The Old Curiosity Shop, Week 3 ~ and a Week 2 Wrap-Up

Wherein we revisit our second week’s reading of The Old Curiosity Shop (Week 31 of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club); with a summary and discussion wrap-up; and a look-ahead to Week Three.

“At the Schoolmaster’s Porch,” by Phiz.

Edited/compiled by Rach

“I won’t go so far as to say, that, as it is, I’ve seen wax-work quite like life, but I’ve certainly seen some life that was exactly like wax-work.”

Friends, what characters we have met this week!

And there are a number of mysteries to solve: the identity and motive of the mysterious single lodger; the situation of the little servant girl suffering abuses from the Brasses…

This week we’ve focused on the women, and what a marvelous conversation! But first, here are some quick links:

  1. General Mems
  2. The Old Curiosity Shop, Week Two (Chs. 19-37): A Summary
  3. Discussion Wrap-Up
  4. A Look-Ahead to Week Three of The Old Curiosity Shop

General Mems

If you’re counting, today is day 217 (and week 32) in our #DickensClub! It will be Week Three of The Old Curiosity Shop, our sixth read of the group. Please feel free to comment below this post for the third week’s chapters, or use the hashtag #DickensClub if you’re commenting on twitter.

No matter where you’re at in the reading process, a huge “thank you” for reading along with us. Heartfelt thanks to our dear Dickens Fellowship and The Dickens Society for retweets, and to all those liking, sharing, and encouraging our Club, including Dr. Christian Lehmann and Dr. Pete Orford. Huge “thank you” also to The Circumlocution Office (on twitter also!) for providing such a marvelous online resource for us.

And for any more recent members or for those who might be interested in joining: the revised two-and-a-half year reading schedule can be found here. Boze’s marvelous Introduction to Master Humphrey’s Clock and The Old Curiosity Shop can be found here. If you’ve been reading along with us but aren’t yet on the Member List, we would love to add you! Please feel free to message Rach here on the site, or on twitter.

The Old Curiosity Shop, Week Two (Chs. 19-37): A Summary

“The Giants Waiting on the Dwarfs,” by Phiz. https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-curiosity-shop.html

Nell continues to be wary of the attentions of Codlin and Short. The former comes to visit her one evening, repeating again and again that she should consider him—Codlin—her true friend, and not Short; and if she is asked about this in future, always to say that Codlin was her friend. Nell, a child of anxiety and with quick perceptions, is distrustful of them.

She warns the grandfather that Codlin and Short mean to part them, and that he needs to trust her and follow her lead. In the midst of the races, Nell gathers flowers to (unsuccessfully) sell in little bouquets to those watching—and, in the midst of the chaos, finds a chance to escape with her grandfather.

Meanwhile, faithful Kit—who is worried about Nell and her grandfather, has returned to the Garlands in order to pay off his little debt to them. They are impressed with him, and acquire his address in order to find out more. They visit his mother and family at his home, and, impressed with all they see, offer Kit a regular position.

Quilp and Dick Swiveller enter the scene, and Quilp is suspicious about Kit’s newfound income. Quilp then uses Dick’s weakness for drink to weasel out of Dick the whole scheme about marrying Nell; Quilp agrees to help him, just for the cruelty of enjoying Dick’s eventual disillusionment about her “wealth.”

Kit has a busy time of it, getting packed and ready for his new work at the Garlands’. He enjoys a little repast with the servant, Barbara, who is flushed and confused by his presence.

Meanwhile, a remorseful Dick Swiveller, realizing he’d told Quilp too much, brings Fred into the knowledge of his conversation with Quilp. Fred and Quilp (without Dick hearing) realize they have a common “enemy” in the grandfather, though for different reasons: Fred is cast off and had been sent away to sea by him, and Quilp says it is the grandfather’s losing of his money that makes him, Quilp, want revenge. They decide to work together.

“At the Schoolmaster’s Porch,” by Phiz. https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-curiosity-shop.html

On encountering a quiet village, Nell and the grandfather befriend a kindly schoolmaster who offers them food and shelter on their journey. Nell tries to comfort the schoolmaster for his evident distress at the serious illness of one of his students that he cares for deeply. She and the grandfather decide to rest there a little longer, and Nell tries to repay the schoolmaster by doing chores and food preparation around the house. She visits the sick boy before he dies, and it is not only the schoolmaster that is so deeply affected by the death; Nell finds herself mysteriously touched and troubled by it too, as though it might foreshadow other sad events to come. They part warmly from the schoolmaster, who invites them to return if they pass that way again.

