Book reviews

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens is the third book I’ve read by this author. I didn’t like the story or characters as much as Great Expectations, but I enjoyed it better than Hard Times.

The Old Curiosity Shop is a long story but I found it to be a comfortable read because the chapters are short and full of action. My edition also contained so many illustrations by George Cattermole and Phiz that I got through this book much faster than I originally expected to.

The Old Curiosity Shop follows various groups of characters who revolve around Little Nell, an angelically beautiful child who lives with her elderly grandfather in his curiosity shop in London. Nell’s grandfather is a gambling addict who is convinced he will win Nell a fortune, but instead he loses their home to the worst of the bad characters in this book, a vicious and greedy dwarf named Quilp. After becoming homeless Nell and her grandfather leave London on foot to escape Quilp and several other characters who are convinced that Nell’s grandfather still has more money secreted away.

Nell and her grandfathers fell in with various characters as they journeyed around the countryside including a pair of puppeteers who make their living from Punch and Judy shows, a kindly old woman who owned a travelling waxworks show and a kindly schoolmaster. They would have stayed longer with some of the people they met, however Nell’s grandfather’s gambling caused Nell to force their departure, while with another group, their whereabouts were revealed to Quilp and they hurriedly left before he could find them.

Eventually Nell and her grandfather found a safe haven, although by this time Nell’s health had been ruined trying to protect her grandfather and keep him safe. During my research I learned that this story was originally told in installments and in New York, crowds surged the wharves in 1841 to learn if Little Nell had lived or died.

The other characters are a mixture of the best and worst of human nature. Kit, a serving boy who had worked for Nell’s grandfather in London, was amongst the best of characters. He was kind and honourable, a loving, generous son to his widowed mother and a good friend to Nell and her grandfather. The nastier characters included Quilp’s fawning solicitor, Sampson Brass and his sister, Sally, who falsely accused Kit of stealing so Quilp could have his revenge on the boy. Kit was almost transported to Australia for a crime he did not commit, but luckily, other characters were able to expose the truth before this happened.

Although Nell was the central character, her actual character was probably the least interesting or realistic in the whole book. She was portrayed as beautiful, sweet-tempered and selfless but there was no depth to her character. To me she seemed to be a symbol or a flag that the other characters fought for.

I’ve enjoyed the fantastically descriptive names Charles Dickens has given his characters in each of his books which I’ve read. My favourite character (and name) in The Old Curiosity Shop was Richard Swiveller. His name and character matched in that he was sometimes good and sometimes bad although never wicked, good-humoured, rather lazy and looking for an easy fortune rather than one he had to work for. Swiveller generally meant well and behaved well so long as doing so didn’t inconvenience him, although eventually he acted as the hero to help Kit out of his predicament.

The copy I read was second-hand and I wasn’t very far into the book when I saw that the previous reader had underlined certain sections and written notes in the pages. I was horribly disappointed by not being able to read their writing! For example, the section saying that Swiveller was a member of the Lodge of Glorious Apollos was underlined with a comment that I couldn’t read. Why? Was it something to do with the fact that Swiveller would eventually become Kit’s saviour? Was the previous reader studying the book and if so, what were they looking for? I wish I knew.

There is plenty of humour in this story, but I didn’t find myself laughing aloud the way I did when I read Great Expectations.

I suppose a Dickens’ story wouldn’t be one without drama and moral lessons, in this case gambling, which is still a massive problem for society. I appreciated that The Old Curiosity Shop showed that gambling also affects the gambler’s families.

The Old Curiosity Shop was book twenty two in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.

Comments on: "The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens" (30)

  1. I think I already mentioned that this is the only one of the Dickens novels I thought I’d never read, and having read your review I’m now sure I haven’t. His heroines are nearly always too good to be true – it tends to be the secondary characters I enjoy most. Glad you enjoyed this one, and I’m jealous you have so many still to discover… 😀

    • You’re right, the secondary characters in The Old Curiosity Shop were the stars. I think he had more fun writing them, their traits were more extreme, their names more ridiculous and so on.
      I’ve got a lifetime of reading Dickens still to come 🙂
      Are you planning to read The Old Curiosity Shop sometime soon?

