Last Updated on December 21, 2023
During his lifetime, novelist Charles Dickens attracted criticism from the speech police of his own era, which objected to Dickens’ depiction of Jewish criminal character Fagin in Oliver Twist.
Charles Dickens is the beloved author of A Christmas Carol and other populist classics, but his depiction of one particular tribe has led to a whole lot of chatter in academic circles accusing Dickens of being bigoted against Jewish people, which Dickens denied. Nevertheless, he censored a re-printing of his own work (which came out in serialized form) in order to take out some “Jew” references with regard to Fagin.
An article in Jewish Currents entitled “Charles Dickens’s Anti-Semitism” by Cecil Bloom accused Oliver Twist of making more than 250 references to the Fagin character as “the Jew,” but notes that Dickens eventually re-edited a future printing of the novel to take out the “Jew” references.
Dickens once apparently made a disparaging reference to Jewish used clothes-dealers in an article, saying, “Is it because Judas carried the bag [of silver] that all the children of Israel were to trudge through London streets from morn to eve with sack on shoulder?”
But then a Jewish wife of a friend of his convinced him to tone it down, with Dickens saying of Fagin, “it unfortunately was true of the time to which that story refers, that that class of criminal invariably was a Jew.” Dickens wrote some other Jewish character that was a more positive portrayal. So, clearly he felt the heat of free speech pressure.
“I know of no reason that the Jews can have for regarding me as ‘inimical’ to them. On the contrary, I believe I do my part whenever I can towards the assertion of civil and religious liberty: and in the Child’s History of England I have expressed a strong abhorrence of their persecution in old times. If they have any unreasonable fancy on the subject, I regret it; but the fault is in them, not me,” Charles Dickens reportedly wrote.
So, even the great Charles Dickens — a class-conscious fellow — had to wrangle with the Woke mob. Fortunately, Dickens’ classic populist portrayal of Christmas in the Ebeneezer Scrooge story lives on to delight the American people today, and Dickens’ detractors never ruined Christmas.