Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dick Swiveller from The Old Curiosity Shop

Dick appeared at earlier chapters only as a comical accessories to the main characters. He was brought to the scene by Fred Trent, Nell’s big brother who suspected that their grandfather was actually a very rich man, and all those times had hidden his treasure to be given to Nell when she has grown up. Fred was a bad boy, and in order to persuade his grandfather, he brought his flamboyant and poetical friend, Dick Swiveller. So, we can assume Dick to be one of antagonists, as besides Fred, Dick also worked together with Quilp, the main antagonist of this story.

Dick’s personality is quite a unique and unforgettable one, he is not as perfect as Nell and Kit—I personally never like perfect characters too much, they are only in tales, not in real life—but Dick is not a totally wicked person too as Quilp, he’s just a person who praised pleasure and wealth, not a hard-worker, an opportunist, and was quite indifferent to others or to the world. Dick liked to imagine himself as a rich person, he used to mention his apartment as ‘apartments’, and imagined his bed as a bookcase. He depended his life on his rich aunt’s mercy, and although was not holding any pence in his pocket, he would fulfill his expensive appetite with a luxury dining from different restaurants (and left a lot of debt traces in almost every dining place in London).

As an easy-going person, Dick was very easy to be tempted. When Fred offered him to marry Little Nell to gain her inheritance, Dick—without many considerations—decided to break up his present relationship with Sophie Wackles. Quilp has also used him for his own plan, by getting Dick a job in Sampson Brass’ law office. The indifference in Dick’s character was clearly stated in his own expression:

There are some people who can be merry and can’t be wise, and some who can be wise (or think thy can) and can’t be merry. I’m one of the first sort.

Dick Swiveller & Sophie Wackles

I have thought Dick Swiveller as and would be the little villain, someone who would execute the plan to get Kit to his downfall, however something then happened. One night Dick met the little servant of Brass family, a dirty poor-nameless-abused-and-neglected girl who used to live downstairs. His involvement with the Marchioness—a nick name Dick had given the servant girl—was later on proved to be the turning point of Dick’s character development, from an indifferent person, to become someone with more affection for others. He was the one who took the responsibility to take care of Kit’s mother and family when Kit must went to jail. And I think, somehow, Dick felt that Kit was actually innocent, and that there was something wrong with his bosses. Dick also sent a cheerful present for Kit in jail. He was now a kind-hearted person with care for others. His heroic action, however, did not occurred until he suffered a sever fever that almost took his life, if the poor and sweet Marchioness did not take care of him like a mother and nurse. In his sorrow, all his concerns were on the falsely accused Kit. He—along with the Marchioness of course—was the key actor of Kit’s release.

Dick Swiveller in the movie

I was wondering, what was the cause of Dick Swiveller’s change? I guess the poor life of the Marchioness was the trigger. Dick—I think—was quite deeply touched by the injustice and abuses that the Marchioness had lived her life with. And from there, Dick must have changed his mind about the Brass family, and thus saw things with a different point of view, and lead him to doubt that Kit was guilty. After Marchioness scene, Dick’s heart was easier to be moved by a helplessness situation, such as happened to Kit and his mother.

Dick Swiveller & the Marchioness

So, here was Richard ‘Dick’ Swiveller, from zero to hero, and although his change was not so drastically as Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities, but still, he deserves to be praised as a hero in this story. And I’m glad that in the end Dickens gave him a woman to love and love him in return, someone who shared his eccentricity and interests. I must admit that I would miss Mr. Swiveller’s character, he’s someone who had given this story more color and more cheerfulness within the gloomy atmosphere we felt with poor Little Nell and the grotesque wickedness of Quilp. Dick Swiveller was indeed the savior of The Old Curiosity Shop, to make us love it more!  

