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The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

The Old Curiosity Shop

by Charles Dickens

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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“The ties that bind the wealthy and the proud to home may be forged on earth, but those which link the poor man to his humble hearth are of truer metal and bear the stamp of Heaven.”

The novel opens with orphan Nell Trent living alone with her aged grandfather, who runs the curiosity shop of the title. Nell has an older brother, Fred, but he is a drunken spendthrift whom the grandfather endeavours to keep apart from Nell. Fred believes that his grandfather is rich and a miser who is saving all his money to benefit Nell but in reality the grandfather is an inveterate gambler who hoping to provide a fortune for the little girl in doing so only manages to gamble all of his money away. To finance his addiction the old man borrows money recklessly.

One of the old man’s creditors is an ugly, misshapen, dwarf named Quilp. Quilp plots to ruin the old man and someday marry Little Nell, who is only fourteen years old. Discovering the old man’s passion for gambling Quilp takes over the old curiosity shop and all its possessions in lieu of debt. As a consequence Nell and her grandfather abscond during the night and tramp to western England.

Despite being almost penniless, the two of them make various friends along their way. Initially travelling with a Punch-and-Judy troupe before then being befriended by the owner of a travelling waxworks, a Mrs Jarley, where Nell is given a job and is able to earn a little money. However, the grandfather’s passion for gambling, for a while abated returns and causes them to leave their benefactor. At last they are taken under the wing of a schoolmaster who is on his way to fill a new post in a remote village. With the schoolmaster’s assistance, the girl and her grandfather are established as caretakers of a church.

Shortly after Nell and her grandfather's disappearance, a strange, Single Gentleman appears and begins hunting for them. He is obviously wealthy but as no one knows his true identity his motives are questioned. However, soon convinces Kit, the only friend Nell had back in London. that he wants to aid the two runaways rather than do them harm, they team up and try to track them down. Their search is hampered when Quilp, with an irrational hatred of anyone honest, decides with his lawyer's assistance to ruin Kit and get him transported to the colonies by framing him for a crime that he did not commit. Eventually Kit's innocence is proved and the runaways are located but it all ultimately proves to be in vain.

Throughout the book there is a plethora of diverse minor characters all beautifully drawn and all with a message to tell and whilst, as with all of Dicken's books, there is a harsh social commentary on the times even as the most troubling episodes are unfolding it is difficult for the reader not to read it with a smile rather than a tear. As one would expect this is a wonderfully well crafted novel making it easy to understand why it has lasted the passage of time despite the changes in tastes and attitudes and even today continues to rightly make the author new friends. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Apr 24, 2018 |
My first venture into Dickens. I've always shied away from him because he was paid by the word - I thought there would be a lot of "filler". Silly me! His characters come to life in the most wonderful way. I actually didn't care for Nell (way too much crying) or her grandfather but the rest of the characters more than made up for them. I'm looking forward to my next Dickens novel! ( )
  Kuglar | Mar 28, 2018 |
The one gripe I have with Dickens is that the main characters can sometimes be too perfect, like Nell here. She doesn't seem to have any flaw. However, she didn't survive till the end. More often than not, the female protagonists in Dicken's books have a good ending. But not Nell. She died from illness as a result of her arduous journey following her grandfather's loss of his curiosity shop. At least the other main character, Kit, has a good ending. ( )
  siok | Mar 3, 2018 |
Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop explores the living conditions in Victorian London. On the one hand, there are the protagonists Nell and Kit, born into poor lower-class families and trying to make a living. On the other hand, there are the upper-class citizens and future employers of Nell and Kit. In between there is shady Quilp, not poor, but striving to become richer through various schemes. The plot starts in London before it unfolds in two separate plot lines, one still taking place in London and following Kit and the other following Nell and her grandfather on their journey away from London in search of a better life away from danger.

At the beginning, the reader learns that Nell's grandfather, owner of an old curiosity shop, cares for Nell because her parents are dead and she does not have anyone else anymore. With only the best intentions for Nell, her grandfather incurs a large amount of debt with Quilp who discovers that the old man has lost everything he borrowed gambling. Nell, on her part, is a modest young girl of fourteen years, who does not complain about her life although there would be ample reason to do so. Kit, Nell's only friend, lives under similar conditions. He lives in a small house with his mother and his two siblings and takes care of the family as best as he can doing odd jobs around the city after he is forced to leave his job at the old curiosity shop when Nell and her grandfather flee the city to live a life on the road as beggars. Nell's journey through the English countryside reminded me of Pilgrim's journey in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. With the goal of finding salvation both novel's protagonists set out and leave their home town, encountering several hardships along the way before they finally reach their destination. The characters they meet on the road are sometimes well-meaning, as in the case of Mrs Jarley, the owner of a traveling waxwork's show, who takes Nell and her grandfather in. Quite often, however, they are dangerous and try to lead the protagonists astray.

