Oliver Twist

Charles Dickens

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 2

Who can describe the pleasure and delight, the peace of mind and soft tranquility, the sickly boy felt in the balmy air and among the green hills and rich woods of an inland village! 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! Men who have lived in crowded, pent-up streets, through lives of toil, and who have never wished for change—men to whom custom has indeed been second nature, and who have come almost to love each brick and stone that formed the narrow boundaries of their daily walks—even they, with the hand of death upon them, have been known to yearn at last for one short glimpse of Nature’s face, and, carried far from the scenes of their old pains and pleasures, have seemed to pass at once into a new state of being.

In Dickens’s time, England was rapidly becoming an industrial, urban society. Dickens’s works are overwhelmingly concerned with the social and psychological conditions that city life fostered, and he is known as one of the first great urban European authors. Yet, in this passage from Chapter 32, describing Oliver’s sojourn to the countryside with Mrs. Maylie and Rose, the author reveals his profound skepticism about the influence of urban life on the human character. This passage praises the purity and health of the rural environment and claims outright that even a lifelong city-dweller has in his blood a faint longing for the “new state of being” to which nature can elevate him. Dickens goes on to note that, in the country, even “the poor people” are “neat and clean.” The squalor and starvation that characterize urban poverty are not present in rural England. Given the eagerness of England’s rural poor to migrate to the city, it seems unlikely that this assessment is realistic. In many ways, Dickens’s idealized vision marks him all the more clearly as an urban writer, since his gritty portraits of city life are based on real experience, while his blissful portrait of rural life seems more the product of wistful fantasy.