34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2003
...reading delight. Whenever I get depressed or feel like I can't start another book, I re-read some passages of this book written by Charles Dickens. It is one of the best books written in English. Intentionally syrupy and over-sweet, Dickens writes so perfectly as to make the reader wonder how anyone could ever write so gorgeously. If you pass this one up, you're cheating yourself. I couldn't put the book down. It's a rare and special novel that keeps me in bed over the weekend reading from dawn to sleep.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2000
The Old Curiosity Shop certainly displays the hallmarks of the unstructured, free-flowing make-it-up-as-you-go-along type of story characteristic of Dickens's early novels. Indeed, it is rather generous to call it a story, and it's difficult now to understand the sensation it caused when it was first published. However, if a page-turning plot was all there was to it, very few of Dickens's novels would be readable at all. As ever with Dickens, the pleasure in reading this book comes from the comedy, diversity and richness of the characters, as well as the sheer mastery of the English language which came so naturally to him.
The central characters are old Trent, his granddaughter Nell, the moneylender Daniel Quilp, young Kit and the wonderful Richard Swiveller. Of these, the spotlessly pure Nell and the irredeemably evil Quilp are the moral opposites around which the book revolves, old Trent is rather a pathetic figure, while Kit's sturdy progress from poverty to respectability makes for happier reading. However, it is the moral journey of Swiveller, which perhaps reflects the geographic journey undertaken by Nell and her grandfather, which is the real joy of this book. He enters the book in the guise of a rogue, involved in dubious intrigues with Nell's no-good brother and also with the repulsive Quilp. However, from the time that Quilp gets him a job as a clerk in the office of Samson Brass and his sister, the awful Miss Brass, Swiveller's basic decency and natural good humour begin to reveal themselves, and his soliloquies and dialogue provide many hilarious moments from that point on. The Dick Swiveller who subsequently meets up with the hapless young girl kept prisoner by Miss Brass is funny, considerate, charming and kind, and a long way from the doubtful type of character that he at first appears to be.
The book proceeds along two different narrative lines; one which charts the progress of Nell and her grandfather on their long journey, and the other revolving around Swiveller, Quilp and Kit, and to a lesser extent the families of these latter two, as well as "the single gentleman" and the little girl memorably christened "The Marchioness" by Swiveller. One of the big faults I found with this dual structure is that the characters of one plot line have no contact with those in the other plot line for most of the novel, and it is left to the Quilp, Swiveller and Kit to act out most of the drama. Nell and her grandfather spend most of their time journeying through various scenes of early nineteenth century life in England. Nonetheless these all make for enjoyable reading. One particular scene where Nell and her grandfather sleep beside a furnace in the company of a wretched man who watches the flames is particularly memorable.
All in all, it's not exactly a page-turner, and the ending is not a happy one. I would not recommend this book as an introduction to Dickens, and is best read by people, like myself, who have already decided that anything by Dickens is worth reading. Also it focuses less on London than many Dickens novels, and gives an interesting view of rural, village and town life outside London in those times.
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
This is the first Dickens' story I've read. If the other reviewer says he liked this one LESS than Dickens' other works, then I guess I am in for a treat in reading more of Dickens. I absolutely LOVED The Old Curiosity Shop. It was so well-written and witty, with twists and turns I would not have expected. Overall, it was such a fantastic book that - for someone who doesn't read books twice - I will certainly read this book again someday (after I read some other Dickens' books).
36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2002
The only pleasure greater than discovering a new book
is rediscovering an old friend you haven't read for a while.
Many years ago I read all of Charles Dickens novels, but I
recently had occasion to re-read The Old Curiosity Shop, and
it is just as good as I remembered it the first time.
The story, like most of his plots, depends a great deal
on coincidences, so you have to suspend your scepticism to
enjoy it. Dickens begins by introducing us to one of the
most innocent little girls in literature, Little Nell, and
to her most unhappy grand-father. Quickly we discover that
instead of the old man taking care of the child, she is the
one responsible. We then meet one of Dickens' great villains
- the evil, corrupt, mean, and nasty Quilp - a man, if that
term can be used, who has absolutely no redeeming qualities,
one who finds pleasure in inflicting pain on all he meets.
