First instalment from guest blogger Dr Holly Furneaux, who is leading the online reading group
April 4, 2012
Introduction to the online reading group:
Oliver Twist is perhaps Dickens’s most iconic novel, inspiring rip-offs, adaptations, and tributes from the publication of its first instalment in February 1837, to today. The plight of the starving workhouse boys and the famous scene of young Oliver asking for more tug at our heartstrings, while sensation is provided by prostitutes, including the generous hearted Nancy, pickpockets, and two of Dickens’s most memorable villains, Bill Sikes and Fagin. With this cast and plot it is little surprise that the novel continues to move and to fascinate. In this online reading group we’ll share our responses to the novel, and look at the debates it provokes in Dickens’s time and our own. We’ll think about the politics of Dickens’s presentation of the position of the poor, at the controversy surrounding his alleged glamorisation of criminality, and at his problematic presentation of Fagin’s Jewishness. We’ll look more closely at the original illustrations, and at film and TV adaptations, thinking about how these reshape our experience of the book. We’ll also think about Dickens’s treatment of the family, the various ‘guardians’ to Oliver, and many more aspects of this endlessly re-readable novel. The main discussion will be through Facebook posts, and as we go I’ll link to some longer blog posts with some additional background to an aspect of the novel, and a set of related discussion points. For the particularly enthused I’ll include links to some hand-picked further material – freely available online resources wherever possible. Happy reading!
Charles Dickens was already a household name when he began publishing Oliver Twist at the age of 25. Most readers knew him as ‘Boz’ the pen-name he used for his early novels. He’d shot to fame “like a skyrocket”, as one review described it, with The Pickwick Papers, his first novel. Pickwick was only just over half way through its 20 monthly instalments, when the first chapters of Oliver Twist, also published serially, appeared in the monthly magazine Bentley’s Miscellany. In his choice of title Dickens signalled that this would be a new kind of novel:
Oliver Twist, or, the Parish Boy’s Progress
Discussion points: What kind of book does this title encourage us to expect? What kind of hero does it offer?
The first monthly instalment was made up of the first two chapters. How would the experience of reading this novel be different for Dickens’s first readers, who read it in monthly parts?
Add your comments here and/or on our facebook page http://www.facebook.com/cityreadlondon
Visit the home where Dickens wrote Oliver Twist: http://www.dickensmuseum.com/
Those especially interested in Bentley’s Miscellany and the effects of the serialisation of Oliver Twist might like to work through Professor Robert Pattern’s fantastic online course, ‘When is a Book Not a Book? Oliver Twist In Context’, for the New York Public Library: http://www.fathom.com/course/21701754/index.html