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The Old Curiosity Shop

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The archetypal Victorian melodrama, as heartfelt and moving today as when it was first published, Charles Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop is edited with notes and an introduction by Norman Page in Penguin Classics.

Little Nell Trent lives in the quiet gloom of the old curiosity shop with her ailing grandfather, for whom she cares with selfless devotion. But when they are unable to pay their debts to the stunted, lecherous and demonic money-lender Daniel Quilp, the shop is seized and they are forced to flee, thrown into a shadowy world in which there seems to be no safe haven. Dickens's portrayal of the innocent, tragic Nell made The Old Curiosity Shop an instant bestseller that captured the hearts of the nation, even as it was criticised for its sentimentality by figures such as Oscar Wilde. Yet alongside the story's pathos are some of Dickens's greatest comic and grotesque creations: the ne'er-do-well Dick Swiveller, the mannish lawyer Sally Brass, the half-starved 'Marchioness' and the lustful, loathsome Quilp himself.

This edition, based on the original text of 1841, contains an introduction by Norman Page discussing the various contrasting themes of the novel and its roots in Dickens's own personal tragedy, with prefaces to the 1841 and 1848 editions, a chronology, notes and original illustrations produced for the serial version.

Charles Dickens is one of the best-loved novelists in the English language, whose 200th anniversary was celebrated in 2012. His most famous books, including Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield and The Pickwick Papers, have been adapted for stage and screen and read by millions.

If you enjoyed The Old Curiosity Shop, you might like Dickens's Hard Times, also available in Penguin Classics.

576 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1840

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About the author

Charles Dickens

15.1k books27.2k followers
Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-1870) was a writer and social critic who created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime, and by the twentieth century critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius. His novels and short stories enjoy lasting popularity.

Dickens left school to work in a factory when his father was incarcerated in a debtors' prison. Despite his lack of formal education, he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lectured and performed extensively, was an indefatigable letter writer, and campaigned vigorously for children's rights, education, and other social reforms.

Dickens was regarded as the literary colossus of his age. His 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, remains popular and continues to inspire adaptations in every artistic genre. Oliver Twist and Great Expectations are also frequently adapted, and, like many of his novels, evoke images of early Victorian London. His 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities, set in London and Paris, is his best-known work of historical fiction. Dickens's creative genius has been praised by fellow writers—from Leo Tolstoy to George Orwell and G. K. Chesterton—for its realism, comedy, prose style, unique characterisations, and social criticism. On the other hand, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf complained of a lack of psychological depth, loose writing, and a vein of saccharine sentimentalism. The term Dickensian is used to describe something that is reminiscent of Dickens and his writings, such as poor social conditions or comically repulsive characters.

On 8 June 1870, Dickens suffered another stroke at his home after a full day's work on Edwin Drood. He never regained consciousness, and the next day he died at Gad's Hill Place. Contrary to his wish to be buried at Rochester Cathedral "in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner," he was laid to rest in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. A printed epitaph circulated at the time of the funeral reads: "To the Memory of Charles Dickens (England's most popular author) who died at his residence, Higham, near Rochester, Kent, 9 June 1870, aged 58 years. He was a sympathiser with the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England's greatest writers is lost to the world." His last words were: "On the ground", in response to his sister-in-law Georgina's request that he lie down.

(from Wikipedia)

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Profile Image for Bionic Jean.
1,227 reviews1,062 followers
May 27, 2023
The Old Curiosity Shop was the most popular of Dickens's novels during his lifetime. Yet now there is perhaps no other novel by him which splits opinion so much. How can that be?

The simple answer is that tastes change. Just as with modern-day fantasy stories the reader has to suspend their disbelief, accepting the basic premise of the magical or dystopian world described, with Dickens one has to "go along with" his unique view of the world. Yes, he was writing about everyday characters and the highs and lows of their lives. His novels are very much rooted in reality, or they would not have had such an influence on legislation and the public perceptions of the day. But in a way they are also peopled with characters of fantasy. He will refer to "the fairy" or "the goblin" and this is how he views those characters. Their physical descriptions, mannerisms and behaviour all fit the type. Once you buy into the whole package, you realise that this is not a hopelessly sentimental or unrealistic view, but a fabulous tale of good versus evil with a great dollop of chance, and marvellous fairies and grotesques around every corner.

And the characters? Oh, the characters! There are literally dozens of cameo pieces. They jump out of the book at every opportunity, these highly coloured images demanding attention, having but a brief, short life of perhaps a few paragraphs at most, before their vitality sizzles and dies, never again to be encountered by the reader. Who remembers Mr Slum, who was trying to persuade Mrs. Jarley to employ his services as a poet in helping to advertise the waxworks? Vividly described, he is actually based on a person Dickens remembered from his horrific days at Warren's Blacking Factory. But he vanishes from the pages without trace. There is the unbearably snooty Miss Maltravers, the hypocritical monster of a teacher, with a crocodile of young ladies trailing in her wake. Unforgiveably, she makes Little Nell cry - and is then never seen again. There is Tom Scott, the only character in the entire novel, apart from Quilp's downtrodden wife, who genuinely seems to like Quilp. Tom has a penchant for standing on his head and walking on his hands; he later becomes a professional tumbler. But often these characters appear for an instant, sparkle brightly, then disappear never to be be seen again.

On every page too, there is the fingerprint of the author, for Dickens has a unique way of telling a story. Even when describing a harrowing or tragic episode, he will still manage to somehow make the reader smile. In the main he does this through his characters, and he will also anthropomorphise his animals. Dickens will even personify objects or buildings; it is all grist to his mill of engaging his readers, and if at all possible, amusing us at the same time. His style combines exaggeration, hyperbole, sarcasm, irony, good humour, a sense of the absurd, a strong sense of injustice - all these combined in a formula which is essentially the recipe for the human condition, and reaches a pinnacle in the writing of "The Inimitable" Charles Dickens.

Of course, all this can only be experienced through reading the text. The best dramatisation in the world cannot convey any of these linguistic devices. Yet Dickens's stories are perennially popular, adapted for films, TV, radio and stage, and have been retold in numerous ways ever since they were written. Quite an achievement for an author whom some class as "dull"!

So what is the story about, and who are the main characters? Well the story started life as a series of sketches for Dickens's weekly magazine, "Master Humphrey's Clock". Dickens's original idea was that the magazine should be similar to "The Pickwick Papers", with an old man surrounded by a group of friends, who would all relate stories to each other. They would all read out their own manuscripts, the proceedings being presided over by Master Humphrey. The magazine contained a few of these short stories, plus the first episodes of both The Old Curiosity Shop and later "Barnaby Rudge". He had started to include a serial expressly because sales of the magazine had begun to drop. The public were disappointed by "Master Humphrey's Clock", but were quickly intrigued by the story of The Old Curiosity Shop. It captured the public's imagination, and after Dickens had written the first three chapters, being the astute businessman that he was, with an eye for what whetted the public's appetite, he decided to turn it into a full novel. Here is the author, in a preface to a later edition of the novel,

"Master Humphrey (before his devotion to the bread and butter business) was originally supposed to be the narrator of the story. As it was constructed from the beginning, however, with a view to separate publication when completed, his demise has not involved the necessity of any alteration."

He thus neatly got out of any rewriting, although a modern reader is left with an abandoned first person narrator at the end of chapter 3. From the reader's point of view, the voice of the narrator has felt particularly personal up to that point. It is easy to recognise him, even from the very first words of the book,

"Night is generally my time for walking."

Now anyone who knows anything about Charles Dickens's life, will recognise the author from this. He used to walk for miles, and for hours on end, all over London - and often at night.

Then in the novel the narrator tells us, at the end of the third chapter, that he is going to disappear, and from then on, presumably, we will have an omniscient narrator. Oddly, this works. Dickens has already created an atmosphere of mystery, tension and intrigue. We have two abominable grotesques, an old musty house full of "curiosities", and a tiny "fairylike" child. We have been hooked right from the start by the questions the author/narrator also feels. Where does the old man go every night and why? And is he really rich? The upshot of these disjointed events is that the reader, who is already feeling an unworldly sense with this novel, is put on edge even more, and feels a little disturbed and dislocated. At this point it could easily turn into one of Dickens's ghost stories.

Once Dickens had freed himself from the constraints of "Master Humphrey's Clock", he was able to give free rein to the story of The Old Curiosity Shop. He was free to expand on his original idea, increasing the suspense, and interweaving unforgettable characters into the action. There are the main characters, such as the malicious and shudderingly evil, hateful, misshapen, dwarf moneylender Daniel Quilp. Descriptions of him are abundant, always emphasising his sub-human qualities, threatening to "bite" people - and even the poor dog - all the time. When asleep he was,

"hanging so far out of his bed that he almost seemed to be standing on his head, and whom, either from the uneasiness of this posture or in one of his agreeable habits, was gasping and growling with his mouth wide open, and the whites (or rather the dirty yellows) of his eyes distinctly visible."

