How a young girl stood up to Charles Dickens for his treatment of Jews


The cover of Dear Mr. Dickens. Photo: provided.

Dear Mr. Dickens by Nancy Chumin, illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe. (Albert Whitman & Company, 2021).

Writing Dear Mr. Dickens has been an intensely personal labor of love for me.

When I discovered Eliza Davis’ correspondence with Charles Dickens, it was surreal, as she had written the letter I had always dreamed of writing to Charles Dickens as a young fan of her work, struggling to understand. why he had compassion for everyone except the Jews. .

Eliza showed me the power to talk – even to someone you might find intimidating – but also how we should admire the ability and determination to change and do better; and, finally, the importance of forgiveness. Because after Dickens’ atonement, Eliza not only forgave him, but she admired him all the more for his nobility of spirit.

My book puts the impact of how Eliza changed Charles Dickens’ heart into context.

England was once one of the most anti-Semitic countries in Europe. They expelled their Jewish population before the Spaniards. They forced their Jewish population to wear yellow Ten Commandments badges long before the Nazis created the yellow Jewish stars. Attitudes have changed over the lifetimes of Charles Dickens and Eliza Davis, and I give Charles Dickens some (not all!) Credit for that.

Below is an excerpt from the book:

Think of someone famous who you admire.

What would you do if this person said or wrote something unfair?

Would you like to speak?

Would you make that person angry?

Eliza Davis did it.

Charles Dickens was the most famous writer of Eliza’s day. Brits from all walks of life eagerly paid two pence for his weekly magazine All year to read the latest episodes of his stories. Later, he would publish the stories in book form that passengers bought in bookstores and train stations.

But what made Charles Dickens a hero in Eliza’s eyes was that he used the power of his pen to help others. When he wrote about children forced to work in work houses, people called for a change. When its readers were moved to tears by stories of families struggling in desperate and dirty conditions, they gave what they could to charity.

Just like Eliza.

Yes, Dickens had a heart as big as England, overflowing with compassion for everyone.


Eliza remembered when she read Dickens’ book “Oliver Twist”, about a poor orphan. She had loved it at first – until she got to chapter eight, where she read that the “shriveled old Jew” was teaching Oliver to fly.

Eliza was Jewish.

Charles Dickens described “the Jew” as dishonest, selfish, cruel and ugly. The character’s name was Fagin, but over and over again Dickens wrote the Jew, the Jew, the Jew. Each time, the word hurt like a hammer on Eliza’s heart.

Nancy Churnin, originally from New York and now based in North Texas, is the award-winning author of 10 picture books, including Dear Mr. Dickens and A Queen to the Rescue, the story of Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah, both released in October. .

From Dear Mr. Dickens, First published by Albert Whitman & Co in the United States of America in 2021. Text copyright © 2021 Nancy Churnin, Illustrations copyright © 2021 Albert Whitman & Co. Illustrations by Bethany Stancliffe.


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