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Archived Group Reads - 2017 > Old Curiosity- Week 6: Jan. Feb. 5-11: Ch. 61-73(end)

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message 1: by Renee, Moderator (new)

Renee M | 1859 comments Mod
We are in the final week of The Old Curiosity Shop with a roller coaster of emotional scenes. Use this thread to reflect in the end of the novel and your overall impressions.

1) What comes of the plot to frame Kit for stealing?
2) How do Dick Swiveler and the Marchioness play a part in that drama?
3) What becomes of Quilp? In what ways is this a fitting or disappointing end to his story?
4) Who is the Single Gentleman? What does his story add to the history of Nell and her grandfather?
5) How does the story of Nell and her grandfather culminate? Do you find this a satisfying end? Were you moved or relieved?
6) Compare the fate of Sampson and Sally Brass to that of Daniel Quilp? Is their fate justified?
7) Refect in the final chapter and the tying up of all storylines. Is this ending satisfying or rushed? Is there anything which yiu feel was left unresolved?
8) Which characters have stood out most for you? When you look back on this novel, who or what will you most remember?


message 2: by Peter (last edited Feb 04, 2017 10:26AM) (new)

Peter First, I apologize for not having the technological skill to reproduce the illustrations here. I did try, but as a Luddite it is amazing that I can even use this computer. However, thanks to Everyman's earlier post, if you go to the site "The Dickens Page" then click illustrations on the left hand side, and then click The Old Curiosity Shop you will find the illustrations for The Old Curiosity Shop.

If we look at the Williams woodcut of Nell sleeping in her bedroom in London we see her surrounded by clutter. Her bedroom is very dishevelled. There are picture frames without pictures, vases, bowls, a sword, a gauntlet, and clothes strewn about the room in no particular order. What else is present, and I think most important, are the number of masks, statues, a suit of armour, a Buddha-like figure, a crucifix and various other forms and shapes of faces. Together, these faces seem to swirl and surround Little Nell as she sleeps. In the centre-left of the illustration is a candle that sits upon a table. Behind that candle is a mirror, and behind that mirror a closed window that forms what would be the vanishing point of the picture.

This illustration perfectly captures Nell's present world. Her life is one of uncertainly and her soon-to-occur experiences will be full of confusion, lurid experiences, theatrical events and experiences, nightmarish experiences and unquiet moments.


The illustration in Chapter 71 again presents us with Nell, but now Nell is dead. This illustration forms a perfect counterbalance to the first Nell plate. In this illustration we see a room that is one of peace and tranquility. Gone are the pictureless frames and haphazardly placed crucifix on the floor. Now, above Nell's head is a picture of a Christ child held in the arms of his mother. The floor surrounding Nell as well as the tables and chairs in this later illustration are empty of the jumble of objects and faces of the first illustration. Now, we have a serene environment that replaces the earlier Williams illustration, where winter berries and a book share the space with Nell. If we look carefully we see that the chairs are empty, the wall cupboard neat and tidy and, most telling perhaps, there is now an hourglass near the window, not a lit candle. We note that the window in the deathbed illustration is open, and thus our vanishing point moves past the hourglass, past the Gothic arch of the window, and out into the fresh air and freedom of the sky outside.

A comparison of these two scenes of Nell at rest clearly show two distinct stages of her life. If we refer back to Nell's comment in Chapter 53 "It would be no pain to sleep amidst them" we know that Nell is now at rest, safe from the hurly-burly of her life and its living nightmares.


message 3: by Peter (new)

Peter I really enjoyed the plot line of Dick Swiveler and the Marchioness. Individually, they were interesting characters, but when joined together, they created interest, sympathy, humour and quirkiness.

Who could not smile at the Marchioness as she moves from a tiny, hungry and un acknowledged person to an enduring minor character? If we find Nell to be too melodramatic and saccharine then hopefully we can have some sympathy for the Marchioness. She is a survivor.


message 4: by Renee, Moderator (new)

Renee M | 1859 comments Mod
Oh, the Marchioness was a lovely surprise! As was the development of Dick Swiveler. It is charming to think that they saved each other and ultimately found happiness together.


message 5: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Peter wrote: "if you go to the site "The Dickens Page" then click illustrations on the left hand side, and then click The Old Curiosity Shop you will find the illustrations for The Old Curiosity Shop.."

Here's the direct link for the TOCS illustrations.
http://charlesdickenspage.com/illustr...

Click on any illustration to enlarge it.


message 6: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments There are only a few times in my reading when I get really upset with an author for what they do to a character, even if they later have it come out right.

