The chapter begins with a description of Mrs. Maylie, the mistress of the house at which Oliver is shot. She is a kindly, old-fashioned elderly woman. Her niece, Miss Rose, is an angelic beauty of seventeen. Mr. Losberne, the eccentric local bachelor surgeon, arrives in a fluster, stating his wonderment at the fact that neither woman is dead of fright at having a burglar in their house. He proceeds to attend to Oliver for a long while. When he returns, he asks the women if they have actually seen the thief. They have not, and, since Giles has enjoyed the commendations for his bravery, he has not told the women that the thief he shot is a small boy. The ladies accompany the surgeon to see the culprit for the first time.
Upon seeing Oliver, Miss Rose exclaims that he cannot possibly be a burglar unless older, evil men have forced him into the trade. She begs her aunt not to send the child to prison. Mrs. Maylie replies that she intends to send him to prison nonetheless. They wait all day for Oliver to awake in order to determine whether he is a bad child or not. Oliver relates his life history to them that evening, bringing tears to the eyes of his audience. Mr. Losberne hurries downstairs and asks if Giles and Brittles can swear before the constable that Oliver is the same boy they saw in the house the night before. Meanwhile, police officers from London, summoned by Brittles and Giles that morning, arrive to assess the situation.
Duff and Blathers, the officers, examine the crime scene, while the surgeon and the women try to think of a way to conceal Oliver’s part in the crime. The officers determine that two men and a boy were involved, judging from the footprints and the size of the window. Mr. Losberne tells them that Giles merely mistook Oliver for the guilty party. He tells them that Oliver was wounded accidentally by a spring-gun while trespassing on a neighbor’s property. Giles and Brittles state that they cannot swear that he is the boy they saw that night. The officers depart and the matter is settled without incident.
Who can tell how scenes of peace and quietude sink into the minds of pain-worn dwellers in close and noisy places, and carry their own freshness deep into their jaded hearts!
Over a period of weeks, Oliver slowly begins to recover. He begs for some way to repay his benefactors’ kindness. They tell him he can do so after he recovers his health. He laments not being able to tell Brownlow and Mrs. Bedwin what has happened to him. Mr. Losberne takes Oliver to London to see them. To Oliver’s bitter disappointment, he and Losberne discover that Brownlow, Mrs. Bedwin, and Mr. Grimwig have moved to the West Indies. Mrs. Maylie and Miss Rose then take him to the countryside. In the blissful rural environment, Oliver’s health improves vastly, as do his reading and writing skills. He and the ladies become greatly attached to each other during the months they spend there.
Through Rose’s reaction to Oliver, Dickens presents delinquency as a problem determined by culture rather than by innate character. Upon seeing Oliver, Rose imagines his entire history at a glance. Unlike most adults who have tried to second-guess him, Rose’s hypotheses about his past and personality are accurate. She surmises that Oliver took part in the attempted burglary because he has never “known a mother’s love” or because he suffered “ill-usage and blows” and “the want of bread.” She names all the miserable conditions of poverty that may have “driven him to herd with men who have forced him to guilt.” Like Brownlow, and unlike the English legal system, the Maylies believe in forgiveness and kindness. Dickens uses these characters, who believe that Oliver is innately good but born into a bad environment, to show that vices can be combated by improving the material conditions of the poor rather than by punishing them. The Maylies recognize that Oliver’s surroundings have determined his behavior but not necessarily his nature, and, as a result, for the first time in his life Oliver is given the chance to narrate his life history on his own terms. This event is an important step in establishing his identity as separate from his surroundings.
The Maylie household in effect simulates a benevolent courtroom, giving Oliver a voice and actually listening to that voice. In this capacity, the courtroom of the Maylie household is wholly different from the typical courtroom of the English legal system. In the courtroom of Mr. Fang, which Dickens depicts in the novel, Oliver is not permitted to testify on his own behalf. Moreover, even in the absence of conclusive evidence, the magistrate still convicts him of the crime of pickpocketing. In the courtroom of the Maylie household, Oliver not only testifies for himself, but he also admits his part in the attempted burglary. However, rather than convict him, his testimony exonerates him, since the Maylies are more concerned with the fact that Oliver can be saved from committing further crimes than with punishing him for the crime that he committed. For the Maylies, Oliver’s entire history and personality matter more than any single action of his.
Losberne’s conversation with Giles and Brittles elaborates the two kinds of moral authority by which characters can be judged in Oliver Twist: the moral authority of the English court system and the higher spiritual authority of God. Losberne appeals to Giles’s fear of God’s higher authority to keep him from telling the constable that Oliver took part in the attempted burglary. His question to Giles and Brittles—“Are you, on your solemn oaths, able to identify that boy?”—asks them if they are morally able to identify Oliver to the law and live with the consequences. Losberne implies that Giles will be responsible for Oliver’s death if Giles’s statement sends him to the English courtroom, since the harsh, literal-minded authority of the English legal system would sentence Oliver to death for participating in a burglary. But the novel suggests that the higher, spiritual authority of God would sentence Giles to hell for complicity in the death of a child. Even though Giles, Brittles, and Losberne are all certain that it was indeed Oliver who committed the crime, the three men are in a position to exercise mercy, while the court system is not. The scene suggests that mercy is frequently more valuable than justice, especially when crimes or sins are committed within extenuating circumstances.
The maternal roles that Mrs. Maylie and Rose play in Oliver’s life place Oliver in a normal family structure for the first time in the novel, and Dickens’s characterization of the upper-class family complicates his original intention of giving voice to the poor. Oliver is the object of women’s kindness when both Mrs. Bedwin and Nancy step in to offer him some measure of maternal protection. But unlike Mrs. Bedwin and Nancy, the Maylie women are upper-class, and Dickens’s portrayal of them reveals an implicit bias toward the upper class that complicates his explicit attempts to speak for the poor. Blessed with the freedom and leisure to do nothing all day but read, pick flowers, take walks, and play the piano, the Maylies lead lives of perfect bliss, in which Oliver is thrilled to take part. Dickens condemns the money-grubbing tendencies of characters like Fagin and Mr. Bumble, but his idyllic portrait of the moneyed life almost makes Fagin’s and Bumble’s avarice seem more understandable.
The idyll of Oliver’s life with the Maylies is also related to their move to the countryside, and Dickens suggests that rural life is superior in all ways to city life. In the country, even poor people have “clean houses,” and woodland “scenes of peace and quietude” are described as sufficient comfort even for those who lead “lives of toil.” Dickens’s portrait of rural poverty as perfectly pleasant cannot be entirely accurate, in light of the vast numbers of peasants who chose to migrate to the city in his time. His description of the countryside as a site of class harmony may be a result of Oliver’s sudden migration into the ranks of the upper class as much as anything else. We already know that the condition of the poor in cities is horrific, and the extravagant lives of the wealthy people who live alongside them may look grotesque and downright immoral in contrast. But if the rural poor lead comfortable lives, there is no call to condemn the leisurely existence of the wealthy Maylies.
This is my favourite ever book!
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Oh, Dickens, I expected much more from you: bad men go to prison or die, and good men live happily ever after with much money? I just... I don't know. I wanted something more.