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Oliver Twist introduced to the respectable old gentleman — the fourth steel engraving and later a watercolour for Charles Dickens's The Adventures of Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress, first published in volume by Richard Bentley after its May 1837 appearance in Bentley's Miscellany, Chapter VIII. 4 by 3 ¾ inches (10.3 cm by 9.8 cm), vignetted, facing page 43 (originally leading off the monthly instalment). Cruikshank's own 1866 watercolour, commissioned by F. W. Cosens, is the basis for the 1903 chromolithograph. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Passage Illustrated in the 1846 edition

Oliver, groping his way with one hand, and having the other firmly grasped by his companion, ascended with much difficulty the dark and broken stairs: which his conductor mounted with an ease and expedition that showed he was well acquainted with them. He threw open the door of a back-room, and drew Oliver in after him.

The walls and ceiling of the room were perfectly black with age and dirt. There was a deal table before the fire: upon which were a candle, stuck in a ginger-beer bottle, two or three pewter pots, a loaf and butter, and a plate. In a frying-pan, which was on the fire, and which was secured to the mantel-shelf by a string, some sausages were cooking; and standing over them, with a toasting-fork in his hand, was a very old shrivelled Jew, whose villainous-looking and repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted red hair. He was dressed in a greasy flannel gown, with his throat bare; and seemed to be dividing his attention between the frying-pan and a clothes-horse, over which a great number of silk handkerchiefs were hanging. Several rough beds made of old sacks, were huddled side by side on the floor. Seated round the table were four or five boys, none older than the Dodger, smoking long clay pipes, and drinking spirits with the air of middle-aged men. These all crowded about their associate as he whispered a few words to the Jew; and then turned round and grinned at Oliver. So did the Jew himself, toasting-fork in hand.

"This is him, Fagin," said Jack Dawkins; "my friend Oliver Twist."

The Jew grinned; and, making a low obeisance to Oliver, took him by the hand, and hoped he should have the honour of his intimate acquaintance. Upon this, the young gentlemen with the pipes came round him, and shook both his hands very hard — especially the one in which he held his little bundle. One young gentleman was very anxious to hang up his cap for him; and another was so obliging as to put his hands in his pockets, in order that, as he was very tired, he might not have the trouble of emptying them, himself, when he went to bed. These civilities would probably have been extended much farther, but for a liberal exercise of the Jew's toasting-fork on the heads and shoulders of the affectionate youths who offered them.

"We are very glad to see you, Oliver, very," said the Jew. "Dodger, take off the sausages; and draw a tub near the fire for Oliver. Ah, you're a-staring at the pocket-handkerchiefs! eh, my dear! There are a good many of 'em, ain't there? We've just looked 'em out, ready for the wash; that's all, Oliver; that's all. Ha! ha! ha!" [Chapter VIII, "Oliver walks to London. He encounters on the road a strange sort of young gentleman," pp. 42-43 in the 1846 edition]

Commentary: Oliver Welcomed to the Thieves' Kitchen

And now Dickens manoeuvers Oliver into the criminal underworld that forms the most exotic and interesting aspect of the novel, introducing respectable middle-class readers to characters and situations glimpsed briefly in the criminal courts and the crime reports in the daily newspapers, the world of the Newgate Novel.

Encountering a street-smart young adolescent wearing the over-sized clothes of an adult at the marketplace in Barnet, Hertfordshire, nine-year-old Oliver, carrying a bundle of clothing, after a week on the Great North Road, continues his "progress" towards London in the tradition of Fielding and Hogarth. Thus begins the masculine "The Harlot's Progress" for the late Regency period. The pickpocket Jack Dawkins, nicknamed the Artful Dodger, inducts Oliver into the heart of Great Oven, the slums of Field Lane, which Dickens would later visit on behalf of the philanthropist and reformer Angela Burdett Coutts. Somewhere in the maze of lanes in Saffron Hill lies the thieves' den over which the master-criminal and fence in his dressing-gown and slippers presides; in a sense, the thieves' kitchen is a sort of ragged school for tomorrow's house-breakers and robbers. With a perspective consistent with the reader's middle class morality, Oliver (still dressed in the clothes he wore in the previous illustration, Oliver plucks up a spirit, April 1837) navigates the notorious rookeries of the criminal underworld. For the London readers of the 1830s the story offers glimpses of a foreign land right under their noses, and its exotic and menacing inhabitants. Oliver may be seventy miles from home, but Dickens's readers were in a world not far removed from their very doorsteps, for if The Pickwick Papers, Dickens's first novel, is a story about middle-class provincial life, his second quickly establishes itself as concerning the less savoury side of the metropolis.

