Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Take heed, Oliver, take heed!

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
The story where Oliver is abandoned, then found by thieves, then made to steal, then saved, then recaptured, then saved again, then finally saved for good. I could give you more details, but then it would basically be like reading the book. Is that what you want? OK fine, I'll give you a few more details - there are some nice people (Rose Maylie, who turns out to be Oliver's auntie (SOOPRIZE!), Mr. Brownlow, a very kind old gentleman, Dr. Losberne, Nancy) and some no good very bad people (Fagin, Bill Sikes, Monks). Oliver is always endeavouring to be good and to be loved, and after LOTS of people get in the way of this, he finally triumphs.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

My dear blobbists, have you MISSED me?!?! I think question marks followed by exclamation points are hilariously dramatic. That is why I have used two pairs of them. For extra emPHAsis.

Well, if you're wondering what I've been up to (and even if you're not), I recently relocated to the city of brotherly love (or sisterly, if you were part of yesterday's worldwide action, like I was). I started a new job, which allows/requires me to work from home, which is both delightful and challenging. In any case, between the move, the holidays, and the new job, reading has taken a back burner for a few months. But now it will reclaim the FRONT burner spot (which, on my new stove, is designated as a 'POWER' burner, not to be confused with the back 'accusimmer' burners. I'm still getting used to this hilarious distinction).

Without further ado, let me jump into Dickens with you and tell you how it made me feel.

Those of you who know me personally know that I'm a pretty big Dickens fan. The first Dickens I read was Hard Times, which doesn't even make my ranking of his novels now, but his brilliance came to captivate me later in life. You must understand that I came to OT with a fair amount of expectation and hype; I mean, after all, the whole "Please sir, I want some more" is AWFULLY famous. [Sidebar: Writing OT keeps making me think of The OA. Is anyone watching it in addition to me and Nobody? If you are, what do you think?!?! I have so many thoughts and feels.]

It was (gasp!) not my favorite Dickens. There were pieces of it that reminded me why I like Dickens so much as a writer, but I kept wanting Oliver to grow UP! Not like, he's being so immature, grow up, but more like, Get older and become more of a real character, would you? He managed to stay the same age for all 400-odd pages, and I found that Very Dull Indeed. Perhaps my opinion is tainted by my affection for the bildungsroman heavyhitters Great Expectations and David Copperfield (in which, SPOILER ALERT, both boys GROW UP!) but I felt like it wasn't that unreasonable a thing to hope for. I'm just not that into 9-year-olds. #sorrynotsorry

All this being said, you know I believe that all books have merit, and this book still had many marvelous moments. Here are my thoughts.

A Ranking of the Dickens I have read thus far:
(4) Oliver Twist
(3) A Tale of Two Cities
(2) Great Expectations
(1) David Copperfield

There you have it, folks. imho, DC is best because it is so heavily autobiographical (write what you know!) but that's just my two pence. I also have quite a few on my proverbial (not literal) list to read: -- Pickwick Papers (obviously because of Little Women), Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop, Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (which I always think was written by Poe). Do you have a favorite Dickens, dear blobbists? Do tell. I'm dying to know.

Dickensian writing style
What I love about Dickens is that he has a very distinctive style. Some people probably find this deeply bothersome, but I really enjoy his verbosity and his curious wit. Here's a list of my favorite Dickens-isms that make an appearance in OT:

  • being brought up 'by hand' - this one is classic Dickens, and applies to several protagonists I can think of (Davy C, Pip, Oliver). I honestly didn't know what it meant until just now (it has to do with using a wet-nurse or spoon/bottle feeding a child because there's no access to the mom's milk) but it also just has a great feeling to it, don't you think? 
  • great names [Mr. Bumble, Mr. Grimwig, Oliver Twist, the artful Dodger]
  • Here's my favorite Bumble-ism: 'Mrs. Corney, what is this, ma'am? Has anything happened, ma'am? Pray answer me; I'm on - on-' Mr. Bumble in his alarm could not immediately think of the word 'tenterhooks', so he said 'broken bottles'." aghaghaghaghaghagh lolllllzzzz
  • fantastic wernacular [I inwented it! The wicious boys. The millingtary.]
  • all-knowing and quippy narrator - 
  • ex: "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, well-cured bacon."
  • "Indeed, there is so much to do, that I have no room for digressions, even if I possessed the inclination."
  • classic and serendipitous twists of fate - even though the book takes place in a rather large country (England) and a sizable city (London), lots of people's lives just Happen to be intertwined. Like, Whoops! Mr. Brownlow just Happens to have been Oliver's dad's biffle. And Oliver just HAPPENS to end up living with the Maylies when SOOPRIZE, Rose is his auntie.
  • dark sarcasm and censure of society - It's not Dickens without it. ;)
On naming Oliver
"How comes he to have any name at all?"
The beadle drew himself up with great pride, and said, 'I inwented it.'
'You, Mr. Bumble!'
'I, Mrs. Mann. We name our foundlin's in alphabetical order. The last was a S - Swubble: I named him. This was a T, - Twist: I named him. The next one as comes will be Unwin, and the next Vilkins. I have got names ready made to the end of the alphabet, and all the way through it again, when we come to Z." I think we're all thankful that Oliver didn't become an Unwin or a Vilkins. Some name for a protagonist! Did you almost have any other names, dear readers? Framboise, perhaps? or Dmitri?

