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The Dickens Project - Archives > The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapters XLI-XLVI

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message 1: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Here's the folder for the Week No. 8 reading and discussion of Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop. This folder is for discussion of Chapters XLI-XLVI. Enjoy!


message 2: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1816 comments Mod
I hope that this is where Nell and her Grandfather reach the depths of their misfortunes and that we have turned a corner by the end of these chapters when we meet the old Schoolmaster. This section truly gave a horrifying vision of the "Dark Satanic Mills" -I wondered if this would be a recognizable town or city that they passed through (would the distance and direction from London allow it to be identified, or is it a generic manufacturing town?) Nell has truly reached a pitiable state and I hope her Grandfather has enough remaining sense to feel some guilt over where they have ended up. It was lovely to end with the carriage ride for Nell and to arrive in a pleasant country village once more.


message 3: by Hedi (last edited Jun 12, 2012 11:38AM) (new)

Hedi | 960 comments Frances wrote: "This section truly gave a horrifying vision of the "Dark Satanic Mills" -I wondered if this would be a recognizable town or city that they passed through (would the distance and direction from London allow it to be identified, or is it a generic manufacturing town?) ..."

In my annotations it was mentioned that Charles Dickens might have talked about Birmingham and the way from there to Wolverhampton. He and his friend John Foster had travelled that road together in April 1840.

I was, however, a little surprised that they would have gotten so far out of London, but I think the actual city is less important than the horrifying description of a city in the midst of the industrialization period.


message 4: by Hedi (last edited Jun 12, 2012 12:15PM) (new)

Hedi | 960 comments To me these chapters were the saddest and most touching in the novel so far.

First, Nell's discovery of her grandfather's gambling in the middle of nowhere and being persuaded to commit a crime towards a lady, who has only been kind to him and Nell. It is hard to imagine how awful this situation must be for Nell, who is so good-hearted. One thing is to have responsibility for survival, but to cope with such an addict in addition and that at her age is hardly manageable.

Secondly, their flight and journey to this, after all, most dreadful city.

Thirdly, the encounter of such a poor soul as this man whose surrogate for a family is the fire in the furnace. But despite his own sufferings, he is still kind and caring. What he did for Nell is not to be taken for granted. Maybe Dickens wanted to show us that even in the midst of darkness you can find some light, some support, a good heart...

Fourthly, their attempt to escape from the city and Nell's collapse that turned to be not as bad as it seemed due to the kind-hearted schoolmaster, they meet again.

However, despite these sad situations, it is really nice to see that there are still a few kind souls, even though they seem to appear and disappear without further description or even a name.

And as you said, Frances, we can only hope that the schoolmaster's taking them to his new job assignment in the country will mark the path for better fortunes for Nell.
I do not know, but her grandfather loses more and more sympathy with me. I know he is very sick, but he seems to lack any sense of realism and of guidance for their situation, especially when Nell is losing her strengths.


message 5: by Hedi (new)

Hedi | 960 comments I am sorry for quoting this long passage, but I really was captured by this decription of the "Dark Satanic Mills", as Frances called it so adequately:

Advancing more and more into the shadow of this mournful place, its dark depressing influence stole upon their spirits, and filled them with a dismal gloom. On every side, and far as the eye could see into the heavy distance, tall chimneys, crowding on each other, and presenting that endless repetition of the same dull, ugly form, which is the horror of oppressive dreams, poured out their plague of smoke, obscured the light, and made foul the melancholy air. On mounds of ashes by the wayside, sheltered only by a few rough boards, or rotten pent-house roofs, strange engines spun and writhed like tortured creatures; clanking their iron chains, shrieking in their rapid whirl from time to time as though in torment unendurable, and making the ground tremble with their agonies. Dismantled houses here and there appeared, tottering to the earth, propped up by fragments of others that had fallen down, unroofed, windowless, blackened, desolate, but yet inhabited. Men, women, children, wan in their looks and ragged in attire, tended the engines, fed their tributary fire, begged upon the road, or scowled half-naked from the doorless houses. Then came more of the wrathful monsters, whose like they almost seemed to be in their wildness and their untamed air, screeching and turning round and round again; and still, before, behind, and to the right and left, was the same interminable perspective of brick towers, never ceasing in their black vomit, blasting all things living or inanimate, shutting out the face of day, and closing in on all these horrors with a dense dark cloud.

