The Changed Face of English Jewry at the end of the Eighteenth Century

Dickens, it will be recalled, made ample literary amends for his creation of the villainous character of the Jew Fagin in Oliver Twist. Yet he made his choice of a Jew for the part of a forger, receiver, and trainer of pickpockets in the year 1837, nearly seven years after the publication of Macaulay’s essay on the civil disabilities of the Jews, and at a moment when philosemitism was becoming fashionable and the disabilities themselves fast disappearing. Fagin’s intrusion into Dickens’s picture of the underworld owed nothing to direct observa? tion. He was a type-figure, part of a literary tradition which was then rather more than half a century old. Dickens used this type figure in the same way that others used Scots? men and Irishmen, portraying alleged national vices which were not a subject of deep reflec? tion. But there had been a time when the legend of a

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