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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Oliver Twist

Having long ago sampled both Oliver Twist and Pickwick Papers, I intended to leave them forever un-read. I love many other Dickens books, but Twist seemed overwrought and sentimental, while Pickwick is nothing if not funny, and isn't funny.

Van Reid wrote Pickwick the way it should have been written in his "Moosepath League" books. It's so entertaining to watch how his clueless characters never come to any harm; their innocence is impermeable armor--and they don't even know they're wearing it. But Pickwick comes to one scrape after another, which is annoying.

But it happened that Oliver Twist was the best audiobook title available on OverDrive the day I needed one. Also, it is one of the books listed in the Authors card game of which I have vowed to read each and every one. So I listened to it,  must have been 17 or 18 hours worth of it, and after the half-way point began to enjoy it pretty well.

It was darker than I expected, going far beyond, as it does, mere cruelty to orphans, and not spooning them enough gruel. Tell you what--it's not likely to be read by modern school children. First, Dickens insisted on referring to Fagan as "the Jew" in the same way that he referred to Bill Sykes as "the housebreaker" and "the murder." And there is no sense that Dickens himself is actually above it and only employing it for the same reasons Twain used racial epithets in Huckleberry Finn. Another unfortunate reason is the character of poor Charley Bates, whom Dickens would invariably address as "Master." As Huck would say, "It warn't good judgment."

Once I started Oliver Twist, I commenced reading serial installments of Pickwick on Daily Lit. It's on the Authors list too--in for a penny, in for a pound!

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