The Old Curiosity Shop

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THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP - Charles Dickens 1840
picIntroduction
This is a wonderful entertaining read and comes highly recommended, as it follows the trials and tribulations of the fourteen year old Nell Trent and her elderly grandfather through a series of adventures after they become destitute, losing everything at the hands of charlatans and fraudsters, who take advantage of the old man's misplaced sense of responsibility for Nell's future happiness and his weakness for gambling.
       A heartwarming but rather sad story of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, it is set in the first half of the nineteenth century as the couple go on the run in search of a new life. A life where they can earn an honest living, free from temptation and the influences of evil in which the old man can be protected from himself and his weakness. The book is one of Dicken's best and a fine example of his special skill with words in describing the more comical antics of the dwarf Quilp, bringing the character to life in a magical way that is nothing short of amazing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

List of Characters
Nell Trent - A young orphan in the care of her grandfather.
Nell's Grandfather - Her guardian.
Frederick Trent - Nell's ne'er-do-well brother.
Richard "Dick" Swiveller - Fred's friend.
Daniel Quilp - An evil little dwarf who preys on the vulnerable.
Christopher "Kit" Nubbles - An employee of the Old Curiosity Shop and later Mr and Mrs Garland.
Mrs Nubbles - Kit's mother, younger brother Jacob and the baby.
Sampson Brass - A corrupt lawyer.
Sally Brass - His sister and partner in the business.
Mr Withersden - A notary.
Mr Chuckster - Mr Withersden's clerk.
Mr and Mrs Garland - Kit's new employers.
Abel Garland - Their son and Mr Withersden's apprentice.
Barbara - Mr and Mrs Garland's maidservant.
Mr Marton - A schoolmaster.
The Single Gentleman- A mysterious lodger renting a room from the Brass's.
The Small Servant "Marchioness" - The Brass's housemaid.
Mrs Jarley - Proprietor of the Travelling Waxworks.
Isaac List and Joe Jowl - A pair of card sharps.
Thomas Codlin and Mr Harris - Punch and Judy men.
The Bachelor - A resident of the village where Nell and her Grandfather end their journey.
Others - Betsy Quilp and her mother Mrs Jiniwin, Tom Scott, Quilp's protege.

Synopsis
pic The story opens with Little Nell and her grandfather living and presumably trading at the Old Curiosity Shop with Christopher "Kit" Nubbles in the employ of the grandfather. Kit has become very fond of Nell over the years and although he feels unworthy, he idolises her. As time goes on the reader becomes aware that the old man leaves the house every night for some mysterious purpose and only returns in the early hours of the morning. The old man becomes increasingly anxious as it transpires that he is gambling almost every night in the hope of making Nell a wealthy heiress. Inevitably he loses what savings he has accumulated and begins to borrow money from the villain Quilp, who eventually forecloses on the loans when the old man's losses have accumulated beyond sustainable levels. Somehow Quilp manages to throw suspicion for most of the old man's misfortune on Kit resulting in him being sacked and banished from seeing Nell. Quilp is the main client of dishonest lawyers the Brasses at Bevis Marks who assist him to take possession of the Old Curiosity Shop and its contents as the old man and Nell take flight to escape their evil clutches.
       Meanwhile Kit is befriended by the Garlands who give him a job in his hour of need, also a stranger referred to only as the Single Gentleman appears in town and takes a room in the Brasses premises at Bevis Marks. The mysterious disappearance of Nell and the old man is causing some consternation amongst the community, as it becomes clear the Single Gentleman has been expecting to find the owner of the Old Curiosity Shop and Nell still in residence. Quilp also has unfinished business with the pair who have given him the slip. Both have their ears to the ground in order to get some clue to their whereabouts.
