Published on Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - 12:33pm
The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
"The Old Curiosity Shop" is the story of two brothers who are warmly attached to each other and fall in love with the same woman without each other's knowledge. The younger brother discovers this troubling situation and goes on self exile abroad and acquires great fortune. Back home in England his brother (the Grandfather) marries the lady, who dies soon after, leaving an infant daughter, who turns out to be her perfect resemblance. The Grandfather transfers his love and affection for his late wife to the child who grows up into an unhappy marriage. She also dies soon afterwards leaving behind a son and a daughter. The grandfather assumes custody of the orphans. The boy falls into bad company and becomes an outcast. The girl becomes the object of the old man's affection. But his dream of leaving the girl a rich inheritance fades as he degenerates into poverty and is reduced to keeping a shop for antiquities and curiosities. He tries to acquire fortune by gambling off borrowed money from Daniel Quilp, a dwarf who is remembered more for the extraordinary size of his head and evil machinations. The dwarf discovers the true state of the old man’s fiscal capacity and evicts him and Nell from their home and possessions. Let by Nell the grandfather sets out to an unknown destination to relieve them of the sight of the hated city. Nell leads him away to the Midlands of England to live as beggars. A chance encounter with a school teacher provides them with a home, a job and above all empathy. The younger brother becomes aware of the old man's situation and hasten to England. Sadly by the time he arrives, Nell has died as a result of her arduous journey and the grandfather, already suffering from mental impairment brought about by the loss of his property, fatigue and grief, dies soon after.
Charles Dickens characterizes Little Nell as angelic and emblematic of goodness and dedicated to the comfort and welfare of others. Her short life is described very sentimentally and her death comes as shock to many. Though described by Oscar Wilde in humorously ”One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing” Little Nell even without the grandeur of a heroin, arouses our passions with her innocence, goodness and love for her grandfather that we feel in us a desire to reach out to her aid.