The Readers Review: Literature from 1800 to 1910 discussion

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The Dickens Project > "The Old Curiosity Shop" by Charles Dickens--Week 5: Chapters XXII-XXVIII (May 20-26)

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Christopher H. (christopher_h) | 1483 comments Mod
Here's the folder for the Week No. 5 reading and discussion of Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop. This folder is for discussion of Chapters XXII through XXVIII. Enjoy!


Robin | 422 comments I just wanted to note that we aren't reading exactly 5 chapters each week, as some are a bit shorter or longer. I had been figuring by 5's and just realized I was off, so I thought others might be as well.

In this section, we see the fortunes of various characters play out. Swiveller is being used by Quilp in much the same way Lord Verisopht was used in Nickleby. He's not a bad person, just weak, lazy and too fond of drink.

Kit is on his way up in the world, it's charming to see how the 6 pounds a year is a fortune to him and his family, while Quilp who has so much always wants more. And Kit wants to work for his money while Fred and Dick will do anything but work. But could the shy Barbara replace Nell in Kit's heart?

We suddenly get a chapter of pathos with the death of the good little scholar. Among the things that Nell reflects on is how lucky she is to be spared, since "so many young creatures.. . were stricken down" This is something hard for us to imagine, that deaths of children were common and expected. All the sermons about heaven may have seemed more practical to children when they thought they might be there any day. (But it's unlikely that all death scenes were as tidy and saintly as those in Victorian novels. )

As for Nell and Grandfather (he does have a name, Mr. Trent, I had just forgotten it, since it's rarely mentioned) they go from that sad scene to another humorous, even grotesque one, with Mrs Jarley's traveling exhibition. Just as Kit was recognized for his honesty and industry, Nell is recognized for being helpful, well-spoken, - and literate. Mrs Jarley is so proud of her signs but she can't read them!


Lynnm | 2100 comments Robin wrote: "Kit is on his way up in the world, it's charming to see how the 6 pounds a year is a fortune to him and his family, while Quilp who has so much always wants more. And Kit wants to work for his money while Fred and Dick will do anything but work. But could the shy Barbara replace Nell in Kit's heart?
"


First, thanks for the 5 chapter tip. I was so used to the beginning where it was 5 chapters that I hadn't even noticed. Now, I'm back on track.

Yes, it was sweet that 6 pounds a year was a fortune to Kit. In the west, we forget how little money in the past people made, and how very little some people make today all over the world. It is nice to see somone who appreciates what little he does get in life.

More importantly, I hope this will be a stepping stone for Kit; it will help him move even further up in the world.

However, I didn't like that he seems to have forgotten little Nell as soon as some other shy woman comes his way. Shame, Kit, shame! ;)


Lynnm | 2100 comments It is hard to feel sorry for Dick and Fred after all their scheming to marry Nell off to Dick. But I actually do feel for them a bit. And Quilp is such a terrible individual that I don't want to see him get the upper hand on anybody.

He certainly does, however, know how to manipulate people to get what he wants. Horrid man, really.

I was glad that Nell saw Quilp before he saw her, but how long will she and her grandfather be that lucky. Eventually they will fall into Quilp's hands again. :-(

I'm a bit biased because I'm a teacher, but I dearly loved the scenes with the schoolmaster. How much he cared for his little scholar. How the boys took advantage of him in the classroom, and how he tried to get them to be quiet when he let them out early, but how they couldn't help but let loose once they were out free on a beautiful day.

In contrast, even though she's helping Nell and her grandfather, I can't say that I like Mrs. Jarley. These human curiosities in the book are just a bit too strange for me to connect to in any way.

I did like it though when she rebuked the grandfather for relying on his granddaughter. He need to man up a bit. ;)


message 5: by Lynnm (last edited May 25, 2012 08:56AM) (new)

Lynnm | 2100 comments Robin wrote: "This is something hard for us to imagine, that deaths of children were common and expected. All the sermons about heaven may have seemed more practical to children when they thought they might be there any day. (But it's unlikely that all death scenes were as tidy and saintly as those in Victorian novels. )"

I agree. The death scenes in 19th century British literature are too "tidy and saintly." Death - especially in the case of a child - is neither.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1402 comments Mod
I understand that the book (or at least a part of it) is about a certain pilgrimage of mercy, but even for this old curiosity travelogue, this section is disseminated: Mr Abel's house, Quilp and his ilk, the schoolmaster's house, and even Mrs. Jarley's wagon with waxworks!

Quilp is obviously the harrowing and grotesque evil in the novel - he does not have any redeeming quality, and because he is so overwhelmingly bad, even Dick and Fred deserve some sympathy despite their machinations and plotting.

Robin and Lynnm, it is quite interesting to observe how cruel Dickens can be when he portrays the death of villains (Sikes and Ralph Nickleby)and how tidy the death is for his innocent characters (Smike and the scholar) - they do not die but simply pass away into the new plane of existence, and their death is always a spiritual experience for them.


Heather (hev_uk) I also found this section a bit disjointed. I'm confused as to why Quilip was in the town- does he know that is where to find Nell and her grandfather or was it a co-incience?
I'm not a big fan of Jarley. I find her a bit irritating although it was good when she told the grandfather what we've all been thinking- that he needs to stop relying on Nell!
The book is reminding me of a less amusing Pickwick Papers. Meeting lots of characters without really furthering the story


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1402 comments Mod
Heather wrote: "I also found this section a bit disjointed. I'm confused as to why Quilip was in the town- does he know that is where to find Nell and her grandfather or was it a co-incience?
I'm not a big fan of..."


