February 7, 1812: Birthdate of Charles Dickens. The author of A Christmas Carol and David Copperfield was not Jewish. But he did portray Jewish characters in at least two of his works. The most famous was Fagan in Oliver Twist. Eliza Davis, a Jewish acquaintance of Dickens, whose husband had purchased Dickens’ London residence, wrote a famous letter complaining about the Jewish characterization of Fagan. Dickens saw himself as a friend of the Jews. In his response he wrote, “Fagin is a Jew because it unfortunately was true of the time to which the story refers that that class of criminal invariably was a Jew. But surely, no sensible man or woman…can fail to observe that all of the rest of the wicked dramatis personae are Christians and the Fagan is called a Jew, not because of his religion, but because of his race. I have no feeling toward the Jewish people but a friendly one. I always speak well of them whether in public or private and bear testimony to their perfect good faith in transactions as I have had with them.” In Our Mutual Friend, Dickens created “Mr. Riah” a “totally sympathetic Jewish character notable for his gentle nature and great dignity.” In a case of what some might consider role reversal, Mr. Riah falls victim to a gang of Christian moneylenders. Mrs. Davis recognized Dickens’ sincerity when she gave him a Hebrew-English Bible as sign that he had “exercised the noblest quality men can possess – that of atoning for an injury as soon as conscious of having inflicted it.”
On May 18, 1970, Antigua (part of the British West Indies) issued a set of 4 values commemorating the centenary of Dickens’ death, portraying scenes from four of his novels, Nicholas Nickelby (5c), Pickwick Papers (20c), Oliver Twist (35c) and David Copperfield ($1).