The story of Oliver Twist, by English writer, Charles Dickens, begins in a London workhouse, where a young destitute woman gives birth to a baby and dies. (A workhouse or poorhouse was, in 19th-century Britain, a building where very poor people were sent to live and given work to do.)
Oliver Twist grows up in the workhouse run by the cruel Mr Bumble, and has a miserable childhood, under-fed, ill-treated and overworked. He manages to escape to the streets of London, where he meets Fagin and his band of young pickpockets. In return for food and shelter, he is trained in the art of picking pockets, though he is blissfully unaware of their intentions. On one such expedition he meets Mr Brownlow, who feels sorry for him and takes him in. However Fagin kidnaps him and gets him back.
Fagin sends him to assist Bill Sikes on a robbery, where he gets shot at and has to be left behind. The house they planned to rob belongs to Mrs Maylie and her niece Rose, who nurse Oliver back to health. They are kind to him and he slowly begins to forget his past. Fagin and his gang close in on him, for now they know a secret which makes his capture absolutely essential…
All ends well for Oliver — his tormentors are caught and punished and he finds wealth, friends and even, family.
The story is full of twists and turns, has unforgettable characters and a fairy-tale ending. These are only few of the reasons for the book’s lasting popularity, though it was written way back in the early nineteenth century. Oliver Twist has been succesfully adapted for the stage, television, and film — the most recent being Neil Bartlett’s play this year.
Excerpt:The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered to each other, and winked at Oliver; while his next neighbours nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said, somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:
”Please, sir, I want some more.”
The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.
”What!” said the master at length, in a faint voice.
”Please, sir,” replied Oliver, “I want some more.”