Fans Of Charles Dickens : Forum : Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist

14 Years Ago


The imagery in Oliver Twist is surprisingly theatrical for a novel whose author is at such pains to establish realism. Dickens seems to realise this, and at the beginning of Chapter 17 comments at length on the subject. 'It is the custom on the stage, in all good murderous melodramas, to present the tragic and the comic scenes, in as regular alternation as the layers of red and white in a side of streaky bacon', he acknowledges. He proceeds to mount a faintly unconvincing argument to the effect that 'the transitions in real life... are not a whit less startling', as if to apologise for the occasionally grinding gear changes that his narrative is obliged to make, and his natural love of theatrics. It is important to bear in mind when contemplating early Dickens that theatre was the major source of entertainment to the majority of his audience. Dramatisations of his works were legion and scarcely less than popular.

The scenes in Fagin's den, candlelit and claustrophobic, are typical examples of Dickens' intensely dramatic prose. To entertain the boys on Oliver's first morning he 'trotted up and down the room with a stick, in imitation of the manner in which old gentlemen walk about the streets... in such a very funny and natural manner that Oliver laughed until the tears ran down his face'. (In fact, Oliver is laughing unwittingly at his own agent of fortune, Brownlow.) Numerous objects litter the den - toasting fork, handkerchiefs, walking sticks, etc. - and serve as useful props in the ham theatricals that comprise life there.

Pompous words such as 'nay' and 'yonder' are incongruously used by the 'good' characters at various points, and devices such as the wearing of cloaks (Monks) and flickering shadows heighten a sense of melodrama. Thunder and lightning arbitrarily strike at particularly tense moments and utterances such as '"wolves tear your throats!"' (Sikes) and '"but for babbling drabs, I would have finished as I began!" (a foiled Monks) further contribute to the sense of theatre that courses through the novel. Brownlow reveals all in the final chapters - '"Unworthy son, coward, liar - you, who hold your councils with thieves and murderers in dark rooms at night... you, who from your cradle were gall and bitterness to your father's heart"' etc., he rails, restoring order as if grimly tying up loose ends in a bad play.