"Oliver Twist" by Charles Dickens. A Nineteenth Century Fairy Tale?

Seminar Paper, 2010

20 Pages, Grade: 1.3 ("excellent")

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Table of contents

1 Introduction

2 The Fairy Tale – Towards a Definition

3 Dickens and Fairy Tales

4 Fairy Tale Elements in Oliver Twist

5 Summary and Conclusion

6 Bibliography

1 Introduction

“In a utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales should be respected.”1 These words were uttered by Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-1870), one of the most celebrated and well-known English nineteenth-century novelists. Does this statement come as a surprise? For some people it may: Can a social reformer like Dickens, someone who wants to show “things as they really are” stand up for an idealistic form of fiction? Is the view of a realist writer compatible with the idea of fairy tales?

However, Dickens and his connection to the fairy tale have been of scholarly interest for more than thirty years. Many academics, such as Harry Stone and Michael Kotzin, have aimed to link Dickens to the fairy tale. It has been stated repeatedly that Dickens’ writing was probably largely influenced by fairy tales. Yet, the assumptions on this theme have often remained very general or have only touched upon aspects relevant for this paper.2 While his late works as Dombey and Son have received major attention with regard to fairy tale influences, Oliver Twist has been largely ignored by scholars, except for Kotzin (1972) who briefly touches on this topic.

In this paper, I will therefore analyze Oliver Twist for fairy tale influences by first defining the fairy tale in general (Chapter 1) and by showing how it has influenced Dickens life and writing (Chapter 2). Chapter two deals also with the question which fairy tales Dickens read and knew. Then, I will take a close look at fairy tale elements in the novel by examining parallels between well-known fairy tales, specifically by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Since Dickens knew fairy tales of the two mentioned above very well but only could read English translations, for he did not know German or Danish, I am quoting from the English versions and not from the originals. Generally, I will work with the foundations I have laid in chapter two by referring to overall fairy tale features. Plot and Character will be of central interest to me, but I have also included other aspects such as popular themes, fairy tales’ message and narrative voice.

2 The Fairy Tale – Towards a Definition

Fairy tales, folk tales or Märchen belong to the so-called ‘simple forms’ of literature that have mostly derived from oral tradition and were often passed on from generation to generation before they were written down, for example by the Brothers Grimm in Germany who collected popular German “Nursery and Household Tales”. Writers of Romanticism, for example Ludwig Tieck, have taken up the German Märchen and, by imitating their style, transformed them into a new literary genre, the Kunstmärchen. It is hard to define overall fairy tale characteristics since every nation or country knows fairy tales or has a fairy tale heritage. Even today the fairy tale is immensely popular and new ones are created constantly. It will thus not be the goal of this paper to discuss the difference between folk tales and fairy tales, nor that of Märchen or Kunstmärchen (literary fairy tales) as, for example, Zipes (1979) has done it.3 In the following I will instead concentrate on features European fairy tales, Märchen, folk tales and Kunstmärchen (literary fairy tales) share.

The fairy tale centers an ordinary, mostly young, or child-like protagonist, either male or female who has to prevail himself against cruelty or injustice. This hero is generally a good-hearted, virtuous person who is “unfairly afflicted by a problem”4 and usually must face a villain or supernatural being (witch, cruel stepmother, giant et cetera). Mostly, fairy tales involve some sort of magic like a talking mirror or cat and repeating phrases or spells (“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair”). Different from such genres as fables, jokes and novellas, fairy tales depict magic as logical part of the narrative world.5 They follow a certain narrative pattern as well. Typically, fairy tales begin with “once upon a time” or “there once was a time” and end with “and they lived happily ever after” or other, slightly varying phrases.6 Thus, they are universal and can be transferred to any location and time.7 Fairy tales furthermore usually end happy with the protagonists having solved the quest opposed upon them by being “victorious over [their] adversary”8. Magical devices or good fairies or spirits often assist the main characters in achieving their goal. In the end, the hero or heroine often gets married to a wealthy person, such as a princess or prince, returns home or makes his fortune in some other way.9

