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, 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, 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, Little Nell’s profligate brother. Hating his grandfather, he schemes to have his crony,...
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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 marriage. He proposes and is accepted.
The Marchioness (Sophronia Sphynx)
The Marchioness (Sophronia Sphynx), a poor, frightened servant to the Brass family. She sleeps in the basement and must steal food to keep herself alive; Swiveller, pitying the girl, sometimes plays cards with her. She repays his kindness by nursing him while he is ill. Through listening at the keyhole when the Brasses are planning to accuse Kit Nubbles of robbery, she is able to help in saving him from prison. Sent to school to be educated by Swiveller, she eventually marries him.
Sampson Brass, a dishonest lawyer who is Daniel Quilp’s adviser in legal matters. He accuses Kit Nubbles of stealing a five-pound note from his desk. Deeply involved in Quilp’s villainy, he is arrested and sent to prison.
Sally Brass, the formidable spinster sister of Sampson Brass. An intelligent student of the law, she overshadows her brother in sharpness and cunning. She mistreats and starves her servant, whom Dick Swiveller calls the Marchioness.
The Single Gentleman
The Single Gentleman, a lodger in the house of Sampson Brass. Though always gentlemanly in his behavior, he is quiet and mysterious in his comings and goings. He tries in various ways to trace Little Nell and her grandfather. Shortly after the death of Little Nell, he arrives in the village where they have taken refuge. He turns out to be the grandfather’s younger brother, absent from England for many years. In the end, he is revealed also as Master Humphrey, the teller of the story.
Mrs. Jiniwin, Mrs. Quilp’s fat mother. Though she is a shrew, she is no match for her son-in-law. She divides her days between reproaching her daughter for having married such a creature and fighting verbal battles with the dwarf.
Miss Sophy Wackles
Miss Sophy Wackles, a girl with whom Dick Swiveller at one time imagines himself in love. She marries a grocer, much to Dick’s disgust.
Mrs. Wackles, the headmistress of a day school for young ladies and Sophy’s mother. She encourages her daughter to marry the grocer.
Jane Wackles and
Melissa Wackles, Sophy’s sisters.
Mr. Cheggs, the grocer whom Sophy marries. A conforming man, he is not nearly so lively as Dick Swiveller.
Miss Cheggs, the sister of Mr. Cheggs and a good friend of Sophy.
Mrs. Nubbles, Kit’s mother, a sweet, emotional widow. When her son is imprisoned, she comes faithfully with her two other children to bring him food. Later, she goes with Mr. Garland and the Single Gentleman to help find Little Nell and her grandfather.
Little Jacob, the younger brother of Kit Nubbles.
The Baby, Kit’s youngest brother.
Mrs. Jarley, the fat, good-humored proprietor of Jarley’s celebrated waxworks. Occasionally she is known to sip at a strange bottle, but she remains a steady person in her business. She befriends Little Nell and her grandfather, and the two travel with the show caravan for a time, Little Nell having been hired to explain the exhibits and her grandfather to dust the wax figures.
Miss Monflathers, the head of a young ladies’ boarding school who chastises Little Nell when she comes to the school bearing advertisements for the waxworks exhibits. She is a typical Victorian boarding-school headmistress, arrogant, self-centered, and cruel.
Two Teachers, toadying assistants to Miss Monflathers. Each tries to outdo the other in being agreeable to their officious employer.
Miss Edwards, a charity pupil at the boarding school. When she takes pity on Little Nell, Miss Monflathers reviles her in front of her schoolmates. Later, Nell follows Miss Edwards when she and her sister take a walk through the town. Their relationship and closeness make Little Nell long to have someone of her own age for a friend.
Mr. Martin, a kind schoolmaster who befriends Little Nell and her grandfather early in their travels. He encounters them again later on, takes them to the village where he teaches, and procures a house for them. He is gentle and intelligent, and his pupils adore him.
Harry, a dying young schoolboy, Mr. Martin’s favorite pupil. He loves the schoolmaster and revives long enough to bid him goodbye.
Dame West, Harry’s grandmother.
Mr. Garland and
Mrs. Garland, an elderly, kind couple who take Kit Nubbles into their home. He is the only one capable of handling their temperamental pony. They help in the search for Little Nell and her grandfather.
Abel Garland, their son. He becomes a partner of Mr. Witherden, a notary.
Mr. Witherden and
Mr. Chuckster, the lawyers who assist the Single Gentleman in his quest for Little Nell and the capture of Quilp. They are proper and industrious gentlemen.
Barbara, the Garland’s servant girl. In love with Kit, she remains loyal when he is accused of robbery and eventually marries him.
Mr. Slum, a military gentleman and Mrs. Jarley’s friend, much given to composing bad poetry. Mrs. Jarley advertises her waxworks with his poems.
Jem Groves, the proprietor of the Valiant Soldier, a pub where Little Nell and her grandfather take shelter during a rainstorm. He is friendly, but he is crooked in the card game in which the grandfather takes a hand.
Matt List and
Isaac List, card players at the Valiant Soldier. The grandfather loses all of Little Nell’s money while playing with them.
The Old Sexton
The Old Sexton, in charge of the old village church which Little Nell often visits before her death.
Old Davy, the deaf, aged gravedigger, the sexton’s good friend.
Tom Codlin, the grouchy partner of a shabby Punch-and-Judy show. Little Nell and her grandfather travel with the show for a time.
Mr. Harris, usually called Short Trotters, the pleasant partner in the Punch-and-Judy show.
Mr. Grinder, a fellow showman whom Little Nell meets in her travels with the Punch-and-Judy troupe.
Jerry, the master of the dancing dogs in the carnival group.
Mr. Vuffin, the manager of a giant and a woman without legs or arms.
Sweet William, a card trickster and conjurer.
Joe Jowl, a scoundrel who tries to persuade Little Nell’s grandfather to rob Mrs. Jarley.
Tom Scott, Daniel Quilp’s young servant. Beaten and abused by his master, he forgets his troubles by standing on his head. After Quilp’s death, he becomes a professional tumbler.
The Bachelor, a benevolent old gentleman in a village where Little Nell and her grandfather finally find a home. No one remembers his name, if he ever told it. He tutors Little Nell in village lore.