on 23 March 2011
This is my fifth Dickens' novel in a row, and it has, to say the very least, absolutely not diminished my appetite to read all of his novels. As I'm trying to do so as Dickens wrote them I can only compare with The Pickwick Papers (Oxford World's Classics),Oliver Twist (Oxford World's Classics),Nicholas Nickleby (Oxford World's Classics) and Barnaby Rudge (Oxford World's Classics). 'The Old Curiosity Shop' is both different from and very alike to those previous four novels.
First of all, I found it eminently 'Dickensian' in several aspects: the captivating characters, Dickens' rarely equalled talent for the spoken word and to give each character its very own voice, the overall sheer exuberance of the language, the sometimes rickety plot, and an amazing story-telling talent that captivates from page one and keeps you reading on well into the night. Concerning those characters, it struck me - more so perhaps than in the other novels I've read - that it's above all 'the villains' that are most powerfully depicted and claim center-stage. Above all there's Daniel Quilp, the scheming dwarf hunting down little Nell and her grandfather: he is the very embodiment of malice, to such a degree that he seems barely human (and Dickens often describes him as 'a creature' or 'the monster') and I have the feeling I'll remember him long after I've forgotten much if not everything about for instance the poor schoolmaster coming to the rescue of little Nell, or Mr. and Mrs. Garland. And there's others too: Sampson and Sally Brass are wonderfully drawn, repulsive as they may be. In fact, as is pointed out in the (excellent) introduction to this edition, the majority of the people little Nell meets on her journey are grotesques, barely recognizable as human beings.
In terms of atmosphere, however, 'The Old Curiosity Shop' is definitely more gloomy than the previous novels I've read, in fact it's my very first Dickens' novel that doesn't have an outright happy end for all principal characters. True enough, there are plenty of scenes of grand humour too (Richard Swiveller and 'The Marchioness' are an unforgettable couple, and so is Mrs. Jarley and the motley crew working at her wax-works) but overall, there's an almost constant sense of brooding menace and 'bad things about to happen'. The scenes describing for instance Nell and her grandfather's journey through an industrial town at night are almost descriptions of a journey through some sort of hell on earth, where the poorest of the poor do not even have enough money to bury their deceased children. Man seems but a tiny speck of dust in this industrial wasteland, as Dickens puts it: 'They were but an atom, here, in a mountain heap of misery'.
All in all, I found 'The Old Curiosity Shop' a very powerful novel and one that I am not likely to forget soon. It may be (at least to our 21st century taste) in places unashamedly pathetic, but Dickens pulls this off as no other author I've read so far could have. A true classic, and very much worth the read!
on 1 August 2006
The book may be a bit of a mess, written on the cuff as Dickens tried to salvage a misguided attempt at a magazine, but it's richly full of his brilliance, and this dramatisation is sensationally good.
Some outstanding scenes linger long after one's first listen, such as when Little Nell's father grapples with his gambling addiction (and how depressingly relevant that is these days) and when Dick Swivveler's discusses with an inanimate Punch doll whether or not he should start acting responsibly.
I bought the book afterwards to read them in full, but I discovered they weren't actually in the book: they are just part of the adaptation, but an adaptation that captures Dickens so well it weaves the created scenes seamlessly in with the Dickens own narrative and often these scenes are highlights of their own.
It's far from a perfect novel. Quilp is devilishly evil but of limited motivation, the narrator's role is unclear, as is the age of Little Nell, and there are several ludicrously contrived plot devices. But then, Dickens was writing it on the hoof.
Apparently, the novel's of interest to scholars for Dickens' attitude to pop culture (Punch and Judy shows, mime shows etc.): for me, it was a wonderful way to pass some long car journeys. At times, it got me so wound up as I listened that I found myself literally pleading aloud with Nell's father not to gamble the money... But Dickens is so brilliant that he captivates you and this production, uniformly well acted, delivers all that brilliance.
on 19 April 2010
During those moments of sponge-like absorption, when facts about fish fingers being invented by Mr Birdseye and thousands of other grains of information crystalize into sandcastles of digested knowledge, I'd heard of Little Nell. Googling her now, I see there's a hotel named after her, a place in Aspen, Colorado and many other uses of her ephemeral name. Whilst knowing she was a tragic figure through the ether of existence, before Facebook was invented, when Spurs were a double-winning side, I didn't really KNOW her until I read the book.
170 years may have elapsed since Dickens penned his weekly contribution to the threepenny publicaton, Master Humphrey's Clock, publishing his novel shortly thereafter. Compared to contemporary fare of mass consumption - soap operas, tabloid newspapers, celebrity magazines - The Old Curiosity Shop is in a class of its own.
