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 eyes.” 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.” (59-60) 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 Remediated John Thompson, The Henry Mayhew, Crawlers, 1877. The Jew, 1861. Gustave Dore, Wentworth Street, Whitechapel, 1872.