Fagin

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Fagin
Fagin by Kyd 1889.jpg
Created by Charles Dickens
Portrayed by Lon Chaney, Sr. (1922), Irving Pichel (1933), Alec Guinness (1948), Ron Moody (1968), Dom DeLuise (voice, 1988), Richard Dreyfuss (1997), Gary Farmer (2003), Ben Kingsley (2005), Timothy Spall (2007), Russ Abbott (2010/11), Noah Berry (2011), Rowan Atkinson (2010/11), Neil Morrisey (2011/12), Harry Moore (2012), Anton Lesser (2015)
Information
GenderMale
Occupation Criminal

Fagin /ˈfɡɪn/ is a fictional character in Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist . In the preface to the novel, he is described as a "receiver of stolen goods". He is the leader of a group of children (the Artful Dodger and Charley Bates among them) whom he teaches to make their livings by pickpocketing and other criminal activities, in exchange for shelter. A distinguishing trait is his constant—and insincere—use of the phrase "my dear" when addressing others. At the time of the novel, he is said by another character, Monks, to have already made criminals out of "scores" of children. Nancy, who is the lover of Bill Sikes (the novel's lead villain), is confirmed to be Fagin's former pupil.

Charles Dickens English writer and social critic

Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime, and by the 20th century critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius. His novels and short stories are still widely read today.

<i>Oliver Twist</i> monthly serial; second novel by Charles Dickens; published 1837–1839

Oliver Twist; or, the Parish Boy's Progress is Charles Dickens' second novel, and was first published as a serial 1837–39. The story centres on orphan Oliver Twist, born in a workhouse and sold into apprenticeship with an undertaker. After escaping, Oliver travels to London, where he meets "The Artful Dodger", a member of a gang of juvenile pickpockets led by the elderly criminal, Fagin.

Artful Dodger fictional character from Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist

Jack Dawkins, better known as the Artful Dodger, is a character in the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist. The Dodger is a pickpocket, so called for his skill and cunning in that occupation. He is the leader of the gang of child criminals, trained by the elderly Fagin.

Contents

Fagin is a self-confessed miser who, despite the wealth he has acquired, does very little to improve the squalid lives of the children he guards, or his own. In the second chapter of his appearance, he is shown (when talking to himself) that he cares less for their welfare, than that they do not "peach" (inform) on him and the other children. Still darker sides to the character's nature are shown when he beats the Artful Dodger for not bringing Oliver back; in his attempted beating of Oliver for trying to escape; and in his own involvement with various plots and schemes throughout the story. He indirectly but intentionally causes the death of Nancy by falsely informing Sikes that she had betrayed him, when in reality she had shielded Sikes from the law, whereupon Sikes kills her. Near the end of the book, Fagin is captured and sentenced to be hanged, in a chapter that portrays him as pitiable in his anguish.

Oliver Twist (character) title character and the protagonist of the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Oliver Twist is the title character and protagonist of the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. He was the first child protagonist in an English novel.

In popular culture, Fagin (or at least his name) is used in comparison with adults who use children for illegal activities.

Historical basis

Dickens took Fagin's name from a friend he had known in his youth while working in a boot-blacking factory. [1]

Fagin's character might be based on the criminal Ikey Solomon, who was a fence at the centre of a highly publicised arrest, escape, recapture, and trial. [2] [3] Some accounts of Solomon also describe him as a London underworld "kidsman" (a kidsman was an adult who recruited children and trained them as pickpockets, exchanging food and shelter for goods the children stole). The popularity of Dickens' novel caused "fagin" to replace "kidsman" in some crime circles, denoting an adult who teaches minors to steal and keeps a major portion of the loot.

Ikey Solomon English mobster

Isaac "Ikey" Solomon was an English criminal who became an extremely successful receiver of stolen property. He gained fame for his crimes, escape from arrest, and his high-profile recapture and trial. He is widely regarded as the model for the character Fagin in Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist.

Fence (criminal) criminal who resells stolen goods

A fence, also known as a receiver, mover, or moving man, is an individual who knowingly buys stolen goods in order to later resell them for profit. The fence acts as a middleman between thieves and the eventual buyers of stolen goods who may not be aware that the goods are stolen. As a verb, the word describes the behaviour of the thief in the transaction: The burglar fenced the stolen radio. This sense of the term came from thieves' slang, first attested c. 1700, from the notion of such transactions providing a defence against being caught. The term remains in common use in all major dialects of modern English, all of which spell it with a "c" even though the source word in some dialects is now spelled defense.

Underworld mythological concept

The underworld is the world of the dead in various religious traditions, located below the world of the living. Chthonic is the technical adjective for things of the underworld.