The next encounter proves to be a caravan headed by Mrs. Jarley of Mrs. Jarley’s Wax-Work. The one and only Mrs. Jarley herself, though a little oversensitive to what she feels might be personal slights, takes a fancy to Nell, and hires both her and the grandfather to help out; Nell will be memorizing the tour guide role for those coming to see her famous displays.

“Who won the Helter-Skelter Plate, child?’ ‘Won what, ma’am?’ asked Nell. ‘The Helter-Skelter Plate at the races, child—the plate that was run for on the second day.’ ‘On the second day, ma’am?’ ‘Second day! Yes, second day,’ repeated the lady with an air of impatience. ‘Can’t you say who won the Helter-Skelter Plate when you’re asked the question civilly?'”

One night, Nell sees Quilp, apparently on his way back to London. Nell, frightened, hides; she hopes she has little to fear as she assumes Quilp is only passing through.

“There was an empty niche from which some old statue had fallen or been carried away hundreds of years ago, and she was thinking what strange people it must have looked down upon when it stood there, and how many hard struggles might have taken place, and how many murders might have been done, upon that silent spot, when there suddenly emerged from the black shade of the arch, a man. The instant he appeared, she recognised him—Who could have failed to recognise, in that instant, the ugly misshapen Quilp!”

Though Quilp features regularly in Nell’s nightmares, she is busy enough getting to know Mrs. Jarley’s business during the day, and all the spectators take a fancy to Nell, who is dolled up and contrasts sharply with those about her. School groups come to view the waxworks—and Mrs. Jarley alters the identities of the murderers and more unsavory figures to suit a school-age audience.

A return of Nell’s old anxiety reawakens when the grandfather discovers a group playing cards together; he takes Nell’s money and gambles it all away. So consumed in the game that he has all but forgotten her existence.

“The child saw with astonishment and alarm that his whole appearance had undergone a complete change. His face was flushed and eager, his eyes were strained, his teeth set, his breath came short and thick, and the hand he laid upon her arm trembled so violently that she shook beneath its grasp.”

Back at their lodgings, Nell tries to secretively get change for the one gold piece that she kept in reserve for emergencies. However, the grandfather witnesses it, a stealthy figure watching her for any sign of hidden money.

That night, a figure of nightmare steals into her room and takes her money from her. The nightmare is intensified a hundredfold when Nell follows the mysterious figure—fearing for her grandfather’s safety if a burglar should be in the house—only to find that it was her grandfather himself.

“The dark form was a mere blot upon the lighter darkness of the room, but she saw the turning of the head, and felt and knew how the eyes looked and the ears listened. There it remained, motionless as she. At length, still keeping the face towards her, it busied its hands in something, and she heard the chink of money. Then, on it came again, silent and stealthy as before, and replacing the garments it had taken from the bedside, dropped upon its hands and knees, and crawled away.”

“Miss Monflathers Chides Nell,” by Phiz. https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-curiosity-shop.html

Nell’s essential loneliness comes to the fore as she loses ground in health due to the anxiety that her grandfather’s gambling obsession has started to consume him once again, and as she feels like she herself is feeding it in being compelled by him to give him all her earnings from Mrs. Jarley. Nell wishes she had someone to confide in, and wistfully imagines herself as one of a group of warmhearted sisters she observes. One of the sisters, Miss Edwards, is the pupil of the snobbish and cruel Mrs. Monflathers, and had performed a gesture of kindness towards Nell.

“‘You’re the wax-work child, are you not?’ said Miss Monflathers.”

“Quilp Leering at the Brasses,” by Phiz. https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-curiosity-shop.html

We return to Dick Swiveller, whose aunt and patron has let him fend for himself. Dick has been recommended (by Quilp) to Mr. Brass and his sister Sally for a fellow clerk in their office. Dick becomes as fascinated with Sally Brass as our dear Sam Weller was with the “fat boy” in our first novel; Sally is every bit as much “one of the guys” as is her brother. She is the more formidable presence of the two; she has a legal mind and gets slaps on the back and is called “a fellow.”

While the Brasses are away, Dick is requested by the small servant girl (whose residence in the house seems to have an air of mystery and suspicion about it) to introduce a prospective lodger to his room and to take the payment—both of which Mr. Swiveller does, with a bit added onto the sum. This mysterious single gentleman pays well in advance, and requests not to be disturbed.

