The Artful Dodger: Is Belle Fox Based on a Real Female Surgeon?

‘The Artful Dodger’ depicts the story of Jack Dawkins, a crooked pickpocket turned promising surgeon whose attempts to stay away from either life prove futile. While his position as a medical professional earns him a respectable, gentlemanly life, it hardly pays the bills, let alone a mounting debt Jack finds himself crushed under. However, life takes a…

‘The Artful Dodger’ depicts the story of Jack Dawkins, a crooked pickpocket turned promising surgeon whose attempts to stay away from either life prove futile. While his position as a medical professional earns him a respectable, gentlemanly life, it hardly pays the bills, let alone a mounting debt Jack finds himself crushed under. However, life takes a turn when his desperate hour coincides with the arrival of Fagin, the young man’s absent adoptive father, who taught him everything he knows about thievery.

Thus, what was supposed to be a momentary return to pilfering turns into something much more. During this transformative hour of life, Jack runs into Lady Belle Fox, a woman who effortlessly stands out in a crowd with her distinct traits. Belle sports many interests, but her most beloved one remains surgery, which results in her compelling Jack to help her become the first female surgeon. As such, viewers must be curious to know if the character has any connections to the real-life women who may hold such a title.

Belle Fox and Women In Surgery

Lady Belle Fox from ‘The Artful Dodger’ is not based on a female surgeon. The show itself is inspired by the works of Charles Dickens, particularly his character Jack Dawkins from ‘Oliver Twist.’ Yet, many of the show’s components, such as Maia Mitchell’s character, Belle Fox, are complete works of fabrication without even a basis in Dickens’ works.

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Likewise, Belle has little basis in the real world and its history of surgery, specifically women’s role in it. In real life, Mary Edwards Walker, an American woman, is recognized as the first-ever recorded female surgeon and holds almost no resemblance to Belle’s character in the show. Walker, a Syracuse Medical College graduate, first started her practice with her husband while holding onto her maiden name and female identity.

Although the practice ended up failing, Walker still saw success in her career, continuing to work in medicine as a nurse until she became the first female surgeon in the U.S. Army in 1863. Compared to Walker, Belle’s story as a curious and fiercely ambitious daughter of a Governor who blackmails her way into getting a seat at the table poses a much different and fictionalized account. Therefore, Belle Fox stands as a fictional character credited only to the show’s creators, James McNamara, David Maher, and David Taylor, alongside their creative team.

Nevertheless, in preparation for the role, actress Mitchell wanted to remain as authentic to reality as possible. For the same reason, she (and her co-star Thomas Brodie-Sangster) did her due diligence and researched historical accounts of surgical cases from the 19th century. The same helped her understand the medical world, which fascinates and even defines her character to some degree.

In an interview, Mitchell spoke about her performance and what went into it, and said, “For me, it was [looking at] different women who were in medicine at the time who were breaking the glass ceiling and trying to draw from that and also all the procedures that we had to do practically.”

Furthermore, to maintain authenticity, the show also employed medical advisors on set to walk their actors through the process. “We would be sitting in the makeup room practicing our suturing on like a piece of [prosthetic] skin,” said Mitchell, describing the effort behind her performance. “It was a bit gory.”

As such, Belle Fox’s character takes care to maintain some semblance of connection to reality to bring an authentic and realistic story to the audience. Nevertheless, in terms of her basis as a real-life person, especially one with ties to the history of surgery, there remains none. Ultimately, Lady Belle Fox is only a fictional character.

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