Against the Return of Fagin
Dickens and the Persistence of the Principle of Goodness
Bob Fagin was a boy who helped twelve-year-old Dickens during his traumatic experience at Warren’s Blacking Factory. Taking the cue from the discrepancy between the real Fagin and devilish Fagin in Oliver Twist, I will consider the reasons underlying Dickens’s choice of this particular name for such a villain. At the same time, in light of the scarcely plausible contrast between Oliver’s innocence and the urban decay surrounding him, I will argue that the novel should be interpreted as a social metaphor whose ethical model is The Pilgrim’s Progress. Indeed, as suggested by the novel’s complete title – The Adventures of Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy’s Progress – the eponymous hero’s experience can be regarded as a transition from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City where the “principle of good” is ultimately brought into action. However, unlike Bunyan’s motivated and energetic hero, Oliver is a character whose main traits are passivity, innocence, and silence. Although melodramatic and awash with sentimentality, Victorian middle-class readers readily subscribed to the novel’s message based on the final triumph of goodness.
Keywords: Principle of Goodness • Fagin • Oliver Twist • Dickens • The Pilgrim’s Progress