Oliver Twist | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Oliver Twist | Chapters 39–41 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 39

Bill Sikes has been ill for a long time, but he is finally on the mend. Nancy stops by Fagin's to pick up Bill's pay. While she's there Monks arrives, and Fagin takes him upstairs to talk. Nancy silently follows. She returns and begins putting on her shawl just as the men return. Fagin gives her the money, and she runs home. The next day Nancy doses Sikes with laudanum and leaves him sleeping. She hurries across town to a family hotel near Hyde Park to see Rose Maylie.

Chapter 40

Nancy meets with Rose Maylie and explains her role in Oliver's life. She asks whether Rose knows Monks. Rose does not, but since Monks knows where Rose is staying, Nancy infers that Rose knows him under some other name. Nancy tells Rose that she has heard two conversations between Fagin and Monks, from which she learned that Monks paid Fagin to make Oliver a thief and that evidence of the boy's identity lies on a river bottom. This left Monks with an inheritance that should have gone to Oliver, whom Monks referred to as his "young brother." Rose offers to help Nancy to safety, but Nancy refuses to leave Bill. She agrees, however, that she will come to London Bridge each Sunday night for an hour so that they can talk again.

Chapter 41

Oliver arrives and says he has seen Mr. Brownlow going into a house and has the address. Rose goes with the boy to see Mr. Brownlow. She tells Mr. Brownlow Oliver's story, and Oliver is joyously received by Mr. Brownlow, Mrs. Bedwin, and even Mr. Grimwig. That evening Mr. Brownlow visits the hotel to confer with the Maylies and Mr. Losberne about how they can discover Oliver's true identity and restore his inheritance. They decide to meet Nancy the following Sunday to learn where they can find Monks. In the meantime Mr. Brownlow will ask Mr. Grimwig for his help, and Mr. Losberne will approach Harry Maylie.

Analysis

Nancy doses Bill Sikes with laudanum so he'll sleep while she goes out. Laudanum was commonly taken by rich and poor alike in the Victorian era, mostly for medicinal reasons to treat anything from insomnia to intestinal pain to tuberculosis. It consisted of 10 percent powdered opium, 90 percent alcohol, and spices for flavoring. Opiates, of which laudanum was the least expensive, were in wide use; although people knew they were habit-forming, no stigma was attached to their use. They were even used to calm cranky infants and children. The sale of opiates went unregulated until the second half of the 19th century.

Rose Maylie's hotel is near Hyde Park. As readers of the day would know, Hyde Park was a fashionable meeting place. People strolled through the manicured gardens and rode horses and carriages along the broad drives. The surrounding area, while not extremely wealthy, was very much middle and upper class. Nancy would have looked and felt very out of place, which explains her chilly reception by the hotel staff.

The female members of the hotel staff are less willing to hear Nancy out. Her profession was probably clear to them despite her attempt to look respectable. Dickens refers to the young women as "the Dianas"—a reference to the goddess Diana, a popular Victorian image of beauty. Ironically, Diana was the goddess not only of the hunt but also of fertility.

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