       The old man and Nell meet many friendly faces on their travels who assist them and give them shelter, firstly with some Punch and Judy men at a gathering at the Racecourse and then being taken in by Mrs Jarley who gives them employment with her travelling waxworks. However whilst in residence here the old man falls in with some undesirables intent on fleecing him at cards. Once more Nell has to save the old man from himself and they slip away into the night. Moving further west they meet up for a second time with a schoolmaster who had befriended them on their earlier travels, he is on his way to take up a new teaching post in a quiet village and invites them to accompany him there. When they arrive in the village the schoolmaster provides them with accommodation and at last the pair begin to feel safe amongst the friendly villagers. One of these friendly villagers which the author only identifies as the Bachelor will later play a key role in the storyline in solving some of the mystery surrounding the plot.
       Back in London many people are anxious to discover the whereabouts of Nell and her grandfather particularly the mysterious stranger who the author identifies only as the Single Gentleman who has now teamed up with the Garlands and their Notary Mr Withersden who employs their son Abel Garland. The Single Gentleman has been speaking to the Punch and Judy men, back in town after their travels, and discovered the fugitives having been sighted at the gathering at the racecourse. The Single Gentleman and Mr Garland waste no time in going to this location only to find the pair having moved on without leaving a trace. The search continues in which of course, Quilp is also showing an unhealthy interest. Quilp has been in confrontation with Kit and having been offended by him sets out to wreak vengeance. Quilp has planted Richard Swiveller with the Brasses as a spy and put pressure on the lawyers to incriminate Kit with the theft of a five pound note on one of his several trips to the Bevis Marks address with messages for the Single Gentleman. The note is subsequently found in Kit's hat and he is tried and thrown in prison, well and truly framed. Up to now the reader has been led to believe Richard Swiveller to be a cad and a bounder, a complete waste of space, however he now begins to show a more human side of his character, in fact he becomes a hero. He takes pity on the small servant girl employed by the Brasses and befriends her playing several games of cribbage with her in the kitchen when the lawyers are not at home. It transpires that the Marchioness as he now calls her has discovered a second key to the kitchen door and has been coming and going at odd times when Sally Brass thought her securely locked in the kitchen for the night. Yes she has witnessed the Brasses discussing the planting of the note and false allegations leading to the impeachment and imprisonment of Kit. Once Kit has been imprisoned Quilp has no further use for Richard Swiveller and Sampson Brass is told to sack him.
       The next scene finds Swiveller coming out of a high fever with the Marchioness at his bedside having nursed him through a long illness. She had run away from her tormentor Sally Brass to be at the side of her new found friend and continues to look after him even though she has had to sell his clothes to pay for food. In the conversation that follows his recovery, the Marchioness spills the beans about the conspiracy to frame Kit as a thief and the misters Garland and Withersden are summoned to Richard's bedside to begin the process of freeing him. After confronting the Brasses with the evidence Sampson Brass confesses in the hope of a lighter sentence, much to the dismay of his sister who was prepared to deny everything, although both Sampson and his sister are terrified of the awful retribution of Quilp when he discovers their treachery. Sally tips off Quilp that the plot has been discovered and he should make himself scarce, he being the chief target of those seeking justice. Naturally Quilp manages to wriggle out of this awkward situation, but surprisingly not in the way the reader might expect, I won't spoil it by clarifying further.
       Once Kit is freed the story returns to the theme of the mysterious whereabouts of Nell and the old man, surprisingly Mr Garland receives occasional letters from his Batchelor brother and the most recent epistle from that source brings news of the new teacher in the village and a young girl and her grandfather he has befriended, now living amongst them. The Single Gentleman now identifies himself as the younger brother of Nell's grandfather and has returned to return his kindness from when they were growing up together. The group set off immediately to be re-united with the pair Kit being most anxious to see Nell again after all the time that has elapsed. As the story gradually draws to a conclusion the friends reach the.village not knowing what to expect or what they might find. It would therefore not be wise to go any further with the synopsis but leave the rest for the reader to discover for themselves.