Thinking that the old man has secret riches, Quilp
advances him money to support his gambling habit.
Unfortunately Nell's grandfather never wins, and the debt
grows ever larger. Finally Quilp forecloses on the curiosity
shop that the old man owns (thus the name of the book) and
tries to keep the two captive in order to discover the money
that he still believes is hidden somewhere. While the
household is asleep, however, Nell and her grandfather
escape and begin wandering across England in a search for
On that journey, Dickens introduces us to a series of
minor characters who either befriend or try to take
advantage of our heroine. He's in no hurry to continue the
main story, so just sit back and enjoy the vivid
characterizations that are typical of any good Dickens
In the meantime, we follow the adventures of young Kit,
a boy who was one of Nell's best friends until Quilp turned
her grandfather against him. Here we find one of Dickens'
favorite sub-plots, the poor but honest boy who supports his
widowed mother and younger brother. Thanks to his honesty,
Kit finds a good position, but then evil Quilp enters the
picture and has him arrested as a thief!
Of course, we have the kind and mysterious elderly
gentlemen who take an interest in Kit and Nell for reasons
that we don't fully understand until the end of the book. We
are certain, however, that they will help ensure that
justice prevails in the end.
This is not a book for those in a hurry. Dickens tells
his stories in a meandering fashion, and the stops along the
way are just as important for your enjoyment as the journey itself. That can be frustrating at time, especially as you enter the second half and are anxious to see how things turn out. I try never to cheat by reading the end of a book before I finish, but it is tempting with Dickens. At times I wanted to tell him, "I don't want to meet anyone else; tell me what happens to Nell and Kit!" But I know the side journeys will prove rewarding, so I just have to be patient. Anyway, I am in better shape than his first readers; he wrote in weekly installments, so
they had to wait!
If you have and enjoyed other Dickens' novels, you will enjoy this one as well. If this is your first time (or perhaps the first time since you were in high school), you are in for a treat.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2004
The Old Curiosity Shop is one of Dickens's most often-overlooked novels. A quite long (720+ pages) novel, it originally appeared in weekly segment in Dickens's short-lived journal, Master Humphrey's Clock. Appearing originally in this form in 1840, they were a huge success. In this novel format, separated from the journal, it still makes for some delightful reading, though sometimes it is clear that it was originally published in weekly portions. That is to say, the novel is largely episodic, to an even greater degree than his masterpiece, Great Expectations. Nell and her grandfather's trials and tribulations experienced during their travels through the English countryside are interspersed with parallel urban scenes involving different characters. Much of it goes along with little apparent connection to what has come before, with very little in the way of suspense and not much to speak of in terms of a traditional plot. The book's charm lies centrally with the characters and with the pathos and other emotions that their triumphs and travails evoke. There is little in the way of a theme -- no philosophizing or moralizing. These features belie the story's origin. It can make it something of a slow read at times, but the book certainly has its virtues.