To tell the truth, I am following the Kit's plot line with more attention and interest. I think it is the most consistent one in the book. And it is true, Quilp is inexplicably and unbelievably ubiquitous:-)


Frances (FrancesAB) | 352 comments I rather like Mrs Jarley-she offered food and then a ride when she saw how tired and how far the pair had to travel and her hospitality included allowing Nell to sleep in her caravan. She is clearly a determined, organized and independent business woman, something which I'm sure would have been somewhat scarce and difficult in those days, particularly for someone illiterate. The waxworks sound bizarre and also as if she has made up stories to fit wax figures she can't identify (could the first one be meant to be Sleeping Beauty?) but again, I admire her for making a living out of them. I also have to support any Patroness of the Arts (she does buy a poem from Mr Slum!).

As for Kit, while he is clearly meant for Nell, she does appear to have abandoned him and I can't fault him for finding attractive a young woman who is appears to be pretty, hardworking, devout, neat and tidy and, most important of all, in the same household.


Robin | 422 comments Zulfiya, I like what you pointed out about how the deaths of characters fit their lives. I wonder if the romanticizing of children's death as a gentle passing into a higher plane was needed to comfort the families who were losing them. There might also be the sense that the children, being innocent, go right to Heaven, while adults have sins to confess. Smike was basically a child regardless of age. But for the evil characters they have to suffer and be punished.


Heather (hev_uk) Frances, I can't fault Kit either. He was good to Nell but she had to abandon him and maybe he'll have more luck with another girl!

Robin, I like your thoughts on the deaths. I think writers wouldn't have written a more negative portrayal of a childs death as the readership wouldn't have accepted it. Whereas for evil characters there is less emotion when they die.


Hedi | 597 comments Sorry that I have not posted anything yet. I am one week behind, but will catch up during the next weekend. My parents are currently visiting me here in Sweden, and we spent a lot of time during the last couple of weeks fixing things around my house and garden here. So after they have left I have more time for reading again. So sorry again for not having been able to participate as usual.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1402 comments Mod
Hedi wrote: "Sorry that I have not posted anything yet. I am one week behind, but will catch up during the next weekend. My parents are currently visiting me here in Sweden, and we spent a lot of time during th..."

I hear you, Hedi. Family is the most important thing. During my spell in Russia I abandoned my other reading projects, and I am trying to play catch-up right now.

It is always a pleasure to read your posts: their are insightful, interesting, detailed, and well-structured. Besides, think about your future magical reading experience in the beautiful garden.


Hedi | 597 comments Zulfiya wrote: "Hedi wrote: "Sorry that I have not posted anything yet. I am one week behind, but will catch up during the next weekend. My parents are currently visiting me here in Sweden, and we spent a lot of t..."

Thank you so much, Zulfiya. :-)
Unfortunately, there is still a lot of work to be done in the garden, but for this summer it will do. I am already looking forward to lay down in my deckchair and read there during the summer months. ;-) So by the end of next weekend I will hopefully have caught up with you all again.


Hedi | 597 comments I am catching up!
As many of you mentioned already, these chapters resemble more a road movie, as the old man and Nell leave their old lives, stroll around and encounter many different characters on their way. It also reminded me a little of Pickwick Papers.

I do not know how you feel about these characters, but I must admit every time a new character is introduced in these particular chapters, I am sceptical about his/ her character, even though this impression changes after they are introduced in more detail. I had this first with the old schoolmaster and also with Mrs. Jarley.

As we had discussed earlier, this book seems to be less about the actual curiosity shop the old man used to have than about the curiosities / strange characters in the world.

Related to Kit, you have already said everything. His new position and situation must be very exciting for him, so it is just natural for him to absorb these new experiences instead of contemplating about the old ones. In the end, he is still a boy and a relatively poor one, too.

As you have also noted, Quilp is manipulating and playing with Dick and Fred, a liitle the way Lord Frederick was manipulated in Nicholas Nickleby.

Related to the death of the little boy, I also liked what you have been saying about the different descriptions of dying.
What I was wondering a little about is why the ladies in the boy's house were blaming his studies as the reason for being sick. You would think that they were happy about his doing so well at school and being so bright. In contrast to that the schoolmaster gets blamed for letting his pupils leave early. It almost seems a little hypocritical.


Frances (FrancesAB) | 352 comments Yes, this novel seems to be filled with little character vignettes-that is people who seem to appear only briefly as Nell and her Grandfather pass through. Each time we meet someone new I wonder if they are going to return at a later time.


Lynnm | 2100 comments Frances wrote: "Yes, this novel seems to be filled with little character vignettes-that is people who seem to appear only briefly as Nell and her Grandfather pass through. Each time we meet someone new I wonder if..."

I don't think they will return, but I could be wrong.

Too bad that Quilp keeps returning. :-) Him, I could live without.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1402 comments Mod
Quilp is a quintessential dark character; so, for a novel, especially a Dickens novel he is a key figure, and I think we have to tolerate him. :-)


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