Monday, June 10, 2024

Week #24 – Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

Week #24 – Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

First published: monthly installments from February 1837 to April 1839 

Here's what the story is about: Oliver was raised in a workhouse and escapes to London, where he meets a gang of juvenile pickpockets led by the elderly Fagin. The story is a social commentary on child labor, domestic violence, the recruitment of children as criminals, and street children.

First line/paragraph:
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 the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.

Here we have first person POV, apparently of a story teller, not the main character. The story appears to be about a child born in a workhouse who is referred to as “the item of mortality” which dehumanizes him. The title of the chapter is “TREATS OF THE PLACE WHERE OLIVER TWIST WAS BORN AND OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES ATTENDING HIS BIRTH” so we know the name of the main character, Oliver Twist, which of course we already knew because it's the name of the book also.

No setting or plot yet, but the hint of the story is that it's about a boy who is probably poor because he was born in a workhouse, and he is considered a lesser human by the story teller. Just like last week, I must be a more modern reader, because except for a slight curiosity about the life of a boy born in poverty, this opening doesn't hook me.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!

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