Oliver Twist Dickens_ London_ Realism

Document Sample
Oliver Twist Dickens_ London_ Realism Powered By Docstoc
					      Oliver Twist
Dickens, London, Realism
I. Dickens & London

Hippolyte Taine on London
  “Nothing here is natural: everything is
  transformed, violently changed, from the
  earth and man himself, to the very light and
  air. But the hugeness of this accumulation of
  man-made things takes off the attention from
  this deformity and this artifice; in default of a
  wholesome and noble beauty, there is life,
  teeming and grandiose.”
I. Dickens & London

George Gissing on Dickens’s London

 “London as a place of squalid mystery and
 terror, of the grimly grotesque, of labyrinthine
 obscurity and lurid fascination, is Dickens’s
 own; he taught people a certain way of
 regarding the huge city, and to this day how
 common it is to see London with Dickens’s
II. A Novel Medium
Dickens’ Preface to OT:

  It is useless to discuss whether the conduct
  and character of the girl seems natural or
  unnatural, probable or improbable, right or
  wrong. IT IS TRUE. Every man who has
  watched these melancholy shades of life,
  must know it to be so. From the first
  introduction of that poor wretch, to her laying
  her blood-stained head upon the robber’s
  breast, there is not a word exaggerated or
  over-wrought. It is emphatically god’s truth,
  for it is the truth. (Preface xvii)
II. A Novel Medium
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. The hero sinks upon his straw
bed, weighed down by fetters and misfortunes; in the next scene, his
faithful but unconscious squire regales the audience with a comic song. We
behold, with throbbing bosoms, the heroine in the grasp of a proud and
ruthless baron: her virtue and her life alike in danger, drawing forth her
dagger to preserve the one at the cost of the other; and just as our
expectations are wrought up to the highest pitch, a whistle is heard, and we
are straightway transported to the great hall of the castle; where a grey-
headed seneschal sings a funny chorus with a funnier body of vassals, who
are free of all sorts of places, from church vaults to palaces, and roam
about in company, carolling perpetually.

Such changes appear absurd; but they are not so unnatural as they would
seem at first sight. The transitions in real life from well-spread boards to
death-beds, and from mourning-weeds to holiday garments, are not a whit
less startling; only, there, we are busy actors, instead of passive lookers-
on, which makes a vast difference. The actors in the mimic life of the
theatre, are blind to violent transitions and abrupt impulses of passion or
feeling, which, presented before the eyes of mere spectators, are at once
condemned as outrageous and preposterous. (129)
III. Twist’s London

Map of Oliver’s London
III. Twist’s London
Saffron-Hill, Field Lane, Farringdon (near Holborn)

   “A dirtier or more wretched place he had never seen. The
  street was very narrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated
  with filthy odours. There were a good many small shops; but
  the only stock in trade appeared to be heaps of children, who,
  even at that time of night, were crawling in and out at the doors,
  or screaming from the inside. The sole places that seemed to
  prosper amid the general blight of the place, were the public-
  houses; and in-them, the lowest orders of Irish were wrangling
  with might and main. Covered ways and yards, which here and
  there diverged from the main street, disclosed little knots of
  houses, where drunken men and women were positively
  wallowing in filth; and from several of the door-ways, great ill-
  looking fellows were cautiously emerging, bound, to all
  appearance, on no very well-disposed or harmless errands.”
III. Twist’s London
Smithfield, Farringdon
  “It was market-morning. The ground was covered, nearly ankle-
  deep, with filth and mire; a thick steam, perpetually rising from
  the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog, which
  seemed to rest upon the chimney-tops, hung heavily above.
  [ . . . ] Countrymen, butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys, thieves,
  idlers, and vagabonds of every low grade, were mingled
  together in a mass; the whistling of drovers, the barking of dogs,
  the bellowing and plunging of oxen, the bleating of sheep, the
  grunting and squeaking of pigs, the cries of hawkers, the shouts,
  oaths, and quarrelling on all sides; the ringing of bells and roar
  of voices that issued from every public-house; the crowding,
  pushing, driving, beating, whooping, and yelling; the hideous
  and discordant din that resounded from every corner of the
  market; and the unwashed, unshaven, squalid, and dirty figures
  constantly running to and fro, and bursting in and out of the
  throng; rendered it a stunning and bewildering scene, which
  quite confounded the sense” (164).
IV. Controversies
 Queen Victoria’s Diaries

 Told him (Lord Melbourne) Mamma admonished me for reading
 light books (Oliver Twist) (44)

 Lord Melbourne on Oliver Twist: “I don’t like those things
 (Workhouses and Pickpockets) ; I wish to avoid them; I don’t like
 them in reality, and therefore I don’t wish them represented.”

 William Thackeray on Oliver Twist

 Novelist William Thackeray, a rival of Dickens', asserted that
 men of genius "had no business to make these characters
 interesting or agreeable, to be feeding their readers' morbid
 fancies, or indulging their own, with such monstrous food."
IV. Controversies
 Dickens Letter to a reader about his
 portrayal of Fagin, 1863
 I must take leave to say, that if there be any general
 feeling on the part of the intelligent Jewish people,
 that I have done them what you describe as “a great
 wrong,” they are a far less sensible, a far less just,
 and a far less good-tempered people than I have
 always supposed them to be. Fagin, in Oliver Twist,
 is a Jew, because it unfortunately was true of the
 time to which that story refers, that that class of
 criminal almost invariably was a Jew.
IV. Dickens’s Realism

John Thompson, The   Henry Mayhew,
Crawlers, 1877.      The Jew, 1861.

                                      Gustave Dore, Wentworth Street,
                                      Whitechapel, 1872.