A fairy tale is therefore also marked by often naïve optimism and strong moral implications. It aims towards a new justice where virtue is rewarded, and sinfulness or evil deeds are always punished.10 Fairy tale characters are typically ‘flat’11 or mono-dimensional rather than ‘round’ ones and can clearly be identified as belonging either to the good or bad party. Their names or nicknames and their appearance characterize them directly. ‘Lucky Hans’ is someone who is rather lucky than intelligent and ‘Snow White’ has received her name because her skin is as white as snow. Inner traits and outer looks often correspond as well. While beauty, especially with female protagonists, is often a sign of moral virtue and other positive traits, ugliness indicates cruelty, vice and sin. The narrative itself foregrounds event rather than action and happening rather than feelings.12 This means that characters frequently do not act themselves, but receive supernatural help or advice. For example, in The Cat as Helper 13 the youngest son of a Miller who has inherited nothing but a cat from his father, is aided by the clever, speaking animal in such a way that he receives a kingdom and can marry a princess in the end. The fairy tale moreover focuses on the story line almost entirely, while readers have no or hardly any insight into the characters’ feelings or thoughts. Hence, fairy tale characterization is often described as pre-psychological.14

Fairy tales treat typically human problems in different stages of a person’s life, such as parent-child bonding, moving out (Lucky Hans), finding a long-term partner and marriage (The Goose Girl) or coping with difficult daily-life situations as necessity, poverty and hunger (Hansel and Gretel, The Little Match Girl).15 The first often involves family conflicts, e.g. one child being treated unfairly and being rejected by another family member, often the step mother, for either jealousy or sheer hate (cf. Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, The Golden Goose, The Cat as Helper, The Story of the Juniper Tree). To sum up, it can be inferred that although fairy tales are set in a world of their own, they nonetheless involve real-life conflicts and refer to real-life situations.

3 Dickens and Fairy Tales

Charles Dickens was a great lover and defender of fairy tales all through his life. He was not only a fond reader of fairy tales, but also wrote several of such tales himself, as the famous stories A Christmas Carol and The Magic Fishbone 16 . Among other works, he knew and admired especially the Arabian Nights and the works of the Danish fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen. He furthermore was well-acquainted with translations of German fairy tales and folk tales such as E.T.A Hoffmann’s The Golden Pot, Kunstmärchen by Ludwig Tieck, la Motte Fouqué, Musäus and tales by the Brothers Grimm.17

Unlike many pedagogues of his time, who considered fantastic and uncanny elements in fairy tales as harmful influence on children, Dickens believed that they were wonderful literature to broaden their horizons and enhance their creativity. He thus strongly opposed to the idea of depriving fairy tales of their surreal and magical elements and to solely use or write them for didactic purposes as it was often done in Victorian times. This attitude is expressed very well in the following extract of a speech which Dickens gave on November 5, 1857:

I don’t like that sort of school […] where their bright childish imagination is utterly discouraged, and where those bright childish faces, which it is so very good for the wisest among us to remember in after life, when the world is too much with us early and late, are gloomily and grimly scared out of countenance; where I have never seen among the pupils, whether boys or girls, anything but little parrots and small calculating machines.18

Moreover, Dickens criticized and belittled the didact Mr. Barlow in Sandford and Merton by Thomas Day, a popular educational ‘fairy tale’ written in Victorian times for teaching children good behavior, that Dickens remembered from his childhood and whose lengthy lessons and explanations he considered dull and unattractive.19 His positive attitude towards fairy tales is also confirmed by the fact that he wrote fairy stories himself. It is therefore possible that fairy tale items have entered Oliver Twist as well. Another point that confirms this impression is that Dickens hired George Cruikshank to illustrate his novel. George Cruikshank, who had already been an illustrator for many fairy tale collections as Edgar Tayler’s edition of Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm’s German Popular Stories, provided Oliver Twist with beautiful sketches and drawings.20 For this reason it is quite likely that Dickens intended this fairy tale effect for his edition of Oliver Twist at least partly, too.

4 Fairy Tale Elements in Oliver Twist

4.1 Structure and Plot

The way in which the plot of Oliver Twist is structured hugely resembles that of fairy tale: The narrative begins when Oliver is born and his mother dies. He grows up among hatred, disdain and hunger but remains a lovely character. When Oliver cannot bear hunger and cruelty any longer, he runs away to seek his fortune in London. Here, he is introduced to Fagin’s gang and confronts many villains. The evil Jew Fagin and Oliver’s envious half-brother Monks, seeking his father’s inheritance all for his own, want to turn him into a criminal. But Oliver withstands all evil efforts by to let his pure soul be corrupted. Oliver is aided by several good forces and characters as Nancy, Mr. Brownlow and the Maylies on his way. Whenever he cannot defend himself, he is saved by luck or coincidence.21 In the end, Oliver is rewarded for his goodness and returns to his loving family while his adversaries are punished by death.