When Oliver almost gets apprenticed (but thank heavens, Doesn't) to a chimneysweep
"Young boys have been smothered in chimneys, before now...'
'Boys is wery obstinit, and wery lazy, gen'lm'n, and there's nothink like a good hot blaze to make 'em come down vith a run; it's humane, too, gen'lm'n, acouse, even if they've stuck in the chimbley, roastin' their feet makes 'em struggle to hextricate theirselves." Spellcheck is very displeased with that passage. Oh, I'm Sorry, you don't understand early 19th century British wernacular? Silly computer!

When Oliver thinks he's being Hansel and Gretel'd
"In pursuance of this determination, little Oliver, to his excessive astonishment, was released from bondage, and ordered to put himself into a clean shirt. He had hardly achieved this very unusual gymnastic performance, when Mr. Bumble brought him with his own hands, a basin of gruel, and the holiday allowance of two ounces and a quarter of bread; at sight of which Oliver began to cry very piteously, thinking, not unnaturally, that the board must have determined to kill him for some useful purpose, or they never would have begun to fatten him up in this way." It would be funny if it wasn't so sad!

On Fagin being called "the Jew"
Fagin, for those virgin Twist-ites, is a nasty old man ringleader for a band of young boy thieves. He's a creepy character, and a decent villain, but I couldn't get over the fact that Dickens calls him simply 'the Jew' for most of the book. Apparently he censored it out later on, but it's still in the original editions. It made me very uncomfortable, and I'm sure that's true for many people.

Wives and husbands
One of the things I love about reading 'classics' is when you chance upon something that feels so deeply universal, like, for instance, bickering between a couple. Here's one of my favorite moments between the coffinmaker that Oliver is apprenticed to (I KNOW I didn't mention it - that's because it is a very SAD part of Oliver's already sad existence) and his wife:

'Oh, don't tell me what you were going to say,' interposed Mrs. Sowerberry. 'I am nobody; don't consult me, pray. I don't want to intrude upon your secrets.' And, as Mrs. Sowerberry said this, she gave an hysterical laugh, which threatened violent consequences.' ahgahgaghaghaghaghaga

When Oliver beats Noah up because he makes a 'your mom' joke
Yes. This happens. Noah works with the coffinmaker. Just as in the above, I was amused to see that boys have been fighting about your mom jokes for at least two centuries. Although let's be real, this feels like it could be biblically old. 

It was a happy time.
I thought maybe you all would like to know if anything HAPPY happens in OT. Guess what? It does! Here are two of my favorite lines from when Oliver gets connected to the lovely Mrs. Maylie/Rose bunch:
  • "'The memories which peaceful country scenes call up, are not of this world, or of its thoughts or hopes. Their gentle influence may teach us to weave fresh garlands for the graves of those we loved, may purify our thoughts, and bear down before it old enmity and hatred; but, beneath all this there lingers in the least reflective mind a vague and half-formed consciousness of having held such feelings long before in some remote and distant time, which calls up solemn thoughts of distant times to come, and bends down pride and worldliness beneath it." 
  • "The rose and honey-suckle clung to the cottage walls the ivy crept round the trunks of the trees, and the garden-flowers perfumed the air with delicious odours." These two lines reminded me of The Bell Jar, and Esther's inability to choose between the country or the city. Now that I'm back in the city, I like the action, and walking, but I miss nature, and I long for the fields. 