The lodger continues to be a mystery, and a whimsical scene ensues as the Brasses and Dick try to find out whether or not the lodger has died—so long has he been confined in his room without venturing forth.

“‘…and the short and the long of it is, that we cannot allow single gentlemen to come into this establishment and sleep like double gentlemen without paying extra for it.'”

Dick finally has a conversation with the lodger who is angered about being disturbed and reiterates his desire to be left alone.

Nonetheless, the two get on, and the gentleman makes Dick a sort of middleman who takes care of all the arrangements between himself and the Brasses.

“The Interview with Codlin and Short,” by Phiz. https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-curiosity-shop.html

The only time this lodger comes forth is when there is a Punch show going on. We also come to find out that this mysterious gentleman has an interest in Nell and the grandfather; he has an interview with Codlin and Short, and assigns them to bring the dog trainer to him—a man who had seen Nell and the grandfather recently with Mrs Jarley.

“The Small Servant’s Dinner,” by Phiz. https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-curiosity-shop.html

Dick also has a talent for getting on with Sally, and becomes a source of amusement for her, while he gets her to do some of his own work for him. But there is a mystery in the house that Dick means to solve: who is this elusive servant girl, the “love-child” of whom little is said? Dick follows Sally at one point down into the basement of the house, where the girl is kept in dank, solitary quarters with the food locked up. Sally brings her a bit of meat and potatoes. Dick realizes that the two are going through some kind of ritual dialogue, with Sally offering her too little food, the girl saying she doesn’t need any more (though she clearly wants it), followed by Sally’s insistence that the girl will never be able to say that she didn’t get any meat. Dick witnesses Sally’s verbal and physical abuse of the girl.

Discussion Wrap-Up

Dickens’ Children: Little Nell and the Poor

Our dear Stationmaster comes to the defense of Little Nell as a truly active protagonist:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

And Lenny agrees. Inspired by the above reflections, Lenny ponders the situation of “wounded” children in Dickens:

Lenny H. comment

It was rather rejuvenating to see, in contrast, the very active and boisterous children misbehaving in the poor schoolmaster’s class:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

But the issues that Dickens brings up with our individual beloved children is representative of a larger system desperately in need of benefactors, as Lenny writes:

Lenny H. comment

Dickens’ Women: Nell, Sally Brass, and Mrs. Jarley

Chris brings up such wonderful points here about the women in Dickens–including the unusual and unique portrayal of the “masculine” Sally Brass. Though she covers a number of topics, I didn’t want to break her marvelous essay up into smaller segments:

Chris M. comments

Lenny responds, wondering whether Dickens himself has become seduced by these powerful female characters, comparing the Curiosity Shop‘s women to those in Nicholas Nickleby. Might we even call them “womens’ novels”?

Lenny H. comment

The Stationmaster had a very intriguing idea about Mrs. Jarley: could she “be considered a second- or third-rate Miss La Creevy crossed with a second- or third-rate Vincent Crummles”?

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

The World of Dreams and Nightmares

I chimed in belatedly this week, and focused mostly on the “nightmare” of Nell’s grandfather, “Gollum-like,” sneaking in to steal money from his granddaughter. In the light of day, he is almost unable to acknowledge the existence of this shadow self, as this scene has always felt like one of the most haunting in literature to me:

Rach M. comments

A Look-Ahead to Week Three of The Old Curiosity Shop (9-15 aug.)

Friends, this week we’ll be reading Chapters 38-55.

If you’d like to read it online, The Old Curiosity Shop can be found at The Circumlocution Office. There are a number of places (including Gutenberg) where it can be downloaded for free.

13 Comments

  1. Rach: A wonderful wrap-up and review of the second week’s events of the novel. It’s always interesting to get the overview of the novel’s progression, because it reminds us how VERY far the novel has traveled from London to the countryside and the peculiar and eye-opening situations that Nell and her Grandfather are meeting up with. Nell and her Grandfather’s journey takes us out of the smog-filled environs of claustrophobic London to the wide open and freeing spaces of the country and the various characters which inhabit it. Yet, the countryside carries with it its own risks and rewards, similar to the evils and goodnesses that make up the urban nightmare of the shop and Quilp’s lodgings and workplace. But still, so far, the rewards of the country seem to outweigh the risks of living in the big metropolis.

