A Few Words For Sam

For the last couple of weeks or so, I have been unable to talk to Sam and have missed him sorely. Bob and I have been away, in Thailand, and due to the intense heat, our overcrowded schedule, a lack of internet security, and a dose of heat sickness, I had neither the time nor the energy or inclination to write a great deal.

From what I have been given to understand by the Thai people who live there, Thailand does not have four seasons as do we in Australia–Spring, summer, autumn, winter–but three seasons instead: the Hot Season, the Cold Season, and the Wet or Rainy Season.

We literally rattled across the skies to Thailand  in a seriously old Boeing 747 and arrived slap bang in the middle of the Wet Season, and about a month before the tourist season began. Despite this particular aircraft’s age and state and the high turbulence we suffered, we arrived at Bangkok airport safe and sound, all in one piece, and immediately changed planes to travel on down to Phuket Island. There, we were picked up from the airport, and driven in style and comfort to the Surin Beach boutique hotel, the Manathai Surin, directly across from the beach. So what was this hotel like? It was absolutely beautiful, and the staff was wonderful to say the least. They were friendly, very happy to see us, always smiling, looked out for our safety and welfare, and were always most anxious to please. In fact, a number of the staff, and their friends, as well as some of the locals have become our good friends, even joining in with us to celebrate Bob’s birthday, and have said they will write to me. We stayed there for almost two weeks, and I’m afraid I was a BIG SOOK the morning we left for Bangkok, and cried when the staff came out to the front of the hotel and stood there crying, waving us goodbye and calling to “please, please come back!” As one tour guide remarked to me, “Jo, you have a family.” Strangely, I really feel that I do.

 

 

 

 

Even though it was the Wet Season the rain did not bother us, and it not deter us from doing what we planned to do, and did, each day.  Rain is just Nature, and there is nothing one can do about nature other than carry on, and take things as they come. The heat and the intense humidity was another matter, but had to be tolerated nevertheless. Where we were, was, after all, almost right on the Equator.

Unlike Patong where the tsunami of 2004 did so much damage and took lives, Surin Beach did not feel the effects of the tsunami as much, but it was still affected. No-one in Surin was hurt though, all the residents ran up the hill and were safe. Below, on the left, is a photo of the tsunami evacuation procedure sign on a corner of the street up the road from the Manathai Surin Beach boutique hotel. On the right, is a photo of the solid concrete building directly across the road from the shops three or four doors and less than a minute’s walk down the road from the hotel. This building houses the tsunami coastal warning system.

 

 Below: We sat in the restaurant and looked across at the building that housed the tsunami warning system.

 

When the tsunami hit Surin Beach, the sea roared in and covered much of the strip along the beach opposite the hotel precinct and some of the shops, sweeping away buildings, and wrecking a lot of the gardens. Later, the government issued the order that other buildings, shops, and restaurants, that had sprung up after the tsunami, be removed  from the beach strip.  Now, at long last, this beach-side strip is being cleaned  up and made presentable, and readied to be turned into beautiful gardens. Now, at the present time, though, it’s still early days, and the signs of the tsunami and its damaging effects are still very visible.

 

 

 

Below: the small “lake” situated near the building that houses the tsunami warning siren is by courtesy of the tsunami–the water dug itself a sizeable hole and became trapped. Now, coconut palms grow around the edges and drop their coconut fruits into the water. The grand building visible through palms in the bottom photo was a former King’s holiday and week-end house. I will discuss this in a later post.

 

Even though the strip along Surin Beach that is waiting to be turned into gardens and beautified is in a bit of a mess, the beach is patrolled. Surin Beach can be a dangerous place to swim–strong rips, rogue waves, small tsunami-like actions, rocks, turbulence–yet people still surf there. The life-guards take their job very seriously. They are very strict with people on the beach and in the water, and keep a sharp eye out for everyone’s safety. In fact, so seriously do they take their job that they have set up their camp on the beach, next to the life-guard watch tower, and are on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every week of the year.

 

      

The life-guards review the beach and surf conditions constantly, moving the flags to swim between accordingly, but the flags are not widely spaced apart and  swimmers are only allowed to swim in this narrow, marked area.  Still, Surin Beach is very beautiful and very appealing.

