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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 December, 2004, 17:52 GMT
Letters 'caused rewrite of Fagin'
Eric Porter as Fagin
Fagin was no longer referred to as The Jew
Charles Dickens' portrayal of one of his most famous villains may have been altered after he received letters accusing him of anti-Semitism.

Eliza Davies, the wife of a Jewish banker, wrote to Dickens in 1863 complaining of the "vile prejudice against the despised Hebrew".

It is thought the last chapter of Oliver Twist may have been revised in 1867 to show Fagin in a better light.

The letters are held at University College London's (UCL) library.

'General prejudice'

Oliver Twist was serialised in the early 19th Century.

It is widely regarded as one of Dickens' classic tales and tells the story of an orphan boy who runs away from a workhouse, joining a group of pickpockets led by the scheming Fagin.

Susan Stead, rare books librarian at UCL, said Eliza Davies wrote to Dickens because "he was such an influential person who could make a difference and effect a general prejudice."

In her letter Mrs Davies said: "Fagin, I fear, admits only of one interpretation"

She asks Charles Dickens if he can "justify himself or atone for a great wrong on a whole though scattered nation".

Charles Dickens
"Dickens was not anti-Semitic"

Dickens wrote back to Mrs Davies saying: "I must take leave to say that if there be any general feeling on the part of the intelligent Jewish people that I have done to them what you describe as a great wrong, they are a far less sensible, a far less just and a far less good tempered people than I have always supposed them to be."

Florian Schweizer, curator at the Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury, said Dickens did make a few changes to his novel as a result of the letter and told Mrs Davies to "see what I make of this in my next novel".

"If you compare an early edition of the book, published between 1837 and 1838, and a later edition in 1867, supervised by Charles Dickens, he has made a number of changes with regards to Fagan," he said.

"Instead of calling him The Jew he uses old man or Fagan and he changed the title of the last chapter from The Jew's Last Night Alive to Fagan's Last Night Alive.

"Dickens was not anti-Semitic but he was critical of all religions.

"Because his work was serialised if a reader wrote to him with a complaint he would respond quickly and make any necessary changes."




SEE ALSO:
Why Dickens had a conscience
03 Dec 04 |  Magazine
Closing a chapter on Dickens
03 Aug 04 |  Kent


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