The Artful Dodger  (aka Jack Dawkins)
I wanted to like the Artful Dodger more, since he has a pretty big literary hype as a character. That said, I didn't feel like I really knew him (and his motivations) well enough to like him as much as I wanted to. I do like the image of him dressed in a suit like a baby gentleman, and his wily (and illicit) ways. Here's when he first meets Oliver, who has been walking for miles upon miles and is basically death walking: 
"Come, you want grub, and you shall have it. I'm at low-water-mark - only one bob and a magpie; but, as far as it goes, I'll fork out and stump. Up with you on your pins. There: now then, morrice.' Savvy? ;)

Doctor Losberne
He is a good friend to Rose and Mrs. Maylie, and also one of my favorite characters. Here's what I think is the best Dr. L moment, when he responds to the fact that Oliver and his crew have just tried to rob Rose and Mrs. Maylie (Don't worry, Oliver was Under Duress!)

"Under such circumstances; dear, dear - so unexpected - in the silence of night too!" The doctor seemed especially troubled by the fact of the robbery having been unexpected, and attempted in the night time, as if it were the established custom of gentlemen in the housebreaking way to transact business at noon, and to make an appointment by the twopenny post a day or two previous." ghaghaghaghaghag lollllllllz.

Where Tinkerbell is waiting
Dickens has a great line that made me think of the Tinkerbell line in Hook. I thought I had already referenced that on this blob, and sure enough, Prousty-Proust has the original stake to the claim. 

"Although Oliver had roused himself from sleep, he was not thoroughly awake. There is a drowsy, heavy state, between sleeping and waking, when you dream more in five minutes with your eyes half open, and yourself half conscious of everything that is passing around you, than you would in five nights with your eyes fast closed, and your senses wrapt in perfect unconsciousness. At such times, a mortal knows just enough of what his mind is doing to form some glimmering conception of its mighty powers, its bounding from earth and spurning time and space, when freed from the irksome restraint of its corporeal associate." I like to think of special lost friends waiting for us here, don't you?

New Words Which are Not, In Point of Fact, New At All, but rather, are New to Me:
beadle - sometimes spelled "bedel" - an official of a church or synagogue who may usher, keep order, make reports, and assist in religious functions; or a minor official who carries out various civil, educational, or ceremonial duties. In our case, the latter, and also, the office for Mr. Bumble. Just to be clear, NOT, therefore, the same meaning as that bluish creature on the left. Also not be confused with these gents on the right. 

saturnine (which I often mix up with sartorial) - gloomy, moody, mysterious [like Suzy, if woken in the middle of a Sunday afternoon nap!]

denizen - an inhabitant or occupant of a particular place [I don't know why, but this one always throws me for a loop. Maybe it makes me think Denzel? or jewel-like? I just never remember that it means what it means. [I do not think this words means what you think it means. Inconceivable!]]

harridan - a strict, bossy, or belligerent old woman. [are we referring to a NAAAAAASTY woman?]

rapacity - aggressive greed [like, Scrooge was known for his RAPACITY?]

myrmidon - I'm sure MOMMYKINS knows what this one means! Cut to Kitty, explaining, "a member of a warlike Thessalian people led by Achilles at the siege of Troy, OR a hired ruffian or unscrupulous subordinate." So, NOT the same as a mermaid. Got it.

As usual, I'll leave you with a few of my favorite passages. Here are some snippets from the first happy stage of Oliver's life, when he is rescued by Mr. Brownlow and his housekeeper, Mrs. Bedwin:

"After tea she began to teach Oliver cribbage, which he learnt as quickly as she could teach, and at which game they played, with great interest and gravity, until it was time for the invalid to have some warm wine and water, with a slice of dry toast, and to go cosily to bed." Fancy a round, mommy? Do we have all the pegs?

Mr. Brownlow, to Oliver
"How should you like to grow up a clever man, and write books, eh?"
'I think I would rather read them, sir.' I'm torn! I do SO like reading them, but more and more I feel compelled to write one. A balance of the two, perhaps, is the ticket, in equal or similar proportion. 

And here's a line from Mrs. Corney, who is playing her to-be husband like a fiddle: 

"What's wrong? Oh nothing, I am a foolish, excitable, weak creature."

I got out there yesterday with those other foolish, excitable, weak creatures, and the harridans, and the all around NAAAAAAAASTY women like Ashley Judd and Janelle Monae and Nina Donovan. If you haven't seen Ashley's recitation at the Women's March, here it is for your viewing pleasure. I'll wait while you watch it.

Good job. Now I'm off to The Domicile of the Spooks. While you wait on Broken Bottles for my next blob, stay safe, love one another, and stay NAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASTY. 

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