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Bournemouth Pier and Beach

There is a great deal of information to be found on the net about England’s Bournemouth Beach, its amusement strip, and the pier. Here, I won’t try to compete with what others have written; suffice it is to say that Bournemouth’s Pier Zip Line, which was first opened in 2014 (I think),  is the world’s first, and longest, pier to shore zip wire experience. To catch a ride and surf above the waves, you pay your money (a lot), then listen to the instructor and put on your safety helmet before climbing to the top of the tower that sits very high above the deck at the end of the pier. There, you are attached to the pier zip by means of a harness that hangs down from the wire that runs across from the top of the tower to the anchor point on the beach, and away you go for a bit of a thrill, for a zip-wire surfing experience.

 

It all looked rather good to us, thrill-seekers that we are, but the weather was foul, and I didn’t notice any brave souls taking a wind-surfing zip. We certainly didn’t. In fact, I don’t even know if the zip line was closed for business, but if it had been open, and if the weather had been a little nicer than it was and the wind not quite as fierce, we might have been tempted to take advantage of being on the spot, and enjoyed the pleasure of a zip or two.

Bob and I could not even the enjoy the pleasure of eating an ice-cream during our flying visit to this famous beach because the season had not yet begun. Everything was still closed. Nothing, not even the ice-creamery, was due to open until the season officially began, another two weeks from then. Still, despite the fact that the season had not yet kicked off, and despite the fact that Bournemouth Pier and amusement strip are less favoured than other like sea-side holiday areas because it is  considered to be a quieter area and one which does not offer as many amusements as do the other more favoured destinations,  there seemed to us to be quite a few people around.

This comparative “quietness” suited Bob and me fine, and between us, even though the cold wind was blowing fiercely, we managed to take quite  a few photos of the amusement strip, and the beach, and the pier, as well as the church that sits on the cliff above the beach.

  

Apart from the fact that I was thrilled to be there, to be actually living the atmosphere and breathing in history along with the saltiness of the sea air, I got a huge kick out of being unable to keep my feet as we walked along the high pier. I suppose one could say I am short, and rather slightly-built. As I mentioned, the wind was blowing very hard indeed. Much to Bob’s amusement and the amusement of a number of more solidly-built onlookers, while we were walking along the pier  I got knocked sideways by the gusting wind and ended up flat on the deck, and being blown towards the rails at a great rate of knots. It was some experience. I suppose that on one hand it was a teeny bit frightening: I was certain I’d end up going over the edge and taking a swim with the board-riders.  To me, the sea  looked a tad cold and uninviting, and, here I was, dressed in heavy, warm clothes. Yet at the same time the experience was wonderfully exciting and exhilarating, and I loved every minute of being the wind’s plaything.

 

Further along the beach we came across rows and rows of bathing boxes that had been there since Victorian times.  These  boxes were deserted. The only person around was a hardy fellow dressed in nothing but a pair of budgies. We asked him if the boxes were only there for show.  He assured us that they were still very much in use today, and that things would get a little more lively once the season began, in two weeks from now.

 

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Bournemouth

What am I thinking! I totally forget to mention that even though Bob and I don’t excatly follow the tourist trail when we are travelling, and even though we much prefer to talk to the people and see and do things that tourists often miss, on our way around the south coast of England and before we visited with Charles Dickens in Portsmouth, we went to Bournemouth. Our intent was to see the Bournemouth Seafront, the long Pier, and the amusement strip on the beach that so delighted the Victorians and the Edwardians, and which still delights many people today.

In Bournemouth, we parked the car above the beach, and took photos of some of the old hotels which had been built in Victorian and Edwardian times to accommodate the hoards of holiday-makers.

   

We turned away from the grand old hotels to take in the beach and sea-views.

   

Then we walked to the West Cliff lift.

 

 

There are three cliff lifts at Bournemouth Beach, the two historic lifts at East Cliff and West Cliff—both of which were built and began operating in 1908, and were originally hand-operated by a driver but are now operated by machine but still have a driver—and the third lift at Fisherman’s Walk which was built in 1938, and links the beach to a cliff top café and children’s play area. The lifts are counter-balanced by means of a cable, as one lift goes up the cliff, the corresponding lift comes down the cliff. Yet they are not classified as elevators a such. Rather all three lifts are actually funicular railways– even though they are pulled up the cliffs by means of a strong steel rope, they also operate on tracks. In fact, all three lifts are officially classed as light railways. Each of these three lifts are run by two operators, a “driver” in the top booth and an assistant in the bottom booth. These lifts are located along the promenade, either side of Bournemouth Pier, and allow easy access up and down the cliffs. The West Cliff Lift links the seafront with the Bournemouth International Centre which is the South Coast’s premier venue for entertainment shows and exhibitions.