But night-time in this dreadful spot!—night, when the smoke was changed to fire; when every chimney spirited up its flame; and places, that had been dark vaults all day, now shone red-hot, with figures moving to and fro within their blazing jaws, and calling to one another with hoarse cries—night, when the noise of every strange machine was aggravated by the darkness; when the people near them looked wilder and more savage; when bands of unemployed labourers paraded the roads, or clustered by torch-light round their leaders, who told them, in stern language, of their wrongs, and urged them on to frightful cries and threats; when maddened men, armed with sword and firebrand, spurning the tears and prayers of women who would restrain them, rushed forth on errands of terror and destruction, to work no ruin half so surely as their own—night, when carts came rumbling by, filled with rude coffins (for contagious disease and death had been busy with the living crops); when orphans cried, and distracted women shrieked and followed in their wake—night, when some called for bread, and some for drink to drown their cares, and some with tears, and some with staggering feet, and some with bloodshot eyes, went brooding home—night, which, unlike the night that Heaven sends on earth, brought with it no peace, nor quiet, nor signs of blessed sleep—who shall tell the terrors of the night to the young wandering child!



message 6: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Like all of you, the passage with that poor man who tends the fire was the most meaning passage in the reading for this week.

It is difficult to really understand what life was like in the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. The oppressive conditions: heat, dirt, soot. Long hours. Unsafe conditions.

And the fact that children had to work or live in those conditions is just unthinkable.

The man was so kind, and what little he had, he was willing to share.

Very touching chapter in the book.


message 7: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Hedi wrote: "I am sorry for quoting this long passage, but I really was captured by this decription of the "Dark Satanic Mills", as Frances called it so adequately:

Advancing more and more into the shadow of ..."


Dickens at his best! Thanks for posting this.


message 8: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments The other passage that I found interesting was Kit's mom at the Little Bethel church.

Pleasure is somehow "sinful" and needs to be "atoned." His mom, who cares so well for her children and tends her home the best she can with little money. And who raised such a wonderful man like Kit, doesn't need to feel badly because she has one night out at the theater and having a nice dinner with oysters.

I'm not anti-religious, but it is nice to see Dickens skewer these types of churches, much like he does lawyers and businessmen.

But what was Quilp doing there? Even if he is spying on Kit's family, how would he know Kit's mom would be there that day?


message 9: by Lynnm (last edited Jun 12, 2012 12:55PM) (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Forgot one point - I am so happy that the schoolmaster is back. I really liked him, and I hope that he can help Nell get a position. Or get her into a school, where she belongs!

And Hedi, agree about the grandfather. At first I felt bad for him, with Quilp and his gambling issues. But now, no. Putting all that pressure on a young girl and allowing her carry his burden. Shame on him... :-(


message 10: by Hedi (new)

Hedi | 960 comments Lynnm, good point about this Little Bethel congregation. It reminded me also a little of Sam Weller's stepmother, who had this strong relationship to the pastor and was also kind of caught there.
I also had to think of some of the traveling preachers in the 19th century US that had their own little congregations, of which some were not always the most honest people.


message 11: by Zulfiya (last edited Jun 15, 2012 10:06PM) (new)

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments I am a slacker and am posting this at the end of the week:-)

I agree with everyone who has already posted above that this was possibly one of the most heart-wrenching parts of the novel. It started on a more uplifting note, though the chapter itself conveyed the spirit of haste and confusion, but at the same time it was optimistic. I live in the loudly proselytizing Bible Belt with so many hypocrites both preaching and attending the Sunday services that my agnostic nature 'harmoniously saturated' the religious slight. Dickens in general is quite secular in his novels, though he often mentions spirits and angels, which I tend to ascribe to his spirituality rather than to his religiousness.
The other chapters were quite painful to read. But Dickens could not be Dickens without the ray of hope. Despite the gruesome and bleak bearing of the Dark Satanic Mills where all the hope seemed to have been lost for ever, there were people who could and did share the last they had. Don't you find it symbolic that this man's name has not been even mentioned in the book?

Overall, I understand Nell's plight, but neither she nor Quilp seems to be realistic. Quilp is bigger than life, overwhelmingly evil, and omnipresent - his function is to remind other characters that true evil is never at rest. He is a tool that keeps the plot moving and the characters on the move (literally). As soon as they see or envision seeing him - his omnipresence sometimes has the supernatural flair - they flee or try to avoid his presence.

Nell, as well as Quilp, is symbolic and utilitarian in this novel. I think she is a symbol of a sacrificial lamb, and she is a foil character. She sacrifices her comfort, peaceful life, the small money she has to save her grandfather while he is egotistic, demanding, and on the verge of becoming a criminal. But despite her sufferings, both physical and emotional, I have to admit that she is not my favorite:-)


message 12: by Zulfiya (new)

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Hedi, It is really a heart-piercing passage.


message 13: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Zulfiya wrote: "I live in the loudly proselytizing Bible Belt with so many hypocrites both preaching and attending the Sunday services that my agnostic nature 'harmoniously saturated' the religious slight. "

Nice way of putting it. ;) I would like to say more, but don't want to offend anyone, but besides the factory scenes, the one in Little Bethel resonated most with me. I wanted to stand up and give Kit a standing ovation!!!

