Oliver Twist was first published in 1837 in serial format, in Bentley’s Miscellany, which Dickens was editing at the time. Oliver Twist was Dickens’s second novel and his first real social novel, critiquing the harm public institutions inflicted on the poor. Dickens would come to be known as the master of this form, and would continue it in Nicholas Nickleby, which he would write while still working on Oliver Twist. The novel tells the story of Oliver, a young orphan raised in a workhouse seventy miles outside of London, who runs away and finds himself taken in by thieves. It was written partially in reaction to the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which, among other things, essentially took the rights of citizenship away from paupers, who were interred in workhouses and forfeited their political rights in order to receive aid.
Oliver Twist was well-received, and spawned many other orphan tales, although it was not as big a success as The Pickwick Papers. Many also criticized Dickens for his portrayal of criminals and prostitutes in the novel, which at the time was controversial.
Oliver Twist has also become one of the most dramatized of Dickens’s works—it was produced in multiple theaters before the serialization was even complete.