Quilp revels in plotting the downfall of those around him, and maliciously making a misery of the lives of his nearest and dearest, his shadow of a wife Betsy and her mother Mrs Jiniwin. We meet Sampson and Sally Brass, lawyers, the obsequious brother and dragon of a sister, a sparring duo who provide much comic relief whilst being integral to the plot. Here is a portrait of the charming Sally, of whom, by the way, Quilp is much enamoured,

".... the lady carried upon her upper lip certain reddish demonstrations, which, if the imagination had been assisted by her attire, might have been mistaken for a beard. These were, however, in all probability, nothing more than eyelashes in a wrong place, as the eyes of Miss Brass were quite free from any such natural impertinencies. In complexion Miss Brass was sallow - rather a dirty sallow, so to speak - but this hue was agreeably relieved by the healthy glow which mantled in the extreme tip of her laughing nose."

There are the young heroes, Dick Swiveller - often rather the worse for drink, disinclined to work, full of blather; a careless rogue, but essentially honest and true,

"Mr Richard Swiveller wending his way homeward after this fashion, which is considered by evil-minded men to be symbolical of intoxication, and is not held by such persons to denote that state of deep wisdom and reflection in which the actor knows himself to be,"

and Kit Nubbins, a salt of the earth, devoted both to Nell and his mother, but not really very bright and easily taken advantage of. There are the Garlands, a kind and generous couple, who put the reader in mind of the benevolence of the Cheeryble brothers in "Nicholas Nickleby". Eccentric characters abound, and many have the most wonderful names: Sophie Wackles, a flighty young girl, Codlin and Short, proprietor and puppeteer of a Punch and Judy show, Isaac List and Joe Jowl, crafty gamblers, Mr Chuckster, an annoying windbag, who is the Clerk to Mr Witherden, not to mention the renamed servant, "Sophronia Sphynx".

Yet in this novel Dickens seeks to increase the mystery even further by deliberately keeping the names of some characters from us, sometimes right up to the end. There is "the Small Servant", "the Marchioness", "the Single Gentleman", "the Bachelor". And even Nell Trent's grandfather, a pivotal character in the book, is not given a first name. "The fairy" is of course Little Nell, usually referred to as "the child". "The goblin" is the grotesque dwarf Quilp, quite possibly the most evil villain ever to spring from Dickens's pen. The parts containing these characters are the myth, the fairytale, the eternal struggle of good versus evil, the parts where we want to cheer on our heroes, our angels and fairies, and boo the goblins and baddies. It is also an unworldly doom-laden thread of the story. Simon Callow calls it,

"an extraordinary and complex novel, which summons up an almost Wagnerian world with its dwarf and its gold, a cautionary tale about capitalism... It is astounding that Dickens should have whipped up this whole elaborate fable out of thin air, more or less overnight, quickly extrapolating it out of a little story he thought he might write about a sickly child and her grandfather, in order to keep faith with his public; he never pleased them more with anything."

Indeed, when published as a novel this gave fresh impetus to the serialisation. The mystery continued right through the story, now given added depth and complexity by virtue of its novel status. It took the public by storm, selling an astonishing hundred thousand copies a week, and for the last episode Dickens was inundated with letters from both sides of the Atlantic, begging him to spare Little Nell's life. When the last instalment arrived by ship, crowds in New York were shouting from the pier, "Is Little Nell dead?" Dickens himself had had great difficulty in deciding this point, with so much of his public pleading for a reprieve. Even William Charles Macready, the great actor to whom Dickens had dedicated his previous novel, "Nicholas Nickleby" begged Dickens to let Little Nell live. Dickens's friend, mentor and biographer, John Forster, advised the opposite, telling him that Little Nell should die, "so that the gentle little pure figure and form should never change to the fancy".

Dickens finished writing The Old Curiosity Shop at 4am on January 17th, 1841. The story had been serialised for ten months, and Dickens had been in torment over the planned ending, unable to bring himself to write it, living the experience so vividly that he could not make his characters face the death of their heroine,

"I tremble to approach the place a great deal more than Kit; a great deal more than Mr. Garland; a great deal more than the Single Gentleman.... I am slowly murdering that poor child. It wrings my heart. "

The whole depiction of Nell was a reworking of Mary Hogarth, Dickens's real life sister-in-law who had died three years earlier at the age of 17. Dickens never really got over this loss, although there are indications in The Old Curiosity Shop that he was beginning to come to terms with it. There are several scenes set in a neglected graveyard, with Little Nell musing on thoughts of death. For much of the book she had been in a virtual trance - always wondering if she was awake or asleep - and this seemed to increase until she seemed to achieve a kind of serenity, and an acceptance of her fate. In the graveyard Nell, "grieves to think that those who die about us are so soon forgotten" but was told that unvisited graves were the inspiration of good thoughts and actions by those who remembered the ones who had died but who themselves went on living.

Of course, the more obvious interpretations of the graveyard scenes are as portents and metaphors, foreshadowing what may be to come.

To a modern eye at least, there are many themes in the novel we may easily recognise. Alienation is a primary theme. Each character is in their own little world, often friendless, and with little power to influence their circumstances. Thus there is entrapment and loss of freedom. Creativity is there too, the creativity of Quilp to reinvent himself according to circumstances, and in the character of Dick Swiveller, to a lesser extent. It is tempting too to take a 21st century view of Quilp. What has happened to damage this character; to make him so intent on causing so much pain, devoting all his energies to planning destruction and ruin? Had he been abandoned or illtreated as a child? Was it other people's perceptions of his difference or deformity which lay at the root of his behaviour? But the truth is probably that he was just Dickens's "goblin". Materialism is a paramount theme, naturally. The whole novel hinges on money - the lack of it, and the deceptions involved in acquiring it.

This novel is more similar to "Oliver Twist" than either of the other novels by Dickens which precede it. In both there is a naive and supremely good central character; in both it is a child who actually acts as if they are an adult. Nell may be "nearly 14" at the beginning of the novel, but is perceived by all as a child. And Dickens makes sure the reader never forgets this by constantly referring to her as "the child". Both children have special qualities of innocence, forgiveness, endurance, and martyrdom. Both novels chronicle the journey of these children, and the events which ensue from that. In The Old Curiosity Shop we also follow the journey of Dick, which parallels it. Nell's journey is a life and death one, Dick's is more psychological, but they mirror each other to a great extent.

In both these novels we see two more of Dickens's recurring themes. One is the damage done to children by foolish and reckless parents and grandparents. The other is the paradox of financial security. In Dickens's world, if it has been gained at the expense of morality, it is meaningless and will result in a terrible fate. For Dickens both of these were private and personal wounds; episodes and paradoxes from his own life, which he constantly thrashed out in his own mind, and made his characters play out. Was it ever possible to live a morally good life and also keep safe and well?

Dickens interpolated episodes from his own fancy - the circus troupe, the waxworks and so on. All of these enjoyably entertaining episodes are Dickens indulging his whimsy, his penchant for all things theatrical. But the grim industrial scenes of the furnaces, based on those in Birmingham at the time; the grinding poverty and scenes of individuals trapped in a living death, are depressingly real. In these we have a glimpse of the Dickens who is to write the truly great socially aware novels of his middle period.

Perhaps the best description of the effective formula for writing a serialised novel such as The Old Curiosity Shop comes from Wilkie Collins. Now we remember him from his own classic novels. But in this context, he was Charles Dickens's friend, and a fellow writer who had his material published in Dickens's magazines. His advice to writers hoping to be included in Dickens's magazine?

"Make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait."

With The Old Curiosity Shop we have exactly that experience - in abundance. Plus in the final chapter we have, as always, a satisfying explanation of what has happened to all the main characters. Even the cantankerous and self-willed horse "Whiskers", whose antics more than once released the tension from a particularly harrowing part of the story, is given his own summing-up, his own "happy ending" in the final chapter. Oscar Wilde may have remarked, , but if the reader has been caught up in the throes of the story, with all its tragedies and all its absurdities, then even now the reader is more likely to feel akin to those crowds on the New York Pier.

So, does it actually exist, this "Old Curiosity Shop"? Well, yes. In all probability it is a building on Portsmouth Street, Holborn, London. It was built in 1567, and Dickens often used to visit it. Later it was named "The Old Curiosity Shop" in honour of his novel, and is now quite famous.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
November 21, 2021
The Old Curiosity Shop, Charles Dickens

The Old Curiosity Shop was printed in book form in 1841.

The plot follows the life of Nell Trent and her grandfather, both residents of The Old Curiosity Shop in London.

Little Nell Trent lives in the quiet gloom of the old curiosity shop with her ailing grandfather, for whom she cares with selfless devotion.

But when they are unable to pay their debts to the stunted, lecherous and demonic money-lender Daniel Quilp, the shop is seized and they are forced to flee, thrown into a shadowy world in which there seems to be no safe haven.

Dickens's portrayal of the innocent, tragic Nell made The Old Curiosity Shop an instant bestseller that captured the hearts of the nation, even as it was criticised for its sentimentality by figures such as Oscar Wilde.

Yet alongside the story's pathos are some of Dickens's greatest comic and grotesque creations: the ne'er-do-well Dick Swiveller, the mannish lawyer Sally Brass, the half-starved 'Marchioness' and the lustful, loathsome Quilp himself.

The old curiosity shop‏‫‭, Charles Dickens, ‏‫‭London‏‫‭: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd‏‫‭; New York‏‫‭: E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc‏‫‭, 1957‏‫‭ = 1336.

عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «دختری به نام نل»؛ «دکان کهنه فروشی»؛ «دختری به نام نل (عتیقه‌ فروشی قدیم)»؛ نویسنده: چارلز دیکنز؛ نخستین خوانش نسخه فارسی: روز بیستم ماه دسامبر سال2017میلادی

عنوان: دختری به نام نل؛ نویسنده: چارلز دیکنز؛ مترجم حمیدرضا آتش برآب؛ تهران، علمی فرهنگی، سال1396؛ در دوازده و1025ص، مصور، شابک9786004362801؛ داستانهای نویسندگان بریتانیا - سده19م

عنوان: دکان کهنه فروشی؛ نویسنده: چارلز دیکنز؛ مترجم سالومه مهوشان؛ تهران، دبیر، سال1397؛ در660ص، شابک9786226486057؛

عنوان: دختری به نام نل (عتیقه‌ فروشی قدیم)؛ نویسنده: چارلز دیکنز؛ مترجم: ندا پات داد؛ تهران، نیک نوشت، سال1396؛ در68ص، شابک9786009514816؛

چند فیلم و سریال بر اساس این داستان ساخته شده است؛

چکیده: «لندن» اوایل سده نوزدهم میلادی، آقای «ترنت»، در مغازه ی عتیقه‌ فروشی خود، مشغول به کار بود؛ نوه ی او دختری به نام «نل» نیز، به او در کارها یاری می‌کرد، و باهم زندگی می‌کردند؛ مرد پولدار و طمعکاری به نام «کیلپ» که به قصد مالک‌ شدن همه ی مغازه‌ های «لندن‌»، از هر حُقه و کلکی استفاده می‌کرد، مبلغی را به «ترنت» وام میدهد، ‌بنا بر اینکه در صورت عدم پرداخت در مهلت مقرر، «ترنت» سند مغازه را، به نام «کیلپ» امضا کند؛ «ترنت» تصمیم می‌گیرد، همراه ‌نوه‌ اش از «لندن» فرار کند‌، تا زمانی‌که بتواند بدهی خود را، تسویه نماید؛ «نل» پیشنهاد می‌کند، نزد مادر گمشده‌ اش، به «پارادایز» بروند؛ آنها تنها چیزهایی که با خود برداشتند، یک جعبه موزیکال جواهر بود، که از مادر «نل» به یادگار مانده، و «تیلو»، گربه ی سیاه و کوچک «نل»؛ «کیلپ» و وکیل او «براس»، و دار و دسته‌ اش نیز، در پی آنها، راهی سفر می‌شوند؛ پسری به نام «کیت»، که در مغازه «ترنت» شاگردی می‌کرد نیز، وقتی از نیرنگ «کیلپ» باخبر می‌شود، برای یاری به «نل»، و آقای «ترنت»، در جستجوی آنها، راهی سفر می‌شود، و در این میان، با مرد مرموزی، با ظاهری شبیه یک پیرمرد آشنا می‌شود، که به او در این جستجو یاری می‌کند؛ و...؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 01/10/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 29/08/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
458 reviews3,240 followers
September 6, 2019
In the slums of London in the mid 1800's, on a dirty, lonely and obscure street, a crumbling house still stands, The Old Curiosity Shop. Inside lives an old man (never named), and his pretty, young granddaughter, Nell Trent in the back of the building. An older, lazy brother of Nell's, Frederick is always coming to the house, trying to get some more cash ( he already has wasted, too much) from the grandfather, he needs for his drinking. The almost worthless merchandise the store has, strange nick- nacks, that people will not buy. Old furniture, weird toys, ugly statues anything that the public would hate, they have. The very impoverished gentleman has a secret vice, that keeps the two very poor. The grandfather every night, leaves the 13 -year- old girl alone in the gloomy, creepy house, with only a little candle to shine her surroundings. He goes into the darkness and comes back in the early light, tired, discouraged, and silent about his doings. In the neighborhood lives a dwarf, Daniel Quilp, so evil that the wealthy man, loves nothing better than to cause everyone around him trouble. He laughs so hard at their misery, that Quilp, all call him just this name, rolls in the ground with uncontrollable mirth... He married a very attractive woman Betsy, at the urging of her mother and she lives, the wife, to regret it both do, all three in fact, the mother -in -law stays with the couple. The power of this small, intelligent man to terrorize his family, his big head , repulsive face, filthy mouth, crooked legs, violent ways he enjoys greatly . The always scheming dwarf, lends money to Nell's grandfather but the old man soon loses it, and barrows some more. Of course it is never paid back, and Quilp very quickly takes the grandfather's house ( quite legally), and sells all the merchandise inside, anything for a few pounds, usually much less. Little Nell and her grandfather must vacate too, fleeing, afraid of Quilp who thinks, they have money hidden from him. Anything is better than to live in the unclean streets, both dream of paradise the open country air, rivers flowing by, a beautiful blue sky, trees climbing high above them, flowers everywhere, yes the two to survive, from the tyranny of the dwarf and the city, must leave. Their long travels on dusty, hot roads, hungry, thirsty , tired and the rains come down, no friends, no money living in the open, sleeping in the cold ground but the relatives are devoted to each other ... Meeting Punch and Judy artists, a woman in a wagon with waxworks to display, ill mannered canal workers that give them a lift to a city in their boat, odd gypsies and friendly people, also, who assist the travelers. But they can never remain , the curious ask too many questions and Quilp is still after them. Walking on a road, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, heading to a grimy city, experiencing phenomenal growth, constant noises from the machines nearby, smoke coming out, polluting the area, darkness in the daytime, workers in their soiled clothes living in shacks, the children playing in the filth. Another world is developing, the puzzled Nell sees, it doesn't look like England anymore. But the fugitives must keep on going, until they find, Utopia ...
Profile Image for Kenny.
494 reviews862 followers
October 2, 2022
“Such is the difference between yesterday and today. We are all going to the play, or coming home from it.”
Charles Dickens ~~ The Old Curiosity Shop


I have a strange history with The Old Curiosity Shop. I bought it in 2009. Started reading it in 2012. Lost it in a move. Found it in 2014. Misplaced it while shelving books. Found it again in 2019. And now, finally finished it. So my annual December Dickensthon took place this autumn. And that's OK, ~~ honestly, this feels very much like an autumnal book.

Some random thoughts before I review The Old Curiosity Shop
*This is a very difficult book to review
*The subplots of The Old Curiosity Shop are far more interesting than the main plot
*Dickens is far better at writing young male leads than young female leads
*Nell's Grandfather doesn't love her, he uses her
*Nell's Grandfather is an asshole
*Richard Swiveller shows remarkable powers of redemption ~~ I loved Dick Swiveller
*Kit would make a wonderful lead character. I'd love to visit the world Kit inhabits fully

So my dear Dickens ~~ you threw a curve ball at me this time. The Old Curiosity Shop is perhaps too Dickensian; am I making sense?

Sweet, innocent, pure of heart, a child victimized by a cruel injustice or heart-breaking misfortune ~~ only in this case it was both ~~ and if that's not enough, this is visited upon two different youths: one suffering injustice the other misfortune ~~ Dickens X2 ~~ but more is not always better. And yet, with all this tragedy taking place in both Nell and Kit's world, Dickens is able to set everything right. Well, almost everything.

It's a familiar world ~~ all the Dickens’ trademarks are all here ~~ the villains, the broad caricatures, the amusing names, the kindly poor, the powerful benefactors, and bits of humor scattered here or there.

And yet ~~ it's a different Dickens ~~ a young Dickens ...


The old curiosity shop is the business establishment of Grandfather Trent; he lives there with his adored and angelic granddaughter Nell. For want of a better name, Trent is a real asshole. It was Old Trent's poor judgement that allowed Quilp to enter the Trent's world. It is his addictions that lead to his family's misfortunes. In the employ of Mr. Trent is young Kit, the honest and dutiful son of a widowed mother. Kit is the hero of the piece, and one of most interesting characters in the whole piece.

Another surprise is the character of young Mr. Richard Swiveller; he was thought to be quite a good for nothing and a cad, but he turns out to be a shining knight. He is the other hero of our tale. Dickens is a master of writing tales of redemption, and Dick is one of the best examples of Dickens' mastery in this area.

Into this mix are thrown the evil Sally Brass, one of the best villains Dickens has ever written, Mrs. Jarley, a kindly woman who shelters Nell and her grandfather from the evils of their world, the Schoolmaster, who is kind hearted, but his arrival is a little too convenient. And let's not forget Marchioness, Sally's long suffering servant, who turns the tables on the Brass family.


And there is Daniel Quilp, an evil dwarf who makes everyone's lives miserable. And yet, as evil as Quilp is, I hold firm that the true villain of the piece is Grandfather Trent.

And how is the book?Dickens is an extraordinary novelist, of that there can be no doubt. And yet, despite his unquestioned status among English writers it could be argued he still doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Many today view his write too melodramatic. I know his characters can be two dimensional ~~ but most are well rounded and complex. Yes his story lines can meander, but the way he controls his plots is amazing. His writing helped to elevate the novel to new heights. And lastly, the social reforms that benefited the working classes in Victorian England would never have happened without the voice of Charles Dickens. Dickens does all this and more within the pages of The Old Curiosity Shop.

