Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Old Curiosity Shop

Old Curiosity Shop. Curio shop in an unspecified part of London that is owned by Nell’s grandfather when the novel opens. The old man’s only source of livelihood, the shop provides a meager income that the grandfather tries to supplement with careless gambling ventures. When his gambling losses leave him in debt, he loses the shop to the avaricious dwarf Quilp. After Quilp dies at the end of the novel, the shop is destroyed to make way for a new building.

Dickens originally intended to make this novel a story about a lovely child surrounded by grotesque objects and remnants of ancient times in her grandfather’s shop. However, the story and the character caught Dickens’s imagination, and he extended his vision to contrast the lovely child with the grotesque images that surrounded and followed her wherever she went.


*London. Dickens does not provide specific sections of the city or addresses for the most part, leaving readers to use their own imaginations to advantage and to place characters’ homes and businesses in even worse places than Dickens might suggest. However, Dickens does mention some vicinities—such as the malicious grotesque Quilp’s residence on Tower Hill and Dick Swiveller’s rooms near Drury Lane.

Dickens hoped to effect social reform in the treatment of children of the poor. His novel’s preoccupation with the child Nell Trent and her surroundings calls attention to the plights of such children. For this reason, other child characters, ever more wild and outlandish, are juxtaposed against Nell,...

(The entire section is 664 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Dyson, A. E. “The Old Curiosity Shop: Innocence and the Grotesque.” In Dickens, edited by A. E. Dyson. Nashville, Tenn.: Aurora, 1970. Argues that justifications of the character of Nell on artistic grounds ordinarily emphasize the ironies that attend her and deny the sentimentality.

Johnson, Edgar. Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph. 2 vols. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1952. Volume 1 of this definitive critical biography includes a criticism of The Old Curiosity Shop that defends Dickens’ sentimentality over modern cynicism.

Kincaid, James R. Dickens and the Rhetoric of Laughter. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1971. Argues that laughter makes the pathos effective in The Old Curiosity Shop. Bibliography.

Marcus, Steven. Dickens, from Pickwick to Dombey. New York: W. W. Norton, 1985. Provides a lengthy analysis of The Old Curiosity Shop, ascribing the inspiration for Nell and Dickens’ absorption with death in this novel to the death of Mary Hogarth, his young sister-in-law. Proposes that Nell and Quilp, polar representations of spirituality and carnality respectively, actually represent two sides of one person.

Walder, Dennis. Dickens and Religion. Winchester, Mass.: Allen & Unwin, 1981. Shows how Dickens uses death as a moral gauge: Good Nell dies loved and mourned by those who knew her. Evil Quilp, trying to escape the police, drowns alone.