"Directly I leave go of you, do your work. Hark!" — James Mahoney's thirteenth illustration, intended to prepare readers of the Household Edition for Oliver's role in Bill Sikes' ill-fated robbery of the Maylie mansion at Chertsey in Surrey. Ironically, Oliver replaces a chimney-sweep's boy reapprehended by the nineteenth-century equivalent of Child Services. In the original narrative-pictorial serial sequence by George Cruikshank in Bentley's Miscellany, the serial reader encountered a realization of Oliver's being discovered by the servants shortly after climbing in through a diminutive window in the January 1838 illustration The Burglary at the Maylies' home in Chertsey. In the two Mahoney scenes, however, as the illustrator attempts to intensify the suspense, we are still witnessing events leading up to the attempted robbery in Dickens's The Adventures of Oliver Twist, Household Edition, page 81. 1871. Wood engraving by the Dalziels, 10.6 cm high by 13.7 cm wide. In this Mahoney illustration, the burly figure of the Sikes (stepping on the back of his confederate, Toby Crackit, centre) leans into the storeroom window, pointing a loaded pistol at his reluctant charge, Oliver, whom he has already dropped into the house through the little lattice window, about five and a half feet from the ground. The reader (perhaps recalling the original Cruikshank illustration, either from the serial or the 1846 revised edition) must visualize Oliver's reaction to Sikes's threat and the directions of Toby Crackit, for he is already looking for the passageway leading to the door which he is to open for the burglars. Shortly will follow the textual version of the scene rendered famous by Cruikshank in which the Maylies' servants surprise the boy. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite it in a print one.]

Passage Illustrated

Although Mr. Crackit spoke in a scarcely audible whisper, and laughed without noise, Sikes imperiously commanded him to be silent, and to get to work. Toby complied, by first producing his lantern, and placing it on the ground; then by planting himself firmly with his head against the wall beneath the window, and his hands upon his knees, so as to make a step of his back. This was no sooner done, than Sikes, mounting upon him, put Oiver gently through the window with his feet first; and, without leaving hold of his collar, planted him safely on the floor inside.

"Take this lantern," said Sikes, looking into the room. "You see the stairs afore you?"

Oliver, more dead than alive, gasped out, "Yes." Sikes, pointing to the street-door with the pistol-barrel, briefly advised him to take notice that he was within shot all the way; and that if he faltered, he would fall dead that instant.

"It's done in a minute," said Sikes, in the same low whisper. "Directly I leave go of you, do your work. Hark!"

"What's that?" whispered the other man.

They listened intently.

         [Chapter 22, "The Burglary," page 82]


By sheer coincidence or through the machinations of Providence, the house in Chertsey that Sikes has selected as his target belongs to the Maylies, the wealthy family who adopted Rose, the sister of Agnes, Oliver's mother. Although Dickens's official illustrator for Oliver Twist, George Cruikshank depicts the housebreaker Bill Sikes as the sordid, lower-class villain out of contemporary melodrama, the figure whom Felix Octavius Carr Darley in his 1888 series of Character Sketches from Dickens describes is much more​of an individual (despite his characteristic long face and white top hat derived directly from Cruikshank, but with the relentless realism of Mahoney) than a type. In the chapter 22 Cruikshank illustration which depicts the Maylies' men-servants' surprising and attempting to shoot Oliver as soon as he has entered the Chertsey house that Sikes is attempting to rob, Dickens's original illustrator minimizes the previously intimidating bulk of the notorious housebreaker by confining him to a mere facial likeness in the frame window five-and-a-half feet off the ground outside — in a framed portrait, so to speak — as Sikes watches the unfolding scene with interest and relative impotence as he seems powerless to intervene to save Oliver or assault the servants who are discharging firearms. Effectively rendered, Cruikshank's ruffian is unshaven, unkempt, and full-faced, features which Mahoney has utilized, although, having a thinner and longer visage, Mahoney's slimmer Sikes seems less obtuse and more cunning, as in the complement to the Chertsey scene, namely that set in Shepperton, southwest of London, earlier that night, Sikes, with Oliver's hand still in his, softly approached the low porch, the fourth in a series of five nocturnal scenes suitable to the underworld characters and their criminal activities.)

In the monthly wrapper containing eleven scenes from the novel for the 1846 periodical serialization, Cruikshank (rather than Dickens's usual illustrator of the 1840s, Hablot Knight Browne) includes in the design's upper left-hand corner Sikes at the window on the outside of the house, gesticulating as if telling Oliver how to open the door for Sikes himself, Nancy, and Toby Crackit once Oliver has descended to the floor; by its prominence in the wrapper, Cruikshank is implying that the incident is significant in Oliver's "progress." In the Household Edition, however, Mahoney focuses on two scenes immediately preceding the botched robbery, perhaps aware that his readers would inevitably compare his treatment of The Burglary to Cruikshank's The Burglary. Such a consideration, however, did not prevent fin de siecle illustrator Harry Furniss from attempting a much more dynamic composition in which the focus is the four servants who burst into the storeroom as Oliver is about to pass out. Seeing the picture before reading the accompanying text, one might expect the worst, but by the end of the closing curtain Sikes has at least abstracted Oliver from the immediate danger posed by the armed servants — who become four in number in the Furniss illustration as the last Victorian illustrator magnifies the danger into which Sikes has placed the protagonist, but which the reader of the Household Edition must merely imagine.

Relevant Illustrations from the Serial (1838) and the Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910)

Left: George Cruikshank's The Burglary (1838). Centre: Harry Furniss's Oliver in the Grip of Sikes (1910). Right: Harry Furniss's The Burglary (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]


Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. New York and Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.

Darley, Felix Octavius Carr. Character Sketches from Dickens. Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1888.

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Illustrated by George Cruikshank. London: Bradbury and Evans; Chapman and Hall, 1846.

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Household Edition. 55 vols. Il. F. O. C. Darley and John Gilbert. New York: Sheldon and Co., 1865.

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Diamond Edition. 18 vols. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.

Dickens, Charles. The Adventures of Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Household Edition. Illustrated by James Mahoney. London: Chapman and Hall, 1871.

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Charles Dickens Library Edition. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. London: Educational Book Company, 1910.

Last modified 7 December 2014