We're in our second week of classes, and the students are now wending what I hope will be their merry way through Oliver Twist. Dickens, I find, is an interesting proposition in the classroom. The difficulty lies not so much in his length--I teach Bleak House to undergraduates on a regular basis, and most students make a heroic effort to finish it--but in the grotesques saddled with obviously ironic names. To say that these characters do not always Go Over Well is what you'd call an understatement. I'm not sure if it's the "flatness" of these characters that's the problem--one does not look to Mr. Bumble for psychological depth--or if, rather, it's the eruption of such grotesquerie amidst apparently realistic commentary on contemporary social evils. Why, I've been asked, have these characters wandered in from some other kind of novel? (Oliver Twist actually provides us with one clue to their provenance: as the narrator tells us outright, the novel has affinities with the melodrama. Plus other sources for stock comic and not-so-comic figures.) As several of my adult acquaintances are also unable to "do" Dickens for the same reason, I can't blame any undergraduates who balk--although it's obviously my job to get them to think about what kind of role these characters perform. And yet, surely we have equivalents in contemporary pop culture?