I'm normally an aficionado of Russian and Soviet literature - Dostoevsky, Zamyatin, Bulgakov - but Dickens creates more believable scenes, atmosphere, social commentary and deep-felt emotion than any of them.
The tale of Nell and her grandfather, travelling out of London on a forlorn journey, of the evil Quilp, his servant, a minor character, perhaps, but in keeping with reality very much human, who to Quilp's chagrin often walks on his hands, turning reality upside down, of the notary Sampson Brass and his extraordinary sister Sally, of Kit, Nell's young friend, so loving of her and loved by her and Dick Swiveller, a rakish character, nevertheless, with an innate decency, is enthralling from beginning to end.
No surprise that Americans wanting to know what happened to Nell before the story's conclusion, accosted Dickens, no real surprise that weekly subscribers - up to 100,000 of them - became so engrossed they contacted Dickens begging him for a happy ending.
In this fast-moving, inattentive age we need a book like this to grab hold of us, not letting go until we are emotionally exhausted. Too much soap has got into our eyes during insipid television and movies, this herioc novel redresses the balance. Yes there are coincidences, indeed the grandfather's addiction to gambling is still a curiosity in some respects, although repeated by many who haven't read the book, up and down this and many other countries, in betting shops, casinos and gambling dens every day of the week.
Quilp may have been an evil dwarf, but the book stands the test of time as a monumental work of considerable literary stature.
I had bought this book in a multi-buy deal with other classics, and somehow it managed to sit on my bookshelf for almost a year before I got round to reading it - by the time I had finished it, I was kicking myself that it been wasting away for so long!
There are so many things going on it, and although some things are just *too* coincidental, it never fails to grab you into the story. Couple this with the fact that Dickens can draw a wonderful picture of London of his time, and you feel part of the whole thing.
The characters are wonderful as well - my favourites being Quilp, the evil dwarf, and Richard Swiveller (his antics 'working' in the office were always highly amusing).
In short, a real rollercoaster of a novel, thoroughly recommended!!
I continued to wait and got my set of books at the original offer price, but it took a very long time. Duckworth were offering the books much earlier at more than twice the price. I now have the 12 books, so far, published in the series and look forward to the 11 remaining books to be published, whenever - hopefully before I retire. I have given very positive reviews for the series and, to be honest, the collection continues to be of a good standard when you consider the price. However, in this set, I have noticed a slight reduction in the quality of the paper; a bit coarser, less quality feel. It doesn't diminish the quality of the set as a whole, but is a bit of a dissappointment - not enough to not buy them, though. I regard this set as collectable, once published in full.
on 15 August 2013
This was free, so I can't complain too much. It's a classic obviously and I love the old style prose, but the pleasure of reading it is spoiled for me because of errors which I imagine occurred when it was transcribed for this format. One character, Sophy Wackles, suddenly becomes Sophia and Mr Cheggs becomes Mr Cheegs. Other words don't fit in context either. So I will continue reading it, but have to say I'm disappointed.
on 11 June 2013
Charles Dickens wrote The Old Curiosity Shop between 1840 and 1841. He was 28 years old when he began writing it and by that time he had already written and published The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. 1840 was the year that the world's first postage stamp - The Penny Black - came into being, Emile Zola and Thomas Hardy were born and Nicolo Paganini died. It was also the year that cricketer Charles Hawkins amassed 283 runs in a full season at an average of 14.42 with a high score of 58 - to that date a record total of runs by one batsman in a season. On a less dramatic note Queen Victoria married Prince Albert. And to think Charles Hawkins remains relatively unknown!
The Old Curiosity Shop is the third Charles Dickens book I have read. I adored the two previous books - Nicholas Nickleby and Barnaby Rudge so was really looking forward to my bus journeys to and from work in the company of the latest cast of characters. And what a cast! There is the diabolical dwarf Daniel Quilp, the heroic Christopher (Kit) Nubbles, the somewhat nauseatingly angelic Nell and the wonderful rake, the brilliantly named, Dick Swiveller. I'll repeat that. Dick Swiveller. Fantastic!
The story itself is a meandering one, as befitting a novel released over a period of eighteen months in installments. Descriptions are lengthy, conversations more suitable to a play than a novel and humour and pathos galore. The use of frequent soliloquies to summarise both what the character is thinking and what their role is in the story detract a little from the realism of the settings but I guess were perhaps necessary to ensure the reader kept up with the tale from month to month. In short, it is typical Dickens. The good are good and the evil are evil. The poor are moral and the lawyers are amoral. Similarly to Barnaby Rudge, the main characters are a child and parent figure - in this book it is Nell and her Grandfather. Like Nicholas Nickleby a poor lad who is unjustly accused is brought under the stewardship of the avuncular middle class - the Garlands replacing the Cheeribles.
