From 11:00PM PDT on Friday, July 1 until 5:00AM PDT on Saturday, July 2, the Shmoop engineering elves will be making tweaks and improvements to the site. That means Shmoop will be unavailable for use during that time. Thanks for your patience!
"Treats of the Place Where Oliver Twist Was Born, and of the Circumstances Attending his Birth"
It’s a short first chapter, and gets right to the point: the scene is a small town in England, and the novel opens in the early nineteenth century (it was published in 1839, but takes place a little bit before—probably in the late 1820s or so).
Oliver is born in a workhouse in a town called Mudfog (in other editions, that don’t use Dickens’s original text, the town isn’t named), and is described as a "new burden upon the parish" (1.1). (For more about what a "parish" is, check out the "What’s Up with the Title" section).
After kissing Oliver with "cold white lips," Oliver’s mother dies, leaving her son all alone and at the mercy of the parish authorities.
All we learn about his mother at this point is that a) she was found lying in the street after having walked a long way, but nobody knows where she’d come from, and b) she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring, so the doctor assumes that she was unmarried and that Oliver is illegitimate, and c) she was a "good-looking girl."
Dickens hints ominously at the fate awaiting Oliver as "a parish child" in the closing sentences of the first chapter.