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The story of the orphan Oliver, who runs away from the workhouse only to be taken in by a den of thieves, shocked readers when it was first published. Dickens's tale of childhood innocence beset by evil depicts the dark criminal underworld of a London peopled by vivid and memorable characters - the arch-villain Fagin, the artful Dodger, the menacing Bill Sikes and the prostitute Nancy. Combining elements of Gothic Romance, the Newgate Novel and popular melodrama, Dickens created an entirely new kind of fiction, scathing in its indictment of a cruel society, and pervaded by an unforgettable sense of threat and mystery.
Charles Dickens (1812-70) was a political reporter and journalist whose popularity was established by the phenomenally successful Pickwick Papers (1836-7). His novels captured and held the public imagination over a period of more than thirty years. Philip Horne is a Reader in English at UCL. He is author of the acclaimed 'Henry James: A Life in Letters' and editor of James' The Tragic Muse for Penguin.