Like in many fairy tales the novel begins ‘ ob ovo ’ with the main character’s birth and the mother dying shortly after labour (cf. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, The Juniper Tree). From here on, Oliver Twist is narrated in chronological order and thus follows the typical linear narrative pattern of fairy tales. Similar to Cinderella or Simpleton (main character in The Golden Goose) Oliver Twist’s name gives evidence about what people in his surrounding think of him (cf. section: Characters).

As Kotzin has already pointed out, the Parish plays the role of the ‘cruel parent’ or ‘stepmother’ in Oliver Twist.22 Oliver is frequently ill-used and humiliated as almost all fairy tale characters. Mainly in the episode at the Sowerberrys his fate resembles that of Hansel and Gretel and Cinderella: Oliver is always hungry and only receives what “the dog ha[s] neglected” (IV, 35) (here is a strong parallel to the beginning of Little Brother and Little Sister as well) while the other apprentice, Noah Claypole, is accepted by the Sowerberrys and is treated with kindness. Just as in Hansel and Gretel and Cinderella, the mother or stepmother is crueler to their children than their father or stepfather. In the first tale, it is the mother who insists that the children should be abandoned in the forest because they cannot provide for them any longer, while the father opposes to this idea at first (BG, p. 331)23. Similarly, Mr. Sowerberry only beats Oliver on the command of his wife after the boy has been falsely accused of having tried to murder Noah. It becomes clear that Mr. Sowerberry is afraid of his wife and only carries out her orders (XII, 59). In Cinderella, the kind girl is humiliated and maltreated by her stepmother and her two stepsisters. Likewise, Noah Claypole names Oliver ‘Work’us’ and pokes fun at his mother (V, 39) and Mrs. Sowerberry and the maid Charlotte give him a hard time as well.

The first chapter in Oliver Twist opens with the following lines that partly share features with the beginning of fairy tales:

Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of business at all event; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter. (I, 1)24

Just like in fairy tales, time and place where Oliver is born are not named. All we can infer about his place of birth is that it is “a workhouse” (I, 1) in a “certain town” (ibid). Nothing is said about the time or year he is born in. The narrator, who knows all circumstances attending Oliver’s birth, does not give any further details about time or place, for he considers them irrelevant (ibid). Since a workhouse is an institution “common to most towns, great or small” (ibid), the story could take place everywhere around the world and at any time. The opening lines of Oliver Twist are thus ‘universal’ and resemble the typical fairy tale beginning ‘once upon a time’.

Similar to fairy tale narration, the narrator is omniscient since he seems to know all facts and circumstances of Oliver’s birth, too, which is indicated by the chapter heading “Treats of the place where Oliver Twist was born, and of the circumstances attending his birth” (ibid). The narrator’s telling is not focalized and his perspective, thus, unlimited as well (zero focalization), which means that he knows more than the reader and the characters themselves.

Something that seems unusual at first glance for a fairy tale is, however, that the narrator refers to the “reader” (ibid) directly. The second feature untypical of fairy tales has to do with the narrator’s perspective: Although the narrator is omniscient like in fairy tales, he tells Oliver Twist’s story from a first-person point of view. The lines “a town […] to which I will assign no fictitious name here” (ibid) further reveal that he tries to persuade the reader that his story is true.

Even if the techniques named here (persuasion, audience contact, first-person narrator) are rarely used in such tales, they can nonetheless be found occasionally in the works of (literary) fairy tale writers, for example in those of Hans Christian Andersen. In the tale What a Good Man Does is Always Right 25 a first-person narrator rehearses an old story he was told as a child and in The Princess and the Pea (302-03) the narrator ends his story with the mocking phrase “Now this is a true story” (303).

Another feature that links Oliver Twist to fairy tale narration rather than to that of a realist novel is the happy fairy-tale like ending (LIII), where all conflicts are resolved. Everyone, except Nancy, who I will refer to in the next section, gets what he deserves: all entirely good characters achieve comfort and happiness and all evil ones die by chance, execution or are punished otherwise. Mr. Brownlow adopts Oliver and treats him like his son. Rose Fleming and Harry Maylie finally get married after he has resigned. Mr. Losberne, the hotheaded doctor and pessimistic but good-hearted Mr. Grimwig become very close friends. Conversely, Mrs. Corney and Mr. Bumble are penalized for torturing poor people in return by having to undergo the same fate. Monks receives his share of the will but later dies in an American prison. While Fagin is executed by law, Sikes, being chased for murdering Nancy, accidentally hangs himself on his attempt to flee (XXXXX). Like in fairy tales, the villains in Oliver Twist are destroyed by their surroundings and their evil deeds come after them26.