Lastly, I have to admit I was not entirely satisfied with Dickens’ ending. Maybe it's because I knew the ending in advance. Little Nell's fate didn't concern me in the end. I wanted to know what became of my friends Kit and Dick. Nell and grandfather had grown superfluous to me. But, The Old Curiosity Shop was riveting, and Dickens offered so many unpredictable surprises.

One more thing. I took the ending much better than Oscar Wilde did It turns out for all his criticism, Wilde never read the tale of Little Nell.

Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,194 reviews9,452 followers
April 17, 2017

You have rarely read a novel in which the bad stuff is so so so bad and the good stuff so good and the crunching wrenching sounds of the gear changes between the good bits and the bad bits can be heard from three streets away. Little Nell and her grandfather will revolt modern readers – the former is treated with a religious sanctimoniousness which would make a vicar throw up into the collection plate, and the latter is a gambling addict and depressive old bastard, and the two of them bog this novel down; the reader groans aloud when they hove into view. There are some completely unreadable pages in this novel.


Whereas Quilp is a genius of malevolence

'Now,’ said Quilp, passing into the wooden counting-house, ‘you mind the wharf. Stand upon your head agin, and I’ll cut one of your feet off.’

He should have had a Marvel comic of his own.


Dickens makes his work and that of his readers a whole lot harder than it should be by refusing to give some characters proper names, so they are referred to clumsily throughout the whole 567 pages as “the grandfather”, “the schoolmaster”, “the young scholar”, “the bachelor”, “the old gentleman” – sometimes he has conversations between these nameless creatures. I have no idea why, he was a dab hand at inventing great names, like Dick Swiveller or Sally Brass in these very pages.


Yes, these days you get some people saying they think both are way overrated and should be consigned to the bin and are Not Geniuses. But that’s just trash talk. Maybe if you’ve only heard Yellow Submarine and Octopuses’ Garden and only read Martin Chuzzlewit and Hard Times you will think this way. But that would be to willfully refuse to notice the bigger picture – the vast, oceanic picture.

I’m working on a precise album-by-book Dickens/Beatles equivalence table but tentatively I think The Old Curiosity Shop = Beatles for Sale, an album which contains a handful of very poor efforts – whoever wanted to hear I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party more than once?


Yes, Dickens is still funny. Here’s my favourite bit. Two showmen are discussing freak show giants.

‘What becomes of old giants?’
‘They’re usually kept in carawans to wait upon the dwarfs,’ said Mr Vuffin.
‘The maintaining of ‘em must come expensive, when they can’t be shown, eh?’ remarked Short, eyeing him doubtfully.
‘It’s better that, than letting ‘em go upon the parish or about the streets,’ said Mr Vuffin. ‘Once make a giant common and giants will never draw again. Look at wooden legs. If there was only one man with a wooden leg what a property he’d be!’
‘So he would!’ observed the landlord and Short both together. ‘That’s very true.’
‘Instead of which,’ pursued Mr Vuffin, ‘if you was to advertise Shakspeare played entirely by wooden legs, it’s my belief you wouldn’t draw a sixpence.’
‘I don’t suppose you would,’ said Short. And the landlord said so too.
‘This shows, you see,’ said Mr Vuffin, waving his pipe with an argumentative air, ‘this shows the policy of keeping the used-up giants still in the carawans, where they get food and lodging for nothing, all their lives, and in general very glad they are to stop there. There was one giant—a black ‘un—as left his carawan some year ago and took to carrying coach-bills about London, making himself as cheap as crossing-sweepers. He died. I make no insinuation against anybody in particular,’ said Mr Vuffin, looking solemnly round, ‘but he was ruining the trade;—and he died.’


the same guy who wrote that come up with this mawkish shite :

When Death strikes down the innocent and young, for every fragile form from which he lets the panting spirit free, a hundred virtues rise, in shapes of mercy, charity, and love, to walk the world, and bless it. Of every tear that sorrowing mortals shed on such green graves, some good is born, some gentler nature comes. In the Destroyer’s steps there spring up bright creations that defy his power, and his dark path becomes a way of light to Heaven.

Of course that’s from the intolerable section concerning the Death of Little Nell – no spoiler there, it’s the most famous death in all Victorian literature.

(In passing I just noticed the resemblance of these sentiments to "I Believe", a big hit for Frankie Laine in the 50s :

I believe for every drop of rain that falls a flower grows etc etc )


The modern reader of Victorian novels has to get acclimatized quickly to some seriously encumbered grammatical construction. I think this must put a lot of people off. The density of the prose makes it difficult to speed read.

For instance

Without inquiring whether Salamanders were of necessity good confidential agents, or whether a fire-proof man was as a matter of course trustworthy, Frederick Trent threw himself into a chair, and, burying his head in his hands, endeavoured to fathom the motives which had led Quilp to insinuate himself into Richard Swiveller’s confidence;—for that the disclosure was of his seeking, and had not been spontaneously revealed by Dick, was sufficiently plain from Quilp’s seeking his company and enticing him away.


But knowing the scheme they had planned, why should he offer to assist it? This was a question more difficult of solution; but as knaves generally overreach themselves by imputing their own designs to others, the idea immediately presented itself that some circumstances of irritation between Quilp and the old man, arising out of their secret transactions and not unconnected perhaps with his sudden disappearance, now rendered the former desirous of revenging himself upon him by seeking to entrap the sole object of his love and anxiety into a connexion of which he knew he had a dread and hatred.


Is it worth it? I think you probably leave this one till you’ve read the best five and have either become a Dickens fan or not, and even if you are a fan you’ll probably find yourself getting round to it almost last, as I did. And I’m glad I did, but you might want your money back. Four stars? well, 3.5 rounded up really.


Grandfather : Are we there yet, Little Nell?
Little Nell : Only another 12 miles of rough symbolic terrain to plod through, grandfather.
Grandfather misses his footing and plunges down a disused mine shaft.
Grandfather : Aieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! (Smash, kerrang)
Little Nell : Thank you God! I’m finally free! Now I can assume my real identity of Nell-Eee, Conqueror of Worlds, Shagger of Galaxies!
Profile Image for سيد محمد .
275 reviews477 followers
March 19, 2023
لذكرى منير
صديقي منير
متجر النوادر القديمة نص سردي جميل لتشارلز ديكنز
فيه روح الحكاية، أو الحدوتة
طوال قراءتي لها كان لك حضورك العميق الهادئ
كأنك أخ الجد الذي يأخذ الاتجاه الآخر مستعيدا حركة القصة من النهاية إلى البداية
كان طيفك يبتسم وكأنه يقول هذا عالم بديع
فيه وضوح ودرجة من النبل
لا تحفل كثيرا بالأوغاد فالحدوتة تطويهم غير مأسوف عليهم
أمّا الشخصيات الطيبة فلا تضيع في هوة التناسي
هي موجودة في الخيال
أحلام يقظة وحوارات لا تنتهي
كأنك تقول بابتسامتك الوديعة
كم كان ديكنز مناسبا لدور الراوي
دعك من كلام النقّاد إن الراوي محض شخصية صوتية، مجرد تقنية عرض، وليس المؤلف
هنا ديكنز يتحدث إلينا بخبرة جد حكّاء
أفلاطوني في مثاليته التي تجوب الشوارع المظلمة تتقصى أحوال المشردين
يقول لأرسطو بإخلاص ها أنا ذا أحقق ما تراه
حين يصل القارئ معي لدرجة عالية من التطهير
عزيزي منير
هناك من يواصل القصة دون أن يقول لأحد
يتابع الأثر المار في أحياء الجمال
ويس��عيد صوتك في مجرة الأدب
مجد الطيبين هو بقاء آثارهم في مدينة الكتب
في متجر النوادر القديمة
التي يحاول المخلصون أن يحفظوا مكانه
الذي وقف عنده الشعراء القدامي وهم ينادون حبيبات
مضت بهن قوافل الزمان
ترى كم متجر للنوادر القديمة في المعلقات العربية
وحوانيت موديانو المعتمة
وحديث الصباح والمساء
وأحمد الراوي في ورثة آل آلشيخ الذي وقف يشعل سيجارته عند جامع الحاكم
وهو يتصوّر كم أديب مثله وقف هكذا
وهل رآه أحد من أهل المدينة الكبيرة
متجر النوادر القديمة حكاية تتردد في ذاكرة الأحبة
عن اللحظة الجميلة التي تفارقنا بعد أن منحتنا إلهاما لحياة
مثل كلمات الأصدقاء التي تنير المتجر النفسي الحافل بمخزون الرحلة
فتصبح شموعا راعية لمتناثرات روحية
تلتئم كلما مسها ذاك الوهج الرصين الشجي
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book487 followers
February 13, 2022
Written in 1840, when Dickens himself was less than 30 years old, The Old Curiosity Shop, while still a lovely read, introduces themes and writing that would become so much more mature and complex in Dickens’ later novels, Little Dorrit and Dombey and Son. That this is one of his more sentimental efforts can be easily explained by knowing that Dickens was still grieving the premature loss of his young sister-in-law, Mary Hogarth, who died at the age of 17.

The death of Mary Hogarth was a blow that Dickens perhaps never recovered from. He was quite young himself, and Mary makes appearances in many of his novels, as angelic female characters, lost before their time. What the loss of one so young must undoubtedly trigger in anyone is a sense of their own mortality, an issue each of us grapples with daily.

