Taking the audience on a fun and adventurous journey through a story of ambition in the face of impossible odds, ‘The Artful Dodger’ is a Hulu comedy-drama show that borrows a classic Dickens character, Jack Dawkins, for its titular protagonist. Although Jack has successfully diverted his life from one of criminality and conmanship to a respected veteran and relatively successful surgeon, it’s only a matter of time before circumstances— and his mentor Fagin’s return— force him back to his original pickpocketing ways.
Meanwhile, Jack’s precarious career unfolds, now with the addition of an eager and resourceful Lady Belle Fox, who aspires to break into the men’s club of surgical science. Despite the story presenting a thrilling premise with entertaining and intriguing characters, it’s the show’s period setting that ties every element together. Thus, the when and where of ‘The Artful Dodger’s’ events become a natural source of curiosity.
When Does The Artful Dodger Take Place?
‘The Artful Dodger’ is inspired by the eponymous character introduced in Charles Dickens’ 1838 novel, ‘Oliver Twist.’ The show imagines a future for Jack Dawkins, a young boy in Dickens’ then-contemporary novel, and explores what adult life might have looked like for the character. As such, since ‘Oliver Twist’ takes place somewhere in the late 1830s, and ‘The Artful Dodger’ is meant to be a fictionalized continuation of the story, we can conclude the show takes place somewhere in the 1850s.
The same can be confirmed from the show’s official synopsis, which similarly states that the events unfolding within the show occurred in the 1850s without any specified set year. The story’s period setting is crucial in its connection to Dickens’ work since it allows Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s Jack Dawkins to remain connected to the source material, which serves as his backstory.
However, the relevance of the mid-19th century shines through in the show’s other aspects as well. Surgery as a social and medical practice forms a significant theme within ‘The Artful Dodger,’ with both Jack and Belle’s storylines heavily revolving around the same. Therefore, since surgical advancements were on the rise in the early 1800s, the time period informs the show’s historical aspect greatly.
In its early years, surgery was highly risky and an unperfected method of medicine. According to Lindsey Fitzharris, a medical historian, people often attempted to evade the procedure as best as possible. “When you consider how painful it all was [surgery without anethesia], you can see why many patients often avoided surgery altogether unless [their condition] was really life-threatening,” said the woman.
Furthermore, due to the relative novelty of the practice, alongside its gruesome but ultimately theatrical element of suffering, life, and death, people also flocked to witness surgeons perform on their patients in the same vein as present-day live entertainment.
The show retains all these details to infuse its narrative with as much historical accuracy as possible. Thus, with the same and a few nods to famed names within surgery’s history, such as Robert Liston, the surgeon with a 300% mortality rate, ‘The Artful Dodger’ successfully stays true to its 1850s period setting despite the fictional narrative.
Where Does The Artful Dodger Take Place?
Within its 1850s setting, ‘The Artful Dodger’ is set in Australia, specifically in the fictionalized Port Victory colony. For the most part, the show’s most noteworthy significance in its geographical location comes from the show’s connection to ‘Oliver Twist.’ Dickens’ novel wraps up Jack Dawkins’ storyline with the boy’s unfortunate arrest over a petty theft, which lands him in prison in London.
Afterward, Dawkins sees a transfer into a penal colony in Australia, a detail only implied and not explored within the novel. As such, the show picks up this detail and reworks it to craft a new story for the boy, where he manages to escape imprisonment in London and finds a haven in Australia. Consequently, the land ends up presenting a sign of momentary and delicate freedom for the young man.
Read More: Is Belle Fox Based on a Real Person?