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7 of Water - Little Nell's Grandfather


Little Nell's Grandfather


The Old Curiosity Shop



 Little Nell's grandfather is the proprietor of the Old Curiosity Shop. Obsessed with seeing that Little Nell doesn't end up dying in poverty like her parents, her grandfather has taken to gambling to win the money needed to provide her with a good inheritance. Sneaking out at night to play cards, it turns out Nell's grandfather has lost untold amounts of money which he has borrowed from the money-lending dwarf, Daniel Quilp. Totally unscrupulous and also desirous of Little Nell, Quilp takes possession of the Old Curiosity Shop and evicts Little Nell and her grandfather. Suffering a breakdown which leaves him addled, Nell's grandfather and the girl go on the lam by foot to the Midlands, living as beggars.


 On their travels, Nell and her grandfather encounter a series of characters and incidents as if witnessing a grotesque parade or an episodic nightmare. For a time they fall in with a travelling Punch & Judy troupe, but the men who run it – Codlin and Short – turn out to betray Nell and her grandfather's whereabouts. They then meet up with Mrs. Jarley, a woman who lives in a caravan and runs a travelling waxworks show. The gambling addiction of Little Nell's grandfather continues, however, and they are compelled to move on. Other odd characters they encounter include the Duke of Thigsberry and Violetta Stetta of the Italian Opera, the Marquis of Mizzler who squabbles with Lord Bobby over a bottle of bubbly, Jerry and his dancing dogs, a man in velveteen pants, an ugly mute conjurer named Sweet William, a red-nosed quack who prescribes old wives remedies, a gypsy named Joe Jowl, and an obstinate pony. As for Nell's unpleasant older brother Frederick, he disappears from the novel completely. By the time Nell and her grandfather are given a job at St. Bartholomews Cathedral by a sexton, however, The Old Curiosity Shop has become something like a person telling you their dream: tedious and uninteresting.


 Begun as a short story and then carried on as a novel piece-meal, The Old Curiosity Shop is a little like a fable mixed with the parlour game Chinese whispers. Nell's grandfather is never given a proper name by Dickens, and he may be the brother of the novel's opening first-person narrator Master Humphrey, or that of the later mysterious “single gentleman” Beavis Marks, or neither. On the one hand, The Old Curiosity Shop is a hodge-podge, a curio, and - like Little Nell's grandfather - Dickens' most soft in the head work. But rather than look at it this way, it may serve the reader best to see it neither as a syrupy bit of sentimentality or a failed attempt at realism but rather as a fairy tale for adults, enticing the reader to entertain otherwise unspeakable taboos such as incest, sadomasochism, addiction, human curiosities, and death, through the patchwork kaleidoscope of enchantment.


 In a curious footnote, befitting The Old Curiosity Shop's motley structure and retroactive continuity, Nelly Ternan years later played the role of Mrs. Jarley, the waxworks proprietress, in a theatrical version of the novel. The production was staged at the Theatre Royal in Margate in 1885, with one of the waxworks played by her son, Geoffrey. It will be remembered that Geoffrey's family on his mother's side had all been actors, and he showed a natural affinity for the stage. His father, however, the Reverend George Robinson, disparaged anything to do with the arts and so the young Geoffrey instead chose a career in the military.  


Shorthand : a game of chance - a bet or a bluff - a decision - the road to Nell is paved with good intentions - bewitched - false hopes - confusion - hallucinations - the fabulous - ways of seeing - completely mystified - deception - curiosity - motley - discursive - derangement - lack of discipline -apologue - poor choices - abreaction - all or nothing.

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