Reading the Classics has been a rather neglected category of my blog, precisely because I decided to tackle the mammoth novel ‘The Old Curiosity Shop‘ by the wonderful Charles Dickens. Getting through the 500 pages took me quite a while, but now I can sit back and feel a sense of overwhelming accomplishment.
I read A Tale of Two Cities last year. This was my first encounter with a Dickens novel and I fell in love with the story as well as Dickens’ writing style. I picked up The Old Curiosity Shop by chance at a charity shop. To be honest, it had never been on my radar.
Charles Dickens and His World
Charles Dickens was born in 1812 and died in 1870. He wrote 15 novels and countless pamphlets and articles during his literary career. All this despite his lack of a formal education.
He understood poverty- his father was sent to a debtors prison when he was a child and Charles was forced to leave school at an early age and take up work. Dickens found literary fame in 1836 when he published ‘The Pickwick Papers’. Dickens’s works were read around the world during his lifetime. He quickly became one of the best-loved Victorian novelists. And his works are still read around the world today.
Dickens undoubtedly became such a much-loved author because he was able to draw upon his own experiences. The much-loved character of Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop is based upon a real-life person, his sister-in-law, Mary, whom he loved dearly. The way Dickens describes Nell is emotive and powerful. The reader will truly believe Dickens is connected to Nell in a personal and tangible way.
The Old Curiosity Shop By Charles Dickens
We’re in the very early 19th century, in Victorian London. (It is thought that the novel is set in the 1820s or 1830s, however, there is some disagreement upon the date). A young girl is found wandering the streets alone, late at night. A passer-by, an older gentleman, the author sees the child and offers to walk her home. She leads him to her home, an Old Antique shop where she lives with her elderly Grandfather. Just the two of them. The author reprimands the old man for allowing someone so young to wander alone along the dangerous streets of London.
However, anger soon subsides and the narrator becomes more accustomed to the little family unit. The story then follows the tumultuous lives of these two characters – the old man and his granddaughter, Little Nell. The central characters of the book are not only this odd little family but some of the company they keep.
Kit, a loyal worker to the pair who becomes one of Dickens’s most loved characters. Quilp, an evil, ugly man who delights in the misfortunes and sorrows of others. Dick, a lazy bachelor who we see develop as a person through the development of the story.
Early on in the tale, we follow the flight of Little Nell and her Grandfather as they flee from their home. But what has driven them on this path? Where do they go? And how do the other characters fit into this huge plot?
One of the things I loved about this book was the vast array of themes Dickens covers within this novel.
Dickens was a great advocate of reform and thus poverty and the plight of the poor is a recurring theme in his novels. Oliver Twist is another novel of Dickens’s which contains poverty as a central theme. Dickens has an excellent way of describing the misery of poverty. He brings this to life as the reader experiences the sadness, destruction and starvation of the poor as we follow them in their journey.
Family and family values are another central theme in the novel. Dickens explores the theme of not only blood relations, but also family as a construction, as something we create who’s members may contain non blood relatives. Some might call this friendship, but these relationships go much deeper than descriptions of friendship.
If ever household affections and loves are graceful things, they are graceful in the poor. The ties that bind the wealthy and the proud to home may be forged on earth, but those which link the poor man to his humble hearth are of the truer metal and bear the stamp of Heaven.
As we all know, secrets can destroy a family, and this is a theme that runs strongly through this novel. How many secrets can a person hold? Can a family survive if there are too many secrets?
Dickens has a fabulous way of putting together groups of people who would make unlikely friends and making them the best of friends. As in A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens creates and intimate friendly circle in The Old Curiosity Shop. This group are the heroes of our tale. They hold mutual goals and all work together to achieve their ultimate goal.
Although the real hero of our tale is Little Nell. Through her kindness and likeable character, people are drawn to her as she works to save her old grandfather.
Why I Would Recommend The Old Curiosity Shop
I am a huge fan of Dickens. I love his writing style. The way he draws the reader into the novel with his colourful and vivid descriptions of his characters. We really fall in love with a number of the characters in The Old Curiosity Shop, in particular Little Nell and Kit.
The novel contains adventure, secret, friendship and lies. It follows the misfortunes and fortunes of Little Nell and her grandfather but does much more than that. We see the forces of good and evil at play. A strong message underpins Dickens’ novel – that good always conquers evil. That although the world is full of badness and poverty, this is something that can be changed and ought to be changed.
Thus violent deeds live after men upon the earth, and traces of war and bloodshed will survive in mournful shapes long after those who worked the desolation are but atoms of earth themselves.
Not only was this novel incredibly thought-provoking and moving, but the tale is also interesting and easy to follow. It’s a must-read classic!
For similar posts, see my Reading the Classics Category.