    The reference you made in your commentary about Joe–the “fat boy” in PICKWICK–sort of intrigued me because with his voracious eating habits I’m reminded of Quilp’s prodigious appetite, wanting to “consume” just about everything and anybody he comes into contact with! The “fat boy” on one occasion tells Mrs. Wardle, “I wants to make your flesh creep.” Judging from the various comments we’ve made about Quilp so far, this almost sadistic remark by Joe pretty much sums up our group reaction to Quilp in virtually every scene he appears in.

    Best of all is your beach sand tweet–“when the tide is out.” Wow! So cool! (I think you guys are having lots of fun! That’s so neat.).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a chronic note maker in the margins of books – can’t read unless I have a pencil in my hand. The last time I read OCS I wrote myself a note in Ch 46 where the schoolmaster asks Nell: “But you – where are you going, where are you coming from, what have you been doing since you left me, and what had you been doing before? Now, tell me – do tell me.” My note says: “Nell IS the curiosity shop!”

    And then in Ch 54 when the bachelor teaches Nell about the graves and monuments I underlined the phrase, “majestic age surrounded by perpetual youth”, and noted “Nell is majestic youth surrounded by perpetual age!”, and referred myself back to Ch 43 where I noted “she is an old child – a child who, too early, had to become the parent”.

    Nell is a curious (i.e., strange, odd) old child surrounded by child-like old(er) men – Grandfather, Quilp, Fred, the schoolmaster, the fire-tending old man in the manufactory, the bachelor, the sexton. The women she has briefly encountered – Mrs Quilp, Mrs Nubbles, Mrs Jarley, Miss Edwards, Miss Monflathers, the landlady of Ch 46 – have shown her by their various and collective examples what the schoolmaster comes to understand after hearing Nell’s story:

    “‘This child!’ He thought. ‘Has this child heroically persevered under all doubts and dangers, struggled with poverty and suffering, upheld and sustained by strong affection and the consciousness of rectitude alone! And yet the world is full of such heroism. Have I yet to learn that the hardest and best-borne trials are those which are never chronicled in any earthly record, and are suffered every day! And should I be surprised to hear the story of this child!’”

    All of these women have in some way “heroically persevered” under less than desirable circumstances and have managed to keep themselves and those who are dear to them. Nell encapsulates all of them: like Mrs Quilp she is constantly tormented by those who would use her for their own whims; like Mrs Nubbles she struggles to keep her family whole; like Mrs Jarley she manages her affairs to earn her keep; like Miss Edwards she endures snubs and snobbery and condescension; from Miss Monflathers and the landlady she experiences society’s contradictory attitudes towards poverty and charity.

    I venture to say that this is the ideal Dickens has of “Woman” – the silent helpmeet who bears all, believes all, hopes all, but who also sees all, manages all and tolerates all. It’s no wonder then that Nell wilts under the burden!

    Nell continues to be a curiosity for the Single Gentleman and Quilp (Ch 48), both of whom go to great lengths to find her. The Single Gentleman by straight forward and (it seems) honest means; Quilp by devious and, while not dishonest, suspicious means. The Single Gentleman’s aim or purpose, he tells Kit, in finding Nell & Grandfather is straightforward yet obscure (if those two things can co-exist): “If you think, my lad, that I am pursuing these inquiries with any other view than that of serving and reclaiming those I am in search of, you do me a very great wrong, and deceive yourself.” (Ch 38) He appears to be honest and benevolent but we don’t yet know exactly what his motivation is or what his connection, if any, is to them. Quilp, on the other hand, continues to use devious and, while not dishonest, suspicious means to track them. He listens, and lies, and follows, and spies, and torments and badgers. Everyone knows he’s up to no good, and those who could expose him are already so deeply entangled with him that they can do nothing but fall deeper in his web.

    I speak of Samson and Sally Brass who have taken up the mantle of Mr and Mrs Bumble and improved upon it! Quilp plots with them in his “summer-house[ ] . . . in an advanced state of decay, and overlooking the slimy banks of a great river at low water” (Ch 51) just as Monks plotted with the Bumbles in the “ruinous house[ ] . . . erected on a low unwholesome swamp, bordering upon the river” (OT, Ch 38). And just as Mrs Bumble took charge during the conference with Monks, so Sally is “always foremost” and “accustomed to business conferences” of this type causing Quilp to “rely as much or more, on her than on [Sampson]” (OCS Ch 51). The Bumble’s conspiracy with Monks consisted solely of suppressing Oliver’s parentage. The Brass’s conspiracy with Quilp anticipates much more as they are instructed to “Devise your own means of putting [Kit] out of my way, and execute them” (Ch 51). We must read on to see what means the Brass’s devise and how they are executed.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. As usual, Chris, your writing opens so many doors, so many things to think about! There is probably a book’s worth of ideas, here, and probably much of what you say could make reference to all of Dickens??? In your larger context, I keep thinking of the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft and the ways in which she demonstrated the huge limitations that the British Society placed on the lives of women. As you’ve stated, so many times, these women were denied the superior educations that their men counterparts were encouraged to take advantage of, were denied any voice in politics, and were just generally thought to be normally subjugated to the will of the male populous. And I think, in the main, the Dickens’ novels that we’ve studied so far point to this fact of the denial of “rights” to women so well. Their world is hugely constricted so that they must live and “operate” in the very narrow confines of what constitutes their tiny world. It’s a world apart from the world of big commerce, big occupations, big politics, big education, and so forth.