What differentiates The Old Curiosity Shop from the other two Dickens novels I have read though is the dark intensity of vast swathes of it, the anger that rages off the page and the plea between the lines for the country to embrace the deprived of this nation. Some scenes will stay with me for a long time - Nell and her Grandfather meeting the man who tends the fire, the revelation of the Grandfather's secret vice and almost every scene that involves Daniel Quilp.
For such a long novel (almost 600 pages in the version I read) not alot actually happens. Reading the book is a journey in itself, crossing middle England and so beautifully described I felt I was walking right beside every character.
So all in all I was thoroughly immersed in what was for me a world in which I could entirely believe.
The two main things I gained from this book were a tortuous vision of the dangers of gambling and the realisation that the poor in the mid nineteenth century drank ale for breakfast for sustenance. So I shall continue to resist the former with a view to perhaps replacing boring old Cornflakes with a quaff of Old Empire...
All of Dickens' books display elements of humour but often intermixed with drama and tragedy. Pickwick stands alone (I think) as a wholly comic masterpiece. As Mr Pickwick and his friends travel round England to make reports back to The Pickwick Club, Dickens introduces us to a huge cast of characters from the cryptic Mr Jingle to that great philosopher of the people Sam Weller.
As we journey along, Dickens satirises almost every aspect of society - class, marriage, politics, the law - all themes which he plays out again in more serious terms in his later works. There are laugh out loud moments aplenty but as always Dickens' observations are insightful and thought provoking too. I particularly enjoy the election campaign - much of the absurdity of it still resonates today.
The Nonesuch editions are a joy to possess. Such great writing deserves a quality production and the look and feel of these books is lovely. The large pages mean that the original illustrations can be seen in all their detailed glory, and Nonesuch also include all the introductions written for the various editions. And of course a built-in ribbon bookmark - already I'm halfway back to a more leisurely and cultured time.
I've always hankered after a complete set of leather-bound Dickens and when I win the lottery will no doubt acquire one. But in the meantime, Nonesuch are providing a quality experience at an affordable price and, much though I love my Kindle, sometimes reading a well-produced hardback is the only way to go. Highly recommended.
on 17 July 2010
This novel is a study of juxtaposition, like much of Dickens' work between: good and evil, cynicism and innocence, youthful idealism and reality.The characterisation mirrors this throughout throwing together individuals of opposing
motives and morality at all stages of Nell's adventure, leading up to the pathos of the inevitable denouement.
So we have mirroring Nell v her grandfather/ brother, Quilp v Mrs Quilp, Kit v Swiveller, Garland v Brass and Mrs Jarley v Jem Groves.
Indeed the events are played out against the topographical juxtaposition of town v country which in their own way come to personify good and evil.It is symbolic Nell and her grandfather seek refuge from hardship by fleeing the city only to reencounter it in the fire and brimstone of a hellish industrial revolution town (chapter 44).Nothing better depicts the plight of the urban industrial revolution poor than the image of Nell sleeping within the still warm furnace ashes tended by the orphan of a foundry worker.Dickens depicts the furnace simultaneously as the womb from which the boy emerged, his protector, captor and tormentor.
The serialised origins of the narrative is evident in the many convolutions of the journey of Nell and her grandfather with multiple dilemmas and resolutions.The wonderful depth of Dickens' characterisation is again evident with a full array of major and minor players colourfully developed and of course named - my personal favourite -Sophie Wackles.It's more than just chance that many of my passwords are minor Dickensian characters, just as well he was so prolific!
Although I am a Penguin Classics fan, I found this Oxford edition well supported by accompanying appendices of explanatory footnotes an good value for money.
on 3 July 2012
I knew before I made the selection that I had purchased a quality item from the shop. I was not disappointed. By the time I had read the last page of this Dickens classic I knew that I had been on a journey.What a meandering journey too, full of intrigue and also suspense here and there. When you buy a Dickens classic be sure that you have many hours to spare, and you will be well rewarded.
There are dominant characters such as Richard Swiveller and Quilp the dwarf, Little Nell, Kit (Christopher) to name only a few, but there are also eccentric characters that you would expect from Dickens. When Nell and her grandfather leave home and begin their journey of discovery, they and the reader are in for surprises that they had not bargained for, but you always feel that the pitiful pair have the gall and instinct for survival. They meet many curious characters on their travels, but they always manage to get the measure of them.
While Little Nell and her grandfather are on their travels, they leave behind them a town full of mystery. Thus, the reader shifts his focal point back and forth as the adventures unfold. There is much that is revealed little by little.
With Dickens novels the reader has a valuable insight in the vocabulary of the nineteenth century, so I am sure that is another level of interest that will satisfy a great many readers.
To all Dickens fans: read and enjoy!