 

Unfortunately, when we were there one of the three cliff lifts was not operating, it was under repairs. Other than that, Bournemouth’s famous cliff lifts operate every day between Easter and the end of October. Bob and I were there at the right time. We took the West Cliff lift, paid the driver one English pound and forty shillings each for the one-way trip, and rode down to the beach in style. We discovered that not only do these lifts offer easy access from the beach to the cliff tops, they also offer stunning views of the coast. We pointed our cameras every which way, taking as many photos as we could in the time it took to get down to the beach.

 Since Bob is totally “railway mad”, and since I simply could not pass up the chance to live a little history, and do what the Edwardians and hundreds of other people have done since, and after we had walked and walked and then walked some more along the beach and along the long Bournemouth pier, and after we had seen as much as our allocated time and the season would allow, we took ourselves back to the lift,  again paid the operator one English pound and forty shillings each, boarded the Edwardian funicular carriage, and travelled back up the cliff to the top.

 

I should point out that these lifts are not exactly fast moving, nor are they at all comfortable to ride in. One gets tossed and jolted about a fair bit… it’s almost a bruising experience…

At Bournemouth, Bob and I lived a little of history past, and experienced it in the present. It was and still is a wonderful feeling to know that we did all that. Yet now I wish that we had taken a little extra time to ride all three lifts, the East Cliff and West Cliff and the Fisherman’s Walk lifts, for I have since read that on 24 April this year, 2016, there was a landside.  Half the East Cliff fell away and engulfed the East Cliff lift’s rail and the carriages. This lift suffered irreparable damage, and now runs no more.

I snipped this picture  of the Bournemouth Cliff slip from an English newspaper:

Bournemouth cliff slip

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Still On Oliver Twist

According to John Waller, Charles Dickens contributed to the view that “illegitimate offspring of gentle folk deserved greater esteem than the legitimate children of hardened parish paupers” (76). In his Oliver Twist, Dickens’s third person omniscient narrator reveals that Oliver is indeed quality by birth, but Dickens also reminds his readers that to be human is to be flawed—Oliver is illegitimate (18, 356-60, 372, 374). Oliver’s illegitimacy seems of little moment. Mr. Brownlow, an old middle-class gentleman, recognises “something” in Oliver’s face “that touches and interests” him (78). The gentle, middle-class, young woman Rose Maylie announces Oliver is “a child of a noble nature and a warm heart” (285). Although he is raised in the uneducated lower classes and has no-one of middle-class quality on which to model himself, Oliver’s diction and manners are, from the first, curiously that of an educated young man (69, 72). Waller finds Oliver is “a delicate and high-minded . . . with the manners of a son of a most distinguished gentleman” (246). Thus, Dickens implies that quality is goodness, and that quality will out. Waller says that “the theme of noble ancestry underpinned the entire plot of the novel. For it was Oliver’s decent parentage that made it believable for both Dickens and his readers that a low-down work’us boy could have resisted the blandishments of Fagin’s clan of pick-pockets and thieves” (246). Fred Kaplan says that in the “strongly patriarchal, Bible-driven culture” of Dickens’ era, “economics and morality neatly dove-tailed” (xi). The implication is that in Dickens’ era the middle classes, being economically sound, were also considered to be morally sound.

