Oliver in the Grip of Sikes by Harry Furniss. Dickens's The Adventures of Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens Library Edition, volume 3, facing 144 (based on 152). The scene from Chapter Twenty, "Wherein Oliver is Delivered over to Mr. William Sikes," involves the burglar's and Nancy's terrifying Oliver into cooperating with them in their scheme to rob a mansion at Chertsey in Surrey, a house that Flash Toby Crackit has been "casing" on behalf of the gang. The illustration is a replaying of Oliver's being menaced by adults, repeating the themes of Oliver refuses to be Bound over to the Sweep (Chapter 3), but here Furniss introduces a direct threat of violence should Oliver exhibit any signs of non-compliance: the two adult "career criminals," Bill Sikes the housebreaker and his doxy, Nancy, threaten the terrified, writhing boy — Nancy with a reproving finger pointed at Oliver, and a neanderthal Sikes with a small flintlock pistol, its barrel only inches from Oliver's face. Later illustrator Kyd would depict a rakish Sikes as a tankard-carrying tough with fitting clothes and a penetrating gaze, as in Chapter 16, Bill Sikes (1890), rather than a grim-faced bully. 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 offered Furniss a viable model for Nancy in bonnet and shawl, hardly the delicate beauty of Pears' romanticized version of the prostitute. The illustration itself is positioned towards the end of Chapter 19, although it alludes to an incident in Chapter 20. 1910. lithograph. 8.8 by 14.5​cm vignetted.

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.].

Passage Illustrated

"Come here, young 'un; and let me read you a lectur', which is as well got over at once."

Thus addressing his new pupil, Mr. Sikes pulled off Oliver’s cap and threw it into a corner; and then, taking him by the shoulder, sat himself down by the table, and stood the boy in front of him.

"Now, first: do you know wot this is?" inquired Sikes, taking up a pocket-pistol which lay on the table.

Oliver replied in the affirmative.

"Well, then, look here," continued Sikes. "This is powder; that 'ere's a bullet; and this is a little bit of a old hat for waddin'."

Oliver murmured his comprehension of the different bodies referred to; and Mr. Sikes proceeded to load the pistol, with great nicety and deliberation.

"Now it’s loaded," said Mr. Sikes, when he had finished.

"Yes, I see it is, sir," replied Oliver.

"Well," said the robber, grasping Oliver's wrist, and putting the barrel so close to his temple that they touched; at which moment the boy could not repress a start; "if you speak a word when you're out o'doors with me, except when I speak to you, that loading will be in your head without notice. So, if you do make up your mind to speak without leave, say your prayers first."

Having bestowed a scowl upon the object of this warning, to increase its effect, Mr. Sikes continued.

"As near as I know, there isn’t anybody as would be asking very partickler arter you, if you was disposed of; so I needn't take this devil-and-all of trouble to explain matters to you, if it warn't for your own good. D'ye hear me?"

"The short and the long of what you mean," said Nancy: speaking very emphatically, and slightly frowning at Oliver as if to bespeak his serious attention to her words: "is, that if you’re crossed by him in this job you have on hand, you'll prevent his ever telling tales afterwards, by shooting him through the head, and will take your chance of swinging for it, as you do for a great many other things in the way of business, every month of your life."

"That’s it!" observed Mr. Sikes, approvingly; "women can always put things in fewest words. — Except when it's blowing up; and then they lengthens it out. And now that he's thoroughly up to it, let’s have some supper, and get a snooze before starting."

       [Chapter 20, "Wherein Oliver is Delivered over to Mr. William Sikes," page 152]


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 in "You are on the scent, are you, Nancy?" (Chapter 15). Then, the Household Edition James Mahoney depicts Oliver and Sikes on the way to the advanced post for the robbery in Sikes, with Oliver's hand still in his, softly approached the low porch (Chapter 21, "The Expedition"). Oliver in this instance is clearly Sikes's pawn, but Furniss offers the scene of Sikes's threatening Oliver to exonerate the boy of any taint of criminality as he is acting strictly under duress.

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.

Illustrations from the Serial (1837), the Diamond Edition (1867), Darley's "Characters from Dickens" (1888), the Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910), Waverley Edition (1912), and Kyd's "Characters from Dickens" (1890)

Left: George Cruikshank's The Burglary. 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 Sikes's dragging an unwilling Oliver into a life of crime in Sikes, with Oliver's hand still in his, softly approached the low porch (1871). [Click on images to enlarge them.]


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Created 1 February 2015