Dickens /Major /The Old Curiosity Shop

Forward to Barnaby RudgeHis LifeHis WorksHis Characters – Go to Bob Denton.com

The Old Curiosity Shop – 1840-1841 – a weekly serialised novel

The Old Curiosity Shop was published in eighty-eight weekly instalments from Apr 1840 to Nov 1841in the periodical, Master Humphrey’s Clock.

The Old Curiosity Shop was intended as an occasional tale but engendered such a following that it ended up demanding a full story.

This novel tells the story of Nell Trent and her grandfather. Dickens was traumatized by the death of the book’s character, Little Nell. It brought back painful memories of the death of his sister-in-law, Mary Hogarth.

Dickens received many letters asking him to spare Nell’s life. As he was writing the novel he felt as though he was experiencing the death of one of his children.

The events described appear to have taken place around 1825, though there is reference to ‘Her Majesties attornies’ and of course Queen Victoria did not ascend until 1837.
Nell Trent, a fourteen-old orphan, lives with her maternal grandfather in his shop of curios. Her grandfather cares for her but she has few friends her own age.

Her grandfather is keen to leave Nell an inheritance by gambling on cards. This secret gambling is none too successful and he borrows extensively from Daniel Quilp, a deformed hunchback dwarf moneylender. His debts expand and Quilp takes the opportunity to seize the shop and evicts them.

Nell and her grandfather’s journey

The grandfather suffers a breakdown and loses his wits. Nell undertakes an arduous trip to take him to the Midlands where she plans for them to live as beggars. She gradually becomes weaker, though does find a home for them in Shropshire.

Nell’s elder brother Frederick is convinced that their grandfather has amassed a fortune. He convinces Dick Swiveller to help him track them down. Swiveller is seduced by the notion of marrying Nell and sharing the fortune with Frederick.

They link up with Daniel Quilp who, despite knowing there is no fortune, thinks mischief can be done by assisting them. Quilp arranges for Swiveller to work for Quilp’s lawyer, Sampson Brass.

While working there Dick befriends the ‘Small Servant’ to Brass who he calls ‘The Marchioness’.

Nell meets with various characters along the way, including Codlin and his Punch & Judy travelling show, and eventually reaches Shropshire.

In the meantime Kit Nubbles, having lost his job at the Old Curiosity Shop, finds employment with the Garlands. Kit is approached by a ‘single gentleman’ seeking information about Nell and her grandfather. This mysterious single gentleman and Kit’s mother join forces in the quest and encounter Quilp.

Quilp develops a grudge against Kit and denounces him as a thief. Kit is convicted and sentenced to transportation, but Dick Swiveller enjoins The Marchioness and manages to prove his innocence. Quilp is hunted down and dies while trying to escape his pursuers.

Through a coincidence Mr Garland learns of Nell’s whereabouts. Garland, Kit and the single gentleman, now identified as Nell’s grand-uncle, go to find her. But they are too late, she has died.

Nell’s death

Her grandfather is discovered sitting next to her grave each day, waiting for her return. Several months later he too dies.

[In the final issue of the Master Humphrey’s Clock there is a short story that seeks to round off the novel. Humphrey makes some explanation of why the narrator (of the first three chapters) disappeared, and explains that, as it was otherwise a true story, the single gentleman is never named. [Most of Dickens’s commentators believe this explanation to be unhelpful and/or unnecessary.]

Daniel Quilp

Nell Trent – the novel’s main character
Nell’s Grandfather – her guardian. He is a gambler
Christopher ‘Kit’ Nubbles, Nell’s friend and servant
Daniel Quilp – the novel’s main villain
Richard ‘Dick’ Swiveller – Sampson Brass’s clerk
The Single Gentleman – Nell’s uncle.

Mrs Betsy Quilp – Quilp’s mistreated wife
Mr Sampson Brass – an attorney at the King’s Bench
Miss Sarah ‘Sally’ Brass – obnoxious sister of Brass
Mrs Jarley – proprietor of a travelling waxworks show
Frederick Trent, Nell’s worthless older brother
Mr Garland, a kind-hearted man, employer of Kit.
The Small Servant – maidservant aka ‘The Marchioness’
Isaac List and Joe Jowl – professional gamblers
Mr Chuckster – the dogsbody of the notary Mr Witherden
Mr Marton – a poor schoolmaster who befriends Nell
Tommy Codlin – proprietor of a Punch and Judy show
Mr Harris – called ‘Short Trotters’ a puppeteer with Codlin
Barbara – the maidservant of Mr and Mrs Garland
The Bachelor – brother of Mr. Garland
Mrs Jiniwin – Mrs Quilp’s mother.

Bobby, Lord
Brown, Mr
Cheggs, Alick
Cheggs, Miss
Edwards, Miss
Evans, Richard
Foxey, Old
Garland, Abel
George, Mrs
Green, Mrs
Grinder, Mr
Groves, James (Jem)
Mizzler, Marquis of
Monflathers, Miss
Morgan, Becky
Nubbles, Jacob
Nubbles, Mrs
Owen, John
Scott, Tom
Simmons, Henrietta
Slum, Mr
Stetta, Violetta
Swiveller, Rebecca
Thigsberry, Duke of
Tomkinley, Mr
Vuffin, Mr
Wackles, Jane
Wackles, Melissa
Wackles, Mrs
Wackles, Sophy
West, Dame
William, Sweet
Witherden, Mr
Withers, Old Luke

Dickens and Little Nell,
an 1890 statue by Francis Edwin Elwell
exhibited in Philadelphia

Forward to Barnaby RudgeHis LifeHis WorksHis Characters – Go to Bob Denton.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *