Saturday, 22 January 2011

Is Fagin buried here?


Holy Trinity Church, Clapham, may be the burial-place of the man who gave his name to Charles Dickens’s character in Oliver Twist. Fagin, his name phonetically remembered, was the boy who took the young Dickens under his wing while working at a boot-blacking factory in the early 1820s. This week’s TLS, taking an article by Peter Rowland from Dickensian Digressions, a book scheduled for publication by the Academica Press in the spring, reports an interesting conjecture:

‘But there also appears in those parish records one entry which could well be crucial. The name “Fagin” has been already discounted in our search. If we also discount the name “Fagan”, and cast our net a little wider, we find ourselves confronted by a Robert Fegen who could very well be our man. Again, the actual pronunciation of this name makes it totally indistinguishable to the ear from either Fagin or Fagan.

‘The Robert Fegen in question was born in 1804, which makes him eight years older than Dickens – and we are searching, it must be remembered for someone who was “much bigger and older” than the “young gentleman” who had just started work in the blacking factory. Fegen would, in fact, have been nineteen years old in 1823 but he had not yet formally come to man's estate and it would be pardonable for Dickens, recalling these events twenty-two years later, to think of him as a “boy”, albeit a rather large one.

‘It is not known what career Robert Fegen was following when he married Sarah Elizabeth Love at St Mary’s church, Lambeth, on October 23, 1827. They lived in Bromell’s Road, to the east of Clapham Common. Sadly, their married life lasted little more than five years, for he died on April 29, 1833 at the age of twenty-nine and was buried at Holy Trinity church, Clapham.

‘At this point, pending the discovery of further information, the hunt comes to an end. There seems a very strong likelihood that Bob Fegen is the young man for whom we have been searching, but no way of establishing this beyond an absolute shadow of a doubt.’

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