But is it suitable for a fairy tale that good-hearted Nancy is brutally slaughtered by her lover although she tries to protect Oliver? Cruelty, murder and torture are common themes in fairy tales as well. Sometimes even innocent characters are killed (e.g. in Little Brother and Little Sister or The Juniper Tree) but as their death is always avenged by letting their murderer suffer a painful death, the order of the fairy tale universe is reassured nonetheless. For instance, in The Story of the Juniper Tree 27 (178-186) a wicked mother beheads her gentle stepson and serves him as a meal to her family. She is punished by a magical singing bird –a resurrection of the slaughtered young boy - by being squashed by a mill stone in the end (186). Something similar happens to Bill Sikes after he has killed Nancy. He is haunted by Nancy’s spirit: her eyes follow him everywhere. When Sikes tries to flee from the mob, he is driven out on the roof where he unintentionally hangs himself on his attempt to escape with a rope (L, 480).

Another feature strikingly like that of fairy stories lies in the numerous ways in which coincidence and chance resolve plot and propel action. Like fairy stories, Oliver Twist has its logic in the illogic.28 The two major strategies Dickens uses to solve the riddle of Oliver’s birth, explicitly Oliver’s improbable family history and involving minor characters in the main action29, are, though not impossible, hardly believable in the context of a realist novel: In the end, Oliver’s benefactor Brownlow turns out to have been his father’s best friend and Rose Maylie happens to be Oliver’s aunt.30 All characters introduced in the narrative, even only minor ones, recur at a later point to propel action, for instance Mr. Bumble, Noah and Charlotte. Every of these minor characters have their own function in plot and all characters in the story are somehow connected with another. For example, Mr. Bumble, the cold-hearted beadle who has named Oliver and brings him to the coffin maker in the first chapters of the novel, reads by chance the announcement Brownlow has inserted in the newspaper. Bumble thus can provide Brownlow with details about Oliver’s rearing that the boy was unable to tell his savior himself. By marrying Mrs. Corney, the new matron of the workhouse Oliver was born in, both can make an important contribution to revealing Oliver’s and his mother’s true identity when they meet with Monks, alias Edward Leeford, to hand him over Agnes Fleming’s locket. Since Bumble has been introduced to the reader already, his marriage to Mrs. Corney allows the narrator to return to Oliver’s birth place and, thus, to gradually reveal his mysterious identity: By chance, the old woman who once has robbed dead Agnes Fleming hands over the stolen locket to Mrs. Corney when she dies. It is also by chance that Bumble makes the acquaintance of Monks and that Noah Claypole is later employed by Fagin for spying on Nancy and can thus betray her to Sikes.

Although there is no such magic in Oliver Twist as a talking object or animal, there are certain events that are miraculous. Strangely enough, the first theft Oliver is forced to participate in leads him to Brownlow, the second to the Maylie’s house. Both are either members of his family or connected to his life history. Another magical element lies in the way family bonds are felt by the characters before they are laid before us: Brownlow has a portrait of Oliver’s mother Agnes Fleming in his living room. From the first second he has looked upon the portrait, Oliver feels a strong affection to the woman on the painting although he does not who she is. “It makes my heart beat” (XII, 99), says little Oliver and the portrait even appears to him “as if it was alive and wanted to speak to [him] but couldn’t” (ibid). Mr. Brownlow is very touched and fascinated by Oliver as well. When he looks at Oliver “some familiar face” (XII, 101) comes upon him so strongly that he cannot take his eyes off him. The third surreal element can be found in chapter XXXIV when Oliver has a sudden nightmarish vision of Monks and Fagin standing in front of his bedroom window.31 Their appearance and seems too real to be imaginary. Yet when Oliver alarms Mr. Losberne and Harry Maylie, they have simply disappeared without leaving any traces or footprints in the soft soil (XXXV, 318). Their sudden disappearance is inexplicable in terms of logic.32

4.2 Characters

When examining characters in Oliver Twist, we may infer that they often embody just one or two traits. Furthermore, they function as allegorical figures rather than realistic conceptions of characters. Oliver symbolizes innocence, Rose stands for beauty and Mr. Brownlow acts in his role of the noble savior or “good fairy”33 while Fagin is the “cunning witch”34, Sikes brutal and Monks evil.35 It therefore can be deduced that characters in Oliver Twist strongly resemble ‘types’ that can be found in fairy tales.