Kaplan writes that what actually saves Oliver “is a Victorian novelist’s and his culture’s residual faith in the ultimate triumph of goodness on earth and in heaven”; and he adds that in Oliver Twist, as in all Dickens’ novels, “vice is punished and virtue is rewarded” (ix). Thus, Dickens kills off the evil criminals and attempts an ideal solution to Oliver’s problems, but the picture he creates is lacking in substance. Strangely, Monks proves to be Oliver’s half-brother and the merciful Rose proves to be the long lost sister of Oliver’s dead mother, Agnes, who was “weak and erring” (374). When Mr. Brownlow and the reluctant Monks reveal the truths of these relationships, “a father, sister, and mother were gained and lost, in that one moment” (361-2). True to his unifying techniques Dickens makes the sisters two sides of a whole; but the virtuous Rose is allowed to live happily and glorifies the memory of her fallen sister: “Within the altar of the old village church there stands a white marble tablet, which bears as yet one word—‘Agnes!’ ” (374). In a sense, the sisters are united in Oliver—he is the off-spring of one and the blood nephew of the other with whom he is also united in merciful, Christian love for the memory of his dead mother. Towards the end of the novel Oliver’s manner becomes increasingly un-childlike: Oliver throws “his arms about Rose’s neck” and declares “I’ll never call her aunt . . . that something taught my heart to love so dearly from the first! Rose, dear, darling Rose!” (361-2). Now, Oliver seems strangely adult: he “relinquishes” “Mr. Brownlow’s hand” and says to Fagin who is on death-row, “Let us say a prayer . . . upon your knees with me, and we will talk to morning” (370). Oliver is strangely Dickens himself, but in this instance his authorial intrusion is somewhat covert: “Oh! God forgive this wretched man!” (371).

Kaplan also says that “any satisfaction the modern reader may feel in the rescue of a small boy and the restoration of a moral balance is likely to be undercut by the reader’s sense throughout that what threatens Oliver is far more powerful and real than what saves him” (ix). The further Oliver is distanced from his damaging childhood, the more unrealistic he appears and the more realistically the evil Fagin is portrayed; thus, the uneasy dichotomy between the unrealistic and the realistic aspects in the narrative become increasingly noticeable. In this last third of the novel Oliver fades into Dickens’ romantic idea of the social ideal and becomes an aesthetic type, and hence loses his representational value. Likewise, the evil Fagin’s London world—Oliver’s old unhappy world—is realistically portrayed, but Oliver’s new happy world with Rose Maylie and Mr. Brownlow is idealised. All Dickens does is move Oliver in space from the streets of London to a comfortable but dream-like middle-class existence. Thus, in spite of the apparent ease of life for those in the middle classes, the workhouses and the streets of London and hence the problems of the lower classes and the damaging childhoods continue to exist, even if Oliver has escaped them.

John Bayley suggests that “Fagin’s world and that of Rose Maylie and Mr. Brownlow” are not intended by Dickens to represent “two real places that exist separately in life”, but, rather, two places that “co-exist in consciousness: they are twin sides of the same coin of fantasy” (quoted in Horne xl-xli). David Malouf points out that “reading is an interiorising activity”; “it is one of the ways . . . by which we come . . . into full possession of a place . . . in the imagination” (36, 39). Thus, Oliver Twist is one world that consists of nightmare and dream—a literary landscape which belongs to the reader’s imagination. It could be suggested that by exercising his unifying techniques Dickens keeps his 1867 Preface promise to break the romantic illusion created by previous literature but at the same time explodes his own romantic idea of the social ‘ideal’: “all [Oliver’s] recent life had been but a happy dream” (355). G. K. Chesterton says: “As a nightmare, the work is really admirable. Characters which are not very clearly conceived as regards their own psychology are yet, at certain moments, managed so as to shake to its foundations our own psychology” (quoted in Horne xli).

Works cited:

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist and Great Expectations London: Queensway, n.d.

—, Preface (dated 1867) Oliver Twist. By Dickens. London: Queensway, n.d. 13-16

—, Oliver Twist: A Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Fred Kaplan. New York: Norton, 1993.

—, Oliver Twist: With an Introduction and Notes by Stephen Gill. Ed. Kathleen Tillotson. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.

—, Oliver Twist. Ed. Philip Horne. London: Penguin, 2002.

Gill, Stephen. Introduction. Oliver Twist. By Charles Dickens. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. vii-xxix.

Horne, Philip. Introduction. Oliver Twist. By Charles Dickens London: Penguin, 2002. xiii-xliv.

Kaplan, Fred. Introduction. Oliver Twist. By Charles Dickens. New York: Norton, 1993. ix-xii.

Waller, John. The Real Oliver Twist. Cambridge, U.K.: Icon, 2005.

