Oliver Twist could stand on the strength of its colorful characters alone. Dickens used his insightful eye to take in and store away all the images he was seeing in London’s poorer neighborhoods back in the days when his own family found themselves in and out of the debtor’s prison, always on the verge of utter ruin.
However, the book is more than just interesting characters. It’s a wonderfully enthralling tale to boot, seldom slowing down for long stretches. Certainly there is melodrama, but even the most harden heart has to melt just a little for poor little Oliver, his slender shoulders so often put-upon.
The author is sometimes criticized for these characters’ outlandishness or dramatic flights of fancy. Cantankerous comedy and theatrical bombast aside, surely colorful personages parade about from page to page, but if that’s what Dickens saw on the streets he so often tread in his youth, how can he be blamed for describing them so realistically? More valid in my mind are the criticisms again Dickens’ female characters. His heart-of-gold prostitute Nancy feels a bit flat, her lines too scripted. But perhaps this is an unfair, modern sensibility seeing something old and haggard within something that was not so hackneyed in its day? And since Oliver Twist was one of the author’s very first works the condemnation should be tempered in consideration.