So well-known was the moment in which Dickens introduced the criminal mastermind into the parish boy's progress that James Mahoney, the Household Edition illustrator, seems to have been reluctant to try to outdo the sordid brilliance of Cruikshank's interior scene, preferring instead to realise the meeting of the Dodger and the runaway at Barnet. The American illustrators Eytinge and Darley, on the other hand, appear to have been fascinated by a hypocritical character who can appear to be the benign, charity-dispensing Samaritan, aiding street-boys who have no homes, while in fact he trains and runs them as a pack of thieves. The large, shaggy-bearded Fagin of Eytinge most closely matches Dickens's description of the slovenly crook with the "villainous-looking and repulsive face" wearing "a greasy flannel gown." Darley shows a more playful, comely master thief inducting the newcomer into the art and science of pickpocketing, while Eytinge's fence does homage to his cash-box.

In Cruikshank's plunge into the night world of London's criminal classes we must attend to both elements of composition and background details. In the slums of the metropolis, space is at a premium, so that the artist crams seven males into a small, poorly-lit garret which is both bedroom, kitchen, and dining-room. The illustrator positions the newcomer to the right, carefully scrutinized by the gang surrounding the Eucharistic table, Jack Dawkins as the Dantean guide, centre, and on the left the master of the house, head and shoulders above his charges and bearded to signify that he is the only adult present. While he fulfills the female role as provider and cook, presiding over the toasting fork and frying pan at the coal-fired grate, the reader follows Oliver's gaze left and upward, from the Dodger's head, to Fagin's smiling, mask-like visage, to the artwork above the mantle, and illustrated account of a multiple hanging, a sort of unholy trinity of thieves at the gallows. As in the text, the boys are dressed and behave like miniature adults, smoking pipes. As yet, however, they are not roused to action, and merely contemplate Oliver as both a mark and a future gang-member. Immediately behind the master-thief and his star pupil is a clothesline full of pock-handkerchiefs, implying the gang's success at fleecing "coves." While Oliver and Fagin are rather thin, Jack is substantial, and the other gang members possess disproportionately large heads and spindly legs. The scene involves three complementary "frames": on the right, Oliver is framed by the bare wooden table and the five teenaged thieves whom he about to joint in a grotesque parody of apprenticeship; two of the boys are framed by a curtain, just right of centre; and Fagin and the Dodger are framed by the pocket-handkerchiefs hanging on the line, a weird repetition of the thieves hanging at Tyburn (upper left). An empty bottle serves as a candle-holder, while a full one sits on the mantelpiece, the implication being that, in exchange for alcohol, food, and shelter the boys engage in the Fagin-directed criminal enterprise. In this grim parody of a City corporation, the principal shareholder and chairman if the board presides as the directors of the board survey the firm's latest project.

In the green wrapper which the aging George Cruikshank at Dickens's request designed in 1846 for the Chapman and Hall ten-issue part-publication of the novel, the illustrator underscores the importance of the fateful meeting of Fagin and Oliver by positioning a reversed and simplified version of it immediately to the left of the simplified title, The Adventures of Oliver Twist, no longer "by Boz" the fledgling writer, but by established author "Charles Dickens," the name of the illustrator in much smaller print and clearly subordinate to that of the writer.

Relevant Darley "Character" (1888), Diamond Edition (1867), Household Edition (1871), and Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910) Illustrations

Left: F. O. C. Darley's Oliver and Fagan [sic] (1888). Right: Mahoney's Household Edition illustration (1871) "Hullo, my covey! What's the row?". [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Left: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s Fagin (1867). Centre: Harry Furniss's The Thieves' Kitchen (1910). Right: F. W. Pailthorpe's illustration depicting Fagin's pickpocketing game with the boys: The merry old Gentleman's pretty little game (1886). [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Related Material

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


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_______. Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Household Edition. 55 vols. Illustrated by F. O. C. Darley and John Gilbert. New York: Sheldon and Co., 1865.

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_______. Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Household Edition. 22 vols. Illustrated by James Mahoney. London: Chapman and Hall, 1871. Vol. II.

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Grego, Joseph (intro) and George Cruikshank. "Oliver introduced to the respectable old gentleman." Cruikshank's Water Colours. [27 Oliver Twist illustrations, including the wrapper and the 13-vignette title-page produced for F. W. Cosens; 20 plates for William Harrison Ainsworth's The Miser's Daughter: A Tale of the Year 1774; 20 plates plus the proofcover the work for W. H. Maxwell's History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798 and Emmetts Insurrection in 1803]. London: A. & C. Black, 1903. OT = pp. 1-106]. Page 16.

Kitton, Frederic G. "George Cruikshank." Dickens and His Illustrators: Cruikshank, Seymour, Buss, "Phiz," Cattermole, Leech, Doyle, Stanfield, Maclise, Tenniel, Frank Stone, Topham, Marcus Stone, and Luke Fildes. 1899. Rpt. Honolulu: U. Press of the Pacific, 2004. Pp. 1-28.

Created 15 April 2019

Last updated 10 January 2022