Oliver Twist By Charles Dickens Summary and Analysis Chapter 51

Summary

Two days later, a carriage is traveling toward Oliver's birthplace. Oliver is riding in the vehicle with Mrs. Maylie, Rose, Mr. Losberne, and Mrs. Bedwin. Mr. Brownlow is following with another person in a post-chaise.

The results of Brownlow's activities have been revealed to Oliver and the ladies, but there are still enough loose ends to allow for great suspense. At the same time, knowledge of the frightful developments of the last few days has been kept from them.

As he begins to recognize familiar spots, Oliver is carried away with excitement. One of his first thoughts is for little Dick. Oliver voices his determination to relieve his friend and to provide for him the sort of life that Oliver himself enjoyed at the Maylies' country retreat. Their arrival in the town is a triumphal entry, with Oliver exclaiming at all the well-known sights. There is "everything as if he had left it but yesterday," but it is a joyous return. The party go to the best hotel, where they are gallantly received by Mr. Grimwig. All arrangements for rooms and dinner have been made.

At dinner, the air of mystery and tension still prevails, especially when Brownlow does not join the party. Mr. Losberne and Grimwig bustle in and out, withdrawing to talk. Mrs. Maylie is sent for and returns an hour later with swollen eyes. Rose and Oliver seem to have been forgotten.

Finally, at nine o'clock in the evening, the gentlemen bring another man into the room. Oliver is taken aback. He had expected to see a brother, but this is the man he met in the market town and later saw looking in his window with Fagin. Mr. Brownlow walks up with papers, informing Monks that although the instruments have been executed in London, it is necessary to review the details here. Monks asks that the business be settled quickly. Mr. Brownlow accordingly opens the session: "This child is your half-brother; the illegitimate son of your father, my dear friend Edwin Leeford, by poor young Agnes Fleming, who died in giving him birth."

Monks sarcastically corroborates this and, as agreed, begins a summary of the matter recorded in the papers. He fills in the details concerning his father's death. Edwin Leeford had left two papers, dated when he first became ill. They were addressed to Mr. Brownlow with the instructions that they not be mailed until after the writer's death.

The first paper was a letter to Agnes Fleming, who was then several months pregnant. The girl had trusted in Leeford's guarded explanation that there was some obstacle to an immediate marriage. He alluded to his gift of a locket and a ring with a blank left for his name to be engraved. The letter was filled with incoherent, repetitious professions of regret and honorable motives. Oliver bursts into tears as Monks pauses in his story.

Brownlow takes up the subject of the will. The dying father had cited the misery his wife caused him and the wicked nature of his son, Edward, "who had been trained to hate him." So he left to each of them an annuity of eight hundred pounds. The bulk of the property was to be divided between Agnes Fleming and their expected child, if the child should live until its adulthood. A girl would inherit unconditionally. A boy would receive the money only if "in his minority he should never have stained his name with any public act of dishonor, meanness, cowardice, or wrong." This last provision was an expression of confidence that a son of Agnes Fleming's would follow in her honest goodness. If the expectation was not fulfilled, then the legacy would go to Monks, as the senior nominee in the will.

Monks then reports that his mother burned the will, but she kept the letter in case it should ever be necessary to document the irregular relationship between Leeford and Agnes. The girl confessed to her father, who then took his family to Wales and changed his name. Agnes ran away from home, and her father searched for her until he became convinced that she had committed suicide. Crushed, the man returned home and died.

Brownlow remarks that years later, Edward Leeford's mother came to him. At the age of eighteen, her son had robbed her and then fled to London, where he spent two years among the outcasts of society. The woman was incurably ill and anxious to reclaim her son. Ultimately he rejoined her in France.

Monks picks up the narrative by offering the information that his mother, before she died, told him all of the secrets. She was not persuaded that Agnes had taken her life, but was obsessed with the notion that there was a male child living. The dying woman's son swore to her that if he ever found such a child, he would hunt down his half-brother with unwavering hatred. "She was right. . . . I began well."

Brownlow adds that Fagin was a former associate of Monks's and was well paid to contrive Oliver's destruction. Part of the fee was to be refunded if the boy was rescued, and for that reason the two plotters went to identify him in the country.

Now Brownlow wants to hear about the locket and ring, and Monks briefly states the facts. Grimwig leads in Mr. and Mrs. Bumble. The couple flatly deny any knowledge of Monks or of a locket and ring. Next, two old pauper women are brought in. They were listening outside the door when Sally died and know that the matron took a paper from the corpse and redeemed a locket and ring from a pawnshop the following day. Sally had also told them that the girl, driven by a sense of approaching death, was striving to reach her lover's grave.

Implicated by this testimony, Mrs. Bumble admits everything. Brownlow states his determination to see that neither of the Bumbles ever holds another position of trust. Bumble cannot at first understand that he is going to lose his "Porochial office." He goes out railing at the law that "supposes that your wife acts under your direction."

Now, Brownlow hints that there is something coming that concerns Rose. When he asks what became of Agnes's younger sister, Monks supplies the answer: After the death of the old officer, the child was cared for by some country folk. Brownlow was unable to locate the girl, but Monks's mother succeeded. With a series of deceptions and lies, she prejudiced the adoptive parents against the child. The revenge-minded woman enlarged upon Agnes's weaknesses and said that her young sister was illegitimate, and the girl incurred a miserable existence until she was noticed and taken away by Mrs. Maylie. Monks lost track of the girl two or three years later and had not seen her again until recently. This amazing revelation sets off a round of extravagant demonstrations among Mrs. Maylie, the young lady she accepts as her niece, and Rose's newly designated nephew.

Harry joins Rose, saying, "Dear Rose, I know it all." He reminds her that he has permission to renew his earlier desire to marry her. Rose's position remains unchanged; there is still disgrace in her background. Harry's next move is to declare that he has nothing to offer but "a heart and home," having altered his station in life to conform with hers. When she refused him before, he says, "I left you with a firm determination to level all fancied barriers between yourself and me; resolved that if my world could not be yours, I would make yours mine." He has severed all ties of rank and power to become a village parson.

The betrothed young couple rejoin the company for supper. Good cheer and merry making are in order. But for Oliver the gaiety is marred by the sorrow of learning that his friend, Dick, is dead.

Analysis

In this chapter, all the significant remaining gaps in the tale are filled. Dickens has ingeniously fitted the pieces together by stages, enlightening all of the characters while subjecting the reader to a minimum of repetition. One last mystery is dispelled in the process — the mysteries of Rose Maylie's origin. That issue was hinted at — a technique called foreshadowing — in Chapter 49, when Brownlow guessed that the time would come when Rose might have great "need of firmness."

There is a strong theatrical flavor in Harry Maylie's renouncing his hereditary place in society to play the role of a humble clergyman. Remember, training in the English universities of the time was still basically ecclesiastical, so that a man with a degree could reasonably be considered eligible to take religious orders as Harry did, at any time.

There is delicious irony in Bumble's complaint that the law is idiotic if it supposes that he has any authority over his loving bride. The irony of Bumble's position must be indeed overpowering if it can penetrate his obtuseness.

At this point, the novel might seem to be finished. Order has been restored. The faithful lover has won the peerless girl. The villains have been foiled and virtue is rewarded. Present joy with prospects of future happiness is established as the chapter ends. However, while the sun shines upon scenes of human rejoicing, clouds are ever hovering near, ready to cast a shadow. Dickens adds a pathetic ending: "Poor Dick was dead!"

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