Without warning, Rose falls ill with a serious fever. Mrs. Maylie sends Oliver to mail a letter requesting Losberne’s assistance. On his return journey, Oliver stumbles against a tall man wrapped in a cloak. The man curses Oliver, asks what he is doing there, and then falls violently to the ground, “writhing and foaming.” Oliver secures help for the man before he returns home and forgets the incident entirely. Rose’s condition declines rapidly. Losberne arrives and examines her. He states there is little hope for her recovery. However, Rose soon draws back from the brink of death and begins to improve.
Giles and Harry Maylie, Mrs. Maylie’s son, arrive to see Rose. Harry is angry that his mother has not written him sooner. Mrs. Maylie replies that Rose needs long-lasting love rather than the whims of a youthful suitor. Mrs. Maylie tells her son that he must consider the public opinion in his desire to marry Rose for love. She mentions a “stain” on Rose’s name: although Rose herself has never committed any crime, public opinion may well convict her for the misdeeds of her parents. Mrs. Maylie hints that Rose’s social status may thwart Harry’s ambitions to run for Parliament and that those thwarted ambitions might eventually destroy his love for Rose. In the short run, Mrs. Maylie says, he must choose between his prospects for material gain and his love for Rose. In the long run, however, there is no choice at all, in Mrs. Maylie’s opinion: the negative judgment of society is powerful enough to defeat love. Harry declares that his love for Rose is solid and lasting. While Rose recovers, Oliver and Harry collect flowers for her room. One day Oliver falls asleep while reading by a window. He has a nightmare that Fagin and a man are pointing at him and whispering. Fagin says, “It is he, sure enough!” Oliver awakes to see Fagin and the stranger he saw when he mailed the letter peering through the window. They disappear rapidly as Oliver calls for help.
Harry and Giles rush to Oliver’s aid. Upon hearing about Fagin and the man, they search the fields around the house but find no trace of them. They circulate a description of Fagin but find no clues to his whereabouts. Harry declares his love to Rose. Although she returns his love, she says she cannot marry him owing to the circumstances of her birth. His station is much higher than hers, and she does not want to hinder his ambitions. Harry states that he plans to propose marriage one more time, but that, if she again refuses, he will not mention it again.
Before Harry and Losberne depart, Harry asks that Oliver secretly write him a letter every two weeks, telling him everything Oliver and the ladies do and say. From a window, Rose tearfully watches the coach carry Harry and Losberne away.
The narrator tells us that Mr. Bumble has married Mrs. Corney and become the master of the workhouse. He regrets giving up his position as beadle, but regrets giving up his bachelorhood even more. After a morning of bickering with his wife, he stops in a pub for a drink. A man in a dark cape is sitting there, and he recognizes Mr. Bumble as the former beadle. He offers Mr. Bumble money for information about Old Sally, the woman who attended Oliver’s birth. Mr. Bumble informs him that Old Sally is dead but mentions that he knows a woman who spoke to the old woman on her deathbed. The stranger asks that Mr. Bumble bring this woman to see him the following evening. He gives his name as Monks.
The relationship between Harry and Rose illustrates that although marriage based on love is difficult, Dickens values it more highly than marriage based on social station. However, Rose and Mrs. Maylie both believe that marriage based on love is problematic. Rose refuses to marry Harry for the same reasons that Mrs. Maylie says she should not. Rose calls herself “a friendless, portionless girl” with a “blight” upon her name. As a penniless, nameless girl, she says to Harry that his friends will suspect that she “sordidly yielded to your first passion and fastened myself . . . on all your hopes and projects.” In other words, she fears that outsiders will believe that she slept with Harry outside of wedlock and secured his hand in marriage in that way. Thus, she demonstrates her awareness of the tendency of “respectable” society to assume the worst about individuals of low social standing, a tendency that has almost ruined Oliver’s life time and again.
Rose’s fear that others would find her marriage to Harry “sordid” reveals the fundamental irrationality of the society whose opinion she fears. Victorians who belonged to the middle and upper classes often married for economic reasons. Individuals usually married someone from a similar economic and social class because, presumably, marrying down would harm their social and economic interests. Logically, we might assume that a marriage between two people of different classes was more, not less, likely to be based on love and higher spiritual values, since it would violate the material interests of at least one party. Yet Rose predicts that others would attribute her marriage to Harry to factors far less honorable than love. Society’s inclination to assume the worst about those of low social standing is so strong that it can lead to patently irrational conclusions.
Rose regrets that she cannot offer Harry an economically profitable and socially acceptable marriage, but Dickens criticizes socially or economically motivated marriage. Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney demonstrate one such marriage, and the Bumbles lead a miserable life. They dislike each other intensely. Mr. Bumble regrets marrying for “six teaspoons, a pair of sugar-tongs, and a milk-pot; with a small quantity of second-hand furniture, and twenty pound in money.” He bases his marriage on class similarities and not on personal compatibility, and the result is a complete disaster.
Like Nancy and Oliver, Bumble learns of the influence that clothing exercises upon identity. Bumble has given up his position as the parish beadle to become the workhouse master. Having exchanged one identity for another, he now regrets the change. After leaving his position as beadle, he realizes how important the beadle’s clothing was to the position. Dickens writes, “Strip the bishop of his apron, or the beadle of his hat and lace; what are they? Men. Mere men. Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes, are more questions of coat and waistcoat than some people imagine.” The power and dignity of privileged roles are not qualities inherent in the men who occupy them. They are, like clothing, merely purchased and worn, and they can be taken off as easily as they were put on.
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.