The place where we live in England is chock full of landmarks of the Industrial Revolution era. Everywhere you look, there are hulks of former factories and mills looming. Especially on grey and blustery days (which is most of the days, by the way), it’s easy to imagine life back in that time. Ever since we’ve lived here, I’ve wanted to read a Dickens book in this setting. I’ve had Oliver Twist sitting around for months, but the fanfare surrounding Dickens’ bicentennial finally got me into gear with reading it.
Two main points struck me as I read Oliver Twist.
First of all, the church used to be at the center of official poverty alleviation in England. The state really didn’t get involved until much later. Oliver Twist really illustrates how un-Christian so many of the church’s policies on poverty were. The church sanctioned the abominable conditions in the workhouses and showed so little respect for poor people’s humanity.
Secondly, there really is nothing like reading a story to make an issue like poverty come alive. All the facts and figures and context swim around abstractly until you can see life through a character’s eyes. This makes me really glad that people write about topics like poverty. Because people write novels that are full of social meaning, I can relate to those issues so much better because I’ve connected with convincing characters and followed a compelling storyline.