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Oliver Twist, continued…

In Oliver Twist, in accordance with Charles Dickens’s social theories, Oliver‘s promotion from a dreadful, lower-class existence to a privileged middle-class life is not a reward for virtuous action. Stephen Gill notes “there can be no negotiation for Oliver between the worlds of Oliver Twist”; he is caught by the “onslaught” of “the massed powers of Good and Evil” (xiii). Thus, what happens to Oliver is beyond Oliver’s control; as a poor, underprivileged workhouse orphan, he has a damaging childhood thrust upon him by ‘philosophical’ authorities. In spite of his damaging upbringing, Oliver proves to be incorruptible.  David Paroissien finds that Oliver, “as the unwavering embodiment of goodness . . . stands in direct opposition to . . . Utilitarian Radicals” and their Benthamite philosophy that places “emphasis on selfishness as the defining characteristic of human behaviour” (19, 42). The orphaned Nancy, who has been corrupted by her life on the streets where she has lived since childhood, also stands in opposition to Utilitarian philosophy. Self-interest is not a consideration in her attempt to save Oliver; she refuses Rose’s help to better her circumstances (281-2). In proving to be innately ‘good’ Nancy partially redeems herself; but because she is unwilling to leave Sikes she brings about her own murder (328). Thus, Nancy is too psychologically damaged by her upbringing to be saved. Paroissien provides ample evidence to show that London’s street-children, and young women such as Nancy, did attach to undesirable and criminal characters, and hence were subject to the psychologically damaging aspects and life-threatening dangers of the conditions under which they were forced to live (93, 98, 236).

Nevertheless, there are a number of instances in Oliver Twist to indicate that Dickens is aware that whether an unfortunate childhood is truly damaging depends much on the nature of the child. For example, the street-children in Fagin’s den who seem to enjoy the criminal life-style simply fade out of the story: “all the hopeful pupils of the merry old gentleman . . . went to supper” (65-6). Conversely, young Charley Bates repents his earlier life of crime and “having a contented disposition, and a good purpose, succeeded in the end” in becoming “the merriest young grazier in all Northamptonshire” (373). But Noah Claypole, another street child, is only concerned for his own neck; so he gives up his criminal life to realise a “genteel subsistence” even though, true to his nature, he stays barely within the law (373). Even so, in his novel Dickens implies that poor orphaned children are intrinsically ‘good’ but that street-children are both psychologically damaged whereas workhouse children are disadvantaged and physically damaged. This is evidenced by the brief existence of “porochial” Dick, Oliver’s “little friend and playmate” in the “branch-workhouse” (19, 59, 123). Dick, glimpsed briefly in a garden, smiles faintly and tells Oliver, “I heard the doctor tell them I was dying . . . I dream of Heaven, and Angels, and kind faces that I never see when I am awake” (59). Dick could be seen as Dickens’ symbol for the death of innocence at the hands of the system and hence Dickens’ jab at the philosophers and their Benthamite ideology: Dick makes no mistakes, and learns nothing other than he is going to die; he asks Mr. Bumble to tell Oliver that “I was glad to die when I was very young; for, perhaps, if I had lived . . . my little sister, who is in heaven, might forget me . . .  it would be so much happier if we were both children there together” (123-4). Thus, as a character in the novel the ideal child Dick is not very interesting, merely a little touch of sugar-sweet Victorian sentimentality: “Goodbye, dear! God bless you!” (59).

