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


  1. hi Melisa! this is on my TBR. i have been wanting to read this for a long time. thanks for sharing your thoughts. following your blog now as well.

    1. Hi Ao Bibliophile, this blog is managed by me and Melisa. Thanks for following us.. :)