Julian Rhind-Tutt as Edward/Monks in the 2007 Oliver Twist miniseries

Edward "Monks" Leeford is a character in the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. He is actually the criminally-inclined half-brother of Oliver Twist, but he hides his identity. Monks's parents separated when he was a child, and his father had a sexual and romantic relationship with a young woman, Agnes Fleming. This resulted in Agnes's pregnancy. She died in childbirth after giving birth to the baby that would be named Oliver Twist.

Character history

Background

The orphaned Oliver has no idea of Monks's existence, but Monks knows of the existence of Oliver, and sets out to ruin him. Goaded to hatred of the boy by his own mother, Monks accidentally sees him on the streets of London one day and tracks him to the den of Fagin, an old master criminal and fence. Oliver has gone to live at Fagin's, completely unaware that the old man is a criminal. Monks knows of the existence of a will left by his father, who despised him. The will favours Oliver, and not Monks; however, if Oliver ever should commit a criminal act, he will be automatically disinherited, whereupon the money would go to Monks.

Oliver Twist

Monks pays Fagin to make Oliver into a criminal, and this is the real reason that Fagin wishes to keep him in his clutches. No one knows of the bargain that Fagin has made with Monks, until Nancy, one of the members of the gang, who harbors a motherly affection for Oliver, overhears a conversation between the two criminals. By this time, Oliver has unwillingly accompanied Fagin's vicious henchman, Bill Sikes, on a house break-in, and has been shot by Mr. Giles, one of the servants. Monks and Fagin plot to get him back, and Nancy informs on Monks to Rose Fleming, a young and innocent woman who lives in the house that Sikes attempted to rob, and who found the wounded Oliver, became convinced of his innocence, and nursed him back to health. In addition, Monks meets with Mr. Bumble, the master of the workhouse in which Oliver was born, and the Widow Corney, now Bumble's unhappily married wife. From them he buys a locket and a ring that belonged to Oliver's mother, the only proof of his half-brother's true identity.

Fagin, suspicious of Nancy, sends out a spy after her. She goes to London Bridge to keep an arranged appointment with Rose and Mr. Brownlow, Oliver's benefactor. Nancy reveals all she knows about Monks to them, and Brownlow, a close friend of Oliver's late father, realizes Monks's true identity, but does not reveal it to Nancy or Rose. After returning home, Nancy is viciously murdered by Sikes (her lover) when he returns from a burglary and is tricked by Fagin into believing that she also informed on him. Her murder not only brings down Fagin's gang, but enables Brownlow and the police to get their hands on Monks. Brownlow agrees not to send him to prison, on the condition that he make financial restitution and reveal all to Oliver and Rose Fleming. At a family meeting arranged by Brownlow, Monks does so.

He emigrates to America, but soon squanders his money, becomes involved in crime again and is imprisoned. He dies in prison.

Characteristics

Monks is one of Dickens's more melodramatic characters - totally evil without even the shred of affection that Bill Sikes has for his bull terrier, Bullseye. He is physically unattractive, has a dark red mark on the left side of his jaw, is subject to severe epileptic fits, and completely cowardly, not willing to outwardly be associated with any form of crime (this is not because he is a moral being, but because he fears being caught). Dickens keeps his motives and his true identity a total secret until nearly the end of the novel, thus surprising the reader with an unexpected revelation that adds complications to the plot.

In other media

He does not appear at all in Oliver!, the musical adaptation of the novel, nor in several film versions of the novel which seek to simplify the story, including Roman Polanski's 2005 film of "Oliver Twist". He does, however, appear in several mini-series versions of the novel, as well as in David Lean's famous 1948 film version.

The character of Monks (aka Edward Leeford) was particularly elaborated upon in a 1999 mini-series starring Robert Lindsay as Fagin. Monks (played by Marc Warren) is shown as a pathetic, snivelling character, dominated by his ambitious mother Mrs. Leeford (Lindsay Duncan). At one stage he complains "If I could live my life again, I wouldn't." Eventually his mother dies of a heart attack and, with some money granted by Oliver's guardians, he moves to the Caribbean where he finds happiness with a local woman with whom he starts a family. (This does not happen in the Dickens novel.) In one musical adaption of Oliver Twist, Monks is portrayed as a young woman named Emma Leeford, trying to give Oliver, now portrayed as a girl named Olivia Twist, a bad name so she may inherit her father's money.

Edward Brownlow appears as a much different character in the 2007 TV serial in which he is portrayed as a suave, manipulative mastermind, darkly witty and attractive to women. Arrogant and greedy, he is somewhat more daring than in the book and most of its adaptations and is shown to be a gifted liar and smooth-talker. Like the book and other adaptions, Edward's alias is "Monks". Edward lives in the Brownlow residence. Due to the humble and charming personality he brings there, Edward is very well admired by his grandfather, Mr. Brownlow. Knowing Oliver is his half-brother and is in line to share the Brownlow household with him, Monks secretly wants Oliver dead. Monks finds out Oliver is living with Fagin's gang. Monks hires Fagin as a hitman to kill Oliver, and has 3 meetings with Fagin about it. Nancy eavesdrops on their third meeting, where Monks tells Fagin that if he won't kill Oliver, then Monks will do it himself. The next day Monks travels to Mudfog to find out more information about Oliver, while Nancy informs Mr. Brownlow and Rose about Monks going to kill Oliver. Knowing she is talking about Edward, Rose believes Nancy, but Mr. Brownlow doesn't. Rose convinces Mr. Brownlow to travel to where Fagin lives to find Oliver. Fagin tells Mr. Brownlow the same thing about Monks as Nancy did, and Mr. Brownlow realizes Nancy told the truth. Monks returns home, where Mr. Brownlow angrily disowns him and sends Monks to the Indies for wanting to kill Oliver, and Mr. Brownlow even admits "You've hidden your true character from me very well, Edward. It must have amused you greatly. Goodbye, Mr. Monks". It is arguable that Monks, not Fagin or even Bill Sikes, is the main antagonist of this particular adaption of Oliver Twist. Because he is the main threat to the protagonist, Oliver. Fagin never wanted to kill Oliver despite being hired to by Monks, and Sikes keeps Oliver alive even after Oliver is shot by Mr. Brownlow's gunman.

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