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The Old Curiosity Shop

Charles Dickens


Nell and her grandfather eke out a life of near-poverty in a small curiosity shop in London. Despite their narrow circumstances, their lives are happy ones, in which each takes care of the other. But Nell’s grandfather is hiding a secret, one which threatens their very survival. When his secret is uncovered by the moneylender Daniel Quilp, their lives are turned upside-down, and they must make their way through unfamiliar places, among unfamiliar people.

Charles Dickens originally conceived of the characters of Little Nell and her grandfather for a tale of only a few chapters. But when his new weekly periodical failed to sell well due to its lack of ongoing storyline, he wound up extending those few chapters into a sprawling narrative that ultimately took ten months to complete. Despite the intense pressure of ongoing weekly deadlines, the final story became his second-most-popular novel during his lifetime.

Dickens is famous for his ability to sketch memorable characters, and The Old Curiosity Shop in particular is brimming with quirky figures across the social strata of Victorian England. Kit Nubbles, Richard Swiveller, Mrs. Jarley, Sally Brass, and of course the endlessly cruel Quilp all play their part in the story of Little Nell and her grandfather.

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