One such incident is Trollope's treatment of Mark Robards in Framley Parsonage when he makes Mark sign a second set of bills that will ruin him. Another such incident is Dickens's treatment of Kit. It's one thing when people make bad decisions that harm them. But it's another, at least for me, when an author takes a character I have come to know, respect, like, and even somewhat love, and makes them the victim of a scheming, evil person who drags them down to totally undeserved ruin. I get very angry at such authors doing this to people they've made me care about.

So I find the chapters on Kit's enmeshment in evil very, very hard to read (I admit, actually, to skimming over much of that section of the book to save myself from mental anguish). That Dickens saves him in the end I know, but in this case, at least for me, the end does not justify the means.

I'm probably just being silly, sentimental -- it's only a book, after all, these aren't real people, just black marks on white paper.

But I don't care. If I, too, am a very foolish, fond old man, well, I'm in good company.


message 7: by Peter (new)

Peter Everyman wrote: "Peter wrote: "if you go to the site "The Dickens Page" then click illustrations on the left hand side, and then click The Old Curiosity Shop you will find the illustrations for The Old Curiosity Sh..."

Thanks for the direct link, Everyman. I hope others will enjoy a look at the illustrations.


message 8: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments TOCS is, in the broad genre of categories of fiction, a quest story. A quest, I take it, for peace. An escape from the troubles of life.

In it, though, they are traveling consistently to the west, which is the direction of sunset, of death. That death is, has been noted several times in earlier threads, presaged by the frequent inclusion of graveyards and even death itself (the young schoolboy). We could hardly expect Nell to escape her death within the pages of the novel, could we?


message 9: by Peter (last edited Feb 05, 2017 12:08PM) (new)

Peter Just one more reference to the illustrations and I will stop. I think, however, that the illustration in Chapter 62 of Quilp in his counting-house serves to both reinforce and summarize the grotesque story line of Quilp, and, by extension, prepare the reader for the final contrast of Quilp to Little Nell.

In Chapter 62 (see the illustration titled "Revenge Is Sweet) we read that Quilp had "a great, Google-eyed, blunt-nosed figure-head of some old ship" that looked "like a goblin or hideous idol whom the dwarf worshipped." This figure-head "[b]eing originally much too large for the apartment ... had been sawn short off at the waist." Sampson, who looks at this truncated object had "never seen anything in the smallest degree resembling this substantial phantom."

Shortly after this event Quilp, in attempting to escape, slips and falls into the Thames, where he struggles and with "wild and glaring eyes" he begins to drown. The Thames "sported with its ghastly freight" until Quilp is is dead where his hair "played in a kind of mockery of death."

The grosteque death of Quilp, which was preceded by the equally grotesque image of the cut-up ship's figure, gives the reader the culmination of all that was nightmarish in the novel. As repulsive as Quilp was, and as unsettling as all the images that are associated with him and with other events in the novel are, Dickens has prepared the stage for the passing of Little Nell. Quilp's life, character, and his death are the opposite to Nell's. Their contrary presence in the novel gives the reader the opportunity to better understand the text and its focus on the grotesque and the surreal. Ultimately, whether one sees the death of Little Nell as overly dramatic or not, the reader has experienced their own pilgrimage into the contrasting states of good and evil in The Old Curiosity Shop.


message 10: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments A few thoughts developed from ideas in Norrie Epstein's The Friendly Dickens:

1. Nell becomes surrounded by a group of older men without names. Grandfather. The single gentleman. The schoolmaster. The sexton. The gravedigger. Dickens is perfectly capable of creating names for even the most minor of characters, but here none of the older men who surround her are named. Why, and what does this suggest?

2. Is there a Jesus motif at the end, when the dying Nell is approached by three wise men who have journeyed to seek her -- the single gentleman, Kit, and Mr. Garland, drawn by the single light (star-like) in the church tower. Surely this is no coincidence???

3. Epstein suggests that we should approach this book not as a novel, but as a fairy story.

Fleshing out this idea with my own thoughts (don't blame Epstein for these!), if we look at it this way, we see, don't we?, fragments of Cinderella, The Little Match Girl, Red Riding Hood, and other stock fairy stories -- the young girl surrounded and at times threatened by grotesque and sometimes evil figures (Quilp as the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, sleeping not in grandmother's bed but in Nell's own bed?) as she journeys from her roots in poverty to find some place of safety, protected throughout by her innocence.


message 11: by Peter (last edited Feb 05, 2017 06:29PM) (new)

Peter Everyman wrote: "A few thoughts developed from ideas in Norrie Epstein's The Friendly Dickens:

1. Nell becomes surrounded by a group of older men without names. Grandfather. The single gentleman. The schoolmaster...."