Monday, July 16, 2012

[Review] The Old Curiosity Shop

This is my fifth Dickens, and I can say that The Old Curiosity Shop has just become my new favorite. Usually I don’t quite like tales, where there were only black and white, the good ones must be perfect: handsome, kind-hearted, yet weak and poor; while the bad ones were always imperfect: ugly, wicked, heartless and powerful. Can you see Little Nell and Quilp in those two opposite frames? Like I said, if I don’t like tales, then I should have disliked The Old Curiosity Shop. However, it turned out that I really enjoyed reading this book. One of the reasons perhaps, because this book spoiled me with many adventures scenes during Nell and grandfather’s pilgrimage, which made the plot went quite fast. Other reason is the appearance of comical characters like the funny-eccentric Dick Swiveller or the street entertainers Nell met within her pilgrimage. Mrs. Javier’s waxwork company and Whisker the funny pony of Mr. Garland were also highly entertaining!

Besides the entertaining aspects, I also found satisfaction in Dickens’ concerns of injustice—especially to children—which became this book’s main theme. For your information, I always love to read novels that bring concerns for injustice as the main theme! Here we got two cases, one was Little Nell and the other was Kit. Both were innocent and kind-hearted children who must suffered from adult’s faults, crime and greediness. Dickens interestingly crafted these two cases in two separate frames of story with Quilp being one of the main red-thread that related them both to be concluded in the last chapters.

Nell & grandfather in Mrs. Jarley's caravan
Speaking of the last chapters, they were very emotional, and this aspect is the one I like the most from this book. **spoiler** I can feel that Dickens had poured out his own emotion into these last chapters—the scene of Nell’s death, that he wrote them while remembering and memorizing the death of Mary Hogarth—her sister-in-law—in her seventeenth age, almost as youth as Nell was. You might have read on his biographies, that Dickens have an affection towards Mary, and was quite shocked when Mary died from heart failure in his arm. “Mary’s death affected him grievously and the shock never seemed completely to dissipate.” [from Dickens’ Bicentenary 1802-2012 by Lucinda Dickens Hawksley]. I can’t but share Dickens’ grief when he wrote about Nell’s burial, and how his grandfather and others felt about it, feel how Dickens must have felt on Mary’s sudden death, and the consolation he must have seek at that time, just as what he wrote here...

“Oh! It is hard to take to heart the lesson that such deaths will teach, but let no man reject it, for it is one that all must learn, and is a mighty universal Truth.”

And from the same book too—Dickens’ Bicentenary—I learned that writing about Nell’s death had re-opened Dickens’ old wound of Mary Hogarth: “I am ….nearly dead with work—and grief for the loss of my child.**spoiler ends**

And last but not least, I also like how Dickens concluded every piece of fragments nicely. I am a reader who judges a book from its ending, not about happy or sad ending, but more on whether it was cleanly closed or not. I don’t like it when there were still one or few things unfinished or unclear, it will make me keep asking questions like why that should happened, or what caused this or that, etc. In this book, one concern raised in my mind near the ending. I noticed that Kit—after his release from jail—had met and thanked everyone except the biggest heroes: Dick Swiveller and the Marchioness, whom Kit never mentioned nor made initiative to come to thank personally. You might think I’m being absurd to think of such small things like that, but as I said, I am a perfectionist when it comes to story ending, everything must be cleared up before I closed the book (most likely) forever. However, thanks to Dickens, I was rewarded by the final page where Kit and Barbara named one of their children as Dick “whom Mr. Swiveller did especially favour” (p. 544). And so…this story becomes one of my favorites of Dickens so far, and I rewarded him with five stars!

Title: The Old Curiosity Shop
Author: Charles Dickens
Publisher: Wordsworth Classics
Published: 1995
Pages: 544 + notes

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Nell’s Grandfather from The Old Curiosity Shop

Talking about Little Nell from The Old Curiosity Shop, is impossible without talking about her grandfather, for everything that happened to poor Nell throughout the book must have been related to her grandfather, the owner of an old curiosity shop in the suburb of London, with whom the orphan Nell lived and the only one Nell ever loved. After Nell’s parents died, her grandfather took over the responsibility to take care of her. I can see that he loved Nell very much.