Oliver is portrayed very differently to Dick. Oliver is at once an individual and a representative figure. His experiences are those of other children in the workhouses and slums of Victorian England—he could be any child whatsoever: “he might have been the child of a nobleman or beggar” (19). Other than when the criminal types take the focal point in the writing, the other characters in the story are sometimes seen through Oliver’s focalisation by way of the third person omniscient narrator, and at all times enlarged upon by this narrator for Oliver’s sake. The narrator causes the reader to look through Oliver at the other characters and their actions; this factor, together with the assistance of the narrator’s omniscience, builds a rounded picture of Oliver’s tragic circumstances, and the events that bring about change. In one way Oliver seems to be character in a fairy story—a middle-class virtuous cast adrift in the streets of London—and hence a little unrealistic. Because Dickens’ third person omniscient narrator helps the reader to see things through Oliver’s eyes, this entity takes an almost child-like, innocent view of the various characters and events; and in giving those views expression the narrator promotes Oliver as a child of a tender sensibility and hence excites the reader’s emotional and ethical responses. Being a young child, Oliver relies on his instincts, he is unable to express himself articulately; thus, this external narrator who speaks for Oliver imbues the narrative with a sense of innocence and nightmare: Oliver sobbed, “I am only a very little boy, sir . . .”; “The child . . . looked into his companion’s face with tears of real agony” (39-40). Thus, the reader gains knowledge of the various characters’ personalities indirectly; that is, the narrator employs satire and irony and sentimentality, and builds the story’s aura of pathos, horror, and sentiment in order to highlight Oliver’s plight. Porter Abbott points out: “It is no exaggeration . . . to call narrative an instrument of power, and in fact many exceptionally powerful narratives reflect upon this power” (36).

Still, for the greater part of the novel Dickens portrays Oliver reasonably realistically as an individual. Like any real life child caught in desperate circumstances Oliver suffers when hungry, knows what it is to experience misery, and feels fear and great loneliness: “he burst into an agony of childish grief as the cottage-gate closed after him . . . and a sense of his loneliness in the great wide world sank into the child’s heart for the first time” (23-4). Dickens further assists the reader to ‘see’ Oliver as a real life child by associating him with popular psychology. At Rose Maylie’s Oliver feels safe and falls into a peculiar waking sleep only to catch a glimpse of Monks and Fagin at the window. At first he thinks he is trapped in a nightmare, but the terror is “impressed upon his memory as if it had been . . . set before him from his birth”, and he wakes suddenly and realises it was not a dream (238-9). Paroissien says Oliver’s experience is Dickens’ oblique reference to a Dr. Robert Macnish, a well-known and highly respected Victorian doctor who delved into the psychology of dreams and first described this type of sleep phenomenon (101, 217). Dickens breaks into Oliver’s story to give a very precise description of this type of dream state; his narrator then resumes the story and Oliver experiences the sleep Dickens has just described (238-9). In giving Oliver this type of experience Dickens not only links him by covert means to a well-known and respected real life doctor and a real life experience with which his early readers would have been conversant, he also perpetuates the mimetic illusion of horror; the nightmare of Oliver’s old life intrudes into what he instinctively feels is a safe haven.

Oliver’s dream experience marks a turning point in the story. It heralds the plot involving Monks and which Dickens has not as yet revealed to the reader (238-9). So Monks does not appear until quite late in the story, but his inclusion allows Dickens to clarify the situation (227, 238, 356-9). Kindly Mr. Brownlow pressures the reluctant Monks to reveal the family relationships, the truths of inheritances and the reasons behind Oliver’s predicament and the truth behind Oliver’s plight (362). Mr. Brownlow deals with Monks and restores Oliver to his rightful inheritance (372-4). Dickens implies that once Monks reveals his part in Oliver’s plight, the reader should have instinctively known that there was something more to Oliver’s dire circumstances than merely being born into the workhouse. Monks’ sudden inclusion could be seen as an afterthought by Dickens. As Gill rightly points out, this factor and “the bewildering and complex reasons for Monks’ hatred of Oliver” are structural flaws in the narrative (viii). In fact, the narrative is flawed by frequent omissions, late inclusions and other inconsistencies in the plot. As Gill says, the novel which began as “a topical satire on the workhouse system and the role of the 1834 New Poor Law . . . became a moral fable about the survival of good, a romance in which a cheated orphan is restored to his inheritance” (ix).

Works cited:

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist and Great Expectations London: Queensway, n.d.

—, Preface (dated 1867) Oliver Twist. By Dickens. London: Queensway, n.d. 13-16

—, Oliver Twist: A Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Fred Kaplan. New York: Norton, 1993.

—, Oliver Twist: With an Introduction and Notes by Stephen Gill. Ed. Kathleen Tillotson.  Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.

—, Oliver Twist. Ed. Philip Horne. London: Penguin, 2002.

Gill, Stephen. Introduction. Oliver Twist. By Charles Dickens. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. vii-xxix.

Horne, Philip. Introduction. Oliver Twist. By Charles Dickens London:    Penguin, 2002. xiii-xliv.

