Oliver's reception by Fagin and the boys
George Cruikshank, 1792-1878
1846 (originally in Part 8, November 1837)
Etching on steel
Eighth illustration, The Adventures of Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress
Now Oliver is revictimzed as the gang derides him in his tailor-made suit and forces him back into the rags that are the outward and visible sign of his loss of class and identity, so recently reconferred upon him. The ominous shadow of Sikes renders him doubly powerful, a possible adult identity for each of the boys in Fagin's charge.
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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The young gentleman did not stop to bestow any other mark of recognition upon Oliver than a humorous grin; but, turning away, beckoned the visitors to follow him down a flight of stairs. They crossed an empty kitchen; and, opening the door of a low earthy-smelling room, which seemed to have been built in a small back-yard, were received with a shout of laughter.
"Oh, my wig, my wig!" cried Master Charles Bates, from whose lungs the laughter had proceeded; "here he is! oh, cry, here he is! Oh, Fagin, look at him! Fagin, do look at him! I can't bear it; it is such a jolly game, I can't bear it. Hold me, somebody, while I laugh it out."
With this irrepressible ebullition of mirth, Master Bates laid himself flat on the floor: and kicked convulsively for five minutes in an ecstasy of facetious joy. Then jumping to his feet, he snatched the cleft stick from the Dodger; and, advancing to Oliver, viewed him round and round; while the Jew, taking off his nightcap, made a great number of low bows to the bewildered boy. The Artful, meantime, who was of a rather saturnine disposition, and seldom gave way to merriment when it interfered with business, rifled Oliver's pockets with steady assiduity.
"Look at his togs, Fagin!" said Charley, putting the light so close to his new jacket as nearly to set him on fire. "Look at his togs! Superfine cloth, and the heavy swell cut! Oh, my eye, what a game! And his books, too! Nothing but a gentleman, Fagin!"
"Delighted to see you looking so well, my dear," said the Jew, bowing with mock humility. "The Artful shall give you another suit, my dear, for fear you should spoil that Sunday one. Why didn't you write, my dear, and say you were coming? We'd have got something warm for supper."
At this, Master Bates roared again: so loud that Fagin himself relaxed, and even the Dodger smiled; but as the Artful drew forth the five-pound note at that instant, it is doubtful whether the sally or the discovery awakened his merriment.
"Hallo! what's that?" inquired Sikes, stepping forward as the Jew seized the note. "That's mine, Fagin."
"No, no, my dear," said the Jew. "Mine, Bill, mine. You shall have the books."
"If that ain't mine!" said Bill Sikes, putting on his hat with a determined air; "mine and Nancy's that is; I'll take the boy back again." [Chapter 16, "Relates what became of Oliver Twist after he had been claimed by Nancy," p. 85]
Although Dickens's official illustrator for Oliver Twist in the 1837-8 serial, George Cruikshank, depicts the housebreaker Bill Sikes effectively as the central agent in the scene, the most active figures are the sarcastic Charley (centre), showing Oliver off to the other gang members, and the Dodger, about to ransack Oliver's pockets and discover the five-pound note. Nevertheless, the letterpress opposite establishes the dominance of Fagin (right), cap in hand in a gesture of mock humility.
Indeed, in most illustrated versions of the novel, Fagin is depicted as interacting with and directing the affairs of the other thieves — the exception being the lone figure with the cash-box in Sol Eytinge's Fagin, which conveys captures the master-thief's greed and his general lack of genuine concern for anybody but himself. In the Household Edition, realist James Mahoney focuses on Fagin's chagrin at the Dodger and Charley's having lost Oliver on his first expedition out in "What's become of the boy?", in which Mahoney strips away the pseudo-charming veneer that Cruikshank often conveys. In the 1910 Charles Dickens Library Edition, Furniss in illustrating 16 actually depicts the gang's re-apprehension of Oliver in Clerkenwell, as Sikes (right) burst into the frame while at the far left a grim-faced Nancy grabs the terrified boy in Oliver trapped by Nancy and Sikes, in which the last great nineteenth-century visual interpreter of Dickens inimizes the crowd of bystanders to whom Cruikshank has given such prominence in Oliver claimed by his affectionate friends. The figure of Nancy in the present Cruikshank plate again underscores the ineffectiveness of Cruikshank in depicting women as active participants in a scene. This Nancy is effectively blocked from participating by Fagin's back, whereas in the text she will shortly intervene on Oliver's behalf to preserve Oliver from Sikes's dog, and then from Fagin's assaulting Oliver with a bat. In this Cruikshank illustration there is no forewarning of Nancy's stepping in as Oliver's champion; rather, she smiles at the proceedings as she tucks her arms in her shawl,. a posture indicative of complacency.
The distorted, caricatural forms of Fagin and Sikes complement the laughter of street-wise Charley Bates and the concentration of the Dodger as he checks Oliver's pockets to produce an essentially comic scene in which Oliver does not express fear and loathing, and even Bull's-eye (between Oliver and Charley) seems inert rather than menacing. Cruikshank uses the cartoonist's trick of identifying each character by some salient feature of dress or physiognomy, so that Sikes is identified by white to-hat, Nancy by her large-brimmed hat and shawl, Fagin by his beard, slippers, and bell-shaped dressing-gown, and Oliver by his dark cap and large-collared shirt. The cartoonist enforces the reader's identification with the protagonist by making him once again the underdog and subjecting his form to minimal distortion. Cruiukshank is at his best showing the lively street-boys in action, with Charley taking a dramatic role as a ridiculer of the young swell, a role and posture well-suited to Cruikshank's humorous style.
Relevant Illustrations from the Diamond Edition (1867), Household Edition (1871), Darley "Sketches" (1888) and Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910)
Left: Sol Eytinge, Junior's "Fagin". Right: Mahoney's Household Edition illustration (1871) "What's become of the boy?". [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Left: F. O. C. Darley's "Sikes, Nancy, and Oliver Twist" (1888). Centre: Harry Furniss's "Oliver trapped by Nancy and Sikes" (1910). Right: Harry Furniss's "Bill Sikes" (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
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Cohen, Jane Rabb. "George Cruikshank." Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980. Pp. 15-38.
Darley, Felix Octavius Carr. Character Sketches from Dickens. Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1888.
Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. The Adventures of Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress. Il. George Cruikshank. London: Bradbury and Evans; Chapman and Hall, 1846.
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Dickens, Charles. The Adventures of Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Charles Dickens Library Edition. Il. Harry Furniss. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 3.
Lynch, Tony. "Clerkenwell, London." Dickens's England: An A-Z Tour of the Real and Imagined Locations. London: Batsford, 2012. Pp. 64-65.
Last modified 28 August 2014