That this was paramount in Dickens’ mind at the time of this writing seems to me to be evidenced in the following passage from the book:

The child admired and praised his work, and shortly afterwards departed; thinking, as she went, how strange it was, that this old man, drawing from his pursuits, and everything around him, one stern moral, never contemplated its application to himself; and, while he dwelt upon the uncertainty of human life, seemed both in word and deed to deem himself immortal. But her musings did not stop here, for she was wise enough to think that by a good and merciful adjustment this must be human nature, and that the old sexton, with his plans for next summer, was but a type of all mankind.

The story of Little Nell is the central one of The Old Curiosity Shop, but it runs parallel to a second story, which I think of as Kit’s story. While the two tales overlap in places, they seemed to me to be two distinct threads, with only a tenuous attachment. What they do have in common is the same villainous enemy seeking to do them harm, the dwarf, Quilp. Quilp is a villain of no subtlety. He is rotten from the brim to the dregs, and his inner character is reflected in his outer visage. He is the frightful thing a child hopes is not lingering under the bed or in the closets when the light goes out. He is, in fact, almost a caricature of evil, which, for me, lessens his impact. I tend to be more frightened by the evil that lies hidden beneath kinder words and countenances.

In the same vein, Nell is so good and so sweet that she becomes almost a symbol of childhood innocence and virtue, instead of a real little girl in a precarious position. While I was moved to tears over Florence Dombey and Amy Dorrit, I shed none for Nell. This told me that she affected me in a less personal way. Her Grandfather is, I believe, meant to elicit our sympathies, but like Mr. Dorrit, he never completely redeems himself for me. Without him, exactly as written, however, the extent of Nell’s love and devotion could never be portrayed.

The book has been compared to a fairytale, and it fits the description well. The child is in peril, the evil forces pursue her, particularly in the form of a Rumpelstiltskin-like Quilp, good forces collude to save her. But there is more depth than that to this tale. There are the actions of the Grandfather, which bring himself and Nell into the clutches of such evil and leave them exposed to a world where even the elements of nature can be cruel. There are sharp contrasts between the bucolic countryside and the industrialized city, where the fires burn day and night and threaten to suck everyone into a nightmare existence.

Kit’s story, I believe, saves the book from being maudlin or saccharin. He adds both humor and reality to the story and as it progresses, his story becomes the meat of the tale–the portion where you begin to see the inner workings of the characters, both good and bad. It is primarily in this story line that we see my favorite character from the book, Dick Swiveler and the marvelous Marchioness. What I like about Dick is that he grows over the course of the story. He swivels, if you will, from not seeing clearly, or perhaps even caring about others, to being one of the most insightful and caring characters penned. With him comes the Dickensian humor that brightens the bleakest of Dickens’ tales.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It is an established fact that Dickens at his worst spreads a richer table than most authors at their best. If I were not comparing this to other Dickens novels, it would doubtless get a five-star rating. As it is, it is a smidgen below his best, so I give it four-stars and encourage everyone who hasn’t done so to read it.
Profile Image for Lisa.
977 reviews3,327 followers
January 9, 2021
Dickens puts a layer of happiness on my bruised soul even when he tries his hardest to be bleak!

Who couldn't relate, in these times, to a hopeless dreamer becoming addicted to gaming in the vain effort to heap wealth on a beloved grandchild?

Who couldn't relate to the power and toxicity of a dark personality, displaying all signs of evil and yet so dominant that people remain hypnotised despite themselves? Quilpism trumps reason.

Who couldn't feel for Kit and his sweet family and for the stubborn pony with exquisite taste and integrity?

Who wouldn't sense Nell's vulnerability and anticipate the angel child's path from our ugly world to the realm of remembrance?

Who wouldn't want an Old Curiosity Shop to set off the adventure?

Nell's quest to isolate herself with her grandfather to save him from the danger he runs in society rings all too familiar, doesn't it? And the pandemic of gaming addiction is equally strong in us today as it was when she set out to save his soul and hers.

Needless to say, there is no cure!

But Dickens offers good company in Hard Times, and I close yet another December Dickens with my eternal Oliver Twist hunger for more, and Great Expectations for the year to come!
January 11, 2022
“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 truer metal and bear the stamp of Heaven.”

The Old Curiosity Shop is my classic choice for the reading challenge and why?. First of all, Charles Dickens is a literary giant whose superb plots and strong and quirky characters put him in a league beyond many others. Secondly, I knew very little about this story. I had not read or watched any TV adaption that would give me a glimpse as to what wonderous tale that awaited me, as I was served up the latest treat from this timeless author.

I can only say I wished the ‘dickens’ I had read the history around this book, because I was totally unprepared for such a tragic ending, that in my opinion was the most macabre and heart-breaking endings I have read, possibly ever. I have since discovered that the excitement surrounding the conclusion of the series was unprecedented at its time of publication with fans acting angrily at the sombre and devastating ending. Readers were incensed.

The Plot

Nell lives with her grandfather at the Old Curiosity Shop, a feast of treasures but not enough to provide a sufficient inheritance for Nell. As they eke away a living, Nell’s Grandfather resorts to gambling and before long amasses debt so great they must flee to avoid the debtor’s prison. Moving to the Midlands, Nell is forced to beg on the street as they continue to move from one village to another to remain one step ahead of Quilp, an unscrupulous lender who is determined to see his former borrower in jail regardless of the consequences to Nell. In parallel, a new face arrives and as we begin to feel a tide will turn in favour of Nell and her grandfather, the unthinkable happens.

Reviews and Comments

With some strong themes of death, loss, gambling, vagrancy and debt, Charles Dickens delivers another powerful novel. In my opinion, an author that is one of the best at developing the wicked, villainous and deliciously evil characters coupled with the ability to draw the atmosphere so vividly from the pages accompanied by superb plots. In this novel Dickens also continues with his trademark storytelling that highlights the class differences in Victorian England between those that have and those that do not.

However, also known for his macabre setting, events, and characters, I think Dickens has surpassed his reputation on this one. As we moved towards a hopeful finale when one of the key characters says “I must now go and find my family” the unthinkable happens and tragedy seems to touch every character with an ending that was far too morbid. I read this days ago and reeling from the ending to the point I would have rated this book very low for the ending alone. “Have I yet to learn that the hardest and best-borne trials are those which are never chronicled in any earthly record and are suffered every day!”

I was disappointed with the Old Curiosity Shop unfortunately, the ending made a lot of the story irrelevant and was just too sombre.
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,226 followers
February 16, 2015
Charles Dickens likes to beat the shit out of his main characters. It's like a form of domestic abuse!

Has he beaten the crap out of another character more than poor little Nell from The Old Curiosity Shop? Certainly Pip and Oliver get theirs. But at least with them there's some sort of happy ending or comeuppance for the villains. Like Little Dorrit without the uplifting ending, Nell is flat out beat down. Time and again she is taken advantage of and there is no redemption, not in my eyes. Sure, you could say that she gets to finish out her miserable life in a better place than where she started, but .

What was wrong with Dickens? Why did he like to make his characters, and by proxy us, suffer so much? Yes, pitting characters against trials is important to keep up the tension and keep the reader's eyes locked on the page, but this is different altogether. It's as if the trial is over and all we see is the punishment.

No, I can not say this is one of Dickens' more successful attempts at his brand of entertainment. He wrote of, quite literally, of hard times. England was not a pleasant place for the lower classes in the 19th century, especially in the 19th century. It was a time ripe for an author keen on social commentary. In the later half of the century, England birthed an author quite keen on telling it how it was while adding in some good old fashion story-time fun in the form of adventure and outlandish characters. Good as The Old Curiosity Shop is, however, it doesn't quite work on the whole. I think it's because Dickens forgot about the fun.
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews515 followers
June 24, 2018
"One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing."
Oscar Wilde

In this, the third Dickens novel (1841), one can see Dickens stropping his sharp sabre of social satire with the tale of "little" Nell Trent (almost 14) and her emotionally unstable grandfather going on the run across the dismal English countryside to escape the monstrously malevolent Daniel Quilp, a grotesque, hunchbacked dwarf usurer, once gramps runs up a huge debt to Quilp after becoming addicted to gambling. Quilp has his evil eye on Nell as Mrs. Quilp #2, and tells her so.

I think it's so well known that it's no longer a spoiler to point out that this is the only Dickens novel in which the protagonist dies. It was a good story, but I found Nell a mawkish character and the last tenth of the novel saccharine.

Of the eight Dickens novels I've finished-- this, Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, The Pickwick Papers, Bleak House and Oliver Twist-- this is the only one I've not thought worthy of four or five stars. I recently started and put on hold Barnaby Rudge, and I intend to read Dombey and Son, which some have said is most underrated.

The Pith:
Primarily Victorian sentimental pudding for Dickens Sweet Tooths
Profile Image for Jeff .
912 reviews692 followers
January 14, 2020
What a long, strange trip it’s been?

Finally finished the last of the “complete” Dickens novels.

*awkwardly high-fives himself*

It’s easy to see how Boz (Dickens’ nickname) was the pre-eminent novelist of the 19th century, plus Silk Degrees is one of my wife’s favorite albums. Dickens once again provides a heady mixture of comedy and pathos and even though the ending was spoiled by accounts of American readers sinking British vessels because they didn’t have the last serialized installment of this book and didn’t know what the hell happened with Lil’ Nell, I dropped a man tear anyway because I’m a deep and sensitive dude.

