Summary and Analysis
At twilight, Mr. Brownlow gets out of a coach at his door. Two husky men with him usher a fourth passenger into the house. The reluctant member of the group is Monks. At the door of a back room, Monks balks and Brownlow delivers an ultimatum. So far, Monks has agreed to be picked up and brought to the house. Brownlow gives him the choice of cooperating or being turned loose to be dealt with by the law "on a charge of fraud and robbery."
At his wits' end, Monks has no plan. "Is there — no middle course?" Brownlow sternly replies that there are no other alternatives, nor time for deliberation. Monks enters the room, and his host instructs the escorts to lock the door from the outside and to wait until he rings for them.
When they are alone, Monks recovers enough to complain to Brownlow: "This is pretty treatment, sir, from my father's oldest friend." The old gentleman answers that it is his friendship for Monks's father that moves him to give Monks a break. When Monks's father was still a boy, his only sister — the girl Brownlow was about to marry — died. From that time on, Brownlow was attached to his lost fiancée's brother, until he too died. Brownlow concludes these impassioned introductory remarks by pronouncing Monks's real name — Edward Leeford.
Interrupted by occasional complaints and weak denials from Monks, Mr. Brownlow spells out the past history of the present problems. Brownlow's friend, when only a boy, was thrust into marriage by family pride, "the most sordid and narrowest of all ambition." The union resulted in one offspring — Monks. The couple progressed from mutual indifference to intense hatred and ultimately separated. The woman went to the continent and forgot her immature husband, who was ten years younger than she.
In time, when he was thirty-one years old, the man acquired new connections. That was fifteen years ago, when Monks was about eleven. Brownlow's friend became intimate with a retired naval officer who had been left alone with two daughters, one only two or three years of age. The elder child was a beautiful girl of nineteen. Within a year, she and Monks's father were pledged to each other.
The man inherited money from a relative who died in Rome, making it necessary for him to go there immediately. Then the heir was fatally stricken in that city. Monks's mother learned of this in Paris and, taking their son with her, went to her estranged husband. The day after she arrived, he died. There was no will, so all of the property went to his wife and their child.
At this stage, Monks seems relieved, but Brownlow continues, saying that before his friend left England on his last journey, he left a portrait of the officer's daughter with Brownlow. At the time, Monks's father talked vaguely about providing for his legal wife and child, before settling outside England. Brownlow never saw the man again or heard from him. Later, Brownlow made an attempt to see the dead man's beloved, but the family had vanished, "Why, or whither, none can tell."
Monk's look of triumph turns to dismay when Brownlow tells him that he was the one who sheltered Oliver until the boy was recaptured by the thieves. Brownlow refers to Oliver's resemblance to the picture of the unfortunate girl. Since he could not recover Oliver, Brownlow decided that the mystery could be clarified only by Monks, who had retired to the West Indies after his mother's death. So Brownlow went there, only to learn that Monks had left, probably for London. Brownlow stubbornly kept up the search without being able to catch up with his quarry — until two hours ago.
Thinking that he has heard all of the old gentleman's story, Monks becomes boldly defiant. He points out that the perception of likeness between a picture and a child is pretty flimsy evidence, especially when his accuser does not even know if the lovers ever had a child. In reply, Brownlow addresses the young man fiercely, declaring that now he does know the whole truth: "There was a will, which your mother destroyed, leaving the secret and the gain to you at her own death."
Now angry, Brownlow confronts Monks with the very words Monks spoke after dropping the locket into the river in the presence of the Bumbles. Brownlow reprimands him mercilessly, adding that he knows everything that passed between Monks and Fagin. For added emphasis, Brownlow reminds Monks that he is morally an accessory to the murder of Nancy.
Brownlow's tactic works and Monks breaks down. He agrees to tell all of the facts, before witnesses and in writing. Brownlow makes it clear that Oliver has been defrauded and that Monks must make amends to Oliver in accordance with the terms of the destroyed will of their father. This does not sit well with Monks, but just then, Mr. Losberne is admitted, in a high state of excitement. He has news that Sikes's dog has been seen and the owner is sure to be trapped in the vicinity. Harry Maylie has gone to join the manhunt. The doctor also says that the arrest of Fagin is certain. Having heard all this, Monks accepts the conditions for his liberation, and Brownlow promises to guard the secret.
Monks is locked in the room alone. Brownlow quickly informs the doctor of his success. A meeting is appointed for two days from now. Brownlow has added fifty pounds to the one hundred offered for the capture of Sikes: his "blood boils to avenge this poor murdered creature [Nancy]."
In this important chapter, we have in pure dramatic form the apparent unraveling of most of the novel's mysteries — both great and small. Many riddles are illuminated: the resemblance between Oliver's features and the portrait in Brownlow's house; the old gentleman's unexplained absence from London and his connection with Monks; the grounds for Monks's campaign against Oliver; the significance of events relating to the prized ring.
We can see now that, although at the outset the story promised to be a chronological recital starting from the hero's birth, the chain of events leading up to the opening situation was set in motion over twenty-five years before. The flashback technique is used to supply essential details of the past, the point of view coming from various characters. All the details seem more believable thanks to the fact that now there is agreement between people with opposing interests.
It is a bit disturbing to see Brownlow taking the law into his own hands, to the extent of striking a bargain with a criminal like Monks. But once again, we can consider the audacity of Dickens's philosophy. For prompt execution of justice tempered with mercy, he would rather trust to direct action by a righteous individual than take his chances with uncertain performance of creaky legal conditions.