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Archived Group Reads - 2017 > Old Curiosity- Week 5: Jan. 29-Feb. 4: Ch. 49-60

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message 1: by Renee, Moderator (new)

Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
We're getting close to the end of our journey with The Old Curiosity Shop. In fact, Nell and her Grandfather seem to have found some security with the benevolent schoolmaster, and most of the action takes place in London with the trials of young Kit. So the travel portion of the novel seems to have come to a close.

1) Although, Nell and her grandfather seem settled, graveyards abound as do elements of foreshadowed doom. What do you take away from the four "Nell" chapters in this section?
2) What will become of Nell if her grandfather dies? Or of her grandfather if Nell is the one to succumb?
3) What additional insights do we have into the mysterious Single Gentleman?
4) How has Dick Swiveler's character gained dimension?
5) In what ways have the Brasses earned their villainous reputations?
6) How was Kit framed and why? Do you have any speculation on how his story will end?
7) What is Quilp's place in all this? Do we have any more indication of his motives?
8) In general, what parts of the novel have you found to be the most enjoyable so far?


message 2: by Peter (last edited Jan 28, 2017 04:28PM) (new)

Peter Quilp's Bachelor's Hall is steamy, smelly and apparently rat-infested, a place where he sees himself as "dead, an't I." This contrasts with Nell's new home which is rather tomb-like and quiet. This comparison is not made by chance. Renee's first question is very important in the further development of both the plot and the atmosphere of the text. When Nell mentions that her new place is "[a] quiet, happy place - a place to live and learn to die in" I think many readers will conclude that Nell has found her final earthly home.

The next few pages of this chapter continue to draw the reader's attention to death through references to nature, decay, and to Nell's own physical appearance which is now a " frail, perishable figure."

Those who have been buried in this churchyard are referred to as "dreamless sleepers [who] lay close to the shadow of the church - touching the wall, as if they clung to it for comfort and protection." Here, I think the key phrase is "dreamless sleepers." We have noted throughout the novel how often distressed dreams, surreal circumstances and grotesque situations and events have stalked the life of Nell. It seems that Nell was never free of conflict; Nell was never safe from lurid representations of life. Now, however, she has reached a place of safety. Indeed, it is a sanctuary. Nell is now within reach of being with the "dreamless sleepers" who have found "comfort and protection."

Earlier in the novel (Chapter 15) There was a reference to Bunyon's Pilgrim's Progress and how Nell had often " pored whole evenings, wondering whether it was true ... and where those distant countries ... might be." Now, in Chapter 53 Dickens comments "[h]ere was the broken pavement worn so long ago by pious feet, that Time, stealing on the pilgrims' steps, had trodden out their track, and left but crumbling stones." I feel this is a clear allusion to not only Bunyon's novel but also the long and painful journey of Nell and her grandfather. That journey is now at an end. It is hard not to wonder as well if Dickens had Thomas Grey's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" in mind. Dickens writes that in a graveyard "all found one common level and told one common tale." Grey, for his part, tells his readers that "The paths of glory lead but to the grave."

Powerful stuff. For many, of course, these chapters are just too much, too maudlin, too excessive. Me, I love these chapters. The power of the writing is singular.


message 3: by Renee, Moderator (new)

Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
So nicely put! I love your allusions to Bunyon.


message 4: by Kerstin, Moderator (new)

Kerstin | 620 comments Mod
In these chapters with Nell one gets a sense that she has undergone a great transformation. She seems no longer one of us, fully vibrant in this life, but somehow she is set apart. It isn't just her physical frailty, but her interaction with those around her and her meditations. Even the building she and her grandfather move into underscores this sense of being set apart. It used to be part of a monastery, and the people who dwelled there in the past had also set themselves apart, they lived in the world but no longer of the world.

