Oliver Twist: social criticism and race issues on page and on screen

Il Tema

Besides being one of Dickens’s best-known and best-loved novels, Oliver Twist is also the first step in the writer’s life-long commitment to contemporary social issues. Among these, the treatment of the Jewish character in the novel – Fagin, the leader of the juvenile gang into whose hands Oliver falls – is certainly one of the most controversial. It brought Dickens some harsh criticism while the novel was being published, which resulted in some telling textual revision. The race/religious issue turned out to be even more relevant when the novel was adapted to the screen in the 20th century. A comparison between David Lean’s Oliver Twist (1948), Carol Reed’s musical, Oliver! (1968), and Roman Polanski’s Oliver Twist (2005) shows how the portrayal of Fagin changes with the times and a growing awareness of race issues in modern societies. Equally relevant to the writer’s social concerns was his treatment of the exploitation of children in Victorian society and the realistic portrayal of the hard life of prostitutes, for which too he was harshly criticized in his own time. Nearly two centuries after its publication, Oliver Twist hasn’t lost its appeal to readers of all ages and it has also come to be regarded as a novel central to the tradition of social criticism.


Arturo Cattaneo è Professore Ordinario di Letteratura Inglese presso l'Università Cattolica di Milano. Ha pubblicato libri e saggi in italiano e in inglese. Tra i libri, un lungo saggio creativo, Shakespeare e l'amore (Einaudi, Torino 2019). È autore di A Short History of English Literature (Mondadori, Milano 2019), e di una serie di storie antologiche della letteratura inglese per le scuole superiori (L & L l’ultima, edita da Signorelli, Milano). Ha pubblicato due romanzi: Ci vediamo a settembre (2010, Sedizioni) e La notte inglese (2012, Mondadori).



Laura Cavaleri - Responsabile Area Lingue Mondadori Education