Paroissien, David. The Companion to Oliver Twist. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1992.

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Representations of the Damaging Childhood in Literary Works: Oliver Twist, further continued…

On one occasion in his novel Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens uses an authorial intrusion in which he employs personal pronouns in an unusual type of second person narrative, “we” and “us”—implying “you”, in order to build the quality of pathos in the narrative and hence gain the reader’s sympathy for Oliver, who is all “alone in a strange place; and we all know how chilled and desolate the best of us will sometimes feel in such a situation” (42). In this instance intrusion is brief and woven into the melodramatic story. The way in which Dickens uses these narrative devices is different to that of Eliot. For instance, at one point in The Mill on the Floss Eliot breaks the third person omniscient narrative to address the reader in her own voice and draw an analogy between the “dismal ruins” to be seen while “journeying down the Rhone” and the village in which her story is set (269-70). In this instance she involves the reader by using a stylish version of second person narrative point of view, indicated by the use of personal pronouns “me”, “you”, “I”, “we”: these “villages in the Rhone oppress me . . . this oppressive feeling may have weighed upon you . . . I share with you this sense of oppressive narrowness; but it is necessary that we should feel it, if we care to understand how it acted on the lives of Tom and Maggie—how it acted on the lives of young natures in many generations” (270). Thus, Eliot links the reader to geographical atmospheres and the arts and to human nature and hence to her characters, siblings Tom and Maggie, whom she binds together in nature: “Even in their death they were not divided” (511). Thus, Eliot’s art merely lays bare to the reader elements of the individual human psyche, and family and social relationships in relation to middle-class child rearing practices which, unacknowledged and unaltered, appear to be potentially damaging to the children raised within those homes. Dickens’ reformist art is didactic, and it is judgemental towards the authorities, criminals, and philosophers of his day. Both Johnson’s and Eliot’s art and ‘wisdom speaking’ differ from that of Dickens, who uses his authorial voice to create awareness of the truly damaging childhood, and advise his readers to show Christian “mercy to others” (374). Dickens’ technique is implicit in the story as a whole.

Dickens uses a small amount of third person objective point of view as covert authorial intrusion to draw the reader into the story. For example, he opens chapter 50 with a short but comprehensive description of sleazy slum conditions in London and likens that to conditions in Jacob’s Island. He then uses the Jacob’s Island setting to glide smoothly into third person omniscient narrative to continue the story from the angle of the doings of the criminal characters, and which bode ill for Oliver (344-6). In this way, Dickens lets the reader know which characters are trustworthy, and which are not; and passes on the social truths arising from his portrayal of neglected, abused childhood. To aid these narrative devices, and hence assist the reader to consider a flawed social structure more deeply, Dickens occasionally follows up with exquisite satire, delivered by the omniscient narrator, in which he embeds authorial intrusion in delicious irony: the external, omniscient narrator reveals that the criminal Dodger and “his accomplished friend Master Bates”, “were actuated by a very laudable and becoming regard for themselves”; so, says Dickens the author, “I need hardly beg the reader to observe that this action should tend to exalt them in the opinion of all public and patriotic men” (89-90). Thus, Dickens takes an encyclopaedic approach in Oliver Twist; he employs his authorial intrusions, his narrators, his characters, the story line and—to borrow H. Porter Abbott’s words on another different matter and use them here for discussion on Dickens—other “major rhetorical devices”, to reveal the conflict and evil within the Benthamite ideologies of England’s authorities (37).

In his Preface (dated 1867) a serious Dickens implies that the poverty, squalor, and hardships in slums such as Jacob’s Island are fostered by the ideologies of the ruling parliamentary party, and denied by those in power (16). By implication, Dickens expresses his serious views on the dangers of utilitarianism through the ironic sentiment behind the words of the characters in the story. For example, the unconscionable Mr. Bumble, one of the so-called “authorities” appointed by the systems “philosophers” and a chief perpetrator of Oliver’s misery, declares: “If parliament don’t take their abominable courses under consideration, this country’s ruined” (191). Thus Dickens avoids the pitfall of becoming too distanced as an external narrator by aligning his views on the legislators’ Utilitarian philosophies with Oliver’s point of view: “Although Oliver had been brought up by philosophers, he was not theoretically acquainted with the beautiful axiom that self-preservation is the first law of nature. If he had been, perhaps he would have been more prepared for this” (74).