These reside chiefly in, as always, the wonderful characters of Dickens. Here he, indeed, conjured up a motley crew -- from the innocent, angelic Nell to the demonic, malevolent Daniel Quilp, and everyone in-between. Like much of Dickens's work, the chief joy in reading this book comes from the pure enjoyment of reading about these delightful characters. They exist for their own sake, outside of the restrictions of the basic plot. The character of Mr. Swiveller is one of his best-loved and most-enduring characters -- and the aforementioned Quilp is a devilish, beastly fiend to rank with Iago and Cathy from John Steinbeck's East of Eden. This book's chief strengths and weaknesses being thus laid out, suffice it to say that this is not Dickens's best book, and it is not where the new Dickens reader should start; try Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities for that. It is, however, a delightful read for the Dickens fan and should definitely be picked up and read by them in time, as well as by anyone who loves character-driven literature.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 1999
This is such a good book, I don't know where to begin. I know a lot of people put it down for sentimentalizing Nells death, but you know, I almost cried during it! The victorians just weren't as cynical as we are. Now a book has to show the horror of the human spirit to be considered a good book but that does get kind of oh, same same after a while. This was the first Dickens book I read, I remember reading it in high school and thinking "damn, this is good" I was expecting something dry and humorless and was pleasantly surprised by Dickens wit and humor and great story telling ability. Too bad this book is so hard to find out in book stores. Its really an underrated masterpiece.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2012
This is a wonderful book that that braids together four different stories, each one fascinating and providing a glimpse into England circa 1840 and into the human heart. The first story centers on Nell, a girl about 14 years old when the story begins and her grandfather with whom she lives. The grandfather is a compulsive gambler (during much of the novel) and is suffering from the onset of dementia, both of which factors cause the roles to be reversed with the 14-year-old girl having to assume responsibility for her own and her grandfather's fate. And she does so with great nobility and sagacity. She is an exemplar of human decency and seems wise beyond her years. At some point early in the novel, her grandfather loses all money and property, forcing the two of them (with Nell taking the lead) to go on an odyssey through England where they encounter a number of interesting people and places. The second story involves Kit and his family and coworkers. Kit starts out as a servant to Nell and her grandfather but is also the greatest delight in the life of poor lonely, nearly abandoned, and very desperate Nell because of his good nature and kindness. As the book progresses, Kit's fortunes change in several ways and his relationship with his mother and siblings is described. The third story has to do mainly with the villian of the piece, a hideous dwarf and bully named Quilp who loves nothing so much as to take advantage of others' weaknesses and watch them suffer. Supporting characters in this third story involve a brother and sister team of lawyers whose last name is Brass. The fourth story centers on a truly comical character named Dick Swiveler whose alcoholism and other weaknesses cause him to become a pawn in some of Quilp's malicious games though never a knowing or willing one. Swiveler eventually parts from Quilp and the Brasses and about that same time strikes up a remarkable friendship with a girl he names "Marchioness." One story is told for a while and then suspended while another story is carried forward and then a third and fourth are pushed along. It is a kind of weaving or symphony. Reading this, you will meet fascinating, wonderful, and horrible characters and go to amazing places now lost to history. Do read this book when you can.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2008
'The Old Curiosity Shop' is the latest in a line of Dickens novels I have read, since initially bemoaning having to read 'David Copperfield' as a freshman in high school. As I venture further into this talented author's works, I have to wonder if the tales are getting simpler to read, or if I am just enjoying them more.
The 'Shop' which the title mentions is merely a backdrop for the beginning of the story, which led me to believe that I was in for a disappointment, having not read the basic plot outline before I picked it up, which is a rarity for me. But having read enough Dickens now to know what a treat I am in for, I prefer not to spoil anything about the book ahead of time. However, in reading on, I discovered that this minor 'distraction', that the 'Shop' was not the focus of the tale, was not at all to take away from a wonderful story.
Little Nell, the heroine of this tale, is like Little Dorrit from the book of the same name, Pip from Great Expectations, and the beleagured Smike from Nicholas Nickelby...a sympathetic, instantly ingratiating, and lovable character. Orphaned in youth, Nell resides with her grandfather, an ailing and frail man who dotes on the young girl.
But the grandfather also holds a secret 'vice' which soon is revealed to be the source of their misfortune, and the reason for their expulsion from the 'Shop', above which they reside. Nell and her grandfather are forced to leave their home in the early morning hours, and seek their fortunes elsewhere.
Of course any Dickens story would not be complete without a host of colorful supporting characters that the major players interact with, and this novel is no different. Nell's friend Kit, a young man eager to please and with a heart of gold, finds himself in favor of the Garlands as their horse driver, seeing that the young man has a way with the beast that no one else does. Sampson and Sally Brass, brother and sister and employers of Mr. Richard (Dick) Swiveller, Kit's mother and younger brothers, and Kit's friend Barbara and her mother also figure prominently into the tale as well. Mr. Swiveller and the Brass siblings play host to a 'mysterious' bachelor, who arrives in town and begins his search for Nell and her grandfather, his purpose to be revealed at a later time.
