Facts About Oliver Twist
Full Title: Oliver Twist
Date Published: Serialised 1837 -1839 as The Parish Boy’s Progress; book form 1838
Genre(s): Melodrama, Gothic, satire, social commentary
Setting(s): Victorian London and the fictional town of Mudfog, 70 miles from London
Point of view: Third person omniscient, with the narrator assuming the points of view of various characters through the book
Introduction to Oliver Twist
Probably the most famous of Charles Dickens’ novels, Oliver Twist is Dickens’ second published novel. The first was The Pickwick Papers, published in 1836, and after its successful reception Dickens went swiftly on to enjoy a long career as a novelist, beginning with the serialisation of Oliver Twist, as The Parish Boy’s Progress, in 1837 to 1839. The outcry from the fans who wanted to read it all at once was so loud that the book came out, in three volumes, when the serial was only half-way through its run.
Dickens was a talented man who was successful in anything he turned his mind to. He was interested in many things, and if he had not written such great works as Oliver Twist, Bleak House, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, and the many others, he might have been famous for some of his other activities as although regarded as one of England’s greatest writers, ranking with Shakespeare and Jane Austen, Dickens was also well known in his time as a social reformer, an actor and a theatre critic.
Considering how many Victorian social reformers, actors, and theatre critics there were, his name would probably have been lost to our generation, but as a novelist, he was the best of his era, and his novels have stood the test of time. They are widely read, turned into plays, and adapted for the screen. There is no year that goes by without a new major Dickens serial on British television, as well as at least one or two films. A Christmas Carol is regularly and routinely shown on television and in cinemas all around the world at Christmas time.
Dickens’ interest in such things as child poverty and child exploitation, in crime and justice, and prison conditions, all of which were major features of Victorian England, led him to campaign on those issues in his journalism and public statements. He also chose those themes for several novels.
However, those novels are not propaganda, or in any way didactic. They are set in realistic, credible stories with real, rounded characters, and always with humour, however serious the issues may be. The stories, and their drama, reveal the conditions of the time as they are rolled out. Dickens is renowned for the humour in his novels and in this, too, he ranks with Shakespeare and Jane Austen, but certainly with more actual characters to laugh at than we find in Shakespeare and Jane Austen put together.
Oliver Twist is just such a non-didactic novel: in spite of its serious social themes, it has lifelike characters and a great deal of humour. It depicts the underbelly of Victorian London by featuring a gang of boy thieves run by an evil old man. It is a great read, full of drama, interesting characters, and lots of laughs. It is notable for the portrayal of the sordid lives of criminals and the ill-treatment of children, particularly orphans, set as a vivid picture of mid 19th Century London. In spite of the humour the spectacle of street children everywhere, running about the streets like feral cats, is horrifying.
A brief plot summary
The novel tells the story of an orphan who has a miserable childhood in a workhouse in a small town near London. At the age of about ten, he decides that he can’t take it anymore, and runs away to London. He is very soon spotted by another boy, the Artful Dodger, who takes him to a career criminal, Fagin, who houses, trains, and uses a gang of boys to go out and steal for him. Oliver has several adventures – being tried for a theft he didn’t commit, being rescued by a kind old gentleman, kidnapped and returned to the gang, rescued again after an abortive break-in he is forced to participate in, and finally finding peace and the chance to make something of his life. Read the full Oliver Twist plot summary.
That’s our overview of Oliver Twist. Make sense? Any questions? Let us know in the comments section below!
Read an introduction to this famous Charles Dickens novel, along with some quick facts around dates, period, setting, genre, historical context, and more.
Read a 5-minute summary on one page, to get an understanding of the key plot lines and character actions.
See a list of all the characters in Oliver Twist, along with a detailed description and analysis of each major character.
About Charles Dickens
Read a biography and facts about Oliver Twist author Charles Dickens, plus famous quotes, a quiz to test your knowledge, and more.