The humor: For a guy who’s been dead for helluva long time, Charles Dickens has a remarkable gift for seeing the humor in the way human beings function and interact, which is, for the most part, still prescient today. It’s more a-smile-and-damn-I-wish-I-had-written-that, than laugh out loud funny, even though there are a few of those. Still, jolly good times.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions department : I’m looking at you Grandpa. Sure you had Lil’ Nell’s future and best interests at heart, but let’s face it, trying to gamble for the money so she can live in some remote quiet country village away from the bustle of London, just fed into your addiction and undermined poor Lil’ Nell’s attempts at doing the right thing at every turn which

Way to go, Pops, I hope you’re proud of yourself!

From that evil, manipulative dwarf, Quilp – one of Dickens’ best rogues; to the Brasses and one of literature’s first cross-dressing female characters, Sarah Brass (fellas, she’s single); to the pure at heart, nicest-guy-in-the-world, Kit; and the redeemed drunken ne’er do-well, Dick Swiveller and the teeny-tiny Marchioness; this is a pretty decent collection of characters.

In poor lil’ Nell and Grandpa’s road trip, Dickens introduced a plethora of traveling road entertainers like the dancing dogs, a Punch and Judy show, Lady Godiva and her magic donkey, and a traveling wax works exhibit…

Jinkies, that was a close one, kids.

Something that would probably interest only me department : A musical, based on the book, was made called Quilp . Taking an evil, vindicative, abusive, manipulative character and putting a “fun” spin on him was misguided to say the least. I assume that the producers, based on the success of Oliver , thought they could lighten up the character like they did for Fagin, the peddler of under-aged thieving boys. Hilarity and catchy songs ensued; but probably not, because the movie faded into obscurity.

Bottom line: Not top tier Dickens, but definitely worth reading if Dickens is your cuppa. It gets four stars because Dickens can sure kick the stuffing out of his characters and the juxtaposition between the laughs and tragedy can be jarring.

Lil’ Nell meets “fire” guy…

Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,022 reviews4,066 followers
June 15, 2012
Not too sentimental. Oscar Wilde was clearly in a bad mood. Boasts the evillest dwarf outside German folklore, the irrepressible Qulip. Cute kid and her put-upon granddaddy in King Lear and Cordelia metaphor. A crackerbox of eccentrics: the morally unsure Dick Swiveller, the ruthless Brasses (precursor of the legal vipers in Bleak House), the hero-in-waiting Kit. A rodomontade of freaks and carnies, from Mrs Jarley’s waxwork nobility to the stilt-walking Punch performers. Classic Dickens comic brio and irresistible, long-flowing sentences. Padding that tastes like pudding. Terrifying tension between Qulip and his victims. Poignant climax. A single gentleman who sleeps enough for a double gentleman. A servant girl who prospers. A lady more masculine than her brother. Twice as many dei ex machina than in Nicholas Nickleby: from Nell suddenly inheriting a house (after spending the night soliciting help from plague-ridden slums with dead infants for doorstops), to the typical Dickens solution of a benign rich relative dishing out fortunes. Popular songs embedded in dialogue. An allegorical pilgrimage. The liberation of an abused wife. Improbable marriage between stepdad and daughter. Faultless Men of God. Great notes in the Oxford Classics edition. Um . . . What’s that? You want some more? Why, you rascally scoundrel: back in your chair! I loved this.
Profile Image for Katie Lumsden.
Author 1 book2,804 followers
March 24, 2023
A really enjoyable reread - it's been so long since I last read this one. I love it a lot, though I'm still gathering my thoughts.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books781 followers
April 24, 2020
Such is the difference between yesterday and to-day. We are all going to the play, or coming home from it.

I have a history with this story.

When I was a child, I had a book of Dickens stories that I thought were the real thing (I wasn’t happy when I found out they weren’t) and this one, with its depiction of Little Nell was my favorite. I suppose that’s not surprising, as it has all the elements of a fairy tale, especially the incarnation of repulsive evil, Quilp, who has the characteristics of a Rumpelstiltskin, terrorizing the put-upon (most of it in helping her beloved grandfather who has gotten them into their mess), epitome of goodness, Nell.

I moved on to “real” Dickens starting in high school, but I didn’t read this until I was around thirty years old. The book itself has a special place in my memory, illustrated by the 5 stars I originally gave it (as a pre-GR read). I bought it in London at a Blackwell’s and read it on the plane ride home. If I wasn’t enthralled with it this time, I certainly was then. Now, with more Dickens-experience, I can’t give it 5 stars. It's an early novel and was written on the fly, especially in its beginning, for weekly installments.

Dickens used one installment to vent his spleen at injustice that is still, of course, relevant today:

Let moralists and philosophers say what they may, it is very questionable whether a guilty man would have felt half as much misery that night, as Kit did, being innocent. The world, being in the constant commission of vast quantities of injustice, is a little too apt to comfort itself with the idea that if the victim of its falsehood and malice have a clear conscience, he cannot fail to be sustained under his trials…Whereas, the world would do well to reflect, that injustice is in itself, to every generous and properly constituted mind, an injury, of all others the most insufferable, the most torturing, and the most hard to bear; and that many clear consciences have gone to their account elsewhere, and many sound hearts have broken, because of this very reason; the knowledge of their own deserts only aggravating their sufferings, and rendering them the less endurable.

My reread was with the local Dickens Fellowship. Several of us met online this month and we'll have the opportunity to do so next month. We’ll finish discussing this work and find out what Dickens we’ll be reading together starting in September. I’m up for whichever is chosen.
Profile Image for AiK.
491 reviews114 followers
September 16, 2022
Сентиментальный роман о скитаниях старика с возвышенной и благородной душой, но при этом страдающего игроманией, и его идеально благочестивой и кроткой внучки Нелл не вызвал эмоционального отклика. Все персонажи четко делятся на положительных и отрицательных, за исключением главного героя с его лудоманией, разумеется. Впрочем, диккенсовский богатый язык немного поправил дело.
Profile Image for Tristram Shandy.
698 reviews201 followers
June 11, 2019
A Treacly Treat

Written between the spring of 1840 and the late autumn of 1841 for the weekly serial “Master Humphrey’s Clock”, Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop is utterly blemished by the constraints on a writer’s imagination such a serial publication demands, for the novel is extremely ill-composed, its plot comes out as threadbare and rather pointless, and some of the characters undergo rather improbable changes. In fact, had this been the first Dickens novel I had ever laid eyes on, I would probably never have discovered the wonderful richness and enjoyment this inimitable writer has to offer, as I would hardly have touched another of his books.

The Old Curiosity Shop tells the story of Little Nell Trent and her dotard of a grandfather, who – due to the machinations of her profligate and money-hungry brother and of the diabolical dwarf Quilp – are made to leave their forfeited home in London, the eponymous Old Curiosity Shop, and abscond into the countryside to lead a humble, but happy life as beggars. Matters are complicated by the grandfather’s compulsive gambling and by Quilp’s determination to hunt the couple down. On the other hand, there appears a strange middle-aged gentleman who has taken a keen interest in finding the whereabouts of Nell and her grandfather and in bringing Quilp to justice.

Unfortunately this book is seriously flawed in many ways. After the first three chapters, for instance, the first person narrator withdraws from the story, since Dickens was well aware that this point of view would put him under severe restrictions in constructing his tale, which at first was not intended as a full-length novel but as another of the shorter yarns spun by Master Humphrey. While we may generously pass over such an awkward interference on the author’s part, matters are not improved by the writer’s decision to have Frederick Trent, Nell’s brother, who has played a crucial role in the first few chapters, suddenly drop out of the novel completely, whereas his comical sidekick, Dick Swiveller, is retained through all sorts of twisted plot devices. Speaking of these, Daniel Quilp’s motives for hunting Nell and her relative are rather threadbare, too, and in the second half of the novel, Quilp seems to concentrate his attention on Nell’s former friend and ally Kit so that on the whole there is no coherent plot at all.

Admittedly, Dickens was never too convincing at creating plots, but in most cases he made up for this deficiency by inventing inspiring characters and giving haunting descriptions of 19th century life. In these respects, however, The Old Curiosity Shop tends to be rather disappointing, too. There is the feckless and indefatigably imaginative Dick Swiveller, to be sure, whose falling in love with the Marchioness, a young servant, shows Dickens at his best, and there are Sampson Brass and his virago of a sister as two vile deceivers, and there is, of course, Daniel Quilp himself, an embodiment of exuberant evil, who is, somehow, flawed by Dickens’s inclination to overstep the mark of verisimilitude, but this is it. Kit Nubbles, for example, a rather naïve and imbecile nitwit at the beginning of the novel, has suddenly turned into a self-confident and honest young man at his next appearance. Worst of all, however, are the pure characters we are supposed to sympathize with, they are even worse than most of Dickens’s paragons of virtue. What can I write about Nell apart from her being virtuous, loving, self-sacrificing, innocent and patient – all this, mark, at the gentle age of twelve? She is so angelic that she fails to arouse any human interest at all. And then there’s grandfather Trent, an ineffectual, lachrymose and peevish egotist, who gambles, not for his own sake, but in order to earn abundant riches he wants to lavish on his grandchild. Reading about how these two cut and dried heroes wend their way through all sorts of hardships is tantamount to going on a strict diet of unbuttered and untoasted white bread, which is, paradoxically, made the drier for all the treacly sentiment that Dickens pours on these scenes. Too much sweet is bad for your teeth, so you start grinding them.

