London is a location that could come from a variety of novels. The one I am writing about today is Oliver Twist. It’s a personal favorite of mine because I have a soft spot for Charles Dickens. I think Great Expectations is one of the best books I’ve read.
Readers, I digress. Oliver Twist and my journey through it is what I want to share with you today.
A short plot synopsis:
Oliver Twist is born of a woman who dies in childbirth as she arrives at a workhouse. His young life is fraught with troubles and misunderstandings. Oliver leaves the workhouse to be an assistant to funeral director (of sorts) and later runs away to London. In London, he is “adopted” by a gang of thieves and then by a wealthy man. The gang leader kidnaps him, forces him to steal, and abandons him, half-dead, in a ditch.
My summary skims over a great deal of detail, social commentary, and, honestly, plot. In the interest of not giving any spoilers, however, I will stop there.
As I followed Oliver down the streets of London, I had to slacken my usual reading pace. Charles Dickens is known for his wordiness, and some people believe he was paid by the word (which is a myth, actually). Carefully woven into the wordiness is a plot filled with complexity and vocabulary so rich, you have to slow down to recognize what he was trying to say. Dickens liked incorporating criticisms of London and its residents into his works. One focus of Oliver twist is the plight of those living in poverty. The workhouse conditions Oliver endures are enough to break a reader’s heart, not to mention the cruelty of the justice system.
I firmly believe that because of Dicken’s commentary, the reader needs to have a basic understanding of what was going on at that time in London. Thankfully, the professor who taught the course in which this book is taken feels the same way. He assigned each person a topic relevant to this time in England, and they were required to give a brief report on it. He chose topics from “mutes” to epergnes. We were required to provide the “Victorian Word of the Day” when it was our turn to present what we had researched. This class, British Authors from 1832-1950, was one of the best learning experiences I have had in my many years of schooling. I would recommend this approach in a classroom and perhaps, a book club setting. I don’t mean that members of your book club should put together presentations, but perhaps encourage members to look up the history of something with which they are not familiar. Share this information to enrich everyone’s reading.
Oliver Twist is quite popular since it is considered to be a classic. I would say that it is worth sitting down and reading at least once. I haven’t picked it up a second time yet, but I think two readings are probably needed to appreciate the language as much as you appreciate the plot when you read it for the first time, depending on the pace of your reading. It is a heavier novel and takes more time to get through than some. Don’t let this deter you if you haven’t made a journey through it! It’s worth the time and concentration.
Whatever you do, don’t look up a word count.