Oliver Twist was a very early novel. And Dickens was profoundly unhappy in later life about Fagin - a characterisation that he saw as one of the sins of his literary youth. Eliza Davis, the wife of a banker friend, pointed out feelingly to him (20 years later) that the portrayal of Fagin had done a "great wrong" to Jews. Dickens agreed, and made amends with the saintly Riah in his late novel Our Mutual Friend. He also, in later editions, removed many of the numerously offensive references to "the Jew" in Oliver Twist.
Some offences can't be whitewashed out of the novel. Fagin's frying sausages (pork, get it?) when Oliver first sees him, for example. And if - as Steven Berkoff asserts - Fagin is one of our "best villains", exactly what villainy is he hanged for? The novel never tells us. He hasn't killed anyone. He has stolen a thing or two. Dickens (the young Dickens, that is) hangs him because he's dirty and because he's a Jew. You can't unwrite novels that have become part of the nation's heritage. But my guess is that if Dickens were adapting Oliver Twist for dramatic performance in 1999 he'd do exactly what Alan Bleasdale is going to do: tone down the depiction of Fagin, and limit the damage. You want to save Fagin? Make him acceptable to the 1990s.Reuse content