The worst part, in these terms, is Nell’s deathbed scene, which has been immortalized by Oscar Wilde’s irreverent remark that you must have a heart of stone to read it without dissolving into tears – of laughter. I find that Aldous Huxley in his essay Vulgarity in Literature gives an even more devastating, yet clairvoyant analysis of Dickens’s inability to provide a really touching account of the death of a child, because he compares the treatment of Little Nell with Dostoevsky’s artistic rendition of the death of little Ilusha Snegirov in The Brothers Karamasov – a scene that actually moves me to tears whenever I read it. “One of Dickens’s most striking peculiarities”, Huxley states, “is that, whenever in his writing he becomes emotional, he ceases instantly to use his intelligence. The overflowing of his heart drowns his head and even dims his eyes; for, whenever he is in the melting mood, Dickens ceases to be able and probably ceases even to wish to see reality. His one and only desire on these occasions is just to overflow, nothing else. Which he does, with a vengeance and in an atrocious blank verse that is meant to be poetical prose and succeeds only in being the worst kind of fustian.” Nowhere in Dickens’s works is this flaw as obtrusively meretricious as in Little Nell’s deathbed scene, and the acclaim he earned for this podgy hotchpotch from his contemporaries might rather prove to be of interest to Peter Gay, in writing another of his insightful books on 19th century mentalities, than serve as evidence of artistic quality.

Running down a novel by one of my favourite writers was not an easy thing to do for me, but a spade must be named a bloody spade, coûte que coûte. It is for the creation of Mr. Swiveller, the brazen couple and, to some degree, of Quilp that I would concede that this book has some little merit after all.
Profile Image for Brad.
206 reviews23 followers
June 27, 2007
Another masterful confection of pathos and comic genius, this time featuring such characters as the slacker Dick Swiveler and the cruel Daniel Quilp.

My generic comment about Charles Dickens:
First of all, although I am a partisan of Dickens' writing and have read and relished most his works, I concede to three flaws in his oeuvre that are not insignificant. First, while he seemed to develop an almost endless variety of male social types, his female characters are much less well developed. Second, although he portrayed the stark brutality of economic and class inequality with unparalleled clarity, his diagnosis of what needs to be done is flaccidly liberal, suggesting that the wealthy should simply be nicer and more generous to the poor(yet his writings did propitiate structural changes, e.g. to the Poor Laws, in his lifetime). Third, in tying up the loose threads of his extremely complex plots, he often pushes this reader past the boundary of the reasonable suspension of disbelief. Some readers also object to his sentimentalism or to his grotesque characters but I find these extremes create a dynamism in combination with his social criticism.

These caveats aside, I deeply enjoy reading Dickens for a number of reasons. He exhibits stratospheric gifts of imagination in portraying extremes of human character in extreme situations. His idiosyncratic characters each have an unmistakable and unforgettable voice. His highly crafted language is endlessly inventive and evocative. Finally, he created a parade of some of the funniest, evilest, and most pathetic characters one will ever encounter and although extreme, they also ring true to equivalent characters from any time.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,687 followers
June 2, 2018
I'm going to chew on this one a bit. Like many of Dickens novels, the characters that stick with me are minor characters, or the bad guys. I'm not sure the novel could exist without Nell and Kit, but they were both too angelic, too mono, too one-dimensional. If I'm going to pick a monochromatic side, I'm going to go with the nihilist dwarf, Daniel Quilp. There is something about this Dickens villian that is just fantastic. However, I much preferred the rounder characters in this book, especially 'Dick' Swiveller and The Marchioness. I also liked the minor saints: The Bachelor, Mr. Garland, Abel, and the poor schoolmaster.

This was an early and VERY popular Dickens serial, so I also liked it simply for the idea of fiction being such a cultural moment and this book probably being one of the things that allowed Dickens the room to develop his social novel chops.
Profile Image for Michelle.
1,354 reviews124 followers
December 14, 2021
I read this book purely because Oscar Wilde once said, if you don't laugh over the death of Nell, you have a heart of stone. Which kind of gave a huge part of the story away but it's Oscar, we can get over it.

I was really surprised to have the main character killed off to be honest, but I guess I should have known better as Dickens does love to bash his characters around.

Like most classics, I found it pretty hard going but not overly descriptive as they can be. One of the few Dickens I can actually say I half enjoyed.
Profile Image for Behin.
75 reviews21 followers
February 17, 2022
الان داشتم با بهار همینجوری درباره کتاب حرف میزدیم یه دفعه یاد این سم افتادم:/
این چرا انقد معروفه؟واقعااااا چرااااا؟؟؟؟خیلی سواله برام😐
معروف بودنو بیخیال، چرا انقد طولانیه؟آخه مرد حسابی چرا هزار صفحه طول دادی این چیز مسخررو:/
راحت میتونست ۱۰۰ صفحه باشه خیلیم تاثیر گذاریش بیشتر باشه
وقتی اینو خوندم(تیر ۹۹) بعدش دچار یه ریدینگ اسلامپ خیلی طولانی شدم(حدود یه سال و خورده ای)، اگه اینو نمیخوندم الان کلی کمیت و کیفیت کتابام بیشتر بود...
نخونین اینو همین، فعلا خداحافظ😂
Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
557 reviews7,415 followers
July 5, 2014
Dickens, how dare you end the novel like that! MY EMOTIONS YOU PIG-DOG! This was great, really great (obviously, it's Dickens for goodness sake). The story of Little Nell and her grandfather is tragic and beautiful, while Daniel Quilp is an incredibly dastardly Dickensian villain (he's no Bill Sikes though). Read this because it's Dickens and he's a fucking genius.
Profile Image for Dean.
407 reviews116 followers
January 17, 2020
My favorite Dickens!!!
Until now it was Oliver Twist, but the heartbreaking story of Nell and his grandfather did overwhelm me!!

Besides, this is a novel so well written that I want to say this is indeed one of Dickens best works ever..
The characters are so full of life..
The villains like Quilp the ugly and evil dwarf, or Brass the corrupt layer and his sister Sally are so abominable..

Like no other novel of Dickens, this one lives from the contrast between young and old, evil and good, poor and rich, light and darkness..

As we accompany Nell and his grandfather in their journey trough the English countryside and towns, we will met sundry colorful and remarkable characters..

Reading Nells account you cannot help but to suffer with the child, and partake of her sorrows and fretfulness..
Dickens powerful imagination relentless drags us deeper and deeper into the innermost feelings of his characters, and gives us a privy and intimate look into their complex psyche with their hidden thoughts and intentions!!!

Happy readings to all my goodreads friends..


Profile Image for Connie G.
1,689 reviews451 followers
February 2, 2022
Nell Trent and her grandfather reside at The Old Curiosity Shop in London. The grandfather loses all his money, and is in debt to the deformed dwarf, Daniel Quilp. When his shop is taken, the impoverished grandfather and Nell travel by foot to the Midlands of England, meeting a wide group of street people and kind benefactors along the way.

Meanwhile, back in London, a second story thread involves Kit, who previously worked at The Old Curiosity Shop. Some law offices and the villain, Quilp, are part of these chapters.

Most of the characters are either extremely good, such as devoted Nell and honest Kit, or terribly evil, such as wicked Quilp. The forces of good and evil intersect in a rousing adventure that is sometimes a bit over the top. Dickens uses humor very effectively in some scenes. He also weaves in some social commentary about the treatment of the poor and less fortunate. Dickens' portrayal of the black, grimy industrial cities of England with terrible working conditions is heartbreaking.

"The Old Curiosity Shop" was published in the weekly serial "Master Humphrey's Clock" from 1840-1841 in 73 short chapters with wonderful illustrations. Even though it's a long book, I always looked forward to the next chapter.
Profile Image for Mona.
481 reviews282 followers
September 29, 2015

A Dickensian "Alice in Wonderland"

"Curiosity Shop" vs. "Alice

This novel, serialized in 1840 and 1841, and published as a book in 1841, reminds me in some respects of "Alice in Wonderland" (published in 1865).

Maybe it's that they're both British Victorian novels. Maybe it's the abundance of eccentric (and even lunatic) characters that seems to be the specialty of British novelists of the time. Maybe it's the original (and quite wonderfully demented) illustrations by George Cattermole and Hablot Browne (with some possibly also by Samuel Williams and Daniel Maclise).

"Alice" of course is a comedy and a parody of political figures of the time, where "The Old Curiosity Shop" is not (apparently) a political parody, but a tragicomedy in a (sometimes) more serious vein, although with an abundance of humor and sarcasm (as in the use of the epithet "beautiful" for Sally Brass, who, from both the descriptions of her and the illustrations appears to be anything but...)


The best thing about this novel is its plethora of weird and colorful characters (many with appropriately peculiar names). These include the following, among others.

• Nell Trent. A beautiful and saintly child who is one of the main characters. She loves and cares for her aging grandfather.

