Oliver Twist

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2001-10-09
  • Publisher: Modern Library

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Dickens's classic morality tale of a starving orphan caught between opposing forces of good and evil is a powerful indictment of Victorian England's Poor Laws. Filled with dark humor and an unforgettable cast of characters Oliver Twist, Fagin, Nancy, Bill Sykes, and the Artful Dodger, to name a few Dickens's second novel is a compelling social satire that has remained popular since it was first serialized in 1837-39. The text for this Modern Library Paperback Classic is taken from the 1846 New Edition, revised and corrected by the author. It includes new explanatory notes and an appendix,A Brief History of the English Poor Laws.

Author Biography

Philip Pullman is the author of the bestselling fantasy trilogy <i>His Dark Materials</i>. His other books for children and young adults include three Victorian thrillers featuring his popular heroine Sally Lockhart. He lives in Oxford, England.

Table of Contents

Biographical Note v
List of Illustrations
Introduction xvii
Philip Pullman
The Author's Preface to the Third Edition xxvii
Treats of the Place Where Oliver Twist was Born; and of the Circumstances attending his Birth
Treats of Oliver Twist's Growth, Education, and Board
Relates how Oliver Twist was very near getting a Place, which would not have been a Sinecure
Oliver, Being offered another Place, makes his first entry into Public Life
Oliver mingles with new Associates, Goint to a Funeral for the first time, he forms an unfavourable Notion of his Master's Business
Oliver, being goaded by the Taunts of Noah, rouses into Action, and rather astonishes him
Oliver continues refractory
Oliver walks to London. He encounters on the road, a strange sort of young Gentleman
Containing further Particulars concerning the pleasant old Gentleman, and his hopeful Pupils
Oliver becomes better acquainted with the Characters of his new Associates; and purchases experience at a high price. Being a short, but very important Chapter, in this History
Treats of Mr. Fang the Police Magistrate; and furnishes a slight specimen of his mode of administering Justice
In which Oliver is taken better care of, than he ever was before. And in which the Narrative reverts to the merry old Gentleman and his youthful Friends
Some new Acquaintances are introduced to the intelligent Reader; connected with whom, various pleasant Matters are related, appertaining to this History
Comprising further Particulars of Oliver's stay at Mr. Brownlow's. With the remarkable Prediction which one Mr. Grimwig uttered concerning him, when he went out on an Errand
Shewing how very fond of Oliver Twist, the merry old Jew and Miss Nancy were
Relates what became of Oliver Twist, after he had been claimed by Nancy
Oliver's Destiny, continuing unpropitious, brings, a Great Man to London to injure his Reputation
How Oliver passed his time, in the improving society of his reputable Friends
In which a notable Plan is discussed and determined on
Wherein Oliver is delivered over to Mr. William Sikes
The Expedition
The Burglary
Which contains the substance of a pleasant Conversation between Mr. Bumble and a Lady; and shews that even a Beadle may be Susceptible on some points
Treats of a very poor Subject. But is a short one; and may be found of importance in this History
Wherein this History reverts to Mr. Fagin and Company
In which, a mysterious Character appears upon the scene; and many things, inseparable from this History, are done and performed
Atones for the unpoliteness of a former Chapter; which deserted a Lady, most unceremoniously
Looks after Oliver, and proceeds with his Adventures
Has an introductory Account of the Inmates of the House, to which Oliver resorted
Relates what Oliver's new Visitors thought of him
Involves a critical Position
Of the happy life Oliver began to lead with his kind Friends
Wherein the Happiness of Oliver and his Friends experiences a sudden Check
Contains some introductory Particulars relative to a young Gentleman who now arrives upon the Scene; and a new Adventure which happened to Oliver
Containing the unsatisfactory result of Oliver's Adventure; and a Conversation of some importance between Harry Maylie and Rose
Is a very short one, and may appear of no great importance in its place. But it should be read notwithstanding, as a Sequel to the last, and a Key to one that will follow when its time arrives
In which the Reader may perceive a Contrast, not uncommon in Matrimonial Cases
Containing an Account of what passed between Mr. and Mrs. Bumble, and Monks, at their nocturnal Interview
Introduces some respectable Characters with whom the Reader is already acquainted, and shews how Monks and the Jew laid their worthy Heads Together
A strange Interview, which is a Sequel to the last Chapter
Containing fresh Discoveries, and shewing that Surprises, like Misfortunes, seldom come alone
An old Acquiantance of Oliver's, exhibiting decided marks of Genius, becomes a public Character in the Metropolis
Wherein is shewn how the Artful Dodger got into Trouble
The Time arrives, for Nancy to redeem her Pledge to Rose Maylie. She fails
Noah Claypole is employed by Fagin on a secret Mission
The Appointment kept
Fatal Consequences
The Flight of Sikes
Monks and Mr. Brownlow at length meet. Their Conversation, and the Intelligence that interrupts it
The Pursuit and Escape
Affording an Explanation of More Mysteries than One, and comprehending a proposal of Marriage with no Word of Settlement of Pin-money
The Jew's last Night Alive
And Last
Appendix: Dickens and the British Poor Laws 421(6)
Notes 427(14)
Reading Group Guide 441(2)
Note on the Text 443


