Monday, June 20, 2011

The Old Curiosity Shop - Charles Dickens

This was the June book for the Rockdale Readers book club

About the Book
The Old Curiosity Shop tells the story of Nelly Trent and her grandfather as they wander the English countryside, north of London, trying to evade Daniel Quilp. Nell's grandfather has borrowed money from Quilp to support a gambling habit and has lost everything, including the curiosity shop.

My Thoughts
Is it wrong to blog about an unfinished book? I have read it before, but when rereading realised there is only 1 scene I remember at all! The scene is where Richard Swiveller wakes up the Brass' Lodger who has slept for 26 hours and wants to charge him twice as much as everyone else because he has slept twice as long.

'Have YOU been making that horrible noise?' said the single gentleman.
'I have been helping, sir,' returned Dick, keeping his eye upon him, and waving the ruler gently in his right hand, as an indication of what the single gentleman had to expect if he attempted any violence.
'How dare you then,' said the lodger, 'Eh?'
To this, Dick made no other reply than by inquiring whether the lodger held it to be consistent with the conduct and character of a gentleman to go to sleep for six-and-twenty hours at a stretch, and whether the peace of an amiable and virtuous family was to weigh as nothing in the balance.
'Is my peace nothing?' said the single gentleman.
'Is their peace nothing, sir?' returned Dick. 'I don't wish to hold out any threats, sir--indeed the law does not allow of threats, for to threaten is an indictable offence--but if ever you do that again, take care you're not sat upon by the coroner and buried in a cross road before you wake. We have been distracted with fears that you were dead, Sir,' said Dick, gently sliding to the ground, 'and the short  and the long of it is, that we cannot allow single gentlemen to come into this establishment and sleep like double gentlemen without paying extra for it.'
I don't remember it the first time I read it, but The Old Curiosity Shop is quite a comic novel. The characters are caricatures, and get into silly situations. In this reading my favourite parts were of Kit's first couple of meetings with Mr & Mrs Garland and their headstrong pony Whisker.
The old gentleman, the old lady, the pony, and the chaise, came up the street in perfect  unanimity, until they arrived within some half a dozen doors of the Notary's house, when the pony, deceived by a brass-plate beneath a tailor's knocker, came to a halt, and maintained by a sturdy silence, that that was the house they wanted.
'Now, Sir, will you ha' the goodness to go on; this is not the place,' said the old gentleman. 
The pony looked with great attention into a fire-plug which was near him, and appeared to be quite absorbed in contemplating it.
'Oh dear, such a naughty Whisker" cried the old lady. 'After being so good too, and coming along so well! I am quite ashamed of him. I don't know what we are to do with him, I really don't.'
The pony having thoroughly satisfied himself as to the nature and properties of the fire-plug, looked into the air after his old enemies the flies, and as there happened to be one of them  tickling his ear at that moment he shook his head and whisked his tail, after which he appeared full of thought but quite comfortable and collected. The old gentleman having exhausted his powers of persuasion,  alighted to lead him; whereupon the pony, perhaps because he held this to be a sufficient  concession, perhaps because he happened to catch sight of the other brass-plate, or perhaps because he was in a spiteful humour, darted off with the old lady and stopped at the right house, leaving the old gentleman to come panting on behind.

A few of the regular bookclubbers found it hard to get through The Old Curiosity Shop. So the discussion went sideways a bit, in that it wasn't about the book so much, but about the times and Charles Dicken's early life. We did talk about some of the memorable characters before getting
waylaid again by how far Nell & her Grandfather walked in a day. It sounded like they went a long way. This lead the conversation into talking about the perception of distances, how Australian's think nothing of driving 2 hours to get somewhere, where as in other countries this is a big deal. The group did say that Richard Swiveller seemed to be the most fully drawn of the characters and he seemed to grow over the course of the novel. The consensus of the night was that  Charles Dickens was no Jane Austen, which some of the group members preferred. 

I think I enjoyed the supporting cast members stories more than Nell and her Grandfather's. I enjoyed reading about Kit and his mother. I didn't really get very far into the novel though. I think I am up to just after Kit starts working for the Garlands and Nell and her Grandfather have just
met up with the lady in the caravan.

Despite not getting very far, I do recommend this book. It's not one of Charles Dicken's best novels, but it is one that you don't assume that you have already read because you know the story so well. What Dickens does best is to present the life of the lower class and this is done well in The Old Curiosity Shop.

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