Social Sensitivity

Some of Dickens’s original readers objected to Oliver Twist’s comparatively frank portrayal of thieves, pickpockets, and prostitutes. But what was considered explicit then is quite mild today. Dickens carefully avoids direct quotation of offensive language and offers only the most oblique descriptions of objectionable behavior. The novel was written for a Victorian audience, after all, and as Dickens himself points out in the preface, “a lesson of the purest good may…be drawn from the vilest evil.”

Dickens’s treatment of Jewish characters will be more objectionable to modern readers, although very few Victorians even noticed it. The original text clearly portrays Fagin as a Jew and may even suggest that his ethnic background has formed his character. Indeed, Dickens frequently compares Fagin to the devil, though never explicitly because Fagin is a Jew. Dickens, although remarkably clear-sighted about some forms of injustice, never completely escaped the views of his own culture, which generally viewed Jews as sneaky and dishonest.