One of Dickens most enduringly popular stories is Oliver Twist, an early work published 1837-8. Like many of his later novels, its central theme is the hardship faced by the dispossessed and those of the outside of polite society. Oliver himself is born in a workhouse and treated cruelly there as was the norm at the time for pauper children, in particular by Bumble, a parish council official or beadle. The story follows Oliver as he escapes the workhouse and runs away to London. Here he receives an education in villainy the criminal gang of Fagin that includes the brutal thief Bill Sikes, the famous Artful Dodger and Nancy, Bills whore.
Oliver is rescued by the intervention of a benefactor Mr Brownlow but the mysterious Monks gets the gang to kidnap the boy again. Nancy intervenes but is murdered viciously by Sikes after she has showed some redeeming qualities and has discovered Monks sinister intention. The story closes happily and with justice for Bumble and the cruel Monks who has hidden the truth of Olivers parentage out of malice. Accusations were made that the book glamorised crime (like the Newgate Group of the period) but Dickens wisely disassociated himself criminal romances. His achievement was in fact in presenting the underworld and problems of poverty to the well-off in a way rarely attempted previously.