Study Guide

The Old Curiosity Shop

by Charles Dickens

The Old Curiosity Shop Characters

Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)

Nell Trent

Nell Trent, called Little Nell, a sweet, delicate child, brave and wise beyond her years. An orphan, she lives with her aged grandfather, the keeper of the Old Curiosity Shop, who has developed a passion for gambling because of his desire to provide for Little Nell’s future. After the old man, heavily in debt, loses the last of his property, he and his granddaughter are turned into the streets. She and the half-crazed old man take to the roads and encounter many adventures during their wanderings. At every opportunity, her grandfather continues to gamble away whatever funds he may have. They suffer many privations before they fall in with a kindly schoolmaster, Mr. Marton, who accompanies them to the village where he has been appointed teacher and clerk. There, Little Nell and her grandfather settle down to a quiet life, but their happiness is brief. Hardship and exposure have undermined Little Nell’s delicate constitution. She fades away slowly and uncomplainingly, worn out by her difficult life, and dies soon afterward.

Little Nell’s grandfather

Little Nell’s grandfather, the proprietor of the Old Curiosity Shop, the only means he has of providing for himself and his orphan granddaughter. Troubled because he has no other way to provide for her future, he resorts to gambling in an effort to make his fortune. Losing steadily, he develops a passion for the excitement of gambling. In the end, unable to repay money he has borrowed from Daniel Quilp, a wealthy usurer, he is completely beggared. He and Little Nell leave London and wander through the country. On the way, they suffer hardships and hunger until they are befriended by Mr. Marton, a schoolmaster, who finds work for them in the village where he is a teacher. The grandfather is unable to endure the sorrow of Little Nell’s slow decline and death; he dies on her grave and is buried by her side.

Christopher Nubbles

Christopher Nubbles, called Kit, an awkward but generous-hearted and sturdy boy, devoted to Little Nell, whom her grandfather employs to run errands. Becoming convinced that Kit has revealed the secret of the old man’s gambling habits, the grandfather turns the boy away from the curiosity shop. Kit aids the Single Gentleman in his efforts to locate Little Nell and her grandfather after the two disappear from London, but nothing comes of their first search. Meanwhile Kit has been befriended by Mr. Garland, in whose house he lives. When, through the machinations of Daniel Quilp, Sampson Brass accuses the boy of theft, he is able to prove his innocence with the aid of Mr. Garland and Dick Swiveller. He marries Barbara, Mrs. Garland’s pretty housemaid.

Daniel Quilp

Daniel Quilp, the frightening, half-mad dwarf from whom Little Nell’s grandfather borrows in order to gamble. Quilp, married to a browbeaten wife, lends the old man money in order to obtain a hold on him, for Quilp hopes to marry Little Nell at some future date. Ferocious, sinister, vindictive, he torments his wife, Little Nell, her grandfather, and Kit Nubbles. He drowns while attempting to escape from the police, who are about to arrest him for crimes he has committed.

Mrs. Betsey Quilp

Mrs. Betsey Quilp, his long-suffering wife, who is tortured mentally and physically by her misshapen, cruel husband and made to obey his every wish, even to spying on Little Nell. She inherits her husband’s property after his death. When she marries again, her second husband is the opposite of Quilp in every way.

Frederick Trent

Frederick Trent, Little Nell’s profligate brother. Hating his grandfather, he schemes to have his crony, Dick Swiveller, marry Little Nell so that they may obtain the fortune that they believe the old man has hidden away for his granddaughter.

Richard Swiveller (Dick)

Richard Swiveller (Dick), Frederick Trent’s conniving friend, who is turned by his love for a servant girl into a decent person. Quilp, who hopes to use the young rascal in tracing Little Nell and her grandfather, secures him a position as clerk to Sampson Brass, the dwarf’s attorney; but when Kit Nubbles is arrested and charged with theft on the false testimony of Brass, Dick is instrumental in proving the boy’s innocence. Discharged, he is nursed during an illness by the Marchioness, the Brasses’ slavey, who runs away from home in order to care for him. When he inherits a small annuity, he renames the girl Sophronia Sphynx and sends her to school, where he pays for her education for the next six years. On one of his visits to the school, when the Marchioness is nineteen, the idea comes to him that the next step in their relationship ought to be...

(The entire section is 1953 words.)