Palfreyman - January 2023


Extract
(Swiveller befriends the Little Servant)
While these acts and deeds were in progress in and out of the office of Sampson Brass, Richard Swiveller, being often left alone therein, began to find the time hang heavy on his hands. For the better preservation of his cheerfulness therefore, and to prevent his faculties from rusting, he provided himself with a cribbage-board and pack of cards, and accustomed himself to play at cribbage with a dummy, for twenty, thirty, or sometimes even fifty thousand pounds a side, besides many hazardous bets to a considerable amount. As these games were very silently conducted, notwithstanding the magnitude of the interests involved, Mr Swiveller began to think that on those evenings when Mr and Miss Brass were out (and they often went out now) he heard a kind of snorting or hard-breathing sound in the direction of the door, which it occurred to him, after some reflection, must proceed from the small servant, who always had a cold from damp living. Looking intently that way one night, he plainly distinguished an eye gleaming and glistening at the keyhole; and having now no doubt that his suspicions were correct, he stole softly to the door, and pounced upon her before she was aware of his approach.
       'Oh! I didn't mean any harm indeed. Upon my word I didn't,' cried the small servant, struggling like a much larger one. 'It's so very dull, down stairs. Please don't you tell upon me; please don't.'
       'Tell upon you!' said Dick. 'Do you mean to say you were looking through the keyhole for company?'
       'Yes, upon my word I was,' replied the small servant.
       'How long have you been cooling your eye there?' said Dick.
       'Oh, ever since you first began to play them cards, and long before.'
       Vague recollections of several fantastic exercises with which he had refreshed himself after the fatigues of business, and to all of which, no doubt, the small servant was a party, rather disconcerted Mr Swiveller; but he was not very sensitive on such points, and recovered himself speedily.
       'Well, - come in,' he said, after a little consideration. 'Here - sit down, and I'll teach you how to play.'
       'Oh! I durstn't do it,' rejoined the small servant; 'Miss Sally 'ud kill me, if she know'd I came up here.'
       'Have you got a fire down stairs?' said Dick.
       'A very little one,' replied the small servant.
       'Miss Sally couldn't kill me if she know'd I went down there, so I'll come,' said Richard, putting the cards into his pocket.
       'Why, how thin you are! What do you mean by it?'
       'It an't my fault.'
       'Could you eat any bread and meat?' said Dick, taking down his hat.
       'Yes? Ah! I thought so. Did you ever taste beer?'
       'I had a sip of it once,' said the small servant.
       'Here's a state of things!' cried Mr Swiveller, raising his eyes to the ceiling.
       'She never tasted it - it can't be tasted in a sip! Why, how old are you?'
       'I don't know.'
       Mr Swiveller opened his eyes very wide, and appeared thoughtful for a moment; then bidding the child mind the door until he came back, vanished straightway.
       Presently he returned, followed by the boy from the public-house, who bore in one hand a plate of bread and beef and in the other a great pot, filled with some very fragrant compound, which sent forth a grateful steam, and was indeed choice purl, made after a particular recipe which Mr Swiveller had imparted to the landlord at a period when he was deep in his books and desirous to conciliate his friendship. Relieving the boy of his burden at the door, and charging his little companion to fasten it to prevent surprise, Mr Swiveller followed her into the kitchen.
       'There!' said Richard, putting the plate before her. 'First of all, clear that off, and then you'll see what's next.'
       The small servant needed no second bidding, and the plate was soon empty.
       'Next,' said Dick, handing the purl, 'take a pull at that; but moderate your transports, you know, for you're not used to it. Well, is it good?'
       'Oh! isn't it?' said the small servant.
       Mr Swiveller appeared gratified beyond all expression by this reply, and took a long draught himself steadfastly regarding his companion while he did so. These preliminaries disposed of, he applied himself to teaching her the game, which she soon learnt tolerably well, being both sharp-witted and cunning.
       'Now,' said Mr Swiveller, putting two sixpences into a saucer, and trimming the wretched candle, when the cards had been cut and dealt, 'those are the stakes. If you win, you get 'em all. If I win, I get 'em. To make it seem more real and pleasant, I shall call you the Marchioness, do you hear?'
       The small servant nodded. 'Then, Marchioness,' said Mr,Swiveller, 'fire away!'
       The Marchioness, holding her cards very tight in both hands, considered which to play, and Mr Swiveller, assuming the gay and fashionable air which such society required, took another pull at the tankard, and waited for her lead.
       Mr Swiveller and his partner played several rubbers with varying success, until the loss of three sixpences, the gradual sinking of the purl, and the striking of ten o'clock, combined to render that gentleman mindful of the flight of time, and the expediency of withdrawing before Mr Sampson and Miss Sally Brass returned.
       'With which object in view, Marchioness,' said Mr Swiveller gravely, I shall ask your ladyship's permission to put the board in my pocket, and to retire from the presence when I have finished this tankard; merely observing, Marchioness, that since life like a river is flowing, I care not how fast it rolls on, ma'am, on, while such purl on the bank still is growing, and such eyes light the waves as they run.' Marchioness, your health. You will excuse my wearing my hat, but the palace is damp, and the marble floor is - if I may be allowed the expression - sloppy.'
       As a precaution against this latter inconvenience, Mr Swiveller had been sitting for some time with his feet on the hob, in which attitude he now gave utterance to these apologetic observations, and slowly sipped the last.
       'The Baron Sampsono Brasso and his fair sister are (you tell me) at the Play?' said Mr Swiveller, leaning his left arm heavily upon the table, and raising his voice and his right leg after the manner of a theatrical bandit.
       The Marchioness nodded. 'Ha!' said Mr Swiveller, with a portentous frown.'Tis well, Marchioness! - but no matter. Some wine there. Ho!' He illustrated these melodramatic morsels by handing the tankard to himself with great humility, receiving it haughtily, drinking from it thirstily, and smacking his lips fiercely. The small servant, who was not so well acquainted with theatrical conventionalities as Mr Swiveller (having indeed never seen a play, or heard one spoken of except by chance through chinks of doors and in other forbidden places), was rather alarmed by demonstrations so novel in their nature, and showed her concern so plainly in her looks, that Mr Swiveller felt it necessary to discharge his brigand manner for one more suitable to private life, as he asked, 'Do they often go where glory waits 'em, and leave you here?'
       'Oh, yes; I believe you they do,' returned the small servant. 'Miss Sally's such a one-er for that, she is.'
       'Such a what?' said Dick.
       'Such a one-er,' returned the Marchioness. After a moment's reflection, Mr Swiveller determined to forego his responsible duty of setting her right, and to suffer her to talk on; as it was evident that her tongue was loosened by the purl, and her opportunities for conversation were not so frequent as to render a momentary check of little consequence. 'They sometimes go to see Mr Quilp,' said the small servant with a shrewd look; 'they go to a many places, bless you.'

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picLyme Hall, Disley, CheshireFurther Links:
Wigan Advertisements - 1960
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Upholland Telephone Exchange c1963
A new era in the history of Upholland as the village transistions from a manual telephone exchange in Parliament Street to a modern (for the sixties) Strowger automatic system, with subscriber trunk dialling in Church Street.