For 2012 I wanted to read at least one work by Charles Dickens because June 8 is the 200th year since his birth. Most people know about his Christmas Story, Scrooge and Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchitt. It amuses me how popular television and the movies have made this classic. We read it starting in elementary school, so we grew up with the story.
I have several Dickens on my shelves but I did not recall reading The Old Curiosity Shop, and as I first browsed the pages spotting characters I believe I may have read selections, but never the entire book. A quick scan of the book is a technique we used in school in reading classics, it was to quickly familiarize ourselves with characters or places or other names prior to delving into the reading. I still use that tactic today to read classics or very large books.
The Old Curiosity Shop is an adult story, novel, about Little Nell, the orphan, being raised by her grandfather, the elderly proprietor of the Old Curiosity Shop. But grandfather has a gambling addiction through which he intends to make their fortune but by which puts Nell in charge of making their way through indescribably trials. Her evil conniving brother, Frederick Trent, wants to take the fortune he believes the Grandfather has hidden but Frederick is second to Daniel Quilp the sinister, grotesque dwarf who too has plans for pretty little Nell. Quilp is one of Dickens' most memorable villains. The dwarf is a symbol of lies and distortions and pitting one person against another. Kit Nubbles is an errand boy who tries to help and who is devoted to providing for his widowed good natured mother, Mrs. Nubbles. On their flight Nell and Grandfather encounter a traveling puppet show, a troupe of dancing dogs, more gamblers and scoundrels, and the jovial, stout, beribboned Mrs. Jarley, proprietress of Jarley's Waxworks who does befriend them. There are several more characters in the book.
George Orwell once wrote, "When Dickens has once described something, you see it for the rest of your life." Absolutely true. Dickens touches us with his descriptive characters and situations including the ugly side of the Industrial Revolution, poverty where people survive on stone soup or no food at all, wretched villains who seem unstoppable. I will not attempt to tell all of this story but the final sentence is glorious, "Such are the changes which a few years bring about, and so do things pass away, like a tale that is told!" But Dickens' tales do not pass away, they endure.
|Charles Dickens and his characters|
Dickens was only 29 when he began to write The Old Curiosity Shop but he had already triumphed with three big novels, "The Pickwick Papers", "Oliver Twist" (one of my favorites, and "Nicholas Nickleby." My edition of Curiosity is 517 pages published in 1988 but using illustrations (sketches) from the 1897 edition. The book is too thick and cumbersome to scan any of those, but I can share this lithograph from another work in the World's Best Reading Series where it seems to me Dickens is portrayed like Gulliver with minions of characters surrounding him.
Two of my favorite quotes from this book:
pg 74, about waiting...."None are so anxious as those who watch and wait: at these times, mournful fancies came flocking on her mind, in crowds."
pg. 115, about leaving..." Why is it that we can better bear to part in spirit than in body, and while we have the fortitude to act farewell have not the nerve to say it? On the eve of long voyages or an absence of many years, friends who are tenderly attached will separate with the usual look, the usual pressure of the hand, planning one final interview for the morrow, while each well knows that it is but a poor feint to save the pain of uttering that one word, and that the meeting will never be. Should possibilities be worse to bear than certainties? We do not shun our dying friends; the not having distinctly taken leave of one among them, whom we left in all kindness and affection, will often embitter the whole remainder of a life."
Oh it is a 5 ***** Classic