Like in many fairy stories, the characters’ appearance and complexion often mirror their soul. Bad characters (Mr. Gamfield, Edward Leeford, Fagin, Sikes) are described as villainous-looking while good characters (Rose, Harry, Brownlow, Oliver) are instantly recognized as being kind, mild, gentle etc. Oliver’s half-brother Monks wears a “broad red mark like a burn or scald” as a sign of his hideous character and his parents’ unloving relationship.36 It is mainly this idealization of characters that strongly links Oliver Twist to the world of fairy tale. For instance, Rose Maylie and Oliver are idealized to such an extent that they appear as allegorical figures of beauty and innocence and not as believable characters.37

The characters’ fate in Oliver Twist is predetermined.38 All of them, except Nancy who alters her behavior, act in a way that can be predicted from the very beginning. Furthermore, Oliver Twist displays a “polarization of good and evil”39 typical of the fairy tale world. Rose Maylie, Harry Maylie, Mr. Brownlow belong to the noble and good party that tries to help Oliver. Monks, Sikes, Fagin and Noah represent the villains and repressors who constantly work against the protagonist. The characters are set up in contrastive pairs which means that many characters in the story have a bad or good equivalent (Fagin-Brownlow, Nancy-Rose, Noah-Oliver, Monks-Oliver). Fagin is contrasted with Brownlow.40 Both shelter Oliver and are described as “the old gentleman”, but while Fagin’s motifs of protecting Oliver are entirely selfish and materialistic, Brownlow is simply a generous and altruistic personality. Dickens also conceptualized the prostitute Nancy as a counterpart to Rose.41 Both women mainly differ in background and experience, but both treasure a good soul. Yet while Rose remains pure and innocent, Nancy cannot free herself from her criminal past entirely. Oliver is contrasted both with his half-brother Edward Leeford and Noah Claypole.42 The first is only driven by hatred and disdain for his half-brother and thus represents the entire opposite of Oliver. The same can be said about Noah Claypole who partly echoes Oliver’s fate in going to London and by becoming a member of Fagin’s gang. But unlike the workhouse child, he acts immorally on his free will and enjoys the company of thieves and criminals.

Like in fairy tales, luck favors the hero of the story. In Dickens’s novel, this hero is the virtuous young orphan Oliver. In The Golden Goose, the protagonist Simpleton is rewarded for sharing his food and drink with an old man by finding a goose with golden feathers and getting married to a princess in the end. Just like Simpleton, Oliver is rewarded for thriving towards the good and the happy ending compensates the injustice he has had to endure.

Similar to protagonists in fairy stories his last name “Twist” reflects how other characters judge him. Cinderella, for instance, receives her name from her evil stepsisters because she has to sleep among the cinders and is always dirty. Likewise, the generous Simpleton receives this name from his parents because they believe he is less intelligent than his two brothers (The Golden Goose). The Parish’s low opinion of Oliver Twist him is expressed by his name as well. ‘Twist’ alludes to the inconveniences the parish officers and board members (e.g., the gentleman in the white waistcoat) believe Oliver will cause and to the fate that, in their eyes, he is destined to receive: that is to be hung. Mr. Bumble names all orphans in alphabetical order; to him, Oliver is nothing but a ‘burden’.

Especially Dickens’ conception of Oliver’s character strongly contradicts the ideas of realism since he remains uninfluenced and unchanged by the evil that surrounds him. Although he has experienced hardly anything besides cruelty, he is always gentle, modest and obedient. He loses his temper only once, in chapter XI when Noah insults his dead mother. In addition to his gentle nature, Oliver’s unmarked language contrasts him with the other members of Fagin’s gang who speak criminal cant. His Standard English is a sign of moral virtue as well.43

Despite the fact that Oliver has grown up among criminals and thieves, he always behaves perfectly and acts faultlessly. For instance, he is terribly shocked when he finds out that his friends steal money and is determined to alarm the Maylies when Sikes forces him to help him to break into their house. In the country chapters, moreover, Oliver acts like a perfect little gentleman in fetching flowers for the ladies, reading the Bible and always following his benefactors’ requests.

Often Oliver seems to act unnaturally mature or illogical in terms of psychology: When he is nursed by Mr. Brownlow and Mrs. Bedwin, he “fervently pray[s] to heaven” (XII, 98) although we were told before that he had never been taught how to say a prayer. Oliver is further able to read the criminal books Fagin gives him although never having received an education that would allow him to do so. As Sadrin has pointed out, Oliver is a fairly passive character. He mostly receives help from others and hardly acts independently. His passivity and innate goodness and make him the “fairy-tale hero of a realistic novel”44.