      Yet (as you’ve been pointing out), the women in CURIOSITY SHOP are thoughtful, have occupations, are largely intelligent and many realize the yoke that confines them is quite debilitating. As a group they are fighting an uphill battle against a male population that just takes for granted its superiority. I think, then, that Quilp, in all his monstrous hyperbole, is a symbol of that Male dominance that can just shut down almost immediately, any chance of rebellion by his wife, his mother-in-law and their community of women friends. And he exerts this power as Ralph Nickleby did in NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. Both he and Quilp range freely through their narratives largely untouched by any moral or legal constraints that would hold them accountable for their behaviors. In a male-dominated world, they can get away with practically anything.

      Thus Nell, who has brains, foresight, plans a life for herself and her father, exhibits many capabilities, who thoughtfully and continually, meditates on her and her grandfather’s future, is also a kind of symbol. As you suggest, she is just being worn down and worn out by the social evils and realities that surround her–even though there are many who come to her rescue during her journey–a kind of journey through life, spiritual and material. To this point, what has she left but her humanity, her angelic beauty, her love for her grandfather, her inspiration for others around her. In fact, though, her role in life has so been diminished that she is left with her self-imposed “occupation” of cleaning up a cemetery, helping set the small church to rights, and becoming a sounding board for a small boy who doesn’t want her to join the angels. Literally, the sweet, knowing and energetic young girl/woman who we saw at the beginning of the novel has been ground down to just a speck of what she could be, what she could have become. Saintly, maybe, but in the darker subtext of the novel, she’s a tragic representation of the plight of women in the first 1/3 of 19th century England. As Quilp is an hyperbolic symbol of male dominance, Nell becomes an hyperbolic symbol of female subjugation!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I feel like this week’s reading was the most boring part of the book! Or at least Little Nell and her grandfather’s part of it was. It just feels like their story is going in circles with nothing being accomplished. Even in the last few chapters where they find a home, it feels like everyone is just waiting for Nell to die. The only things keeping me reading at this point are the mystery of the single gentleman’s identity (which, if I remember correctly, isn’t nearly as interesting as the revelations about Monks or Brooker) and Daniel Quilp’s upcoming revenge on the Nubbles family.

    That being said, the scene near the end of Chapter 45, with the gentleman in black and the desperate mother, is fairly powerful, the bachelor’s “severity” towards his pupils is endearing and I enjoy the satire of Little Bethel and its minister more than Reverend Stiggins in The Pickwick Papers, even though the latter sounds funnier in theory.

    People speaking about the dead as if they themselves weren’t going to die was something of a pet peeve for Dickens. He writes about it a lot in this book and mentions it once and a while in later ones.

    Here’s a funny story. A long time ago I was watching the 2007 movie adaptation of The Old Curiosity Shop with someone. For the scene of people “mourning” Quilp, they didn’t initially show him entering the house or spying on them. When he burst in with his cry of “aquiline!” our reaction was something like, “ah, man, I was hoping he’d really died!” LOL.

    Since I went on record as stating that I could take Quilp’s character seriously in the book, I should say that Tom Courtenay in the 1995 miniseries and Toby Jones in the 2007 movie made him work for me. (Of course, I haven’t watched either version recently, but my memory of both is fairly vivid.)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Just a few observations re this week’s reading:
    Kit is getting on in life. He’s clueless though in completely missing that Barbara is sweet on him and makes things worse by talking about Nell all the time – ah, men! And “Poor Barbara” indeed! What she doesn’t know is that Kit’s devotion to Nell is platonic. He, like everyone else, has put Nell on a pedestal as the epitome of the “young, beautiful, and good” – another nod to Dickens’s reverence for Mary Hogarth.

