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Oliver Twist on the Victorian page and stage
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posted on 22.07.2019by Michael Gilmour
This thesis examines the various theatrical Oliver Twists that appeared on the nineteenth-century page and stage; it pays particular attention to archival sources and the people who brought favourite (and some more unfamiliar) moments to a theatregoing public in London. While interested in Dickens’s aesthetic and professional connections to the popular stage, this thesis is not primarily interested in Dickens’s stage work or indeed his plays; instead, I seek to show that Oliver Twist took on a varied theatrical life outside of the limits of the novel. In doing so, I aim to highlight lesser known figures of the nineteenth-century popular cultural landscape – by moving attention away from Dickens, these forgotten figures can be brought more fully into critical discussion, and their work more fully appreciated and explored. We are, in the twenty-first century, astutely aware of the continued proliferation of adaptations bearing the name Oliver Twist or some variant. the most famous of which is situated at the intersection of the stage and page, theatre and television. Though one could point to David Lean’s classic film (1948) as one towering example of an Oliver Twist made for the screen, Lionel Bart’s sensationally successful (and itself continually adapted) Oliver! is surely the most embedded within popular cultural consciousness. In the edited collection Dickens and Modernity (2012), both Josh Marsh and Carrie Sickmann have contended that Oliver! surely ‘marked a genuine ‘revolution’ in theatre history… and spur to the Dickens adaptation industry’; they go on to relate how Oliver! has contributed to an ongoing process of adaptation, whereby the story of the orphan boy has been transported to new times and new places.