Works cited:

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist and Great Expectations London: Queensway, n.d.

—, Preface (dated 1867) Oliver Twist. By Dickens. London: Queensway, n.d. 13-16

—, Oliver Twist: A Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Fred Kaplan. New York: Norton, 1993.

—, Oliver Twist: With an Introduction and Notes by Stephen Gill. Ed. Kathleen Tillotson. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.

—, Oliver Twist. Ed. Philip Horne. London: Penguin, 2002.

Eliot, George. Mill on the Floss. London: Marshall Cavendish, 1986.

Porter Abbott, H. The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002.

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Representations of the Damaging Childhood in Literary Works: Oliver Twist, continued…

By opening his novel Oliver Twist in first person narrative in a style reminiscent of the oral tradition, Dickens gives the reader notice that he is embarking upon an enjoyable story that involves serious subjects: “Among other buildings in a certain town . . . there is one anciently common to most towns . . . and in this workhouse was born, on a day which I need not trouble myself to repeat . . . the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter” (17). After a brief introduction Dickens effortlessly glides into third person omniscient narrative, then, without pause, ends the first chapter with an authorial intrusion that forms part of the story: the “parish child—the orphan of the workhouse” is “despised by all, and pitied by none” (19). This technique allows Dickens to provide some distancing between the first person story-teller and the intrusive author and the third person omniscient narrator, while at the same time showing happy agreement between the three entities to enhance the illusion of truth; that is, the story flows smoothly from one to the other. This perspective gives Dickens the opportunity to intervene at will in the narrative in his own voice in order to further convince the reader that his story has literal truth (41, 90, 120-1, 374). George P. Landow likens the Dickensian method to that used by Samuel Johnson and George Eliot and describes it as “Wisdom Speaking”: “a mode [which] creates credibility for the authorial voice within the text” (1). However, there is a marked difference between this literary mode as used by Johnson and that used by Eliot, and between the methods employed by those authors and Dickens. Distinguishing between these three approaches helps to show more clearly how Dickens brings the reader to an awareness of the damaging childhood. For instance, in his fictional work The History of Rasselas, Johnson embeds his ‘wisdom writing’ within a character’s narration. He has Nekayah comment on private life and the type of psychology peculiar to all families (657-9). There is nothing new in life in Nekayah’s generalised observations: they are merely widely accepted truths of the human condition. In Middlemarch Eliot expands somewhat on Johnson’s technique to gain the allegiance of her readers; she does much of her “wisdom speaking” through her characters’ psychological make-up. For example, by his reasoning and actions, young Dr. Lydgate shows himself to be a shallow fellow—he sets his sights on Rosamund Vincy as a future wife, and bases his decision on nothing other than her pleasing physical appearance, his personal gain and aggrandisement, and the belief that in contracting such a marriage, his position in life, in the town and society, will be assured: “For who of any consequence in Middlemarch was not connected or at least acquainted with the Vincy’s?” (121-3). Thus, Eliot gives her readers an insight into the psychology of human nature. Unlike Eliot, Dickens, in the interests of social reform, takes a rounded approach inasmuch that he allows his omniscient narrator hence the actions and words of the characters and the story itself to do most of his “wisdom speaking”.

Works cited:

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist and Great Expectations London: Queensway, n.d.

—, Preface (dated 1867) Oliver Twist. By Dickens. London: Queensway, n.d. 13-16.

—, Oliver Twist: A Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Fred Kaplan. New York: Norton, 1993.

—, Oliver Twist: With an Introduction and Notes by Stephen Gill. Ed. Kathleen Tillotson. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.

—, Oliver Twist. Ed. Philip Horne. London: Penguin, 2002.

Eliot, George. Middlemarch. Ed. W. J. Harvey. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965.

Johnson, Samuel. The History of Rasselas: Rasselas, Poems, and Selected           Prose. Ed. Bertrand H. Bronson.  New York: Holt Rinehart, 1971.

Landow, George P. The Dickensian Narrator as Wisdom Speaker. 17 May, 2007. New York: Brown U. 1-3. 12 October, 2008.

http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/dickens/chuzzlewit/narration1.html

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