Charles Dickens and the Children of God

Stand for Israel  |  June 9, 2020

Charles Dickens and his literary characters
Charles Dickens and his literary characters

Charles Dickens imagined countless characters now part of world culture.

Ebenezer Scrooge.

Miss Havisham.

Pip.

Oliver Twist.

Charles Dickens died 150 years ago today. But, as they do with many works of art, modern eyes pointed to possible anti-Semitism on Dickens’ part. Fagin, the leader of the gang of pickpockets in which Oliver Twist finds himself, echoed many anti-Semitic tropes of Dickens’ time.

But, while modern readers have noticed this anti-Jewish sentiment, so did those in Dickens’ time. One fan of Dickens, a Mrs. Eliza Davis, wrote that:

…the portrayal of Fagin did ‘a great wrong’ to all Jews…

The writer defended himself, meaning no harm to the Jewish people with his earlier (Oliver Twist only being his second published work) character:

The Jewish people are a people for whom I have a real regard and to whom I would not willingly have given an offense…

Dickens put his money where his mouth was, too, creating a positive Jewish character in his later novel, Our Mutual Friend. A Jew who shows kindness to the needy, Mr. Riah finds himself taken advantage of by the same money-lenders who too often became Jewish stereotypes.

So let us salute Charles Dickens who, instead of promoting anti-Semitism, stood against it, standing for the Jewish people.

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