Atmosphere of Terror in the Novel Oliver Twist

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      Gothic tradition has tremendously influenced the mind of novelist Dickens. The strong impact of Gothic tradition on English novel was popularised by Walpole, Mrs. Anne Radcliffe, 'Monk' Lewis and late to a certain degree by Sir Walter Scott and Harrison Ainsworth who was Dickens' literary friend. In Oliver Twist the atmosphere of fear and horror is the result of the remarkable impact of the Gothic novel on Dickens' art.

The Gothic Ingredients in Oliver Twist

      In Oliver Twist though the background is of contemporary England yet the atmosphere of fear and desperation of Oliver's world belongs to the Gothic tradition. In the novel there are frequent reminders of death, the disgusting atmosphere of workhouse, the incident of Oliver's apprenticeship to Mr. Gamfield and his job at Mr. Sowerberry's shop are all surrounded by the chill of death. Mr. Sowerberry's shop resembles a lot to the graveyards and Oliver's first night amidst the coffin fills him with the feeling of awe and horror:

      "An unfinished coffin on black trestle, which stood in the middle of the shop, looked so gloomy and death like that a cold tremble came over him, everytime his eyes wandered in the direction of the dismal object from which he almost expected to see some frightful form slowly rear its head, to drive him mad with terror. Against the wall were ranged, in regular array, a long row of elm boards out into the same shape, looking in the dim light, like high-shouldered ghosts with their hands in their breeches-pockets. Coffin-plates, elm-chips, bright-headed nails, and shreds or block cloth, lay scattered on the floor; and the wall behind the counter was ornamented with a lively representation of two mutes in every stiff neckcloths on duty at large private door, with a hearse drawn by four black steeds, approaching in the distance. The shop was close and hot. The atmosphere seemed tainted with the smell of coffins. The recess beneath the counter in which his flock mattress was thrust looked like a grave." No one can deny the fact that this description is very much like Gothic novels.

      The name of the character Monks is derived from the Gothic novelist 'Monk' Lewis. Matthew Gregory Lewis had written a Gothic novel The Monk, it was charged with such fierce imagination and Monk is presented in such a emphatic manner that 'Monk' got associated with the name of Lewis and the novelist came to be called 'Monk' Lewis. In Oliver Twist Monks with his unpleasant looks and scare covered with handkerchief, his mysterious appearance, everything make the reader to recall 'Monk' Lewis. The house where the meeting between Monks and Mr. and Mrs. Bumble was held is also on Gothic pattern. It was held in a 'dull, close, overcast' summer evening that is soon transformed into darkness. The house was amidst the little colony of decayed houses on a 'low, unwholesome swamp'. Both Mr. and Mrs. Bumble were in old and shabby dresses and in the hands of Mr. Bumble there was a lantern. The colony 'had long been known as the residence of none but low ruffians, who under various pretences of living by their labor, subsisted chiefly on plunder and crime. It was a collection of mere hovels: some, hastily built with loose bricks: others, of old worm-eaten ship timber: jumbled together without any attempt at order or arrangement, and planted, for the most part, within a few feet of the river s bank. A few leaky boats drawn up on the mud, and made fast to the dwarf wall which skirted it; and here and there an oar or coil of rope: appeared, at first to indicate that the inhabitants of these miserable cottages pursued some avocation on the river; but at a glance at the shattered and useless condition of the articles thus displayed, would have led a passer-by, without much difficulty, to the conjecture that they were disposed there, rather for the preservation of appearance, than with any view to their being actually employed.

      The house in which the Bumbles and Monks entered had long since gone to ruin. The rat, the worm, and the action of the damp, had weakened and rotted the piles on which it stood; and a considerable portion of building had already sunk down into the water; while the remainder, tottering and bending over the dark stream, seemed to wait a favorable opportunity of following its old companion, and involving itself in the same fate.

      The darkroom in which the meeting between the three was held flashes the dark underground cells of Gothic novels. At the end of the meeting Mrs. Bumble hands over the Monks a locket and a ring and Monks suddenly "wheeled the table aside, and pulling an iron ring in the boarding, threw back a large trap-door which opened close at Mr. Bumble's feet and caused that gentleman to retire several places backward, with great precipitation.

      Monks says to Bumbles that he could have easily made them fall into the swift current of water of the hard planned to do so, then after he throws the locket and ring into the river that he had just taken from Mrs. Bumble.

      Fagin's residence in the city of London is very deserted, dilapidated and like the settings of Gothic novels. Even the sun light can not pierce into his den. Oliver finds the place completely dark and whatever little light was there intensifies that all prevailing darkness. In the novel the Three Cripples where the criminals used to meet was another dark and dirty place. Thus Oliver Twist is profused with the ingredients of Gothic novels.

University Questions

Give an account of the chilling grotesque atmosphere of terror in the novel, Oliver Twist.
Bring out the elements of Gothic novel in Oliver Twist.

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