• Nell's grandfather (usually referred to as "The Old Man"). He adores Nell. He owns the Old Curiosity Shop, and mysteriously disappears at night, leaving Nell alone. Nell discovers the reason for this later.

• Christopher "Kit" Nubbles. He is initially Nell's grandfather's servant. The grandfather, however, dismisses him on false suspicions that he has spied on him.
Kit lives near the Trents, in poverty, with his mother, and two younger brothers
(Jacob and "the baby"). His fortunes later improve when he becomes a servant to
the Garlands,
an elderly couple who live in Finchley with their adult son, Abel.

• Daniel Quilp, the villain. Quilp is an ugly and demonic dwarf, who delights in tormenting nearly everyone else. He is greedy and malicious.

• Samson Brass, Quilp's solicitor (lawyer). His obsequious and rambling speeches, long and exagerrated, are quite humorous (although Brass doesn't seem to realize this).

• Sally Brass, Samson Brass's sister. Swiveller (see below) refers to her as "The Dragon". She is a formidable woman who doesn't take guff from anyone and runs her brother's law office. She is quite learned in the law. She's not too nice and has terrible fashion sense, habitually wrapping her head in an old brown scarf (referred to as "the headdress")

• Richard "Dick" Swiveller, who works as a clerk in Brass's office. Initially a rogue and a ne'er-do-well, he develops into one of the more decent people in the book and finally grows up near the novel's end

• Frederick Trent, Nell's older brother, a scoundrel. HIs grandfather doesn't like him at all.

• The small servant. A young girl who is a servant at the Brass household. Sally imprisons her in the lower part of the house (the kitchen and possibly a basement area). Swiveller befriends her and calls her at first "The Marchioness" and later, Sophronia Sphinx.

• Barbara, another servant in the Garland household.

• Mrs. Jarley, the proprietress of a travelling waxworks show who employs Nell for a short time

• The "single gentleman", a mysterious lodger in the Brass household

• Mr. Marton, a poor schoolmaster who befriends Nell and her grandfather

• Codlin, propietor of a Punch and Judy show

• Short, Codlin's employee or co-owner of the show

• Mrs. Quilp, who's terrified of her husband

• Jerry, a guy who owns a travelling dog show. The dogs wear colorful costumes and have names like Pedro and Carlo.

• Many others, too numerous to mention. As usual, Dickens is really good at depicting working class characters.

Sappiness and Other Failings

I really enjoyed the book. My main criticism would be that Dickens, knowing his audience quite well, deliberately makes the story, at times, saccharine, and "tear jerking". He mines the sappiness factor to its full extent.

Little Nell is really more a miniature adult than a child. Such types do exist, as anyone who's been around can testify. But Dickens plays up the pathos of her story and sometimes seems to be pandering to his audience. However, I can also guess that perhaps Little Nell represents a child he himself may have lost in his own life.

Also, especially in the Little Nell part of the multiple story threads, Dickens often tells rather than shows. I think this might have been typical of serials of the time, however.

In addition, characters are often highlighted and discarded, and the direction of the plot changes. This unevenness is because the novel was published as a serial first before it was put out as a novel.


In spite of these flaws, Dickens' genius with characters and story, and his genuine sensitivity to the suffering of the poor, make this an enjoyable read.

Audio Reader

Anton Lesser did an excellent job reading the many characters in this audio.


I read along in the ebook and Kindle book from Gutenberg. I highly recommend these, as they contain the marvelous original illustations.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
Author 1 book148 followers
February 12, 2022
“It is only by the vehicle of emotion that life can be translated into art. In Dickens at his best, the emotion is strictly subordinate to artistic law, and points no narrower moral than that of human charity.”
From the Afterward by George Gissing, an essay from his book The Immortal Dickens

That quote sums up Dickens very well, and for me, this story in particular. There is a tragedy at the center of it, but due to the artful way that tragedy is dealt with, and everything else that fills out the tale, the tragedy wasn’t the heart of the story for me.

To be sure, we have the usual large cast of vibrantly alive characters here we expect from this author: Sweet Nell, dastardly Quilp, upstanding Kit, the unique Sally Brass. Added to those are the maybe second-tier but in some cases even more exceptional ones I will never forget: Dick Swiveller, Mrs. Jarley of the Waxworks, and above all for me, the Marchioness.

I was amazed at how well Dickens theatrics worked, and not just the literal theatrics when our heroes encounter traveling performers. As I read, I felt like I was watching an old-fashioned melodrama, and I mean that in the best way. I booed, hissed, wept and giggled. My jaw dropped; my heart sang.

But this was more than melodrama. Dickens has much to say about society, and his art is in the way he keeps you interested enough on one level while on another, he weaves in that human charity that Gissing speaks of.

Was he getting pretty tired of the Industrial Revolution by this writing? He certainly had his characters making haste to get out of the unwholesome city:
“Now, the clustered roofs, and piles of buildings, trembling with the working of engines, and dimly resounding with their shrieks and throbbings; the tall chimneys vomiting forth a black vapour, which hung in a dense ill-favoured cloud above the housetops and filled the air with gloom; the clank of hammers beating upon iron, the roar of busy streets and noisy crowds, gradually augmenting until all the various sounds blended into one …”
and back to the peaceful countryside:
“The sky was serene and bright, the air clear, perfumed with the fresh scent of newly fallen leaves, and grateful to every sense. The neighboring stream sparkled, and rolled onward with a tuneful sound; the dew glistened on the green mounds, like tears shed by Good Spirits over the dead.”

And unsurprisingly, best of all is the elevation of the poor--not necessarily in status but in respect--that Dickens is an expert at provoking and baking into the cake of his stories.

This may not be his best novel, but it is thoughtful and moving and absolutely lovely.
Profile Image for Ines.
320 reviews193 followers
December 26, 2019
I managed to finish it during these Christmas vacation days, unfortunately among all the works of Dickens read so far, this is definitely the least convincing that I read...
I struggled to identify with almost all the characters, who were, many and often ended up, ( as for Bleak house) confusing them among themselves.
Nell, poor girl, pitied me from the first page to the last without being able to arouse a minimum of affective empathy ( unlike Honoria of Bleak house)
The plot is not at all linear, and these horrible characters and their sub-stories held back any imagination of the end story. I don’t even want to tell anything else, because I really tried to finish the book...
The final then.....( makes the reader want to jump into a well!)
What a total depression it was!!

Sono riuscita a finirlo in questi giorni di festa, purtroppo tra tutte le opere di Dickens lette sino ad ora, questa è sicuramente quella meno convincente che ho letto....
Ho fatto fatica ad immedesimarmi con quasi tutti i personaggi, che erano tantissimi e spesso finivo ( come per Bleak house) di confonderli tra di loro.
Nell, povera ragazza, mi ha fatto pena dalla prima pagina sino all' ultima senza riuscire a suscitarmi un minimo di empatia affettiva ( a differenza di Honoria di Bleak house)
LA trama non è assolutamente lineare, e questi orribili personaggi e le loro sotto storie frenavano una qualsiasi immaginazione del fine storia. non mi viene neanche voglia di raccontare altro, perchè mi sono proprio sforzata di terminare il libro...
Il final poi.....( fa venire voglia al lettore di gettarsi in un pozzo!)
Che depressione totale!!
Profile Image for Lisa.
223 reviews1 follower
October 10, 2010
The book itself is okay--(a young girl and her grandfather flee London to escape an evil creditor)--but for me the real fun was reading a story that people got so excited about over 150 years ago. According to Wikipedia, "In 2007, many newspapers claimed the excitement at the release of the last volume of 'The Old Curiosity Shop' was the only historical comparison that could be made to the excitement at the release of the last Harry Potter novel .... Dickens fans were reported to storm the piers of New York City, shouting to arriving sailors (who may have read the last installment in the United Kingdom), 'Is Little Nell alive?'" I bet Dickens and Rowling would have a lot to talk about. I would love to know what Dickens thought of the Harry Potter series if he could come back to life and read it.

Because "The Old Curiosity Shop" was published in weekly installments, Dickens profited by dragging out the action--so his famous wordiness is in full force in this book. But I think the best way to enjoy Dickens is to surrender to the wordiness and let it carry you along. It makes for the strange experience of reading passages that go something like: "blah blah blah blah paid by the word blah blah BRILLIANT GEM blah." ... Hmm ... Come to think of it, reading Dickens is actually not that different from watching Lost.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.6k followers
November 27, 2015
'One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without dissolving into tears... of laughter.'

I don't have anything to add to Oscar Wilde's masterly summing-up. He nailed it. Maybe some enterprising person would like to open a GR account for him, and just present his unedited opinions? I'm sure he'd collect a lot of votes.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Mina.
84 reviews72 followers
September 27, 2021
من هیچوقت از این کارا نمی‌کنم اما نمی‌دونم چرا وقتی تا وسط این کتاب رو خوندم با خودم فکر کردم برم پایانش رو ببینم.
الان نمی‌دونم به خودم لطف کردم یا ظلم. ولی لعنت بهت مرد.
فعلا هم نمی‌خوام برم جاهایی که نخوندم رو بخونم. تا کتاب بعدی‌ای که از این آقا شروع کنم باهاش قهرم.
خودمم فاز خودم رو نمی‌دونم.
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