“Do I love thee, Nell,” said he (the grandfather). “Say, I do love thee, Nell, or no?”The child only answered by her caresses, and laid her head upon his breast.“Why dost thou sob,” said the grandfather pressing her closer to him. “Is it because thou know’st I love thee, and dost not like that I should seem to doubt it by my question? Well, well—then let us say I love thee dearly.”“Indeed, indeed you do,” replied the child with great earnestness.

Basically Nell’s grandfather was a good man, he was just an old man who loved his grandchild, and tried to do something to give her a bright future. Unfortunately, he had chosen the wrong way to gain it. Couldn’t be patient to run his old curiosity shop business properly, he tried a faster way to earn money, by gambling. I don’t know which one comes first in Nell’s grandfather’s case, the gambling-addict or the greediness. However I can say one thing about him, that in spite of his kind heart, Nell’s grandfather has an obvious weakness, he could not resist the temptation of gambling though he knew deep in his heart that what he did was wrong and that it would make Nell sad.

I was torn between love and hate with the old grandfather at first, but reading along this book I’d rather think that he used Nell’s future to be his reason for gambling. Perhaps at first he was really a good grandfather who earnestly loved his grandchild, but having tried gambling as a desperate way to enrich himself—in his obsession to fight the poverty, and to make Nell become a lady or a woman who have a better place in society—he became addicted to gambling. It seems from the book that Nell’s grandfather has never won, but I think it’s hardly possible that a man should lose again and again. I think he sometimes won, but he used the money he won to raise his bet, until he lost all his money. And the same as a drunkard, an addicted gambling would do anything to get money, robbing if he must!

Although I felt pity to Nell’s grandfather—and all other men with same problem—I can’t sympathize with him. I do believe that men have their weaknesses, and must try to improve all their lives, but deceiving himself that he is doing it for the sake of the one he loves, well…it’s unacceptable for me. So, old and pitying Nell’s grandfather is, I can never love him, especially that he had been in many times disappointing Nell—and had been reminded by the little child—but kept doing it and deceiving himself and his grandchild. No, I can’t but blame him for all the sorrows that Little Nell must have endured.

The moral lesson from this character is obvious, that gambling could destroy—not only the gambler’s own life—but also his family and people he loves. And, the only way to stop is to stay away from the temptation. Nell has done the best thing for her grandfather by bringing her grandfather away from the temptation, no matter high the risk was.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Little Nell from The Old Curiosity Shop

Little Nell aka Nelly Trent
The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

Little Nell is a fourteen years old girl who lived in poverty with her grandfather, the owner of a small curiosity shop in London. She was described as a very beautiful little girl, polite and kind hearted child. Nell was an orphan, and thus only has her grandfather who loved her and whom she loved very much. As a child and then teenager, Nell had to go through many hard times. His grandfather often went at night for a mysterious work which—he said—was for Nell’s future good, leaving Little Nell at home, lonely, without anyone to protect her, always felt anxious that something bad might happened to his grandfather. Maybe, all these hard times strengthened her character, so that Nell—despite of her innocent appearance—could think as an adult.

She was often wiser than her grandfather, and it was more often than not, that it was Nell who took the role of leader and protector of the family, instead of the grandfather. Nell was soon alarmed when their new friend acted strangely, an intuition that only a grown up woman can own. During their escape from some bad people, Nell was so brave and resilient that though she was scared and worried, she could always encourage her grandfather.

Although she was used to live in poverty, the most important thing for Nell was not wealth or comfort, but love and affection. I have written about how Nell would prefer to beg on the road if that means she could be together with her grandfather, than to live in their dark and melancholy house.

As usual, Dickens always created a perfect-too-good-to-be-true character such as Little Nell in his books. I have met Oliver Twist before, and so am not surprised to meet Little Nell. Yes, it’s seems unreal, yet we can still learn a lot of things and values from lovely Little Nell.