Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Oliver Twist

At the rate I’m reading, I may very well be dead before I’m able to complete the gargantuan task of ingesting all of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.  Perhaps I overwhelmed myself and should just relax and focus on the immense pleasure I experience while perusing rather than trying to complete something that will surely take some length of time.  I have an endless supply of excuses for my absence, but I will spare you and get back to it post-haste.

I need not introduce our dear little Oliver as everyone, the world around, is an intimate of the poor orphan of Mr. Dickens creation.  I thought I knew him as well, but I did not foresee how my heart would break and my chest heave when I truly came to know the child on paper.

For those unfamiliar with Oliver Twist, it is the splendid tale of a boy born in a workhouse in the 1830’s whose mother dies shortly after his birth.  His treatment there is deplorable and he eventually runs away only to be taken in by a group of pickpockets overseen by a manipulative and unscrupulous man.  Just when things appear to be looking up for Oliver, something, or someone, always seem to get in the way of his deliverance.

The novel’s protagonist, Oliver Twist, begins his life with the loss of his mother and doesn’t know a day of compassion henceforth.  Somehow Oliver remains an innocent hungry for any sign of mercy that seems to continually evade him.

Mr. Bumble, an hypocritical beadle at the workhouse, is an unfortunate model for those he purports to care for.  His unattainable ambitions drive him even further down the path of indifference to his fellow-man.

Fagin is the ringleader of the young pickpockets he recruits among the many orphans in London.  He trains the young ragamuffins in a squalid building and then sends them forth to return the goods to benefit him.  If caught, however, the tiny thieves must take the fall alone, thus insulating Fagin from being implicated in any way.

The cruel and heartless Bill Sikes makes Fagin appear almost human.  He is an angry and brutal man who unleashes his rage on those nearest him and does so without pause, whether it be his lover or his dog.

This is an author I would have to reign in my adoration for before sitting down for a little tete a tete.  His obvious experience of a destitute life and ability to see the injustices and inequities around him make him an author extraordinaire and at the top of my list.

Quotes:

We need be careful how we deal with those about us, when every death carries to some small circle of survivors, thoughts of so much omitted, and so little done–of so man things forgotten, and so many more which might have been repaired!  There is no remorse so deep as that which is unavailing; if we would be spared its tortures, let us remember this, in time.

My rating for Oliver Twist is a 10 out of 10.

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Next up, Louisa May Alcott’s  Little Womenlittle-women

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A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two CitiesEveryone knows the opening lines from A Tale of Two Cities; It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…What I didn’t know was just how graphic Dickens depicted the French Revolution and its subsequent Reign of Terror.

A French doctor is falsely imprisoned for 18 years, reunites with his daughter who falls in love with the nephew of a cruel Marquis who, in turn, is later imprisoned, released, arrested again and sentenced to death.  Egads and with a bloody backdrop of bloodthirsty and vengeful peasants, murderous rampages and much use of the guillotine.

Doctor Manette paces in his room and continues shoemaking, habits used to while away his time in prison.  He eventually adjusts to life outside and is happy living in England with his daughter.  When a crisis arises, he uses his reputation to help keep another man out of prison and succeeds only to have him eventually sentenced to die.  He never quite restores his reputation and seems to falter thereafter.

The unlikely hero, Sydney Carton is an alcoholic attorney who most tolerate without any attempt at understanding him.  He has as much contempt for himself as others do of him and he does not deny its appropriateness.  Of course he falls for the doctor’s young daughter, Lucie, knowing a union will never be, yet he earns her admiration and ultimately her utmost gratitude.  This was a truly tender and honorable gentleman.

The poster child for the Reign of Terror, Madame Defarge, is a cruel, relentless and vengeful woman.  She knows no mercy and holds her place near the guillotine, knitting while she eagerly awaits the multiple executions.  She holds onto a grudge against the doctor’s son-in-law and bestows her judgment to his new extended family without an ounce of pity for wife or child.  This is a woman you should run from,  screaming, and quickly.

Quotes:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

The faintness of the voice was pitiable and dreadful.  It was not the faintness of physical weakness, though confinement and hard fare no doubt had their part init.  Its deplorable peculiarity was, that is was the faintness of solitude and disuse.  It was like the last feeble echo of a sound made long and long ago.  So entirely had it lost the life and resonance of the human voice, that it affected the senses like a once beautiful colour faded away into a poor weak stain.  So sunken and suppressed it was, that it was like a voice underground.  So expressive it was, of a hopeless and lost creature, that a famished traveller, wearied out by lonely wandering in a wilderness , would have remembered home and friends in such a tone before lying down to die.

Then, began one of those extraordinary scenes with which the populace sometimes gratified their fickleness, or their better impulses towards generosity and mercy, or which they regarded as some set-off against their swollen account of cruel rage.  No man can decide now to which of these motives such extraordinary scenes were referable; it is probable, to a blending of all the three, with the second predominating. No sooner was the acquittal pronounced,than tears were shed as freely as blood at another time, and such fraternal embraces were bestowed upon the prisoner by as many of both sexes as could rush at him, that after his long and unwholesome confinement he was in danger of fainting from exhaustion; none the less because he knew very well, that the very same people, carried by another current, would have rushed at him with the very same intensity, to rend him to pieces and strew him over the streets.

I would relish a moment with Mr. Dickens and would love to hear his opinion on current day world affairs.  Perhaps he’d share what got his creative juices flowing and how he was able to sustain his serial publications.  Whether discussing the old or the new, this is one gentlemen I’d be in awe of.

My rating for A Tale of Two Cities  is a 9 out of 10.

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Next up, Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure…Jude the Obscure

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