Two things about the novel strike me as particularly noteworthy. First, there is Dickens' characterization, which I find to be masterfully done. I found myself really caring for Nell and Kit and their fate. While this makes the novel a rather sad read, there have been certain places where I could not help but smile because I was so happy about positive episodes in the main characters' lives. Second, there is the fact that the novel was published as a weekly serial over the course of about two years. I am quite certain that the tension Dickens' created by having his readers wait another week for the next instalment of the novel must have left readers quite desperate. It was my experience when I read the novel that I would have been quite disappointed if I had had to put it down after certain chapters and wait for another week. This must have created a lot of talk about the novel in Victorian London, as many readers must have felt the same urge as I did to continue and read about the fate of poor little Nell.

To my mind the following quotation quite sums up the dilemma that presents itself to the two protagonists.

"It was a long night, which seemed as though it would have no end; but he had slept too, and dreamed - always of being at liberty, and roving about, now with one person and now with another, but ever with a vague dread of being recalled to prison; not that prison, but one which was in itself a dim idea, not of a place, but of a care and sorrow; of something oppressive and always present, and yet impossible to define. At last morning dawned, and there was the jail itself - cold, black, and dreary, and very real indeed." (p. 445)

It is exactly this confinement to their place in society that serves as a metaphorical prison that is hard to escape for Nell and Kit. While Nell cares a lot about her grandfather, his gambling problem brings her many a sleepless and sorrowful night. And just when you feel that morning has dawned on Nell's life and she has finally found her place of safety and happiness, you are crushed by the cold fate Dickens has chosen for her.

I found this novel to be an outstanding example of good characterization and plotting. The ending made me sad and I think I would have wished for a more positive one, but it most certainly fit the overall tone of the novel. The Old Curiosity Shop is highly recommendable. 4 stars. ( )
1 vote OscarWilde87 | Jan 20, 2018 |
"The Old Curiosity Shop" has many of the hallmarks of a typical early Dickens novel (waifish young hero, explorations of lower-class London, and a surprise twist at the end where all is revealed), but it reads much more cohesively than its predecessor, "Nicholas Nickleby." Though the story does meander back and forth between characters, the writing is much tighter, and it wasn't as hard for me to keep up with the plot. Little Nell is a unique figure that allows Dickens to explore the feminine persona a bit more, and while she ticks off a lot of stereotypes of her gender, you can tell that the author is trying to hone his craft, rather than just rehashing Nancy from "Oliver Twist." This is probably not a must-read, but it does provide an interesting and enjoyable glimpse into Dickens' progress as a writer. There is one particularly gruesome chapter near the end that you can just tell he concocted with special relish. ( )
  quaintlittlehead | Dec 20, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (61 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Dickensprimary authorall editionscalculated
Andrews, MalcolmIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Browne, Hablot KnightIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cattermole, GeorgeIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Easson, AngusEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Frank ReynoldsIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Frith, W. P.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lesser, AntonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maclise, DanielIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Page, NormanPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Page, NormanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schlicke, PaulEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sharp, WilliamIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wicklow, Earl ofIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Williams, SamuelIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Although I am an old man, night is generally my time for walking.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140437428, Paperback)

The sound of Little Nell clattering hurriedly over cobblestones immediately sets the stage by bringing to mind the narrow and dangerous streets of Victorian London. No fewer than 20 performers are called upon to conjure up the Dickensian world of wanderers, ne'er-do-wells, con artists, and kind Samaritans--and each performance is excellent. Tom Courtenay plays the sadistic Quilp, "the ugliest dwarf that could be seen anywhere for a penny" with magnificent sarcastic glee, and Teresa Gallagher's silvery, childlike voice is ideally suited for the role of the angelic Little Nell.

Nell is on her way home to the dusty shop where she and her grandfather live a rather mysterious life. The old man disappears every night--visiting gambling dens with the naive hope of winning a fortune. Instead he sinks deeper and deeper into debt. Enter Daniel Quilp, moneylender, who becomes furious upon learning that the grandfather is a pauper and will never be able to repay his tremendous debt. Quilp seizes the curiosity shop and begins making lecherous overtures to Nell, so she and her grandfather steal away one morning to seek their fortunes elsewhere. But the demonic dwarf is never far behind.

Sound effects are employed judiciously and serve mainly as a springboard for the listener's imagination. The sound of a crying baby is enough to convey the image of crowded lodgings and genteel Victorian poverty, while raucous laughter and high-pitched squawks evoke the barely controlled chaos of an outdoor Punch and Judy show. The dramatization pares Dickens's weighty novel down to two and one-half hours, but does so skillfully, retaining Dickens's wit, marvelous dialogue, and delightful characterizations. (Running time: 155 minutes, 2 cassettes) --Elizabeth Laskey

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:42 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

The sensational bestselling story of Little Nell, the beautiful child thrown into a shadowy, terrifying world, seems to belong less to the history of the Victorian novel than to folklore, fairy tale, or myth. The sorrows of Nell and her grandfather are offset by Dickens's creation of a dazzling contemporary world inhabited by some of his most brilliantly drawn characters-the eloquent ne'er-do-well Dick Swiveller; the hungry maid known as the "Marchioness"; the mannish lawyer Sally Brass; Quilp's brow-beaten mother-in-law; and Quilp himself, the lustful, vengeful dwarf, whose demonic energy makes a vivid counterpoint to Nell's purity.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140437428, 014119958X

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