If Oliver is the “innocent victim-hero”45, Rose Maylie is the fairy princess of Dickens’ novel. She is of such ideal beauty and virtue that “earth seem[s] not her element” (XXIX, 260). Instead she appears to the narrator as a mortal angel. Therefore, Rose represents the perfect woman we often find in fairy tales (Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rapunzel). Her name alludes to both her beauty and to the fairy tale character ‘Briar Rose’ who is also known as ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (BG, 101-106). The sudden illness that strikes her in chapter XXXIII is commented by the narrator in a way that immediately recalls associations of Briar Rose’s hundred-years-sleep: “she had fallen into a deep sleep, from which she would waken, either to recovery and life, or to bid them farewell and die” (XXXIII, 304). The fairy tale establishes an antithesis of sleep and death as well. A bad fairy curses Briar Rose to die on her fifteenth birthday, but another fairy, though she is not able to lift the curse, can soften the spell to a “deep sleep lasting a hundred years” (BG, 102). Different from Briar Rose’s, Rose Maylie’s disease has no apparent cause. Nevertheless, her recovery, like that of the fairy princess, is miraculous but foreseeable with regard to the tale’s logic.

The last and probably strongest argument for linking Oliver Twist to the fairy tale was provided by the author himself. In the Preface of the Third Edition, Dickens wrote that he “wished to shew, in little Oliver, the principle of Good surviving through every adverse circumstance, and triumphing at last.”46 This statement reveals that Charles Dickens, despite being a realist writer who intended “to dim the false glitter […]” surrounding the criminal world “by shewing it in all its unattractive and repulsive truth” also throve towards an idealistic ‘new justice’ in his novel.

Dickens moral implication seems to rehearse the optimistic message of fairy tales for which the beginning of Cinderella may serve as an example “[c]ontinue to be devout and good. Then God will always help you […]” (BG, 156-165).

5 Summary and Conclusion

Oliver Twist displays many fairy tale elements, especially in plot and characterization. Charles Dickens directly and indirectly alludes to fairy tales by constructing similar conflicts, problems (hunger, poverty, rejection, death of mother), by using similar stereotypes, by opposing good and evil and by mingling fantastic elements (coincidences, family history) into the realistic story. Beginning and ending resemble that of fairy tales as well. The story is told chronologically from Oliver’s birth and ends with all conflicts being resolved. The analysis of the opening lines has shown that even if it is slightly unusual for a fairy tale to be told by a first-person narrator who tries to persuade the reader to believe his story, it can be found in such tales as well (Andersen). Like a fairy-tale hero, kind Oliver has to endure violence, hate and injustice of his surrounding, before he attains happiness and finds a family and his place in society. Oliver’s adversaries (Sikes, Fagin, Monks, Bumble etc.) are punished, while innocent and good characters are rewarded with happy lives. Although Nancy must die, this does not undermine the fairy tale justice of the book. Like the boy in The Juniper Tree her death is avenged, and her murderer rightfully punished. In the conflicts that are portrayed, Oliver Twist partly shows strong parallels between popular fairy tales as Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel and Little Brother and Little Sister. Especially with Rose Maylie and her disease Dickens seems to have alluded to Briar Rose or Sleeping Beauty directly. Although ‘magic’ or ‘coincidences’ in Oliver Twist are less central and more plausible than in fairy tales, many events are extremely unlikely to occur in real life (Fagin’s and Sikes’ disappearance, Oliver’s family history). There is something ‘magical’ and supernatural in the story of Oliver Twist. Like characters in fairy tales, Oliver is a static type that remains unchanged throughout the novel: his goodness is innate, not learnt. With only few exceptions (Charley Bates, Nancy) all characters in Oliver Twist fit into the ‘flat’ or static category.

To conclude, it can be inferred that Oliver Twist holds a strong belief in the power of good that eventually overcomes miserable reality. Oliver Twist thus may be read as a nineteenth-century fairy tale.

6 Bibliography

A. Primary Sources

Andersen, Hans Christian: Fairy Tales. By Hans Christian Andersen. Translated by E.V. Lucas and H. B. Paul. Illustrated by Arthur Szyk. New York: Grosset & Dunlap 1945.

Dickens, Charles: Oliver Twist. London: Penguin Popular Classics 1994.