And I'll leave it with that... ;)


message 14: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Zulfiya wrote: "I am a slacker and am posting this at the end of the week:-) "

You are never a slacker. :-) And your posts are always highly informative, whenever they come - beginning, middle, or end of the week.


message 15: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2112 comments Mod
I don't think Dickens felt all religion was bad, but he had a keen eye for those who took advantage of a gullible public, whether it was lawyers, doctors, businessmen or preachers. He certainly felt that religion was best expressed in how people treated each other and how they tried to improve society, rather than in how fervently they prayed or how often they attended services. I don't think there was any mention of Nell attending church back when they lived in the shop, and she never goes to a church to beg or ask for help.


message 16: by Zulfiya (last edited Jun 16, 2012 07:27PM) (new)

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Robin wrote: "I don't think Dickens felt all religion was bad, but he had a keen eye for those who took advantage of a gullible public, whether it was lawyers, doctors, businessmen or preachers. He certainly fel..."

Robin, I totally agree - I am sure he was not anti-religious, especially in the 19th century where many spiritual ideas were taken for granted and these ideas were not viewed (as they are now) as a borderline between cultures and civilizations. It is just the case when my personal outlook shaped and triggered my interpretation. :-)

But to tell the truth, his characters are very mundane people, and some of them are angelic and passive people (like Nell), and some are very down-to-earth, money-driven, and voracious for profit (Quilp or Sykes). You are right again - he does not 'segregate' his characters according to their religion, but according to their human nature. He exposes those who deserve public condemnation. However, their Sunday mornings have not been mentioned extensively in his novels:-)


message 17: by Zulfiya (new)

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Lynnm wrote: "Zulfiya wrote: "I live in the loudly proselytizing Bible Belt with so many hypocrites both preaching and attending the Sunday services that my agnostic nature 'harmoniously saturated' the religious..."

Lynnm, I might have been a little outspoken than I should have, but I always have an excuse that all Russians are very opinionated and never politically correct!

On the other hand, I am already anticipating the heated discussion about his next novel Barnaby Rudgethat is set during the religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants if the project lives on, that is:-)


message 18: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2112 comments Mod
Good point, Zulfiya, if Dickens had lived in a later era, he might have disowned religion more openly. I think I mentioned in an earlier discussion, that today's Unitarians (of which I am one and who are often humanist and agnostic as I am) claim Dickens as a member. Here's a blurb about that from a Unitarian history site.

Although Dickens was baptized and reared in the Church of England and was a nominal Anglican for most of his life, he turned to Unitarianism in the 1840s as a Broad Church alternative. He associated with Unitarians until the end of his life. Early experience with Dissenters gave him a lifelong aversion to evangelical zeal, doctrinal disputation and sectarianism.


message 19: by Zulfiya (new)

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Robin wrote: "Good point, Zulfiya, if Dickens had lived in a later era, he might have disowned religion more openly. I think I mentioned in an earlier discussion, that today's Unitarians (of which I am one and ..."

That makes perfect sense - a social institution for humanists, and hopefully Dickens was one, at least, in his novels.


message 20: by Lynnm (last edited Jun 17, 2012 05:50AM) (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Robin wrote: "Early experience with Dissenters gave him a lifelong aversion to evangelical zeal, doctrinal disputation and sectarianism. "

Thanks for the information, Robin.


message 21: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Zulfiya wrote: "Lynnm, I might have been a little outspoken than I should have, but I always have an excuse that all Russians are very opinionated and never politically correct!

On the other hand, I am already anticipating the heated discussion about his next novel Barnaby Rudgethat is set during the religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants if the project lives on, that is:-) "


It's fine by me. I'm opinionated as well, and am already looking forward to a "heated discussion" on religion in Barnaby Rudge! :-)


message 22: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Zulfiya wrote: "Robin wrote: "Good point, Zulfiya, if Dickens had lived in a later era, he might have disowned religion more openly. I think I mentioned in an earlier discussion, that today's Unitarians (of which..."

He might not have called himself a humanist, but he certainly appears to be one given his novels. Maybe that's why I like him so much. ;)


message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

Sorry for the delay, I'm just getting back on track after a very busy couple of weeks.

I enjoyed these passages as I felt they furthered the story on a bit more than some other sections. I was particularly struck by the contrast between the horrific descriptions of life in Industrial Britain compared to their first impressions of the village after they had met the schoolmaster again. I love social history so reading passages about life in these times holds real interest for me as it is an area I have studied and read about.

I hope now that things will start to improve for Nell and her grandfather. I have to agree with Zulfiya, Nell is not one of my favourite characters in literature and I almost find her a little too accepting of her suffering and a bit too "good".


message 24: by Zulfiya (new)

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Heather, we have all been in your shoes:-) And I really like your observation about the sharp difference between the idyllic countryside and the monstrous urban jungles.


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