped in the street, and brought here by these dogs?" asked Monks, looking from one to the other of the men who stood beside him. 
     "By mine,"replied Mr. Brownlow, . . . If you complain of being deprived of your liberty - you had power and opportunity to retrieve it as you came along. . . ."
     "Is there -," demanded Monks with a faltering tone  "is there - no middle course?" 
    "This is pretty treatment, sir," said Monks throwing down his hat and cloak, "from my father's oldest friend."3

    Mr. Brownlow is straight-forward and non-concealing with his committal.  Monks, despite the demurral,  is not entirely appeasing of Brownlow's forcefulness. Even facing judgement Monks stands aside his choices rather than meakly abiding or acquiescing to Mr. Brownlow.  Thus, Monks too is given an amount of strength and credibility.  In fact, part of the books marvel is Dickens demanding of his characters admirableness - despite the potential impracticality of their being admirable.  I would go so far as to say that all of the book's dialogue can be just as  revealing and discerning as these examples.
     A frequent criticism of the book is that Oliver always seems the suffering innocent.  His innocence is great, his wrongs are nill.  This impossibly good depiction can seem exaggerated but, eventually, the reader is persueded that the innocence is hyperbolic for the sake of representing a factuality.   Decency - which is too often obfuscated by the base - in order to be
presented as achievable and existent, needed to be exaggerated.    Probity is an equal player in the game of life.  Too often it lacks respect as legitimate. Probity has been severely banged around by latitudinal values yet Dickens insists on wholesomeness as being the equal of the abject, though the wainscoting of the abject may seem the embedded, default condition of our existence.
     The depiction of the setting adds claustrophobia
to an already ominous late 18th century England;  As if  the soot and grime of a nascent
, growing, and ponderous industrial revolution had - in its utilitarianism - engulfed the country's literature as well as the country's commerce. The plot moves along well and maintains suspense.
     Dicken's  disquisitiveness regarding the English language is amazing and, in all probability, unparallelled.  Dickens authorship - discerning, admonishing
, caring - is a bulwark of the literary.  Dickens loftiness requires his superintendence which he humbly and admirably provides.  All this and a plaintive style which serves as the icing of a truly formidable, literary cake . . . er, I mean . . . personage.

". . . but Oliver's thoughts, like those of most other people, although they were extremely ready and active to point out his difficulties, were wholly at a loss to suggest  any feasible mode of surmounting them . . ." 4

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, Published by Bantam Dell, A Division of Random House Inc., Bantam Classic reissue, ©2005.

Ibid, pg. 26
3 Ibid, pg. 396 - 397
4 Ibid, pg. 54

Blog Search