The Cheap Edition of Charles Dickens’s second novel, Oliver Twist, was published in 1850, 13 years after its first appearance as a serial in Bentley’s Miscellany. In the Preface to this new edition he took the opportunity to reply to the magistrate Sir Peter Laurie, who had recently dismissed Jacob’s Island, the desolate, decaying neighbourhood where Sikes fell to his death, as a figment of Dickens’s imagination. ‘I was as well convinced then, as I am now,’ Dickens writes, ‘that nothing can be done for the elevation of the poor in England, until their dwelling places are made decent and wholesome’.
What is the Cheap Edition?
The Cheap Edition is the first collected edition of Dickens’s novels, published in three series between 1847 and 1867. It was an enterprising venture, carefully devised by Dickens – who was an astute businessman – to appeal to the less affluent. Although the scheme of publication was later modified, the first series was published in weekly numbers at 1½d. [1.25 pence], monthly parts at 7d. [approx. 6 pence] and bound volumes at prices ranging from 2 to 5 shillings [20 to 50 pence]. The original illustrations were not reproduced, but each novel contained a specially commissioned frontispiece and a new Preface.
What does the new Preface tell us about Dickens as an author?
Many readers were startled by the sombre tone of Oliver Twist after the light-hearted comedy of Pickwick Papers. As he grew older Dickens increasingly saw himself as a serious writer with a mission to speak for the poor and powerless. ‘Pray do not... suppose that I ever write merely to amuse, or without an object,’ he told one of his critics in 1852.
Preface to the cheap Edition of Oliver Twist
at page 267 of this present
Edition of Oliver Twist, (first published in the year of 38), there is a description
of “the filthiest, the strangest, the most
extraordinary, of the many localities that
are hidden in London.” and ^ the name of this place is is
called Jacob’s Island.
I have the honor to belong to the constituent
body represented, for parochial purposes, by the
sagacious vestry of Marylebone - an honor which
I hope I bear meekly. A part of This vestry
Eleven or twelve years have elapsed, since
that the description was first published. I was as
well ^ XXXXX well convinced then, as I am now, that nothing
effectual can be done for the elevation of the
poor in England, until their dwelling places are
made decent clean and wholesome. ^ I have always been xxxx education
its ef I have ever since been, to the best of my power
an advocate of what is now call[ed] the Sanitary xxxx ^ Cause
I was a member of the late Metropolitan Health of
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