It is one of the most iconic lines in anglophone culture: Charles Dickens’ orphan boy Oliver Twist, kept in a state of constant starvation at a workhouse in nineteenth-century London, dares to ask for more food to satisfy his and his companions’ voracious hunger.
“Please, sir, I want some more.”
The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.
“What!” said the master at length, in a faint voice.
“Please, sir,” replied Oliver, “I want some more.”
The master aimed a blow at Oliver’s head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arms; and shrieked aloud for the beadle.
I am Oliver Twist. Well, except I’m a woman – and a grown woman at that. Oliver is probably quite a bit braver than me, too, and I don’t have a criminal record. But like Oliver, I have appeared before authorities asking for more. I do all the time. I hold my hands open, hoping to sneak some in my pockets, too. And sometimes I don’t just ask for more for myself, but for all the others who are hungry, too; who work and labor with me, all the time, half-hungry, and never full.
I didn’t grow up as an orphan like Oliver did; I have a mother and a father and I was raised in a nice house. And yet, as an adult, I find myself sucking at the proverbial tit of government. I reach for the matriarch constantly, like a hungry infant, and if I can’t find her I become desperate.
I’m the state’s dependant.
I also qualify precisely as what they call a “charity case.” In fact, I’ve been called a “kept lady” – back when my salary was paid for not directly by the theatre at which I worked, but by donors of the theatre. Wonderful people. People to whom I am greatly indebted not just financially, but idealistically, too. They have inspired and taught me much, and a couple of years after I left both my job and the country, we remain in touch.
Not having a very clearly defined notion of what a live board was, Oliver was rather astounded by this intelligence, and was not quite certain whether he ought to laugh or cry. He had no time to think about the matter, however; for Mr. Bumble gave him a tap on the head, with his cane, to wake him up: and another on the back to make him lively: and bidding him follow, conducted him into a large whitewashed room, where eight or ten fat gentlemen were sitting round a table. At the top of the table, seated in an arm-chair rather higher than the rest, was a particularly fat gentleman with a very round, red face.
“Bow to the board,” said Bumble. Oliver brushed away two or three tears that were lingering in his eyes; and seeing no board but the table, fortunately bowed to that.
“What’s your name, boy?” said the gentleman in the high chair.
Oliver was frightened at the sight of so many gentlemen, which made him tremble: and the beadle gave him another tap behind, which made him cry. These two causes made him answer in a very low and hesitating voice; whereupon a gentleman in a white waistcoat said he was a fool.
Much like Oliver, I’ve appeared before boards – countless times, in writing and in person. They don’t necessarily outright tell me I’m a fool, but they treat me like one:
Of course, these boards exist only because of people like me – artists – but somehow, they have power over me. And they’re very good at showing and reminding me of their power:
All this is very confusing. It’s hard to know who exactly depends on whom. And it’s difficult to understand why those who claim that they want to be good don’t just ask us what would be good for us.