"Oliver Twist," Chapters 1-12

Published in 1838, Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist" plunges the reader into a world of orphanages and thieves, where the conditions are awful and
survival is in doubt (etext found here).

Learn these word lists for the novel: Chapters 1-12, Chapters 13-28, Chapters 29-41, Chapters 42-53.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. poised
    marked by balance or equilibrium and readiness for action
    The fact is, that there was considerable difficulty in inducing Oliver to take upon himself the office of respiration,--a troublesome practice, but one which custom has rendered necessary to our easy existence; and for some time he lay gasping on a little flock mattress, rather unequally poised between this world and the next: the balance being decidedly in favour of the latter.
  2. pauper
    a person who is very poor
    There being nobody by, however, but a pauper old woman, who was rendered rather misty by an unwonted allowance of beer; and a parish surgeon who did such matters by contract; Oliver and Nature fought out the point between them.
  3. articulate
    speak, pronounce, or utter in a certain way
    As Oliver gave this first proof of the free and proper action of his lungs, the patchwork coverlet which was carelessly flung over the iron bedstead, rustled; the pale face of a young woman was raised feebly from the pillow; and a faint voice imperfectly articulated the words, "Let me see the child, and die."
  4. imprint
    mark or stamp with or as if with pressure
    She imprinted her cold white lips passionately on its forehead; passed her hands over her face; gazed wildly round; shuddered; fell back--and died.
  5. haughty
    having or showing arrogant superiority
    Wrapped in the blanket which had hitherto formed his only covering, he might have been the child of a nobleman or a beggar; it would have been hard for the haughtiest stranger to have assigned him his proper station in society.
  6. buffet
    strike, beat repeatedly
    But now that he was enveloped in the old calico robes which had grown yellow in the same service, he was badged and ticketed, and fell into his place at once--a parish child--the orphan of a workhouse--the humble, half-starved drudge--to be cuffed and buffeted through the world--despised by all, and pitied by none.
  7. destitute
    poor enough to need help from others
    The hungry and destitute situation of the infant orphan was duly reported by the workhouse authorities to the parish authorities.
  8. consolation
    the comfort you feel when soothed in times of disappointment
    The parish authorities inquired with dignity of the workhouse authorities, whether there was no female then domiciled in "the house" who was in a situation to impart to Oliver Twist, the consolation and nourishment of which he stood in need.
  9. impertinence
    the trait of being rude and inclined to take liberties
    But these impertinences were speedily checked by the evidence of the surgeon, and the testimony of the beadle; the former of whom had always opened the body and found nothing inside (which was very probable indeed), and the latter of whom invariably swore whatever the parish wanted; which was very self-devotional.
  10. diminutive
    very small
    Oliver Twist's ninth birth-day found him a pale thin child, somewhat diminutive in stature, and decidedly small in circumference.
  11. implant
    fix or set securely or deeply
    But nature or inheritance had implanted a good sturdy spirit in Oliver's breast.
  12. atrocious
    exceptionally bad or displeasing
    Be this as it may, however, it was his ninth birth-day; and he was keeping it in the coal-cellar with a select party of two other young gentlemen, who, after participating with him in a sound thrashing, had been locked up for atrociously presuming to be hungry, when Mrs. Mann, the good lady of the house, was unexpectedly startled by the apparition of Mr. Bumble, the beadle, striving to undo the wicket of the garden-gate.
  13. benevolent
    intending or showing kindness
    Oliver, having had by this time as much of the outer coat of dirt which encrusted his face and hands, removed, as could be scrubbed off in one washing, was led into the room by his benevolent protectress.
  14. countenance
    the appearance conveyed by a person's face
    Oliver was about to say that he would go along with anybody with great readiness, when, glancing upward, he caught sight of Mrs. Mann, who had got behind the beadle's chair, and was shaking her fist at him with a furious countenance.
  15. demolition
    the act of destroying completely
    Oliver had not been within the walls of the workhouse a quarter of an hour, and had scarcely completed the demolition of a second slice of bread, when Mr. Bumble, who had handed him over to the care of an old woman, returned; and, telling him it was a board night, informed him that the board had said he was to appear before it forthwith.
  16. issue
    bring out for public distribution or sale
    With this view, they contracted with the water-works to lay on an unlimited supply of water; and with a corn-factor to supply periodically small quantities of oatmeal; and issued three meals of thin gruel a day, with an onion twice a week, and half a roll on Sundays.
  17. inseparable
    not capable of being split
    The relief was inseparable from the workhouse and the gruel; and that frightened people.
