was published between February 1837 and April 1839 in a magazine called Bentley''s Miscellany. It is Dickens''s second novel, and possibly his most famous. Much of it was written while he was completing The Pickwick Papers
, and the difference in tone and purpose is striking. Compared with The Pickwick Papers
and its loosely structured sequence of comic episodes, Oliver Twist
is a novel of social condemnation in which Dickens angrily concentrates on a few central themes. Briefly, these are: the spread of crime, maltreatment of children and the immorality fo institutions supposed to help the poor, particularly the workhouses which were created by the New Poor Law of 1834.
Oliver Twist is born in a workhouse. He is an orphan because his mother dies in childbirth. Oliver is raised in the workhouse and then apprenticed to an undertaker, where he is treated no better than he was in the workhouse. He runs away and is taken in by a band of young thieves who live in the heart of the London slums and pretend to be his friends. The gang is headed by Fagin and a brutal thief called Bill Sykes, whose girlfriend, Nancy, is a prostitute with a heart of gold.
Oliver is rescued from a life of crime by the benevolent Mr Brownslow, before he is captured again by Sykes and forced to assist him in a robbery. During th robbery Oliver is shot and wounded, but the woman of the house, Mrs Rose Maylie, horrified that she has wounded a child, nurses him back to health. Nancy then discovers why the gang are so interested in Oliver. It emerges that one of Sykes''s accomplices, Monks, is Oliver''s half brother and that the wealthy Mrs Maylie is Oliver''s aunt. Monks and Sykes were plotting to kill Oliver so Monks would be eligible for the whole inheritance. Sykes then brutally murders Nancy for her treachery and dies spectacularly in an attempt to escape across the rooftops of London. Fagin is caught and Oliver is adopted by Mr Brownslow, having escaped from the hypocrisy of the workhouse system and the falsity of the criminal world.