Other sources, such as Howard Mancing in The Cervantes Encyclopedia, claim that Fagin is assumed to be modeled on Monipodio, one of the main characters in Miguel de Cervantes' Rinconete y Cortadillo (1613). Monipodio is the leader of a criminal ring in 17th-century Seville that features cutpurses and cape stealers.

Miguel de Cervantes Spanish novelist, poet, and playwright

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was a Spanish writer who is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the Spanish language and one of the world's pre-eminent novelists. His novel Don Quixote has been translated into over 140 languages and dialects; it is, after the Bible, the most-translated book in the world.

Rinconete y Cortadillo short story

Rinconete y Cortadillo is one of the twelve short stories included in Novelas Ejemplares, by Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes.

Seville Place in Andalusia, Spain

Seville is the capital and largest city of the autonomous community of Andalusia and the province of Seville, Spain. It is situated on the plain of the river Guadalquivir. The inhabitants of the city are known as sevillanos or hispalenses, after the Roman name of the city, Hispalis. Seville has a municipal population of about 690,000 as of 2016, and a metropolitan population of about 1.5 million, making it the fourth-largest city in Spain and the 30th most populous municipality in the European Union. Its Old Town, with an area of 4 square kilometres (2 sq mi), contains three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Alcázar palace complex, the Cathedral and the General Archive of the Indies. The Seville harbour, located about 80 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean, is the only river port in Spain. Seville is also the hottest major metropolitan area in the geographical Southwestern Europe, with summer average high temperatures of above 35 °C (95 °F).

Allegations of antisemitism

Fence Ikey Solomon, on whom Fagin has often been said to be based Solomon portrait.jpg
Fence Ikey Solomon, on whom Fagin has often been said to be based

Fagin has been the subject of much debate over antisemitism, during Dickens' lifetime and in modern times. In an introduction to a 1981 Bantam Books reissue of Oliver Twist, for example, Irving Howe wrote that Fagin was considered an "archetypical Jewish villain." [4] The first 38 chapters of the book refer to Fagin by his racial and religious origin 257 times, calling him "the Jew", against 42 uses of "Fagin" or "the old man". In 2005, novelist Norman Lebrecht wrote that "A more vicious stigmatisation of an ethnic community could hardly be imagined and it was not by any means unintended." [5] Dickens, who had extensive knowledge of London street life, wrote that he had made Fagin Jewish because: "it unfortunately was true, of the time to which the story refers, that the class of criminal almost invariably was a Jew". [6] It is often argued that Fagin was based on a specific Jewish criminal of the era, Ikey Solomon. [7] Dickens also claimed that by calling Fagin "the Jew" he had meant no imputation against the Jewish people: "I have no feeling towards the Jews but a friendly one. I always speak well of them, whether in public or private, and bear my testimony (as I ought to do) to their perfect good faith in such transactions as I have ever had with them..." [8]

Antisemitism is hostility to, prejudice, or discrimination against Jews. A person who holds such positions is called an antisemite. Antisemitism is generally considered to be a form of racism. It has also been characterized as a political ideology which serves as an organizing principle and unites disparate groups which are opposed to liberalism.

Bantam Books is an American publishing house owned entirely by parent company Random House, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House; it is an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group. It was formed in 1945 by Walter B. Pitkin, Jr., Sidney B. Kramer, and Ian and Betty Ballantine, with funding from Grosset & Dunlap and Curtis Publishing Company. It has since been purchased several times by companies including National General, Carl Lindner's American Financial and, most recently, Bertelsmann; it became part of Random House in 1998, when Bertelsmann purchased it to form Bantam Doubleday Dell. It began as a mass market publisher, mostly of reprints of hardcover books, with some original paperbacks as well. It expanded into both trade paperback and hardcover books, including original works, often reprinted in house as mass-market editions.

Irving Howe American historian

Irving Howe was a Jewish American literary and social critic and a prominent figure of the Democratic Socialists of America.

In later editions of the book, printed during his lifetime, Dickens excised over 180 instances of 'Jew' from the text. [9] This occurred after Dickens sold his London home in 1860 to a Jewish banker, James Davis, who objected to the emphasis on Fagin's Jewishness in the novel. When he sold the house, Dickens allegedly told a friend: "The purchaser of Tavistock House will be a Jew Money-Lender" before later saying: "I must say that in all things the purchaser has behaved thoroughly well, and that I cannot call to mind any occasion when I have had moneydealings with anyone that has been so satisfactory, considerate and trusting." [5]