  18. voracious
    devouring or craving food in great quantities
    Oliver Twist and his companions suffered the tortures of slow starvation for three months: at last they got so voracious and wild with hunger, that one boy, who was tall for his age, and hadn't been used to that sort of thing (for his father had kept a small cook-shop), hinted darkly to his companions, that unless he had another basin of gruel per diem, he was afraid he might some night happen to eat the boy who slept next him, who happened to be a weakly youth of tender age.
  19. council
    a meeting of people for consultation
    A council was held; lots were cast who should walk up to the master after supper that evening, and ask for more; and it fell to Oliver Twist.
  20. reckless
    marked by defiant disregard for danger or consequences
    Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery.
  21. temerity
    fearless daring
    He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity: "Please, sir, I want some more."
  22. stupefied
    as if struck dumb with astonishment and surprise
    He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper.
  23. apprentice
    someone who works for an expert to learn a trade
    In other words, five pounds and Oliver Twist were offered to any man or woman who wanted an apprentice to any trade, business, or calling.
  24. profane
    grossly irreverent toward what is held to be sacred
    For a week after the commission of the impious and profane offence of asking for more, Oliver remained a close prisoner in the dark and solitary room to which he had been consigned by the wisdom and mercy of the board.
    "Profane" is similar in meaning to "impious" but it has a stronger tone with the adverb "grossly"--Dickens uses both adjectives to mock the board for being so strict as to consider Oliver's asking for more food as an offense that deserves punishment.
  25. dismal
    causing dejection
    He only cried bitterly all day; and, when the long, dismal night came on, spread his little hands before his eyes to shut out the darkness, and crouching in the corner, tried to sleep: ever and anon waking with a start and tremble, and drawing himself closer and closer to the wall, as if to feel even its cold hard surface were a protection in the gloom and loneliness which surrounded him.
  26. injunction
    a formal command or admonition
    On their way to the magistrate, Mr. Bumble instructed Oliver that all he would have to do, would be to look very happy, and say, when the gentleman asked him if he wanted to be apprenticed, that he should like it very much indeed; both of which injunctions Oliver promised to obey: the rather as Mr. Bumble threw in a gentle hint, that if he failed in either particular, there was no telling what would be done to him.
  27. threadbare
    thin and tattered with age
    Mr. Sowerberry was a tall, gaunt, large-jointed man, attired in a suit of threadbare black, with darned cotton stockings of the same colour, and shoes to answer.
  28. viand
    a choice or delicious dish
    I wish some well-fed philosopher, whose meat and drink turn to gall within him; whose blood is ice, whose heart is iron; could have seen Oliver Twist clutching at the dainty viands that the dog had neglected.
  29. impetuous
    marked by violent force
    Oliver was awakened in the morning, by a loud kicking at the outside of the shop-door: which, before he could huddle on his clothes, was repeated, in an angry and impetuous manner, about twenty-five times.
  30. ignominious
    deserving or bringing disgrace or shame
    The shop-boys in the neighbourhood had long been in the habit of branding Noah, in the public streets, with the ignominious epithets of "leathers," "charity," and the like; and Noah had borne them without reply.
  31. construe
    make sense of; assign a meaning to
    Mr. Sowerberry rightly construed this, as an acquiescence in his proposition; it was speedily determined, therefore, that Oliver should be at once initiated into the mysteries of the trade; and, with this view, that he should accompany his master on the very next occasion of his services being required.
  32. goad
    provoke as by constant criticism
    Oliver, being goaded by the taunts of Noah, rouses into action, and rather astonishes him.
  33. prevalent
    most frequent or common
    The oldest inhabitants recollected no period at which measles had been so prevalent, or so fatal to infant existence; and many were the mournful processions which little Oliver headed, in a hat-band reaching down to his knees, to the indescribable admiration and emotion of all the mothers in the town.
  34. equanimity
    steadiness of mind under stress
    As Oliver accompanied his master in most of his adult expeditions, too, in order that he might acquire that equanimity of demeanour and full command of nerve which are essential to a finished undertaker, he had many opportunities of observing the beautiful resignation and fortitude with which some strong-minded people bear their trials and losses.
    "Equanimity" is similar in meaning to "fortitude" ("strength of mind that enables one to endure adversity"); "fortitude" should be the opposite of "resignation" ("acceptance of despair") but the phrase "beautiful resignation" makes it sound like a positive trait, when really, it is a sad necessity for people whose daily lives are filled with trials and losses.
