Old School Sundays: Charles Dickens’s “Oliver Twist”

I grew up watching Carol Reed’s Oliver! the musical adaptation of the Dickens classic. I knew all the songs by heart. My sister had a crush on Jack Wild (The Artful Dodger), and for years, our family would randomly answer questions with: “Shut up and drink your gin!”

Then, years later, I read the book. I loved reading the scenes that I recalled from the film, and half-expected the characters on the page to break out into song. But alas, that never happened. Oh well.

“Pocket watch”
Osama Hasan Khan → in Objects
Popular among the ‘pick-pockets’

But what I discovered about this book is that it contains elements that one would never grasp from the film. It’s gritty and dark. Debauched and evil. The world that these characters inhabit is one of survival, a place where  you’ve got to pick a pocket or two. (Click on the link to view the YouTube video. Great song and dance segment if I do say so myself. I know, because my brother, sister, cousin and I used to do our own routine to the song).

But it’s also insightful. In the midst of the deprivation, there’s that clinging to imagination–a better world.

In this scene Oliver has just woken to find himself in the home of Mrs. Maylie, Miss Rose, and Mr. Losberne, the surgeon:

“The boy stirred, and smiled in his sleep, as though these marks of pity and compassion had awakened some pleasant dream of love and affection he had never known; as a strain of gentle music, or the rippling of water in a silent place, or the odour of a flower, or even the mention of a familiar world, will sometimes call up sudden dim remembrances of scenes that never were, in this life; which vanish like a breath; and which some brief memory of a happier existence, long gone by, would seem to have awakened, for no voluntary exertion of the mind can ever recall them” (Dickens 220).

Perhaps Oliver sensed he was in a safe place (after all the trouble he’d seen), but something resonated with me in this passage. I too,  (in the form of a 30 year old woman, circa 2012; not a young boy on the London streets circa 1837) have had glimpses of places that never existed in my life. A quick, kind of comforting flash of someplace beautiful. Someplace I’ve never been. Are these real places? Are they memories from television shows or movies I’d watched in my youth? I might say yes, except, well Oliver (again, 1837) saw them too.

This feeling of ‘likeness’ is one of my favorite aspects in literature. In essence, don’t we all experience the same things?

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “Old School Sundays: Charles Dickens’s “Oliver Twist”

  1. jolly2012

    Nice post. I remember listening to the album in music class in elementary school. The musical is much more benign than the book but, even then I saw glimpses of a very hard, hard, world. Thanks for the post. I’m following you…–C.J.

  2. I was enjoying that paragraph by Dickens, and then I realized, as writers, we couldn’t get away with a sentence that long nowadays! We would be accused of flowery and showy prose. 🙂

  3. I didn’t realize Dickens was such a huge fan of the semi-colon. Thank goodness he was – readers would have passed out trying to read that sentence, lovely as it is. I think that novels that withstand the test of time are the ones with recognizable, universal elements of humanity.

  4. Rich

    You make me think of the times when I’ve been alone and felt connected to something bigger than myself. I never thought of it before, but I do feel that in those moments I am tapping into something shared by all of us at some time; I hope so anyway. Thanks for the mental nudge!

  5. Abrielle Valencia

    You bring back memories of my childhood once again! BTW, this is my mother’s favorite book. 🙂

  6. Interesting thing to ponder. Great post! 🙂

  7. I love how your family had an inside joke based on a classic. “Shut up and drink your gin!”

  8. Pingback: Old School Sundays: Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” | theintrinsicwriter

  9. This is my favourite book! There are some great ideas that you point out in the differences from the book and the adaptations 🙂 I’ve recently shared my thoughts on my blog about this book too!

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