In Dickens’ tale of debauched London, Oliver’s fortunes plunge to the depths and are raised to the heights of society so many times it’s a wonder he doesn’t suffer the bends. The story of Oliver Twist is a Victorian Disney, a 19th century fairy-tale where our hero manages to keep his kind heart despite all the misfortune laden upon him, and who is, ultimately, rewarded.
The great thing about any Dickens novel is the cast of larger-than-life supporting characters. In Oliver we get the tricksy organiser of street crime, Fagan; his head boy, the Artful Dodger; villain-through-and-through, Bill Sikes; the tart with a heart, Nancy; indeed a whole host of memorable personalities troop through the pages. Dickens also likes to hold a mirror to humanity; he was a great observer of life around him. We get his obvious distaste for England’s Poor Laws of the time - laws that effectively meant, for someone like Oliver, that the workhouse, a criminal gang, prison or an early death are his only options. No wonder so many people took to drink – what else was there? A short life but a merry one, was no doubt the thinking behind the gin glass.
Oliver Twist; or the Parish Boy's Progress
Published: 1837 as a series, 1838 as a novel.
Author: Charles Dickens
Illustrator: George Cruikshank
London history fact one: The Geffrye museum in Shoreditch decorates each room to a different period in history – weird to see the later years and spot your parent’s furniture!
London history fact two: One of my favourite odd museums is the Herb Garret and Old Operating Theatre. It’s a wonder anyone ever lived.
London history fact three: One of the best things to do to get acquainted with London history is to go on a walking tour, such as this one about Jack the Ripper.
London history fact four: You can date pubs from whether they have tiled walls outside… it’s where the phrase ‘pissing money up a wall’ comes from.
London history fact five: Petticoat Lane Market is so called because it sold petticoats. The authorities tried to change its name to Middlesex Street Market, but the public preferred the nickname Petticoat, and that’s how it stayed!