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"Oliver Twist" by Charles Dickens

One of Dickens’ most enduringly popular stories is Oliver Twist,an early work published 1837-8. Like many of his later novels, itscentral theme is the hardship faced by the dispossessed and those of theoutside of ‘polite’ society. Oliver himself is born in a workhouse andtreated cruelly there as was the norm at the time for pauper children,in particular by Bumble, a parish council official or "beadle". Thestory follows Oliver as he escapes the workhouse and runs away toLondon. Here he receives an education in villainy from the criminal gangof Fagin that includes the brutal thief Bill Sikes, the famous ‘ArtfulDodger’ and Nancy, Bill’s whore. Oliver is rescued by the interventionof a benefactor - Mr Brownlow - but the mysterious Monks gets the gangto kidnap the boy again. Nancy intervenes but is murdered viciously bySikes after she has showed some redeeming qualities and has discoveredMonk’s sinister intention. The story closes happily and with justice forBumble and the cruel Monks who has hidden the truth of Oliver’sparentage out of malice. Accusations were made that the book glamorisedcrime (like the "Newgate Group" of the period) but Dickens wiselydisassociated himself from criminal romances. His achievement was infact in presenting the underworld and problems of poverty to thewell-off in a way rarely attempted previously.

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