Summary: Chapter 23

Mr. Bumble visits Mrs. Corney, the widowed matron of the workhouse, to deliver some wine. Mrs. Corney offers him tea. Mr. Bumble slowly moves his chair closer to Mrs. Corney’s and kisses her on the lips. An old pauper woman interrupts them to report that Old Sally, a woman under Mrs. Corney’s care, is close to death and wishes to tell Mrs. Corney something. Irritated, Mrs. Corney leaves. Alone in Mrs. Corney’s room, Mr. Bumble takes “an exact inventory of the furniture.”

Summary: Chapter 24

Mrs. Corney enters Old Sally’s room. The dying woman awakens and asks that her other bedside companions be sent away. She then confesses that she once robbed a woman in her care. The woman had been found pregnant on the road, and Sally had attended the childbirth. The woman had given Sally a gold locket, saying it might lead to people who would care for the child. The child’s name was Oliver. Sally dies, and Mrs. Corney leaves. She tells the nurses who attended Sally that Sally had nothing to say after all.

Summary: Chapter 25

Crackit arrives at Fagin’s. Fagin has learned from the newspapers that the robbery has failed. Crackit informs Fagin that Oliver has been shot and claims that the entire population of the area then came after them. Crackit says that he and Sikes fled, leaving Oliver in a ditch.

Summary: Chapter 26

Fagin rushes into a pub called the Three Cripples to look for a man named Monks. Not finding him, he hurries to Sikes’s residence. At Sikes’s residence, he finds Nancy, who, in a drunken stupor, reports that Sikes is hiding. Fagin relates Oliver’s misfortune, and Nancy cries that she hopes Oliver is dead, because she believes that living with Fagin is worse than death. Fagin replies that Oliver is worth hundreds of pounds to him. He returns to his house to find Monks waiting for him. Monks asks why Fagin has chosen to send Oliver out on such a mission rather than make the boy into a simple pickpocket. It becomes clear that Monks has some interest in Oliver. Monks was looking for Oliver and saw him the day Oliver was arrested. Moreover, Fagin notes that Monks wants Oliver to be made into a hardened thief. Monks becomes alarmed, thinking he sees the shadow of a woman. The two stop talking and leave Fagin’s house.

Summary: Chapter 27

Mrs. Corney, flustered, returns to her room. She and Mr. Bumble drink spiked peppermint together. They flirt and kiss. Bumble mentions that the current master of the workhouse is on his deathbed. He hints that he could fill the vacancy and marry Mrs. Corney. She blushes and consents. Bumble travels to inform Sowerberry that his services will be needed for Old Sally. Bumble happens upon Charlotte feeding Noah Claypole oysters in the kitchen. When Noah tells Charlotte he wants to kiss her, Bumble lectures them for their immoral ways.

Summary: Chapter 28

The night after the failed robbery, Oliver awakens delirious. He gets up and stumbles over to the same house Sikes tried to get him to rob. Inside, Mr. Giles and Mr. Brittles, two servants, regale the other servants with the details of the night’s events, presenting themselves as intrepid heroes. Oliver’s feeble knock at the door frightens everyone. Brittles opens the door to find Oliver lying on the stoop. They exclaim that Oliver is one of the thieves and drag him inside. The niece of the wealthy mistress of the mansion calls downstairs to ask if the poor creature is badly wounded. She sends Brittles to fetch a doctor and constable while Giles gently carries Oliver upstairs.

Analysis: Chapters 23–28

By contrasting two kinds of theft, Dickens shows how his culture is quick to condemn more obvious acts of theft, but ignores theft that occurs in more subtle ways. After presenting Sikes and Crackit’s botched attempt at theft, the novel quickly shifts to the scene of a very different form of thievery. Mrs. Corney, the middle-class matron of the workhouse, enjoys far more luxury than the pauper residents. They are crammed into tiny, unheated spaces, while Mrs. Corney enjoys a room to herself with a blazing fire during the bitterly cold winter. The amenities of her apartment, which draw Mr. Bumble’s eyes and heart in her direction, represent money that would have been more justly spent on the paupers under her care. Thus, her lifestyle is based on theft, but, because she is robbing those who have nothing, her theft will never be acknowledged.

Read more about the folly of individualism as a theme.

The description of Mrs. Corney implies that the middle class controls conceptions of what is right and wrong, since church officials, intellectuals, and public officers—who have the authority to declare what is right and wrong—are all part of the middle class. With this control, they are able to ignore their own version of thievery—subtly shortchanging the lower classes—and at the same time condemn the lower-class version of thievery—stealing physical objects from the rich. The middle class’s sense of entitlement and belief that the poor are inherently morally wretched allow its members to easily rationalize the many ways in which they make sure the poor remain so.

Dickens uses an ironic dialogue between Mrs. Corney and Mr. Bumble to demonstrate their hypocrisy. Mr. Bumble remarks that Mrs. Corney’s cat and kittens receive better treatment than the workhouse paupers. The cats bask in front of a blazing fire while the paupers freeze in inadequately heated dormitories. Mr. Bumble remarks that he would drown any cat that was not grateful to live with Mrs. Corney. Mrs. Corney calls him a cruel man for saying that he would drown a cat. Mrs. Corney, of course, ignores her own great cruelty to the paupers, yet bristles at the implication of a drowned cat. By treating the paupers worse than animals, these so-called charitable officials violate their basic rights as human beings.

Mr. Bumble’s proposal to Mrs. Corney is a parody of a certain kind of middle-class marriage. Mr. Bumble whispers sweet nothings to Mrs. Corney, but for all of his romantic pretensions, his proposal is really inspired by Mrs. Corney’s material wealth. When she leaves the room, he verifies that her dishware is made from silver and that her clothing is of “good fashion and texture.” He assesses the exact condition of her furniture and ascertains that her small padlocked box contains money. At the end of this extensive inventory, he decides to go through with his proposal. During the Victorian era, many marriages were primarily economic arrangements, especially for people of middle-class status and above. Dickens, however, was a die-hard romantic. In Oliver Twist, he champions the romantic concept of marriage based on love. This idea will become increasingly important during the latter half of the novel.

With the introduction of Monks, the novel begins to take on the clear attributes of a detective story, especially because we are unsure of who the man is and why he might be interested in Oliver. Even Dickens’s description of Monks as “a dark figure” who lurks “in deep shadow” is mysterious. Furthermore, the chapter implies that Monks will be involved in the protracted unveiling of Oliver’s identity, and, after Monks’s conversation with Fagin, our curiosity seeks satisfaction from the lingering bewilderment. Monks’s claim that he saw “the shadow of a woman . . . pass[ing] along the wainscot like a breath” introduces a note of suspense and even of the supernatural, which grows more pronounced as the story continues.

Read more about purity in a corrupt city as a theme.