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Dickens and Mass Culture$
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Juliet John

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199257928

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199257928.001.0001

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The Making of a Cultural Myth: Oliver Twist on Screen

The Making of a Cultural Myth: Oliver Twist on Screen

Chapter:
(p.207) 7 The Making of a Cultural Myth: Oliver Twist on Screen
Source:
Dickens and Mass Culture
Author(s):

Juliet John (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199257928.003.0008

This chapter is a case study of the transformation of Oliver Twist into a cultural myth via the screen. It assumes that the text and its mass cultural dissemination are both typical and exceptional in the history of Dickens on screen: like other Dickens's ‘culture‐texts’, Oliver Twist has been popular with large numbers of people, but Oliver Twist is unlike other Dickens texts in the extent to which it has caused political controversy. In particular, the chapter highlights the controversy about anti‐Semitism surrounding David Lean's post‐war adaptation of the novel, which generated an ‘anxiety of influence’ among subsequent directors. It charts the ways in which the cultural myth that is Oliver Twist has metamorphosed in response to trauma in a process of cultural evolution which tells us much about the complex dynamics of mass culture, neither wholly imperialist nor blandly politically correct. The mass cultural repetition of Dickens's moving images, together with the segmentation of the modern cultural marketplace, have made it harder to produce adaptations of his work that achieve the combination of phenomenal mass appeal and the radical political impact which was associated with Dickens—despite accusations of anti‐Semitism ‐ when Oliver Twist first appeared. The chapter maintains that though Dickens's ongoing ability to command extra‐literary attention is arguably radical in itself, many modern adapters of Dickens seem to feel the need to choose between commercial and political Dickens.

Keywords:   screen, cultural myth, Oliver Twist, David Lean, radical, commercial, political, adaptation

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