Literature24 Jul 2007 10:31 am
Like Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Fagin, from Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, is often described as an anti-Semetic Jewish stereotype. It’s hard to say whether Shakespeare and Dickens were actually expressing their own feelings about Jews with these characters, or if they were subtly undermining the stereotypes. (Though Dickens makes the second interpretation difficult: when asked why he chose to portray an “archetypical Jewish villain,” Dickens responded, “Fagin is a Jew because it is unfortunately true, of the time to which the story refers, that that class of criminal almost invariably was Jewish.”)
One person who was troubled by the depiction of Fagin was the comic artist Will Eisner. Eisner is most famous for his work on the comic strip series The Spirit, but he was also one of the pioneers of the graphic novel. These works used the comics form, but at much greater length than the scattered panels of a strip, and often addressed far more advanced themes. (One particularly influential graphic novel – Maus by Art Spiegelman – is a description of a Holocaust survivor’s wartime experiences.) One of Eisner’s last works (he died in 2005) was the graphic novel Fagin the Jew. In it, he tells the story of Oliver Twist (and the years that preceded it) from Fagin’s point of view. You can buy it here, and decide if you find Fagin’s version more convincing than Dickens’.
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