Dickens Champions: Manchester on The Old Curiosity Shop
22 May 2012 / 0 Comments
Our Dickens Champions, Dickens Reading Group Manchester have been reading The Old Curiosity Shop, here's there latest blog post:
Everyone who attended our second meeting agreed that The Old Curiosity Shop is a lesser novel than David Copperfield. We discussed whether the fact that it was first published in weekly parts in Dickens' magazine Master Humphrey's Clock affected its form. The majority felt that this meandering story was written with no knowledge of where it would end up and that the ending was hurried.
Gail felt that Little Nell was a rather saccharine character and one or two questioned whether, at the age of thirteen years, she would have been capable of making all the decisions on their travels through the country. Geoffrey did not agree and said that in those days children had to become streetwise at an earlier age than now.
Geoffrey's opinion was that it was a very poor novel; tedious from beginning to end. Dickens employed a deus ex machina to tie up the loose ends quickly when he wanted to finish the serialisation.
Sean thought that Dickens sensationalised the city and sentimentalised the country and Mike's feeling was that it was a series of sketches loosely joined together. Another view was that one of the big problems of the novel is the number of empty characters - Nell, her grandfather and Dick Swiveller to name but three.
There were many positive views as well. Stephen thought that the relationship between Quilp and his wife was an extraordinarily effective portrait of domestic violence. The cruelty is sustained over time via the bully using different moods & personae.
Anja couldn't attend but sent an email to say that she had made a start on the book then put it aside because she couldn't bear the creepiness after Nell and her grandfather hit the road. However, after a break she managed to finish it and told us 'I would not have liked to miss the book, simply for the sake of Quilp and the Marchioness and Dick Swiveller. I also loved Kit, roaring with laughter for no ever discernible reason. What a joy.'
Donna pointed out that there are modern similarities between the Marchioness being kept in a cellar and made to work and a case in court this year where a Pakistani girl of ten was brought to England, kept in a cellar and made to work for years for no wages. Anne found the section where Nell and her grandfather meet the many colourful characters on their way to the fair - e.g. the Punch and Judy men and Mrs Jarley and her travelling waxworks was the most fascinating part of the book.
Jane asked whether the title referred to more than just the literal shop featured in the early stages: the whole story is a series of curiosities, both events and people.
We discussed Dickens' attitude to the death of characters in his books which are never fully described and I found the following words in a speech he gave in Edinburgh in 1841 where in referring to the death of Nell he said the following "I thought what a good thing it would be if in my little work of pleasant amusement I could substitute a garland of fresh flowers for the sculptured horrors which disgrace the tomb."
Overall the general opinion seemed to be that the book was certainly worth reading and our next will be Barnaby Rudge which was the novel Dickens was writing for Master Humphrey's Clock at the same time as The Old Curiosity Shop.
Watch out for our Dickens Champions' blog posts as they read their way through Dickens during 2012.
Read Belper Book Chat's view of The Old Curiosity Shop.
Reading Dickens in your reading group or book club? Get in touch or post a comment to let us know how you're getting on.