Fagin /ˈfeɪɡɪn/ is a fictional character in Charles Dickens's
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
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, one of the novel's major villains, is confirmed
to be Fagin's former pupil.
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.
In popular culture,
Fagin (or at least his name) is used in comparison
with adults who use children for illegal activities.
1 Historical basis
2 Allegations of antisemitism
3 Film, theatre and television
5 Further reading
6 External links
Dickens took Fagin's name from a friend he had known in his youth
while working in a boot-blacking factory.
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. 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's 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
Other sources, such as Howard Mancing in The Cervantes Encyclopedia,
Fagin is assumed to be modeled on Monipodio, one of the
main characters in Miguel de Cervantes'
Rinconete y Cortadillo
Rinconete y Cortadillo (1613).
Monipodio is the leader of a criminal ring in 17th century Seville
that features cutpurses and cape stealers.
Allegations of antisemitism
See also: Racism in the work of Charles Dickens
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's lifetime and in modern times. In an introduction to a 1981
Bantam Books reissue of Oliver Twist, for example,
Irving Howe wrote
Fagin was considered an "archetypical Jewish villain." 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." 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". It is often argued that
Fagin was based on a specific Jewish
criminal of the era, Ikey Solomon. Dickens also claimed that by
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..."
In later editions of the book, printed during his lifetime, Dickens
excised over 180 instances of 'Jew' from the text. 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."
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."
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."
The comic book creator Will Eisner, disturbed by the antisemitism in
the typical depiction of the character, created a graphic novel in
Fagin the Jew. In this book, the back story of the
character and events of
Oliver Twist are depicted from his point of
Film, theatre and television
Fagin waits to be hanged.
Numerous prominent actors have played the character of Fagin. Alec
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
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's
Ron Moody's portrayal in the original London production of
in the 1968 film is recognisably influenced by Guinness' portrayal
(although the supposedly "anti-semitic" quality of Guinness's
portrayal was considerably toned down in the musical), as was Academy
Award winner Ben Kingsley's portrayal of
Fagin in Roman Polanski's
2005 screen adaptation.
Oliver! was brought to Broadway in 1964,
Fagin was portrayed by
Clive Revill, but in a 1984 revival, Moody reprised his performance
Tony Award winner Patti LuPone, who played Nancy.
Moody's portrayal of
Fagin is noticeably different in
Fagin, as in the novel and other film versions, is a crook, he is
actually one of the film's supporting characters and serves as
comic-relief, such as dancing with a quill on his head and parasol. He
is also more sympathetic towards Oliver and even sticks up for him
twice against Bill Sykes. It is implied that
Fagin may be a pacifist,
as he hates violence and seems to fear Bill, who in a running theme
threatens to beat him up. Also, unlike in the book and most film
Fagin doesn't die but instead restarts his life of crime
with the Artful Dodger.
Fagin is also arguably the most popular
character in the musical. Reflecting on his Golden Globe-winning and
Academy Award-nominated performance, Moody, who was Jewish himself,
stated: "Fate destined me to play Fagin. It was the part of a
In the 1980 ATV series The Further Adventures of Oliver Twist, Fagin
was played by David Swift. In this 13-episode series,
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 Mob. He is voiced by Dom DeLuise.
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
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
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
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
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
^ Ackroyd, Peter (3 September 1990). Dickens. Sinclair-Stevenson Ltd.
pp. 77–78. ISBN 1-85619-000-5.
^ Sackville O'Donnell, Judith (2002). The First Fagin: the True Story
of Ikey Solomon. Acland. ISBN 0-9585576-2-4.
^ Montagu, Euan; Tobias, John J (28 March 1974). The Prince of Fences:
Life and Crimes of Ikey Solomons. Vallentine Mitchell & Co Ltd.
^ Dickens, Charles (22 January 1982).
Oliver Twist (A Bantam classic).
Bantam USA. ISBN 0-553-21050-5.
^ a b c Lebrecht, Norman (29 September 2005). "How racist is Oliver
Twist?". La Scena Musicale. Retrieved 2009-02-08.
^ Howe, Irving. "
Oliver Twist - introduction". Retrieved
^ Donald Hawes, Who's Who in Dickens, Routledge, London, 2002, p.75.
^ a b c Johnson, Edgar (1 January 1952). "Intimations of Mortality".
Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph. Simon & Schuster.
Retrieved 8 February 2009.
^ Nunberg, Geoffrey (15 October 2001). The Way We
Commentaries on Language and Culture. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
p. 126. ISBN 0-618-11603-6.
Ron Moody dies aged 91".
BBC News. 11 June
Howe, Irving (28 October 1997). Selected Writings, 1950-1990. Thomson
Learning. ISBN 0-15-680636-3.
Media related to
Fagin at Wikimedia Commons
Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist
The Artful Dodger
Oliver Twist (1909)
Oliver Twist (1912)
Oliver Twist (1912)
Oliver Twist (1916)
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Oliver Twist (1996 TV series)
Oliver Twist (1999 miniseries)
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"As Long as He Needs Me"
D'banj's 2012 song
"Food, Glorious Food"
"I'd Do Anything"
Vaughn De Leath's 1921 song
"Where Is Love?"
"You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two"
Oliver! (soundtrack to the 1968 film)
Escape of the
Artful Dodger (2001 TV series retelling)
Fagin the Jew
Fagin the Jew (2003 graphic novel)
Oliver and the
Artful Dodger (1972 TV film)
I'd Do Anything (2008 TV series)