  2. I haven’t read this one but I know the story. I don’t always get on well with Dickens, my favourite is Great Expectations but I tend to put off reading more of him. This is a very good review – a pity about the scribblings in your book 😉

    • Great Expectations was a joyful read, wasn’t it?
      I know, the scribbling will be a mystery to me forevermore 🙂 If people must write in books, then at least it should be legible.

  3. Looks like a great read! Anyways, that’s a great review!

  4. I am still, very slowly, working through Dickens in chronological order, having been put off him for years by an enforced reading of Hard Times. (Which will be coming up again for me soon 😱 Maybe that’s why it’s taking me so long to get through Dombey & Son!) I’ve also read Great Expectations which I loved and which was the impetus to start reading everything from the beginning. So as with you, Rose, that this one falls between the two. I agree about Little Nell. I found her insipid and irritating frankly and although I know that her death caused a national outpouring of grief at the time, I was totally unmoved. (Most unlike me!) But the secondary characters are brilliant! Quilp was odious!

    P.S. I’m quite enjoying Dombey although I’ve been reading it for months and am still not yet half way through. At this rate I’m going to have live for ever if I want to read all his novels!

    • Reading through Dickens’ works in chronological order is a huge undertaking! Although his readers at the time he was writing must have done that, too, and many of them would have read his books in serial form.
      Little Nell’s death didn’t touch my heart, either. I was initially surprised that Dickens killed off his heroine although up until then I had been wondering how all of the stories would be resolved and I couldn’t see a ‘hero’ waiting to sweep her off at the end.
      I think Dickens allowed himself to have fun when he wrote his secondary characters. They are exaggerated and ridiculous but the main characters seem to have more ordinary names and their qualities are straight-forward.
      I looked up which book you’re to read next – David Copperfield!

      • Oooh thank you! That’s cheered me up! I’m looking forward to David Copperfield and shall forget about Hard Times for the time being! Dickens seems to include a ‘tragic’ death in several of his earlier novels. Playing to his audience I assume, rather like soap operas today.

  5. 😂😂😂

  6. I haven’t read this yet, but would like to make my way through Dickens. I heard somebody once say that if Dickens was alive today he’d be writing soap operas with lots of characters and social comment, so you’re right!

    • It is such an interesting idea to imagine what people like Dickens might do if they were alive now. I always wonder what sort of music a classical musician from the past would make if they were alive now, considering what they created in their own time. Dickens could be writing anything, from literature to television/film to advertising, who would know?

  7. I haven’t read this one from Dickens yet. Thanks for your thoughtful review! So far, my favorite Dickens novel I’ve read is Little Dorrit and I also really enjoyed A Tale of Two Cities. Bleak House is hopefully my next Dickensian read!

    • I’m looking forward to Little Dorrit and A Tale of Two Cities, both of which I’ve added to my next Classics Club list (this is a long-term project). Are you working your way through his books?

  8. I’ve read quite a few Dickens’ novels but I have quite a few to go too. I haven’t read this one. My next two – if and when I can slot them in – I’ve been planning to be Our mutual friend and Pickwick papers. It was going to be the former, but my Mum loved Pickwick papers and so in her memory I might make it that one. I do enjoy Dickens, partly for the social justice but also the humour. A shame if this one lacks the humour.

    Did you see the new film of David Copperfield? A really fun and interesting production.

    • Dickens’ humour is the high point of his stories and helps to get his messages of social justice to his audience without him sounding preachy.
      I’ll look forward to your review of Pickwick Papers 🙂 Did your Mum ever tell you why she loved it? I’m looking forward to reading Pickwick Papers too, because in Little Women one of the characters says she was reading it and another commented that the book made her hungry because the characters in it were always eating!
      No, I haven’t seen the new David Copperfield film. I will sometime, but haven’t had the opportunity yet. I’d like to read the book first, though so I can imagine the characters and settings how I want them to be.

  9. Oh, and re being reminded of soap operas. I wonder if that’s because most of his books were initially published in serial form in the newspapers which would lend itself to the more soap opera style?

  10. Thanks so much for this review as Dicken’s is a favorite author of mine.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the review. It is such a pleasure to read other people’s reviews of books and authors that you love, especially when the other person does too!

  11. […] old friend, Charles Dickens. I was going to re-read The Mystery of Edwin Drood this year, but then Rose’s review of this one reminded me that it’s the only one of the novels I’ve never read. An unread Dickens! […]

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