Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

Book Review: Oliver Twist

All right, I’m going to review another Charles Dickens book: Oliver Twist. I know it’s not strictly fantasy, but it is  a kind of a pre-modern story. Anyway, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want.

Oliver Twist tells the story of a young orphan and his difficult life, beginning with his time in a workhouse and continuing through his apprenticeship to an Undertaker, then on through his run-in with thieves, and his eventual rescue by a benevolent benefactor. And so on. As it is a classic work of the great Charles Dickens, I’m going to give my first impression of it, then I will read the Cliff Notes, and see if that changes my interpretation.

Pre-Cliff Notes Reaction: It was a decent story. The point that most impresses me is that at the time of the writing, the book was intended to have a very particular impact drawing into the public consciousness the plight of the underclass. Nowadays, I think it has lost some of that luster. The story is the same, but there are so many other stories now, where at least one main character is a thief who grew up on the streets and made his way to a good life, and these are kind of interpreted as adventure stories, not social awareness stories. We have come to regard the thief as the rumpled hero, provided he has a soft-spot for the underprivileged. Of course, none of these other stories were written by the great Charles Dickens, but oh, well (and Oliver Twist is really just an orphan; he never becomes a real thief). Anyway, it was a good book and story. My other major complaint is that the wrap up at the end involved a considerable amount of material not divulged prior to that. You were given a few hints that something was going on, but it was impossible to figure out beforehand; you had to wait for the author to spell it out for you. Oh, and the sentences were a bit long and drawn out (My sister tells me my brain just isn’t used to lengthy sentences by a real writer like Dickens. I just think such lengthy wording is unnecessary).

Post-Cliff Notes Reaction: My reaction is about the same, although perhaps the motives of the story are understood better. It’s definitely not an adventure story, but a piece for critiquing society. Two more areas of complaint are clearer to me, however. One, the female character Rose is too much of a fluffy, angelic perfection. It is a similar problem that arose in his “Tale of Two Cities” with the character Lucie Manette. They are more like an apotheosis of womankind as understood by Dickens, and as such they are kind of boring and fall flat. My second complaint is how the murderer, Bill Sikes, freaks out after committing murder. I find it implausible that a man of his character, as he was so described by Dickens, would give one whit about his victim, or be haunted for more than the briefest measure by his crime. It didn’t seem believable to me. Finally, I will admit that the development of the mystery surrounding Oliver Twist did have a build-up, but I still regard that build-up as insufficient. There is simply no way a reader could figure out what was going on prior to having it explained in detail by Dickens in the closing chapters. And that, I regard as a weakness in the story.

Overall, I’ll give the story three and a half stars.

This review originally appeared on 6-17-12 on Goodreads.

Book Review: A Tale of Two Cities

This isn’t really fantasy literature, but the setting is kind of what? late Medieval, Renaissance–I can never get my history straight.

 

Anyway, I stumbled across a couple of reviews for “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens that gave it a measly two stars out of five. I can only surmise that the reviewers were… shall we say… not very sophisticated readers. If you are looking for blood and gore—actually this book has it: it deals with the French Revolution—but it just doesn’t dwell on it in the same way that modern fiction does. The bloodletting is left in the background and not examined up close. I originally read this book when I was in high school. At the time I enjoyed the book, but I don’t think I fully appreciated it. I didn’t quite get the foreshadowing techniques used (which may have been, actually, over-used) at the time, but I thought it was a good story. This time through, though, I really got a picture of the story as a cohesive whole. Everything in “A Tale of Two Cities” relates to everything else. It’s a great book. And a literary classic.

 

There are a number of crucial players in the story, including Charles Darnay, Sydney Carton, and Lucie Manette. There are others, but I will limit my discussion to those three. Lucie Manette is the love interest in the tale. She is a beautiful young woman who marries Charles Darnay, a French aristocrat who basically gave up his way of life because he was disgusted with the abuses of the aristocracy. Sydney Carton is a dissolute lawyer who is also in love with and devoted to Lucie Manette. What I liked about the book is its exploration of the concept of nobility. On the one hand, you have the aristocracy of wealth; those individuals who make their living on the backs of the common man. Then there is the concept of nobility as it should be; nobility as it is exemplified in Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. Charles Darnay knows there is trouble in France, but he leaves the safety of England and goes back to help one of his family’s servants who ran into difficulties on account of his employ in the Evremonde (Charles Darnay’s real name) family. He braves the perils of a blood-thirsty country to help a former servant out of a sense of honor and duty. Then, there is Sydney Carton. He is a pitiable character throughout much of the book, but then he goes and meets one of the best deaths in literature. Again, exemplifying a nobility in character as opposed to mere wealth.

 

Anyway, the book was great. My only complaint is that I think it used a tad too much foreshadowing. But it definitely helped me in my own writing; it gave me a better sense of how everything in a novel is supposed to relate to everything else. A novel isn’t just supposed to tell a story. I’ll give “A Tale of Two Cities” four and a half stars out of five. I’ll definitely check out the rest of Charles Dickens’ work.

This review was originally published on Shelfari.com on 2-27-12.