Oliver Trapped by Nancy and Sikes by Harry Furniss. Dickens's The Adventures of Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens Library Edition, volume 3, facing p. 112 (based on p. 110).

Chapter Sixteen, "Relates What Became of Oliver Twist," involves Oliver's being recaptured by the gang. The illustration introduces the two adult "career criminals," Bill Sikes the housebreaker and his doxy, Nancy, the prostitute with the heart of gold who proves instrumental in apprehending Monks later in the novel. Furniss describes The burglar as long, lanky, and physically powerful, but doers not employ the romanticism that one finds in the contemporary images of Sikes by Kyd: the tankard-carrying tough with the penetrating gaze of Chapter 16, Bill Sikes (1890), or the somewhat less handsome and less polished thug of the Player's cigarette card, Bill Sikes (1910). Nor does Furniss provide us with the beautiful, wistful, anxious Nancy of Charles Pears in the 1912 Waverley Edition. Rather, Furniss's overblown, overdressed Nancy is reminiscent of George Cruikshank's original frowzy figure in such illustrations as Oliver claimed by his affectionate friends, which, indeed, is the basis for Furniss's version of the scene.

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Passage Illustrated

Meanwhile, Oliver Twist, little dreaming that he was within so very short a distance of the merry old gentleman, was on his way to the book-stall. When he got into Clerkenwell, he accidental​ly turned down a by-street which was not exactly in his way; but not discovering his mistake until he had got half-way down it, and knowing it must lead in the right direction, he did not think it worth while to turn back; and so marched on, as quickly as he could, with the books under his arm.

He was walking along, thinking how happy and contented he ought to feel; and how much he would give for only one look at poor little Dick, who, starved and beaten, might be weeping bitterly at that very moment; when he was startled by a young woman screaming out very loud. "Oh, my dear brother!" And he had hardly looked up, to see what the matter was, when he was stopped by having a pair of arms thrown tight round his neck.

"Don't," cried Oliver, struggling. "Let go of me. Who is it? What are you stopping me for?"

The only reply to this, was a great number of loud lamentations from the young woman who had embraced him; and who had a little basket and a street-door key in her hand.

"Oh my gracious!" said the young woman, "I have found him! Oh! Oliver! O liver! Oh you naughty boy, to make me suffer such distress on your account! Come home, dear, come. Oh, I've found him. Thank gracious goodness heavins, I've found him!" With these incoherent exclamations, the young woman burst into another fit of crying, and got so dreadfully hysterical, that a couple of women who came up at the moment asked a butcher's boy with a shiny head of hair anointed with suet, who was also looking on, whether he didn't think he had better run for the doctor. To which, the butcher's boy: who appeared of a lounging, not to say indolent disposition: replied, that he thought not.

"Oh, no, no, never mind," said the young woman, grasping Oliver's hand; "I'm better now. Come home directly, you cruel boy! Come!"

"Oh, ma'am," replied the young woman, "he ran away, near a month ago, from his parents, who are hard-working and respectable people; and went and joined a set of thieves and bad characters; and almost broke his mother's heart."

"Young wretch!" said one woman.

"Go home, do, you little brute," said the other.

"I am not," replied Oliver, greatly alarmed. "I don't know her. I haven't any sister, or father and mother either. I'm an orphan; I live at Pentonville."

"Only hear him, how he braves it out!" cried the young woman.

"Why, it's Nancy!' exclaimed Oliver; who now saw her face for the first time; and started back, in irrepressible astonishment.

"You see he knows me!" cried Nancy, appealing to the bystanders. "He can't help himself. Make him come home, there's good people, or he'll kill his dear mother and father, and break my heart!"

"What the devil's this?" said a man, bursting out of a beer-shop, with a white dog at his heels; "young Oliver! Come home to your poor mother, you young dog! Come home directly."

"I don't belong to them. I don't know them. Help! help!" cried Oliver, struggling in the man's powerful grasp.

       [Chapter 1​5, "Showing How Very ​Fond of Oliver Twist, The Merry Old Jew and Miss Nancy were," pages 108-110]


Whereas George Cruikshank, in collaboration with Dickens himself, elected to realize the scene in which Nancy and Bill Sikes abduct Oliver on his way to Mr. Brownlow's book-seller with a package of books, Oliver claimed by his affectionate friends for Bentley's Misacellany, James Mahoney instead introduces the villainous couple prior to their recapturing the boy at Clerkenwell, underscoring the fact that the couple are acting as Fagin's agents. Thus, in the Household Edition James Mahoney reveals that, early on, Oliver seems to be the object of behind-the-scenes machinations orchestrated by the master-thief, preparing the reader for the compact between Oliver's half-brother, Monks, and Fagin. Neither Cruikshank nor Furniss dwells upon the plot involving Oliver at this point in the story.

Although in the 1867 Diamond Edition Sol Eytinge presents a thoroughly disreputable, ill-kempt, and disconsolate couple in his dual character study entitled Bill Sikes and Nancy, realising them as they appear after the botched robbery, in Chapter 39, Felix Octavius Carr Darley in his 1888 Character Sketches from Dickens, revises in a much more realistic manner the original Cruikshank interpretation of the abduction scene in Sikes, Nancy, and Oliver Twist. In contrast to Mahoney, Harry Furniss presises the Cruikshank abduction scene in Oliver trapped by Nancy and Sikes, a dynamic and baroque treatment of the original, with Sikes approaching from the right as, left, Nancy grabs Oliver.

The Furniss illustration reflects a fundamental re-thinking of the dramatic scene outside the pleb​e​ian beer-house, not so far in distance from the respectable book-seller's at The Green, but socially a very great distance away indeed. Furniss reorganizes the scene so that Oliver's being engulfed by Nancy is foregrounded and Sikes, the enforcer, is caught in the act of entering the scene. Furniss is content not to have so many of the scene's onlookers present (he includes just​ four​), and to focus instead on the three principals, Nancy (centre), Oliver (left of centre) and, looming large, Sikes to the right. Through the hitching post and glass door (on which "Spirits" appears prominently) Furniss implies rather than graphs the beer-shop from which Sikes enters the square. He also gives prominence to Nancy's house-key which she drops in wrestling with Oliver. ​The pair become the evil antithesis ​​of the kindly Mr. Brownlow and his housekeeper, Mrs. Bedwin.​

Illustrations from the Serial (1837), the Diamond Edition (1867), Darley's "Characters from Dickens" (1888),the Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910), Waverly Edition (1910), and Kyd's "Characters from Dickens" (1890)

Left: George Cruikshank's Oliver claimed by his affectionate friends. Right: Felix Octavius Carr Darley's 1888 engraving Sikes, Nancy, and Oliver Twist. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Left: Charles Pears' psychological study, Nancy , with Sikes's profile as the Shadow of Death (right). Right: J. Clayton Clarke's 1890 chromolithograph of a Macheath-like Bill Sikes. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Above: James Mahoney's Household Edition illustration of Fagin's inquiring as to whether Nancy and Sikes have located the missing Oliver in "You are on the scent, are you, Nancy?" (1871). [Click on images to enlarge them.]


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Last modified 28 ​January 2015