The sacred Gothic architecture points toward heaven with its vaulted ceilings and ornamentation. We are not told what the scenes are depicted on the walls, but one can assume they are Biblical. A space like this affects the onlooker. They all converse in hushed tones.
"The old man had followed them, but they were all three hushed for a space, and drew their breath softly, as if they feared to break the silence even by so slight a sound. 'It is a very beautiful place!' said the child, in a low voice. [...] 'A peaceful place to live in, don't you think so?' said her friend. 'Oh yes,' rejoined the child, clasping her hands earnestly. 'A quiet, happy place— a place to live and learn to die in!'"

Later, when we meet Nell in the church she is indeed in a sanctuary as Peter pointed out, literally and spiritually. It is an eternal place.
"Die who would, it would still remain the same; these sights and sounds would still go on, as happily as ever. It would be no pain to sleep amidst them."

Then she climbs the tower, first in darkness but climbing towards the light shining down from the top. Upon reaching it,
"Oh! the glory of the sudden burst of light; the freshness of the fields and woods, stretching away on every side, and meeting the bright blue sky; the cattle grazing in the pasturage; the smoke, that, coming from among the trees, seemed to rise upward from the green earth; the children yet at their gambols down below— all, everything, so beautiful and happy! It was like passing from death to life; it was drawing nearer Heaven."

Physically removed from the life below, it is as if she is prefiguring her own death.

And I agree with Peter, these chapters don't seem maudlin to me. They are masterfully written.


message 5: by Peter (last edited Jan 29, 2017 11:49AM) (new)

Peter Kerstin wrote: "In these chapters with Nell one gets a sense that she has undergone a great transformation. She seems no longer one of us, fully vibrant in this life, but somehow she is set apart. It isn't just he..."

Kerstin

Thank you for adding so much to my musings. I think your comments are insightful and I greatly appreciate them. I feel even closer to the text. The Dickens line you reference "[i]t would be no pain to sleep amidst them" is, I feel, a cornerstone to the novel. While for the sake of spoilers I won't say anything more now, I will return to this line at the end of the novel.

I am glad you too see these chapters as masterful. I wonder what other Victorians! readers think?


message 6: by Lynne, In Memoriam (new)

Lynne Pennington (bluemoonladylynne) | 243 comments Mod
I am the philistine among you. I can appreciate your admiration of the language and, dare I say, poetry of this part of the novel. I just cannot appreciate it myself. I much prefer the frenetic activity of London and the other characters, which I am sure Dickens did for a reason. There is just too much religion for me here. Too much maudlin other-worldliness, too much gentle acquiescence going into that good night. Nell has been the wilting flower for some time now and it has been apparent that she is preparing to die, after she gets grandfather taken care of. For me, she is just not a sympathetic character.
I do confess to loving her last abode, but for the historicity. It might be damp and chilly in the long-run, but I would love a chance to live somewhere like that for just a while. For almost 10 years, I lived at a dead end by a cemetery and loved it. Quiet neighbors!


message 7: by Renee, Moderator (new)

Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
I was thinking about the characters who seem to have gone into the graveyard to sit in the sun. My connection is to remember how many times I went to study in the local graveyard during my college days. It was simply a gorgeous place. Lots of trees and grass and flowers. No distractions. Lots of sun and quiet.


message 8: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments But what a contrast with the use of the graveyard in Bleak House.


message 9: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments I am getting seriously tired of Nell's perfection. Just too much sappy sweetness for me. A meal of all sugar doesn't satisfy, and Nell seems to be all sugar. I wait for her to say even one less than utterly kind word, think one even slightly imperfect thought, to show that she is indeed a member of the human race. Even Mother Teresa got mad occasionally.

And Quilp, OTOH, is pure evil, which is just as uninteresting, after a time, as pure good.

I have always valued Dickens for creating interesting but realistic characters (with a few exceptions, unfortunately). Generally his characters are recognizably human.

Neither Quilp nor Nell are, and I'm getting tired of a diet alternating between pure sugar and pure vinegar.


message 10: by Peter (new)

Peter Yes. These two characters are rather extreme. Perhaps the writing style that I enjoy so much masks the unrealistic nature of their characters.