    I think Chapter 39 is a gem in its description of the joy humble folks experience in having a night out. This could easily be one of Boz’s Sketches.

    Dick Swiveller continues aimlessly. The more determined he is to NOT give up his secrets to Quilp, the less able he is to keep his resolve – I blame gin and wine which addle his already weak constitution. Yet there is something about Mr Swiveller, perhaps the very fact that he vacillates so much, that points to his coming through his clerkship a more determined fellow.

    Grandfather finally catches on to the fact that Nell is dying (Ch 54) and “awoke to a sense of what he owed her” (Ch 55). But way too little way too late!

    Quilp adds to his list of current and prospective victims – in addition to Kit, Fred, Mrs Quilp, Dick, and Grandfather (as I mentioned in my 8/3 post), Nell (“because she was the object of Mrs Quilp’s commiseration and constant self-reproach”), the Single Gentleman (“because of his unconcealed aversion to” Quilp), and Kit’s mother (because she helps those whom Quilp hates) (Ch 48).

    I’m really wondering just what Mrs Quilp sees in her husband (perhaps big things do come in small packages). Chapter 50 finds them at home, but by no means on congenial terms. Quilp leaves their shared home for his bachelor’s pad after the fallout from his premature wake. Mrs Quilp sobs at his departure and sobs again next day as she “earnestly” begs him to return home. Classic case of sadism and masochism – different strokes for different folks I guess.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I feel like the Garlands should be more interesting than the Cheerybles as there’s theoretically more variety with them. (The Cheerybles are basically clones of each other.) But instead, I find them really boring and generic. But there’s going to be a lot of Kit in the next and final section of the book, so maybe they’ll make more of an impression there.

    Like

  6. I was telling Rach, I love how the tone of the novel completely shifted at around the point where Dickens realized how it was going to end. Once that occurred to him (at roughly the spot where he describes Nell gazing on the stars, “and saw them shining in the same majestic order in which the dove beheld them gleaming through the swollen waters, upon the mountain tops far below, and dead mankind, a million fathoms deep”), his prose acquires a new urgency, an intensity and lyricism and poetry he hadn’t shown to date in any of his previous works. There’s a momentum to the final quarter of the novel, like a train travelling across country. At the time of writing this novel he still wasn’t too far removed in time, or in heart, from the loss of Mary Hogarth, and perhaps the memory of that loss and how it could be employed thematically in the story gave it a new resonance and purpose.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the thought that one can pinpoint the spot where Dickens just “knew” where he had to go with it (and I look forward to reading that passage aloud!), and, as you say, Boze: “his prose acquires a new urgency, an intensity and lyricism and poetry he hadn’t shown to date in any of his previous works. There’s a momentum to the final quarter of the novel, like a train travelling across country.”

      I confess I love the scenes where Nell finds a home and quiet place with the kindly schoolmaster, and the old “bachelor,” who is like a role model of delighting in the most random, niche interests, infusing life with all the poetry and whimsy of stories and romance. I found myself highlighting an unusual amount about the dear old bachelor, and delighting in the idea that he and the schoolmaster would read aloud together in the evenings with Nell and the grandfather.

      Since there have been so many wonderful thoughts above about the women in our chapters this week, I won’t focus so much on that, except to applaud the wonderful insights, and the weight bearing down on Nell, and all those she represents, from society.

      Lenny was alluding to one of our recurring themes, “City versus Country,” above; and I must say that, for some reason, the whole passage with the factory worker who stares at the furnace fire and can offer nothing but a little warmth and rest to our weary travellers, is one that stays with me after reading. That is Dickens in a nutshell: warmth of heart in the midst of surrounding misery and cold and the monster of the City. The whole passage about the industrial city (Birmingham??? maybe???) is so vivid, so brilliantly written, that I just want to quote passages at length for our summary/wrap-up tomorrow, and we’ll see how well I can restrain myself.

      “On every side, and far as the eye could see into the heavy distance, tall chimneys, crowding on each other, and presenting that endless repetition of the same dull, ugly form, which is the horror of oppressive dreams, poured out their plague of smoke, obscured the light, and made foul the melancholy air. On mounds of ashes by the wayside, sheltered only by a few rough boards, or rotten pent-house roofs, strange engines spun and writhed like tortured creatures; clanking their iron chains, shrieking in their rapid whirl from time to time as though in torment unendurable, and making the ground tremble with their agonies…”

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s