Chapter I

Treats of the place where Oliver Twist was Born; and of the Circumstances attending his Birth.

Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born: on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events: the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.

For a long time after it was ushered into this world of sorrow and trouble, by the parish surgeon, it remained a matter of considerable doubt whether the child would survive to bear any name at all; in which case it is somewhat more than probable that these memoirs would never have appeared; or, if they had, that being comprised within a couple of pages, they would have possessed the inestimable merit of being the most concise and faithful specimen of biography, extant in the literature of any age or country.

Although I am not disposed to maintain that the being born in a workhouse, is in itself the most fortunate and enviable circumstance that can possibly befal a human being, I do mean to say that in this particular instance, it was the best thing for Oliver Twist that could by possibility have occurred. The fact is, that there was considerable difficulty in inducing Oliver to take upon himself the office of respiration,-a troublesome practice, but one which custom has rendered necessary to our easy existence; and for some time he lay gasping on a little flock mattress, rather unequally poised between this world and the next: the balance being decidedly in favour of the latter. Now, if, during this brief period, Oliver had been surrounded by careful grandmothers, anxious aunts, experienced nurses, and doctors of profound wisdom, he would most inevitably and indubitably have been killed in no time. There being nobody by, however, but a pauper old woman, who was rendered rather misty by an unwonted allowance of beer; and a parish surgeon who did such matters by contract; Oliver and Nature fought out the point between them. The result was, that, after a few struggles, Oliver breathed, sneezed, and proceeded to advertise to the inmates of the workhouse the fact of a new burden having been imposed upon the parish, by setting up as loud a cry as could reasonably have been expected from a male infant who had not been possessed of that very useful appendage, a voice, for a much longer space of time than three minutes and a quarter.

As Oliver gave this first proof of the free and proper action of his lungs, the patchwork coverlet which was carelessly flung over the iron bedstead, rustled; the pale face of a young woman was raised feebly from the pillow; and a faint voice imperfectly articulated the words, "Let me see the child, and die."

The surgeon had been sitting with his face turned towards the fire: giving the palms of his hands, a warm and a rub alternately. As the young woman spoke, he rose, and advancing to the bed's head, said, with more kindness than might have been expected of him:

"Oh, you must not talk about dying yet."

"Lor bless her dear heart, no!" interposed the nurse, hastily depositing in her pocket a green glass bottle, the contents of which she had been tasting in a corner with evident satisfaction. "Lor bless her dear heart, when she has lived as long as I have, sir, and had thirteen children of her own, and all on 'em dead except two, and them in the wurkus with me, she'll know better than to take on in that way, bless her dear heart! Think what it is to be a mother, there's a dear young lamb, do."

Apparently this consolatory perspective of a mother's prospects, failed in producing its due effect. The patient shook her head, and stretched out her hand towards the child.

The surgeon deposited it in her arms. She imprinted her cold white lips passionately on its forehead; passed her hands over her face; gazed wildly round; shuddered; fell back-and died. They chafed her breast, hands, and temples; but the blood had stopped for ever. They talked of hope and comfort. They had been strangers too long.

"It's all over, Mrs. Thingummy!" said the surgeon at last.

"Ah, poor dear, so it is!" said the nurse, picking up the cork of the green bottle which had fallen out on the pillow as she stooped to take up the child. "Poor dear!"

"You needn't mind sending up to me, if the child cries, nurse," said the surgeon, putting on his gloves with great deliberation. "It's very likely it will be troublesome. Give it a little gruel7 if it is." He put on his hat, and, pausing by the bed-side on his way to the door, added "She was a good-looking girl, too; where did she come from?"

"She was brought here last night," replied the old woman, "by the overseer's order. She was found lying in the street. She had walked some distance, for her shoes were worn to pieces; but where she came from, or where she was going to, nobody knows."

Excerpted from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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