But no review of this book would be complete without giving special recognition to the villain of the piece....one Daniel Quilp...a dwarf with a heart blacker than the foggiest nights of London. Quilp's interest is piqued when he realizes that 'someone' is looking for Nell and her grandfather, and resolves to find them as well, no matter who he has to hurt in the process. Quilp's dastardly actions propel the tale along for both Nell and Kit, and set in motion a chain of events that lead to....well...a very Dickensian ending.
Like 'Dombey and Son' before it, this foray into Dickens' works was every bit as enjoyable as all the Dickens I have read in the past. Highly recommended, and perhaps, like Dombey, a great place to get acquainted with a wonderfully entertaining author.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Having collected all of the other Nonesuch Dickens editions (2008 and earlier), I am very disappointed by the quality of this edition's binding. The Old Curiosity Shop is a heavy tome, but the previous Nonesuch editions had superior binding. Not so the case with this edition - on the outside, the binding looks and feels the same as the previous editions, but when I examined the bindings on the inside, I discovered to my horror that this binding is glued together, not sewn as in previous editions. This is simply unacceptable! The price for this book does not match the inferior quality of the binding.
I discovered (surprise, surprise) that the 2008 Nonesuch Dickens' were printed and bound in Thailand, but this 2011 edition is printed and bound in China! Perhaps this might explain the difference in quality? The paper quality of the 2008 editions is also superior, the paper feeling smoother and thicker. This 2011 edition has pages that feel like cheaper quality paper, and much thinner. The illustrations are also not as clearly defined and appear lighter than the 2008 editions.
I also ordered The Pickwick Papers and Our Mutual Friend to complete my collection of the Nonesuch Dickens. Overall, I am very disappointed in this 2011 Nonesuch Dickens' editions and am only keeping them so as to complete my collection.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2002
Of all what Dickens wrote, there never was one like "Old Curiosity Shop." Most Dickensian in the sense that it exudes everything he created in his career. Outrageous characters including an angelic heroine and impossibly theatrical villain, (too) kind-hearted gentlemen and hilarious comic relief.
The story follows the fate of Little Nell, who together with his grandfather embarks on a wandering trek through England to find her place where they can live quietly. Around her and her old friend Kit appear the colorful characters such as incredibly cheerful, optimistic Dick Swiveller, or grotesque, villainous Quilp (who somehow attracted a pretty lady's attention for he got married!) On top of them, you encounter a lot of vividly described characters only Dickens can create.
As the novel started as a short vignette in a magazine, and then Dickens extended it, following his imagination, to boost the readers' subscription (because the magazine's circulation dropped badly after the initial issue), the plot is very thin, and the whole work is incoherent. The first-person narrator who opens the story disappears soon; Nell's brother Fred is gone almost silently ("Did Little Nell have a brother?" those who had read it may say. So unmemorable.); even Kit, who adores Nell deep in his heart at first, seems to forget her existence before Barbara, his love, after Nell ran away from her house. But all these flaws must be forgotten. Dickens wrote it without a prepared plan; he just used his creative power, and his double plot device, which is awkward, is an inevitable result. It is like some TV sitcoms or dramas (like "Ally McBeal" or "X-Files") that keep on running for years -- you never know where it is going.
So read it slowly, turn your blind eye to the holes in the plot, and enjoy the characters. One of the most favorite episodes was once the last scene of Little Nell, for whom every Victorian actually shed tears, but you might now feel differently about a series of sentimental sentences. Well, remember it was how they felt at that time. And don't miss one very good thing about the book; it is the budding love between the most unlikely couple in the history of English literature, that of Dick Swiveller and the Marchioness, an abused little girl. That comsenpates for the shortcomings of "Old Curiosity Book," most gargantuan novel coming from Dickens's imaginative power.
There are many editions of the book, and as far as I know, EVERYMAN "PAPERBACK" EDITION provides complete, clear-cut original illustartion. Watching them is another joy you can have.