Dickens, Charles: “The Authors Preface to the Third Edition (1841)” In: Dickens, Charles : Oliver Twist. Authoritative text, backgrounds and sources, early reviews, criticism. Edited by Fred Kaplan. 1. Ed. New York [u.a.]:Norton & Co. 1993, pp. 3-7.

Dickens, Charles: “The Magic Fishbone”. In: The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales. Edited by Alison Lurie. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press 1993, pp. 99-108.

Grimm, Jakob & Wilhelm: Grimms’ Fairy Tales. By the Brothers Grimm.

Translated by E. V. Lucas, Lucy Crane & Marian Edwardes. Illustrated by Fritz Kredel. New York: Grosset & Dunlap 1945.

Grimm, Jakob & Wilhelm: Popular Folk Tales. Newly translated by Brian Aldersen. Illustrated by Michael Foreman. London: Victor Gollancz Limited 1978. B. Secondary Sources

Forster, Edward Morgan: Aspects of the Novel. Hamondsworth [u.a.]:Penguin Books1964.

Forsyth, Neil: “Wonderful Chains: Dickens and Coincidence.” Modern Philology 83/2 (1985), pp. 151-65.

Ginsburg, Michal Peled: “Truth and Persuasion: The Language of Realism and Ideology in ‘Oliver Twist’”. NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 20/3 (1987) [Twentieth Anniversary Issue: III], pp. 220-236.

Jolles, André: Einfache Formen. Legende, Sage, Mythe, Rätsel, Spruch, Kasus, Memorabile, Märchen, Witz. 5. Edition. Halle: Niemeyer 1974.

Jones, Steven Swann: The Fairy Tale. The Magic Mirror of Imagination. New York:Twayne [u.a.] 1995.

Kotzin, Michael C.: Dickens & the Fairy Tale. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press 1972.

Lankford, William T: “‘The Parish Boy’s Progress’: The Evolving Form of Oliver Twist.” PMLA 93/1 (1978), pp.20-32.

McGillis, Roderick: “Criticism in the Woods. Fairy Tales as Poetry.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 7/2 (1982), pp. 2-8.

Sadrin, Anny: “The parish boy’s progress: a pilgrimage to origins.” In: Sadrin, Anny: Parentage and inheritance in the novels of Charles Dickens. Cambridge [u.a.]:Cambridge University Press1994, pp. 30-43.

Stone, Harry : Dickens and the invisible world. Fairy tales, fantasy and novel making. Bloomington [u.a.]:Indiana University Press1979.

Stone, Harry: “The Novel as Fairy Tale: Dickens’ Dombey and Son.” In: Johnson, Wendell Stacy (ed.): Charles Dickens. New Perspectives. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall1982, pp. 51-82.

West, Nancy: “Order in Disorder. Surrealism and Oliver Twist.” South Atlantic Review 54/ 2 (1989), pp. 41-58.

Zipes, Jack David: Breaking the Magic Spell. Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales. London: Heinemann1979.


1 Quotation taken from http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/show/43080

2 Cf. Stone, Harry : Dickens and the invisible world. Fairy tales, fantasy and novel making. Bloomington [u.a.]:Indiana University Press1979; Kotzin, Michael: Dickens and the fairy tale. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Press 1972. Stone, Harry: “The Novel as Fairy Tale: Dickens’ Dombey and Son”. In: Johnson, Wendell Stacy (ed.): Charles Dickens. New Perspectives. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall1982, pp. 51-82. West, Nancy: “Order in Disorder. Surrealism and Oliver Twist.” South Atlantic Review 54/ 2 (1989), pp. 41-58.

3 Cf. Zipes, Jack: Breaking the Magic Spell. Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales. London: Heinemann 1979, p. 20.

4 Jones, Steven Swann: The Fairy Tale. The Magic Mirror of Imagination. New York: Twayne 1995, p. 17.

5 Cf. Jones, Steven Swann (1995), p. 9.

6 Cf. McGillis, Roderick: “Criticism in the Woods. Fairy Tales as Poetry.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 7/2 (1982), pp. 2-8; here p. 5.

7 Cf. Jolles, André: Einfache Formen. Legende, Sage, Mythe, Rätsel, Spruch, Kasus, Memorabile, Märchen, Witz. 5. Edition. Halle: Niemeyer 1974, p. 224.

8 Kotzin, Michael (1972), p. 8.

9 Cf. Kotzin, Michael (1972), p. 50.

10 Cf. Jones, Steven Swann (1995), p. 17. Also cf. Jolles, André (1974), p. 239, 241, 243.

11 For the distinction between flat characters and round characters, see: Forster, Edward Morgan: Aspects of the Novel. Hamondsworth [u.a.]:Penguin Books1964.

