Introduced by Peter Ackroyd
Illustrated by George Cruikshank
A new addition to our Dickens collection, this tale of an orphan’s ascendance from pickpocket to squire reproduces the 1937 Nonesuch text and illustrations and is introduced by Peter Ackroyd.
‘Please sir, I want some more’.
When the starving workhouse boys draw lots to decide who shall ask for extra gruel, Oliver pulls the short straw. One of literature’s most memorable lines, it symbolises the collective cry of Victorian London’s underclass.
The hair-raising story of a runaway orphan who swaps the horrors of the workhouse for life with a pickpocketing gang, this was the first novel with a suffering child as its central character. Oliver’s adventures introduce him to the dregs of London life, all brilliantly depicted: the odious workhouse supervisor Mr Bumble who fattens up from the deprivations of his charges; Fagin holding sway over his band of juvenile pickpockets; the impudent ‘Artful Dodger’; and violent bully Bill Sikes who skims the profits off Fagin’s enterprise and keeps kind-hearted Nancy living in fear. The graphic description of her murder at the hands of Sikes shocked at the time and the breakdown in Dickens’s health was blamed on the effort of recounting this scene during book readings.
As a champion of the destitute, Dickens used his authorial influence in Oliver Twist – to expose the inadequacies of the Poor Law of 1834. He achieved his aim and the novel shamed a generation with its brutally honest narrative. But it’s not all despair and depravation: there are significant acts of kindness and Oliver somehow survives with his essential innocence and goodness intact.
With their labyrinthine plots, evocative settings and unforgettable characters, the novels of Charles Dickens have delighted generations of readers. Oliver Twist is being published alongside A Tale of Two Cities as part of the new Folio Dickens collection (with Great Expectations). The collection reproduces the Nonesuch text, which includes the corrections that Dickens made for first publication in book format, as well as the original black and white illustrations that accompanied the texts – in this case at the hand of George Cruikshank. The binding of each book incorporates a design from a 19th-century wallpaper, making this a unique collector’s set and the cornerstone to a personal library.
Charles Dickens was born in 1812 in Landport, England. His family moved to London in 1816, and then to Chatham in 1817, where Dickens spent the happiest years of his childhood. They returned to London in 1822 and two years later Dickens’s father was imprisoned for debt and Dickens sent to work in a shoe-polish factory – a period that would influence much of his later writing.
In 1833 he began contributing stories and essays to newspapers and magazines. The Pickwick Papers was his first commercial success, and it was serialised in 1836. He went on to complete fourteen novels and became a celebrity in America as well as Britain. Dickens died in 1870; he is buried in Westminster Abbey.
Peter Ackroyd is a novelist, biographer and poet. A graduate of both Cambridge and Yale, he began his career as literary editor for the Spectator magazine in London. In 1983 he won the Somerset Maugham Award for his writing of Oscar Wilde’s ‘autobiography’, The Last Temptation of Oscar Wilde, and in 1984 his biography T. S. Eliot received the Whitbread Biography Award and the Heinemann Award. Ackroyd’s publications on Charles Dickens include the biography Dickens (1990) and Dickens: Public Life and Private Passions (2002). Drawing inspiration from London, the city of his birth, he wrote its own biography, London: A Biography, in 2000. In 2003 Ackroyd was awarded a CBE for services to literature.
George Cruikshank was a British Caricaturist and illustrator. Born in London in 1792, he began his career as an apprentice to his father, Isaac, one of the leading caricaturists of the age. George soon became renowned for his own social caricatures of English life. In 1823, he began to focus on illustration, creating artwork for the first English translation of Grimms’ Fairy Tales and going on to illustrate hundreds of books throughout his life. A friend of Charles Dickens, Cruikshank worked closely with Dickens on the images for Oliver Twist, first published alongside the serialisation of the novel in 1837-9. Cruikshank died in 1878.
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