Thursday, August 29, 2013

So very Dickensian

Oliver Twist is by far my favourite Dickens novel. Its not considered his best book and the musical Oliver! is more popular than the book. Seeing the movie version of the musical on TV is how I came to read the book myself when I was maybe twelve. The musical is very romantic, the tunes are catchy and the boy who played Oliver was very pretty. I had to read the book.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
I wasn’t terribly surprised that the book was quite different from the musical. Bad things happen to Oliver and no one bursts to a song to make everything better. It didn’t matter, because the book ended as it ought to. Good people got their happy ending and bad people came to their just deserts.

Despite the harsher tone, I didn’t find it a particularly difficult book. Compared with The Black Brothers I had read earlier, a story of little chimney sweeps that is much grimmer at times, Oliver Twist was an easy story to digest. I was much older before I understood the wider picture of Victorian London and its poor, and the book got another dimension.

I had another reason to like the book too. Around the same time that I read it, our local theatre produced the musical. There was an open cast call for the child actors and quite a few from my class attended, me and my best friend among them. Alas, we weren’t cast – we were too young – but that didn’t diminish our enthusiasm. A girl we knew, a couple of years older, got the role of Oliver and she was brilliant. We saw the play many times and enjoyed it every time.

Most importantly, however, Oliver Twist remains my favourite Dickens because it’s pretty much the only one of his books that I have managed to complete reading, and not just once but twice. I find I much prefer his books in visual form. Luckily, there have been brilliant TV productions of many of his books for me to enjoy. Who knows, maybe one of them inspires me to take up the book too.

Here's a scene from a stage version of Oliver! that is both grim and overly romantic, Nancy's song As Long as He Needs Me.