Oliver in the Grip of Sikes by Harry Furniss. Lithograph. 8.8 by 14.5​ cm vignetted. Dickens's The Adventures of Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing III, 144 (based on 152). The illustration itself is positioned towards the end of Chapter 19, although it alludes to an incident in Chapter 20. 1910.

Context of the Illustration

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

The Charles Dickens Library Edition’s Long Caption

"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." [152]


Right: George Cruikshank's original version of The Burglary.

In this scene the burglars and Nancy terrify Oliver into cooperating to rob a mansion at Chertsey in Surrey, a house that Flash Toby Crackit has been "casing" on behalf of the gang. The illustration, which is another instance of Oliver's being menaced by adults, repeats 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," Sikes the housebreaker and his doxy, Nancy, threaten the terrified, writhing boy — Nancy with a reproving finger pointed at Oliver, and a Neanderthal-like Sikes with a small flintlock pistol, its barrel only inches from Oliver's face. Later illustrator Kyd depicts a rakish Sikes as a tankard-carrying tough with fitting clothes and a penetrating gaze, as in Chapter 16, Bill Sikes (see below), 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 (see below). Rather, Furniss's overblown, overdressed Nancy is reminiscent of 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 young prostitute.

Whereas Cruikshank, working in collaboration with Dickens himself, elected to realize the scene in which Nancy and 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 Miscellany, 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" — see below). 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 Six Editions of Oliver Twist, 1837-1890

Left: Darley's 1888 engraving Sikes, Nancy, and Oliver Twist. Centre: 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.

Above: 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).

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.].


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. Illustrated by George Cruikshank. London: Bradbury and Evans; Chapman and Hall, 1838; rpt. with revisions 1846.

_____. 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.

_____. Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Diamond Edition. 14 vols. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.

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

_____. The Adventures of Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. III.

_____. The Adventures of Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. The Waverley​ Edition. Illustrated by Charles Pears. London: Waverley, 1912.

_____.The Letters of Charles Dickens. Ed. Graham Storey, Kathleen Tillotson, and Angus Eassone. The Pilgrim Edition. Oxford: Clarendon, 1965. Vol. I (1820-1839).

Forster, John. "Oliver Twist 1838." The Life of Charles Dickens. Ed. B. W. Matz. The Memorial Edition. 2 vols. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1911. Vol. I, Book 2, Chapter 3.

Kyd (Clayton J. Clarke). Characters from Dickens. Nottingham: John Player & Sons, 1910.

Vann, J. Don. "Oliver Twist." Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: The Modern Language Association, 1985, 62-63.

Created 1 February 2015

Last modified 14 February 2020