The Old Curiosity Shop – 1840-1841 – a weekly serialised novel
The Old Curiosity Shop was published in 88 weekly instalments in the periodical, Master Humphrey’s Clock, from Apr 1840 to Nov 1841.
The Old Curiosity Shop was intended as an occasional tale but engendered such a following that it ended up taking over.
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 were 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 ascended only in 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 her grandfather 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 to share 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 (Tong?).
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 of 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 manage to prove his innocence. Quilp is hunted down and dies while trying to escape his pursuers.
Mr Garland through a coincidence 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.
Her grandfather is discovered sat 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 Dickens’ commentators believe this explanation unhelpful and/or unnecessary.]
Nell Trent – the novel’s main character
Nell’s Grandfather – and guardian, he gambles
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.
Groves, James (Jem)
Mizzler, Marquis of
Thigsberry, Duke of
Withers, Old Luke
Dickens and Little Nell,
an 1890 statue by Francis Edwin Elwell
exhibited in Philadelphia