Dickens, Oliver Twist


  • Intro

    Oliver Twist is Charles Dickens's second novel, about an orphan boy whose good heart and healthy appetite help him escape the terrible underworld of crime and poverty in 19th century London. It has proven to be one of the best loved novels in the history of literature. This is Dickens's handwritten preface to the 'cheap edition' of the book, first published in 1850. In it he refutes claims that 'Jacob's Island' (the squalid South London slum depicted in the book) did not exist in reality. He appeals to his readers to recognise that reforms were desperately needed to improve the living conditions of the poor.


    The book first appeared in monthly instalments from 1837-39. Balancing suspense, melodrama, pathos and humour, it paints a picture of a city tainted by social deprivation. An often sarcastic comment on the Poor Laws, which forced many into hard labour, it must have drawn on Dickens's own childhood experiences of poverty. Luckily for Oliver, as for Dickens himself, things turned out rather well in the end.


    Nonetheless, the book is generally much darker and bleaker than its many stage and screen adaptations: Fagin, the head of the gang of pickpockets, is hanged, Oliver's half-brother steals his money and dies in jail, Sikes murders Nancy before himself meeting a gruesome death, and the Artful Dodger is transported to Australia.


    Shelfmark: Dex.289, 1

  • Transcript

    Oliver Twist

    Preface to the first cheap edition of Oliver Twist 


    At page 267 of this present edition of OLIVER TWIST, 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 JACOB'S ISLAND. Eleven or twelve years have elapsed since the description was first published. I was as 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 and wholesome. I have always been convinced that this reform must precede all other Social Reforms; that it must prepare the way for Education, even for Religion; and that, without it, those classes of the people which increase the fastest, must become so desperate, and be made so miserable, as to bear within themselves the certain seeds of ruin to the whole community.

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