12 Cf. Jolles, André (1974).

13 This story is titled „Der gestiefelte Kater“ in the German version.

14 Cf. Jolles, André (1974), p. 224/5.

15 Cf. Jones, Steven Swann (1995), p. 30.

16 Dickens, Charles: “The Magic Fishbone.” In: The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales. Edited by Alison Lurie. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press 1993, pp. 99-108.

17 Cf. Kotzin, Michael (1972), p. 33, p. 36-37.

18 Qtd. in Kotzin (1972), p. 40.

19 Cf. Stone, Harry (1979), p. 18/19.

20 Cf. Kotzin (1972), p. 49 & 100.

21 Cf. West, Nancy (1989), p. 53.

22 Cf. Kotzin, Michael (1972), p. 50.

23 All fairy tale citations, if not stated otherwise, from: Grimm, Jakob & Wilhelm: Grimms’ Fairy Tales. By the Brothers Grimm. Translated by E. V. Lucas, Lucy Crane & Marian Edwardes. Illustrated by Fritz Kredel. Grosset & Dunlap: New York 1945.

24 I have added the emphasis here to stress the most significant passages.

25 Andersen, Hans Christian: Fairy Tales. By Hans Christian Andersen. Translated by E.V. Lucas and H. B. Paul. Illustrated by Arthur Szyk. New York: Grosset & Dunlap 1945, p. 304-310.

26 Cf. Kotzin, Michael (1972), p. 80.

27 From: Grimm, Jakob & Wilhelm: Popular Folk Tales. Newly Translated By Brian Aldersen. Illustrated by Michael Foreman. London: Victor Gollancz Limited 1978, pp. 47-54.

28 Cf. West, Nancy (1989), p. 50.

29 Cf. Forsyth, Neil: “Wonderful Chains: Dickens and Coincidence.” Modern Philology 83/2 (1985), pp. 151-65; here p. 153

30 Cf. Forsyth, Neil (1985), p. 153.

31 Cf. West, Nancy (1989), p. 50 and p. 51.

32 Ibid.

33 Kotzin, Michael (1972), p. 62.

34 Ibid.

35 Cf. Lankford, William: “’The Parish Boy’s Progress’: The Evolving Form of Oliver Twist.” PMLA 93/1 (1978), pp. 20-32; here p. 23. and West, Nancy (1989), p. 56.

36 Cf. Sadrin, Anny: “The parish boy’s progress: a pilgrimage to origins.” In: Sadrin, Anny: Parentage and inheritance in the novels of Charles Dickens. Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge University Press 1994, pp. 30-43; here p. 41.

37 Cf. West, Nancy (1989), p. 56 and Lankford, William (1978), p. 20 and p. 23.

38 Cf. Sadrin, Anny (1994), p. 34.

39 Lankford, William (1978), p. 23.

40 Cf. Kotzin, Michael (1972), p. 62.

41 Cf. Forsyth, Neil (1985), p. 154

42 Cf. Forsyth, Neil (1985), p. 153 and p. 154.

43 Cf. Ginsburg, Michal Peled: “Truth and Persuasion: The Language of Realism and Ideology in ‘Oliver Twist’.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 20/ 3 (1987), pp. 220-236; here p. 226 and p. 222.

44 Sadrin, Anny (1994), p. 40.

45 Kotzin, Michael (1972), p. 49

46 Dickens, Charles: “The Authors Preface to the Third Edition (1841)” In: Dickens, Charles : Oliver Twist. Authoritative text, backgrounds and sources, early reviews, criticism. Ed. by Fred Kaplan. 1. Ed. New York [u.a.]:Norton & Co. 1993, pp. 3-7; here p. 3.

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"Oliver Twist" by Charles Dickens. A Nineteenth Century Fairy Tale?
Free University of Berlin  (Institut für Englische Philologie)
Social Disruptions in the Victorian Novel
1.3 ("excellent")
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Oliver Twist, Märchen, Realismus, Charles Dickens, Victorian, Novel, Roman, Fairy Tale, Realism, Social disruptions, Kunstmärchen, Fairy Tale Elements, Hans Christian Andersen, Brothers Grimm, Gebrüder Grimm
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M.Ed, B.A. Marlene Hetschko (geb. Hoffmann) (Author), 2010, "Oliver Twist" by Charles Dickens. A Nineteenth Century Fairy Tale?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1194722


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