In the workhouse of a provincial town seventy-five miles north of London a young woman who has arrived in an exhausted condition gives birth to a boy, and dies. The child is named OLIVER TWIST and put into the workhouse orphanage, presided over by the ill-natured Mrs. Corney. When he is nine, the beadle, BUMBLE, transfers him to the workhouse itself and he is set to picking oakum. When Oliver is chosen as the speaker for the other half-staved boys and asks for more of the gruel which is their staple fare, the authorities decide it is time to put him to a trade.
He becomes apprenticed to SOWERBERRY, an undertaker, his small frame and delicate appearance making him suitable for acting as a mute at children's funerals. But when NOAH CLAYPOLE, anther apprentice, insults his dead mother, Oliver attacks him and is cruelly punished by the Sowerberrys. He runs away to London, and in Barnet meets with a boy thief, Jack Dawkins, 'THE ARTFUL DODGER', a member of a pickpocket gang run by FAGIN, a Jew. Fagin decides to use the uncomprehending Oliver, whom he instructs ni the picking of pockets, and sends him out with the Dodger and antoehr boy, Charley Bates. Oliver is horrified to see them pick the pocket of an old gentleman, MR. BROWNLOW, at a bookstall, runs away, and is captured and taken before a magistrate; but the bookstall-keeper has seen the true robbers and exculpates Oliver.
Olvier is taken to Mr. Brownlow's house in Pentonville, where the housekeeper, MRS. BEDWIN, nurses his through an illness. He is treated with kindness and affection for the first time in his life, and is happy. But Fagin plots to recapture him, for while the boy is free his secrets are in danger. He engages BILL SIKES, a brutal robber, and NANCY, his mistress, also a member of the gang, to bring Oliver back.
Their stratagem is successful, and Sikes takes Oliver by night to Chertsey to carry out a robbery on the house of a MRS. MAYLIE. When the alarm is given Sikes takes fright and escapes, and Oliver is shot and wounded. Mrs. Maylie and her adopted niece, ROSE, take him in, listen to his story, and believe it. He settles with them, becoming a household favorite.
Rose is suddenly stricken with a serious illness. Mrs. Maylie's son, HARRY MAYLIE, arrives and on her recovery begs her to marry him. She refuses because she is nameless, having been adopted from a baby-farm by Mrs. Maylie. During his idyllic life with the Maylies Oliver catches glimpses of MONKS, a sinister man who is in league with Fagin to recapture him. In Fagin's den they lay plots to do this; but Nancy overhearing them and feeling compassion for the child, tells Rose about the conspiracy, without giving away the gang. Rose and her adviser, Dr. Losberne, promise Nancy that if Monks is brought to justice Fagin and Sikes shall not be in any danger of arrest.
Fagin has set NOAH CLAYPOLE, now his tool, to follow Nancy and spy on her as she meets Rose and Mr. Brownlow on the steps of London Bridge. He reports the conversation to Fagin, who repeats it to Sikes. Sikes, maddened by Nancy's supposed treachery, rushes back to his own room, awakens her from sleep and clubs her to death.
He takes flight into the country north of London, driven from place to place by fear and conscience. Then, feeling that London is after all the safest place in which to conceal himself, he returns to his old haunts. He has been followed by his ill-treated but faithful dog, Bullseye, and has attempted to drown it, but it has escaped and returns to the gang's headquarters. Sikes arrives there to be greeted with horror and loathing by those of the gang who have escaped a police raid in which Fagin and Noah Claybole have been arrested. Charley Bates gives the alarm; Sieks attempts to escape across the roofs in order to drop into Folly Ditch below, but falls with a rope round his neck and hangs himself. The dog, which has followed its brutal master even to this pint, leaps for the dead man's shoulders and falls to death below.
Fagin is executed, appealing to Oliver in the condemned cell to save him. The Dodger is transported, Charley Bates sees the errors of his ways and becomes a reformed character, and Noah Claypole escapes justice by turning King's evidence.
The plot against Oliver is unraveled by Mr. Brownlow, to whom Oliver has now been restored. Monks, otherwise Edward Leeford, is Oliver's half-brother, their father having seduced and promised marriage to AGNES, Oliver's mother, while still married to Leeford's mother. The provisions of the father's will leave money to Oliver on condition that he maintains a spotless reputation, and for this reason Monks has tried to keep the boy in Fagin's gang in order to discredit him and inherit the full sum himself. It is now discovered that Oliver's dead mother and Rose Malie were sisters, and that Rose is, after all, legitimate.
Monks receives his share of the legacy, goes to America, and dies there in prison. Mr. and Mrs. Bumble (for the pompous Beadle has married the orphanage matron) are proved to have been in the plot against Oliver, lose their positions of trust, and become workhouse inmates. Oliver is adopted by Mr. Brownlow, and Rose marries Harry Maylie, who for her sake has given up a promising political career to become a country clergyman, in whose church a memorial is raised to Oliver's mother, Agnes.
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