Hitchens on Swine and Dickens
Today on Tablet
Today in Tablet Magazine, Failed Messiah blogger Shmarya Rosenberg relates how the late Christopher Hitchens, and specifically Hitch’s praise of pork in his atheist polemic God Is Not Great, clarified his own aversion to organized religion.
Meanwhile, this month’s Vanity Fair contains two essays of interest to us Hitchophiles. One is an appreciation by his old friend Salman Rushdie. Among other things, it has some good history on Hitchens’ defense of Rushdie when Iran’s supreme leader issued a fatwa calling for the novelist’s life, an episode that I argued, in my own appreciation, was crucial to shaping Hitchens’s intellectual development. “I have often been asked if Christopher defended me because he was my close friend,” Rushdie relates. “The truth is that he became my close friend because he wanted to defend me.”
The other essay is, of course, by Hitchens himself. It’s about Charles Dickens, and contains the following passage:
he was obviously very impressed when a prominent Jewish lady, Mrs. Eliza Davis, wrote him an anguished letter after the 1838 publication of Oliver Twist. She was obviously terribly upset about the character of Fagin and was not even quite willing to concede that some Jews had been involved in the stolen-goods racket. At any rate, Dickens went into the matter and convinced himself that he’d been part of an injustice. He thereupon did three things: He softened the description of Fagin in later versions of the book. When he himself took part in public “readings” from the story, he downplayed the “Jewish” characteristics of the villain. And he then created a whole new character to order. In Our Mutual Friend, we encounter a Jewish moneylender named Mr. Riah, who is friendly and helpful to Lizzie Hexam and Jenny Wren. I admit that I find this personage almost too altruistic to be true, but it says something for Dickens, surely, that he would take someone who had the same occupation as the infamous Shylock, but none of Shylock’s vices, and insert him at the heart of business, at a time when vulgar prejudice was easy to stir up. The story isn’t as well known as it ought to be.
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180
WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.
I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at email@example.com. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.
We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.