Chapter 4-5 Summary

Daniel Quilp lives on Tower Hill, but his business is at Quilp’s Wharf on the opposite side of the Thames. He does not have a specific occupation, but he owns a great deal of property from which he earns rent, and he lends large sums to people in need of ready cash. His wife is young and pretty; she married Quilp in a strange fit of infatuation that soon passed after the wedding. Living with Quilp and his wife is his mother-in-law, Mrs. Jiniwin. Both women live in great fear of displeasing Quilp. Mrs. Jiniwin had urged her daughter to marry him but has since come to regret it.

As Quilp is returning from The Old Curiosity Shop, Mrs. Quilp and Mrs. Jiniwin are entertaining half a dozen women whom they invited to tea. The conversation is centered on Quilp and his abusive treatment of his wife. The women proclaim what they would do to Quilp if he tried such tactics with them. Mrs. Jiniwin is in the process of relating her plan of attack when Quilp himself walks in. Mrs. Quilp and Mrs. Jiniwin change tactics to subtle revelations of Quilp’s cruelty. Quilp responds with complements that are understood to be veiled threats. He suggests that his mother-in-law has tired herself out from constant talking and orders her to bed. The women slip away in fear of the little man, who seats himself before the fire after they leave.

Quilp warns his wife that, should she ever communicate with those women again, he will bite her—and Mrs. Quilp readily believes him. He compels her to sit up all night while he sleeps in his chair. He awakens the next morning when Mrs. Jiniwin comes into the room. She calls him a brute when she sees that her daughter has been prevented from going to bed. Quilp willfully misunderstands, acting as if she is referring to her daughter. He releases Mrs. Quilp to fix him breakfast, after which he rows across the river to his counting house.

The only employee present is a small boy who stands on his head while waiting for errands to run. Quilp enters his counting house, climbs up on the desk, and covers his head with a handkerchief. The boy enters to tell him he has a guest. Quilp acts pleased when the guest is revealed to be Nell Trent, who has brought him a letter. Quilp lies on his side on the top of the desk while he reads the letter.