When the starving boys of the workhouse draw lots to decide who shall ask for extra gruel, it is Oliver who pulls the short straw. Banished by Mr Bumble, apprenticed to an undertaker, and adopted into Fagin's den of thieves, Oliver somehow survives with his essential innocence and goodness intact. As the first novel to have a suffering child as its central character, this hair-raising story of an orphan boy's adventures shocked Dickens's readers when it was published. Here are the dregs of London life brilliantly depicted - the murderous bully Bill Sikes; doomed, kind-hearted Nancy; the impudent 'Artful Dodger'; the grasping villain Fagin. The drama of their story remains unforgettable long after the purpose of the book – to expose the inadequacies of the Poor Law of 1834 – has been served. Dickens toured Britain and America giving readings from his books, but none were as powerful as his account of Nancy’s murder – the performance drained him so much that many blamed this episode for the breakdown of his health.
Commemorating the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens's birth
With their labyrinthine plots, evocative settings and unforgettable characters, the novels of Charles Dickens have delighted generations of readers. To celebrate the 2012 bicentenary of his birth, The Folio Society presents a selection of new editions of his works, based on the celebrated 1930s Nonesuch editions and featuring original illustrations by artists including Dickens’s long-term collaborator ‘Phiz’. Each volume includes an introduction specially commissioned from an esteemed writer. They also feature individual new binding designs, with a quote from the novel blocked in gold on the front.
Read more about the life and work of Charles Dickens
Dickens was a one man powerhouse of creativity. For ordinary mortals just one of his many jobs would have been sufficient, (let alone a family of ten children). Yet despite his tours and editorial responsibilities, he wrote fifteen novels, three works of nonfiction and numerous shorter works. No wonder he should be called 'the great inimitable'.
From his pen flowed a seemingly inexhaustible series of characters who have enchanted generations of readers, whether we laugh at his comic creations or suffer alongside his heroes and heroines.
When the first serialisations of Bleak House and Oliver Twist appeared, readers thronged docksides and railway stations waiting for them to be unloaded. Today, the popularity of Dickens for TV series suggests his appeal is as strong as ever. It is Dickens's exceptional eye for character and voice, which keeps the books fresh, even though the milieu of workhouse and industry has changed. Mr Pickwick remains as funny as when he first stood to deliver his lecture on the Theory of Tittlebats and young Pip trembling on the Kent marshes as the escaped convict looms out of the mist, just as compelling an image.
Commissioned Introductions: by leading lights in the academic and literary world such as Patrick McGrath (Barnaby Rudge), A. N. Wilson (Pickwick Papers), John Ezard (Martin Chuzzlewit) and Dickens's acclaimed biographer Peter Ackroyd (Bleak House, Oliver Twist and Edwin Drood).
Original Illustrations: Dickens himself worked closely with his illustrators, suggesting corrections to preliminary sketches. We gain insight into his own vision of the characters in these delightful plates made by such renowned illustrators as George Cruikshank, Marcus Stone and 'Phiz'.