Dickens became friendly with Eliza (Davis' wife), who told him in a letter in 1863 that Jews regarded his portrayal of Fagin a "great wrong" to their people. Dickens then started to revise Oliver Twist, removing all mention of "the Jew" from the last 15 chapters; and later wrote in reply: "There is nothing but good will left between me and a People for whom I have a real regard and to whom I would not willfully have given an offence". In one of his final public readings in 1869, a year before his death, Dickens cleansed Fagin of all stereotypical caricature. A contemporary report observed: "There is no nasal intonation; a bent back but no shoulder-shrug: the conventional attributes are omitted." [5] [8]

In 1865, in Our Mutual Friend , Dickens created a number of Jewish characters, the most important being Mr Riah, an elderly Jew who finds jobs for downcast young women in Jewish-owned factories. One of the two heroines, Lizzie Hexam, defends her Jewish employers: "The gentleman certainly is a Jew, and the lady, his wife, is a Jewess, and I was brought to their notice by a Jew. But I think there cannot be kinder people in the world." [8]

The comic book creator Will Eisner, disturbed by the antisemitism in the typical depiction of the character, created a graphic novel in 2003 titled Fagin the Jew . In this book, the back story of the character and events of Oliver Twist are depicted from his point of view.

Film, theatre and television

Fagin waits to be hanged. Fagin from Oliver Twist.JPG
Fagin waits to be hanged.

Numerous prominent actors have played the character of Fagin. Alec Guinness portrayed Fagin in David Lean's movie adaptation of Oliver Twist, with controversial make-up by Stuart Freeborn which exaggerated stereotypical Jewish facial features. The release of the film in the USA was delayed for three years on charges of being anti-Semitic by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith and the New York Board of Rabbis. It was finally released in the United States in 1951, with seven minutes of profile shots and other parts of Guinness' performance cut.

Ron Moody's portrayal in the original London production of the musical Oliver! by Lionel Bart, which he repeated in the Oscar-winning 1968 film, is recognisably influenced by Guinness' portrayal. The supposedly "anti-semitic" quality of Guinness' portrayal was considerably toned down in the musical, partly because of Moody being Jewish himself; he was in fact the first Jewish actor to portray Fagin. While Fagin remains an unrepentant thief, he is a much more sympathetic and comic character than he is in the novel. His plot with Monks is deleted and his role in Nancy's death is similarly excised, and he is portrayed as being cowardly and deeply afraid of Bill Sikes. Bart's musical also deletes Fagin's arrest and the musical ends with Fagin, faced with beginning again, pondering the possibility of going straight. The film version reverses this ending, with Fagin briefly considering reformation, but then gleefully teaming up again with Dodger to start their racket again. Moody won a Golden Globe for his performance, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. When Oliver! was brought to Broadway in 1964, Fagin was portrayed by Clive Revill, but in a 1984 revival, Moody reprised his performance opposite Tony Award winner Patti LuPone, who played Nancy. Moody later stated: "Fate destined me to play Fagin. It was the part of a lifetime." [10]

Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley's portrayal of Fagin in Roman Polanski's 2005 screen adaptation was also inspired by the 1948 version.

In the 1980 ATV series The Further Adventures of Oliver Twist, Fagin was played by David Swift. In this 13-episode series, Fagin has escaped his hanging by pretending to have had a stroke, which has left him paralyzed (and therefore unfit to be executed) and is in hiding at The Three Cripples, tended to by Barney.

In the 1982 made-for-TV movie version, Fagin is portrayed by George C. Scott. Though the character is generally portrayed as elderly, diminutive and homely, Scott's version of the character was markedly younger, stronger, and better looking. Also, this version of the character had him more caring of his orphan charges, feeding them well and treating them with obvious concern.

In the 1985 miniseries, Fagin is portrayed by Eric Porter.

In Disney's animated version, Oliver & Company (1988), Fagin is a kind-hearted but poor man living in New York. He lives on a houseboat with his five dogs and is desperately searching for money to repay his debts to the New York loan shark Sykes. He is voiced by Dom DeLuise.

In 1994, Oliver! was revived in London. Fagin was played by many noted British actors and comedians, including Jonathan Pryce, George Layton, Jim Dale, Russ Abbot, Barry Humphries (who had played Mr Sowerberry in the original 1960 London production of Oliver! ) and Robert Lindsay, who won an Olivier Award for his performance. The different actors playing Fagin were distinguished by their different costumes, especially their coats. Pryce used a patched red and brown coat, while Lindsay used the traditional dark green overcoat seen in the 1968 film version.

In Disney's 1997 live action television production, Oliver Twist , Fagin is played by Richard Dreyfuss.

In the 1997 film Twisted (a film loosely based on Dickens' Oliver Twist ) the Fagin character is played by actor William Hickey.

In the 2003 film Twist (a film loosely based on Dickens' Oliver Twist ) Fagin is played by actor Gary Farmer.