I certainly think there are clear and evident echoes of fairy tales in OCS. Innocent girl, evil/grotesque man/figure, nightmare-like environment, a journey - or a fleeing from evil, real or perceived - with the final punishment of evil and the restoration of good and innocence at the end. Echoes of Joseph Campbell's concept of The Monomyth as well I would say.

I am not familiar with Norris Epstein's The Friendly Dickens. Would you recommend it as a good read?

And wow. The unnamed men in Nell's life, the wise men drawn to see her. So much to consider. Thanks for the head's up.


message 12: by Renee, Moderator (new)

Renee M | 1859 comments Mod
I do love the attention drawn to the nameless men in her life. I hadn't picked up on that, but it's glaring once pointed out. Let's see... Nameless they are more removed, less "real," more like benevolent outsiders. Also, ineffective in saving her life. Although, she is at least brought to rest. They are kept apart, but she is probably the ethereal one. Angelic, even in life. Even her relationship with Kit is more than platonic; it is one of service & devotion.

The "modern" fairytale aspects are what redeems this novel for me. I was unable to connect with the characters as with many other Dickens novels. (Except, Kit & his family to a degree.) But I like the idea that Dickens experimented with form as he honed his craft.
(I do know that he also wrote plays, but I believe they were fairly formulaic.)


message 13: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Peter wrote: "I am not familiar with Norris Epstein's The Friendly Dickens. Would you recommend it as a good read?"

It's more of a "dip into" book than one to read through. It has short (4-8 page) comments on each book, partly summaries but also partly criticism. The criticism isn't very deep; if you want serious criticism you should look elsewhere (like Chesterton), but she does have some useful ideas. She also has lots of short sections on thing like film versions, "Novels by the Numbers, 'Public Executions" (after Barnaby Drudge), and some biographical info scattered here and there.

The tone is light-hearted, but the information seems fairly solid, if somewhat shallow. I do notice that it is apparently out of print, but I'm sure second hand editions are readily available.

She also wrote a "Friendly Shakespeare," which is in much the same vein.

Basically, enjoyable to dip into, has some useful information, but not a work of serious scholarship.


message 14: by Peter (new)

Peter Everyman wrote: "Peter wrote: "I am not familiar with Norris Epstein's The Friendly Dickens. Would you recommend it as a good read?"

It's more of a "dip into" book than one to read through. It has short (4-8 page)..."


Thanks. I think I'll give it a pass.


message 15: by Jane (new)

Jane Greensmith (janegs) | 149 comments Renee wrote: "Oh, the Marchioness was a lovely surprise! As was the development of Dick Swiveler. It is charming to think that they saved each other and ultimately found happiness together."

Totally agree--besides darling Kit, Dick and his Marchioness were my favorite characters


message 16: by Jane (new)

Jane Greensmith (janegs) | 149 comments Everyman wrote: "There are only a few times in my reading when I get really upset with an author for what they do to a character, even if they later have it come out right.

One such incident is Trollope's treatme..."


Yes, Dickens kicked Kit mercilessly.


message 17: by Jane (new)

Jane Greensmith (janegs) | 149 comments With regards to the nameless men, I noticed that and thought it contributed to the feeling that this was an allegorical story or parable more than anything else. I prefer realism myself, but it was clearly a popular form and may be why OCS was much more popular in Victorian times than it is now.

My own pet notion about the single gentleman, aka The Bachelor, is that Dickens wrote himself into that role. Interestingly, the Bachelor is completely ineffective with regards to Nell and actually is part of the means by which Quilp and the Brasses frame Kit. I subscribe to the theory that OCS was Dickens' way of dealing with the death of his beloved sister-in-law, Mary Hogath. Just as Dickens wasn't able to save her from death, the Bachelor is unable to save Nell.


message 18: by Jane (new)

Jane Greensmith (janegs) | 149 comments Everyman wrote: "Peter wrote: "I am not familiar with Norris Epstein's The Friendly Dickens. Would you recommend it as a good read?"

It's more of a "dip into" book than one to read through. It has short (4-8 page)..."


I've checked out a copy of the Cambridge Companion to Charles Dickens from my library a couple of times, and really need to get a copy for my shelf as I love to read lit crit when the mood strikes.


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