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Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist is a novel by Charles Dickens, probably the best-known of all his works. It has been the subject of numerous film and television adaptations, and the basis for a highly successful British musical, entitled simply Oliver.

As with most of Dickens' work, Oliver Twist is used to bring the public's attention to various contemporary social evils, including the workhouse, child labour and the recruitment of children as criminals.


Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers

Oliver is a boy born in a workhouse, who has no idea of his parents' identity. His mother Agnes died in childbirth. By pure chance he is chosen as a scapegoat by the other starving boys, and is made to go and ask for an extra helping at a mealtime ("Please, sir, I want some more."). As a result of this breach of etiquette, he is "sold" by the workhouse as an undertaker's apprentice. The cruelty he suffers at the hands of an older apprentice causes him to run away, and he finds his way to London, where he is taken under the wing of The Artful Dodger, a boy criminal. The Dodger introduces Oliver into his circle of friends, who include Fagin the Jew, a criminal mastermind, and his brutal ally, Bill Sykes. Oliver is taught crimes such as picking pockets and forced to take part in them. He is shown kindness by Bill's girlfriend, Nancy.

After a robbery that goes wrong, Oliver is taken into the home of a wealthy man, Mr Brownlow. Unknown to them, efforts are being made by Oliver's half-brother, Monks, to locate him and prevent him from obtaining his inheritance, but Mr Brownlow soon begins to suspect that Oliver is the son of his niece. Sykes and Nancy snatch Oliver back, and Sykes takes him on a burglary, planning to get him a criminal record as a favour to Monks. But Oliver is left behind and restored to Mr Brownlow. Sykes murders Nancy and is himself killed while being pursued by the police. Fagin is arrested and hanged for his crimes.

Film and tv adaptations

There have been many film and tv adaptations of Dickens' novel. As of 2003, the most recent is an ITV/PBS production from 1999, adapted by Alan Bleasdale and starring Sam Smith as Oliver, Robert Lindsay as Fagin, and Andy Serkis as Bill Sikes.

The earliest film adaptation is a silent movie made in 1909. Other adaptations include an animation from 1974, and a feature film from 1948, starring Alec Guinness in one of his most defining roles as Fagin. Also famous is a musical adaptation, Oliver, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1969.

Adaptations of the novel tend to simplify the original story. The way the book is normally interpreted on screen causes modern readers to focus on Bill Sykes as the villain. They thus fail to recognise how Fagin has trained Sykes and made him what he is; part of Dickens' message is that he might have done the same with Oliver had chance not intervened.

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