  35. defy
    His breast heaved; his attitude was erect; his eye bright and vivid; his whole person changed, as he stood glaring over the cowardly tormentor who now lay crouching at his feet; and defied him with an energy he had never known before.
  36. effectual
    producing or capable of producing an intended result
    Charlotte's fist was by no means a light one; but, lest it should not be effectual in calming Oliver's wrath, Mrs. Sowerberry plunged into the kitchen, and assisted to hold him with one hand, while she scratched his face with the other.
  37. undiminished
    not lessened
    Sowerberry had not yet returned, and Oliver continued to kick, with undiminished vigour, at the cellar-door.
  38. complimentary
    expressing praise and admiration
    For the rest of the day, he was shut up in the back kitchen, in company with a pump and a slice of bread; and, at night, Mrs. Sowerberry, after making various remarks outside the door, by no means complimentary to the memory of his mother, looked into the room, and, amidst the jeers and pointings of Noah and Charlotte, ordered him up stairs to his dismal bed.
  39. contempt
    lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike
    He had listened to their taunts with a look of contempt; he had borne the lash without a cry: for he felt that pride swelling in his heart which would have kept down a shriek to the last, though they had roasted him alive.
  40. feasible
    capable of being done with means at hand
    But Oliver's thoughts, like those of most other people, although they were extremely ready and active to point out his difficulties, were wholly at a loss to suggest any feasible mode of surmounting them; so, after a good deal of thinking to no particular purpose, he changed his little bundle over to the other shoulder, and trudged on.
  41. protege
    a person who receives support from an influential patron
    This led to a more friendly and confidential dialogue; from which Oliver discovered that his friend's name was Jack Dawkins, and that he was a peculiar pet and prot├ęge of the elderly gentleman before mentioned.
  42. avow
    admit openly and bluntly
    Mr. Dawkins's appearance did not say a vast deal in favour of the comforts which his patron's interest obtained for those whom he took under his protection; but, as he had a rather flighty and dissolute mode of conversing, and furthermore avowed that among his intimate friends he was better known by the sobriquet of "The artful Dodger," Oliver concluded that, being of a dissipated and careless turn, the moral precepts of his benefactor had hitherto been thrown away upon him.
  43. incorrigible
    impervious to correction by punishment
    Under this impression, he secretly resolved to cultivate the good opinion of the old gentleman as quickly as possible; and, if he found the Dodger incorrigible, as he more than half suspected he should, to decline the honour of his farther acquaintance.
  44. expatiate
    add details, as to an account or idea
    Whenever the Dodger or Charley Bates came home at night, empty-handed, he would expatiate with great vehemence on the misery of idle and lazy habits; and would enforce upon them the necessity of an active life, by sending them supperless to bed.
  45. pilfer
    make off with belongings of others
    The Dodger had a vicious propensity, too, of pulling the caps from the heads of small boys and tossing them down areas; while Charley Bates exhibited some very loose notions concerning the rights of property, by pilfering divers apples and onions from the stalls at the kennel sides, and thrusting them into pockets which were so surprisingly capacious, that they seemed to undermine his whole suit of clothes in every direction.
  46. convulse
    shake uncontrollably
    Little Oliver Twist lay on his back on the pavement, with his shirt unbuttoned, and his temples bathed with water; his face a deadly white; and a cold tremble convulsing his whole frame.
  47. solicitude
    a feeling of excessive concern
    Here, a bed was prepared, without loss of time, in which Mr. Brownlow saw his young charge carefully and comfortably deposited; and here, he was tended with a kindness and solicitude that knew no bounds.
  48. fervent
    characterized by intense emotion
    The darkness and the deep stillness of the room were very solemn; as they brought into the boy's mind the thought that death had been hovering there, for many days and nights, and might yet fill it with the gloom and dread of his awful presence, he turned his face upon the pillow, and fervently prayed to Heaven.
    "Fervent" also means "extremely hot"--this could describe a fever, which Oliver had while he was fervently praying.
  49. solemn
    dignified and somber in manner or character
    Oliver did see it in his mind's eye as distinctly as if he had not altered his position; but he thought it better not to worry the kind old lady; so he smiled gently when she looked at him; and Mrs. Bedwin, satisfied that he felt more comfortable, salted and broke bits of toasted bread into the broth, with all the bustle befitting so solemn a preparation.
  50. affinity
    inherent resemblance between persons or things
    "He has just had a basin of beautiful strong broth, sir," replied Mrs. Bedwin: drawing herself up slightly, and laying a strong emphasis on the last word: to intimate that between slops, and broth well compounded, there existed no affinity or connexion whatsoever.

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