In the 2007 BBC television adaptation Fagin is played by Timothy Spall. Contrary to his appearance in the novel, he is beardless and overweight in this version. He is also a more sympathetic character.

In December 2008, Oliver! was revived at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London with Rowan Atkinson playing the character. This role was taken over by Omid Djalili in July 2009. Griff Rhys Jones took over the role from Omid Djalili in December 2009. He was succeeded by Russ Abbot in June 2010.

In 2015-16, BBC2's Dickensian Fagin was played by the actor Anton Lesser.

Related Research Articles

<i>Oliver!</i> musical

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Ron Moody British actor

Ron Moody was an English actor, singer, composer and writer best known for his portrayal of Fagin in Oliver! (1968) and its 1983 Broadway revival. Moody earned a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination for the film, as well as a Tony Award nomination for the stage production. Other notable projects include The Mouse on the Moon (1963), Mel Brooks's The Twelve Chairs (1970) and Flight of the Doves (1971), in which Moody shared the screen with Oliver! co-star Jack Wild.

<i>Oliver Twist</i> (1948 film) 1948 second of David Leans two film adaptations of Charles Dickens novels

Oliver Twist is a 1948 British film and the second of David Lean's two film adaptations of Charles Dickens novels. Following the success of his 1946 version of Great Expectations, Lean re-assembled much of the same team for his adaptation of Dickens' 1838 novel, including producers Ronald Neame and Anthony Havelock-Allan, cinematographer Guy Green, designer John Bryan and editor Jack Harris. Lean's then-wife, Kay Walsh, who had collaborated on the screenplay for Great Expectations, played the role of Nancy. John Howard Davies was cast as Oliver, while Alec Guinness portrayed Fagin and Robert Newton played Bill Sikes.

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Nancy (<i>Oliver Twist</i>) character in the novel Oliver Twist

Nancy is a fictional character in the novel Oliver Twist and its numerous adaptations for theatre, television and films. She is a member of Fagin's gang and the lover, and eventual victim, of Bill Sikes.

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Charley Bates character from Charles Dickens Oliver Twist

Charley Bates is a supporting character in the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist. He is a young boy and member of Fagin's gang of pickpockets, and sidekick to the Artful Dodger, whose skills he admires unreservedly. Sikes' murder of Nancy shocks him so much that at the end of the novel he leaves London to become an agricultural labourer.

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Monks (<i>Oliver Twist</i>) character in Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist

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Although Charles Dickens is known as a writer who was strongly sympathetic to the disadvantaged in Britain, in common with many eminent writers of his time he expressed attitudes that can be interpreted as racist and xenophobic in his journalism and fiction. While it cannot be said that he opposed fundamental freedoms of minorities in British society or supported legal segregation or employment discrimination, he defended the privileges of colonial Europeans and was dismissive of what he believed were primitive cultures. The Oxford Dictionary of English Literature describes Dickens as nationalistic, often stigmatising foreign European cultures and taking his attitude to "colonized people" to "genocidal extremes", albeit based mainly on a vision of British virtue, rather than any concept of heredity. Ledger and Ferneaux do not believe he advocated any form of "scientific racism" regarding heredity – but still had the highest possible antipathy for the lifestyles of native peoples in British colonies, and believed that the sooner they were civilised, the better.

References

  1. Ackroyd, Peter (3 September 1990). Dickens. Sinclair-Stevenson Ltd. pp. 77–78. ISBN   1-85619-000-5.
  2. Sackville O'Donnell, Judith (2002). The First Fagin: the True Story of Ikey Solomon. Acland. ISBN   0-9585576-2-4.
  3. Montagu, Euan; Tobias, John J (28 March 1974). The Prince of Fences: Life and Crimes of Ikey Solomons. Vallentine Mitchell. ISBN   0-85303-174-6.
  4. Dickens, Charles (22 January 1982). Oliver Twist (A Bantam classic). Bantam USA. ISBN   0-553-21050-5.
  5. 1 2 3 Lebrecht, Norman (29 September 2005). "How racist is Oliver Twist?". La Scena Musicale. Retrieved 2009-02-08.
  6. Howe, Irving. "Oliver Twist - introduction" . Retrieved 2009-10-21.
  7. Donald Hawes, Who's Who in Dickens, Routledge, London, 2002, p.75.
  8. 1 2 3 Johnson, Edgar (1 January 1952). "Intimations of Mortality". Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph. Simon & Schuster. Retrieved 8 February 2009.
  9. Nunberg, Geoffrey (15 October 2001). The Way We Talk Now: Commentaries on Language and Culture . Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 126. ISBN   0-618-11603-6.
  10. "Oliver! actor Ron Moody dies aged 91". BBC News. 11 June 2015.

Further reading