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Old Curiosity Shop

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A novel by Dickens, published 1841. It was originally intended to be fitted into the framework of Master Humphrey's Clock (1840–41), and Master Humphrey is, in fact, the narrator of the first few chapters, but this idea was soon abandoned.

Little Nell Trent lives in the gloomy atmosphere of the old curiosity shop kept by her grandfather. Reduced to proverty by a spend‐thrift son‐in‐law, and his remaining means drained by Nell's profligate brother Fred, he has borrowed money from Daniel Quilp, a hideous dwarf and a monster of iniquity, and this money he secretly expends in gambling, in the vain hope of retrieving his fortunes, for Little Nell's sake. Quilp, who believes him a rich miser, at last discovers where the borrowed money has gone, and seizes the shop. The old man and the child flee and wander about the country, suffering great hardships and haunted by the fear of being discovered by Quilp, who pursues them with unremitting hatred. They at last find a haven in a cottage by a country church, which they are appointed to look after. The grandfather's brother, returning from abroad, and anxious to relieve their needs, has great difficulty in tracing them. At last he finds them, but Nell, worn out with her troubles, has just died, and the grandfather soon follows her.

The novel contains a number of well‐known characters: Quilp's associates, the attorney Sampson Brass and his grim sister Sally; the honest lad Kit Nubbles, devoted to Little Nell; Mr and Mrs Garland, the kindly old couple who befriend Kit; Dick Swiveller, the disreputable facetious friend of Fred Trent; ‘the Marchioness’, the half‐starved drudge in the Brass household (she marries Dick in the end); Codlin and Short, the Punch and Judy men; and Mrs Jarley, of the waxworks.

Reference entries

Charles Dickens (1812—1870) novelist