Still, I find the development of Little Nell's character by Dickens fascinating.


message 11: by Kerstin, Moderator (new)

Kerstin | 620 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "I am getting seriously tired of Nell's perfection. Just too much sappy sweetness for me. A meal of all sugar doesn't satisfy, and Nell seems to be all sugar. I wait for her to say even one less tha..."

LOL!
Nell is a bit much. I've been wondering why Dickens created her in the first place.


message 12: by Lynne, In Memoriam (new)

Lynne Pennington (bluemoonladylynne) | 243 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "I am getting seriously tired of Nell's perfection. Just too much sappy sweetness for me. A meal of all sugar doesn't satisfy, and Nell seems to be all sugar. I wait for her to say even one less tha..."

I wonder if the "pure sugar" is Dickens' reaction to his sister-in-law. Reading comments he made about her would indicate that he saw her in that light. He is generally a bit better balanced in his characters, though many, if not all, have a primary personality. For example, even Fagin is not irretrievably horrible---at times even likeable.


message 13: by Lynne, In Memoriam (new)

Lynne Pennington (bluemoonladylynne) | 243 comments Mod
Quilp is pretty much pure vinegar, though also somewhat of a comic character in being so ridiculous.


message 14: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Peter wrote: "Still, I find the development of Little Nell's character by Dickens fascinating.."

What development? Seems to me she's been monochromatic throughout -- sweet, adorable, caring for her uncle, never crossing her uncle, if there is development there, I'm missing it. If you see it, I crave enlightenment.


message 15: by Peter (new)

Peter Everyman wrote: "Peter wrote: "Still, I find the development of Little Nell's character by Dickens fascinating.."

What development? Seems to me she's been monochromatic throughout -- sweet, adorable, caring for he..."


Ah yes. Perhaps the proper word should have been "creation" not "development." Nell doesn't develop very much, unless it's to turn people away from her character. :-)

I think it is much easier to create villians than good people. Good characters are, by nature, often too saccharine. It's hard to create a truly good person in film or literature simply because they will often need to be portrayed as silly since we can't find their reference in our real lives. Villains, on the other hand, surround us. Humans can see and embrace evil everywhere.

To Lynne's point in message 12 I think she is on to something. Several biographies point out the rather peculiar link between Dickens and his sister-in-law Mary Hogarth. The wearing of her ring for the rest of Dickens's life, the desire to be buried beside her and the succession of young seemingly perfect children and young women that parade through Dickens's life and especially his novels have given biographers and critics much to speculate upon.

You are correct. Nell does not develop. I do, however, have much respect for the way Dickens created her. If he set out to be maudlin he got that right. :-)


message 16: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Peter wrote: "I think it is much easier to create villians than good people. Good characters are, by nature, often too saccharine. It's hard to create a truly good person in film or literature simply because they will often need to be portrayed as silly since we can't find their reference in our real lives. Villains, on the other hand, surround us. Humans can see and embrace evil everywhere."

That's a really nice, and important, point. Villainy is not only easier to create, but it's often more exciting to read about.

Aren't Quilp and Swiveller more entertaining to read about than Nell and her grandfather? (Except when her grandfather is gambling, then he becomes more interesting.)

One of the classic criticisms of Paradise Lost, particularly in the age of Faith, is that it makes Satan a much more interesting and even sympathetic character than God.


message 17: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 188 comments Peter wrote: "If he set out to be maudlin he got that right."

Some critics were rather harsh on this tendency of Dickens. It is ironic that when Fielding presented flawed characters such as Tom Jones, just a hundred years before, he was derided for not portraying a perfect character, who could proudly be emulated. Perhaps, the critics are never happy.


message 18: by Renee, Moderator (new)

Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
It's really interesting to see Nell in terms of CD's affection for his sister-in-law. Perhaps he couldn't beat to give her flaws. It also makes me wonder if he saw the real-life girl as surrounded by a darkness similar to that which he surrounds his creation.

