© 1837 Charles Dickens
“Please, sir, I want some more.” I had never read or otherwise encountered Oliver Twist before this month, but I immediately recognized that quote. Something about little Oliver sticks in the minds of other readers, just as it stuck in the mind of many characters who encountered him. Oliver Twist is the story of an orphan who seems to escape and again from the clutches of uncaring or malicious adults, only to find himself right back in trouble. It was trouble that started before his birth, for as this narrative follows young Oliver’s birth until he is about eleven or twelve, its happenings eventually reveal a more elaborate family drama. While Oliver is passing in and out of the hands of hostile adults — first uncaring taskmasters, then criminals, who capture him after he escapes — the arrival of a man with a mysterious past heightens the mortal danger to the boy, far beyond that of ordinary neglect and abuse. The novel is replete with memorable characters, particularly Nancy — a teenage girl associated with a gang of criminals, who helps them kidnap him for labor but regrets her actions, later laboring to atone for them. Although this story is more grim than anything else I’ve read of Dickens, I appreciated the earn-your-happy-ending type conclusion, in which Oliver finally finds happiness but at the cost of a dear friend.