As a writing experiment, I find the juxtaposition of light to dark quite fascinating. I gather from what I've read that most of CD's audience couldn't put the pages down. (Most. Oscar Wilde had some scathing things to say that I won't share until the final week.)


message 19: by Helen Louise (new)

Helen Louise | 2 comments Have to agree I find the character of Nell quite monochrome. However I keep reminding myself that she is a child, & children's characters aren't well rounded and can appear to be very vulnerable & innocent a lot of the time. It does however feel like pantomime characters between her and Quilip. I read that this book was Dickens' most popular in his life time, not sure if this is true? Wonder if we are missing something reading it in the 21stC. The 19thC didn't have child protection laws & education.


message 20: by Lynne, In Memoriam (new)

Lynne Pennington (bluemoonladylynne) | 243 comments Mod
Helen Louise wrote: "Have to agree I find the character of Nell quite monochrome. However I keep reminding myself that she is a child, & children's characters aren't well rounded and can appear to be very vulnerable & ..."

I don't know if OCS was the most popular, but I am sure someone here does know. Putting Nell into the perspective of children in general at the time is a interesting thought---we know many children were, especially by our standards, mistreated and abused. That can include Dickens himself. So was Nell his idea of the ideal child? His idealized notion of children in general? He did love children---did he think if properly cosseted and nurtured, all children, or at least girls, would be like Nell?


message 21: by Peter (new)

Peter Lynne wrote: "Helen Louise wrote: "Have to agree I find the character of Nell quite monochrome. However I keep reminding myself that she is a child, & children's characters aren't well rounded and can appear to ..."

I'm not sure which of Dickens's novels was the most popular, which does not necessarily mean the same as the best selling. In any case, it is fair to say that OCS certainly caused the greatest stir on the docks of New York City where crowds of people lined up and waited for the installments of OCS to find out if Nell had died or not.


message 22: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Helen Louise wrote: "Have to agree I find the character of Nell quite monochrome. However I keep reminding myself that she is a child, ..."

We've never settled how old she is, but the general sense seems to be in the range of 13 or 14. If so, for her time I'm not sure it's right to think of her as a child in the modern understanding of childhood.

Dickens was working in the shoe blacking factory at the age of 12 to support his family. Boys as young as 10 were sent to sea in the navy as cabin boys usually to older family members or friends of the family (the idea was that starting that young, they would be ready to retire on half-pay at a young enough age to then marry and raise a family in comfort). During the Industrial Revolution children as young as 8 were working 12-14 hours in the factories and mines.

I'm not sure that Dickensian readers would have considered a 13 year old a child in the same way that we today do.


message 23: by Jane (new)

Jane Greensmith (janegs) | 149 comments I found this section to be somewhat tedious. I agree with others who got a bit tired of the moping around the graveyard and ghostly children flitting about. I personally think Mr. Dickens dragged that out too much. I was starting to feel the urge to skim, when we were given a good dose of Kit and the Brass siblings and Dick Swiveller and the Marchioness. I can't help but think that while Dickens set out to write the story of Little Nell and her grandfather, he got a bit bored with it and the story has morphed into the adventures of Kit, which I much prefer anyway.

Dick has most definitely matured as a character and I find him quite good company. I loved how he dined with the poor little servant girl who was spying on the upstairs folk out of sheer loneliness, that is after she wasn't able to find out where awful Sally hides the key to the food supply.

I have to say Kit and his benefactors reminds me of Oliver Twist and Mr. Brownlow.


message 24: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Jane wrote: "Dick has most definitely matured as a character and I find him quite good company. I loved how he dined with the poor little servant girl who was spying on the upstairs folk out of sheer loneliness,"

I agree, that was a delightful scene, and unexpected from Dick given the way he was presented in the early chapters.


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