Week 2 of reading The Old Curiosity Shop.
The section I read for this week, comprising chapters 7 to the 13th, was a very emotionally charged moment in Little Nell’s story. She is definitely down on her luck now (terminology intended!) and about to lose it all.
We’ve finally discovered what Nell’s grandfather has been up to and he becomes a figure of pity. I do, however, have mixed feelings about him, which I think the narrator shares with me.
Master Humphrey looks disapprovingly at Nell’s grandfather because he does not let her be a child and play and because he leaves her alone at night and I tend to concur with his view.
However, in Chapter 9, we see a very pitiful figure asking Quil for mercy, asking him to consider the fate of “the Child,” Little Nell.
We find out that he has been gambling a lot of money, which he gets from Quilp, so that he can win a fortune for Nell, and he mentions how he is now due to win. It is definitely a shameful behavior but he says he is not as bad as the others he gambles with because he is doing it for Little Nell, not for his own gain. He became afraid of what would happen to him after his death and began gambling the little fortune he had yet, strangely, he didn’t sell any of the shop’s articles. Maybe he was attached to them, like Nell seems to be, or maybe he didn’t want to worry her.
Anyway, Little Nell tells him that she would rather be a beggar than to see him so stressed out, and they both seem to age faster after her grandfather makes that choice.
As a mother, I definitely understand that you try to do everything for your child, and sometimes you even consider doing things you wouldn’t be proud of, but he didn’t truly consider how gambling could end up leaving her worst off than how he started, which is what Quilp represents.
But I find this representation of Nell’s grandfather as very interesting because, knowing a bit about Dickens’s life, one learns about his own father being imprisoned for debt and how Dickens had to work to maintain his family. I think this representation is a good light to look at his own father, thinking that he was doing it for a good reason (for his children) instead of for selfish reasons, but we cannot he sure.
On a larger scale, he represents everything Dickens truly hated: whatever stops children from being children.
Allegorically, Nell’s grandfather represents a world of responsibility and hard labor. Nell has to live for his care and be responsible for him. She gets no wages and without him the alternative is submitting herself to either her brother (who wants to marry her off) or Quilp, a fate we wouldn’t wish on anyone. Truly, she is better a child than growing up for her prospects look bleak.
Her grandfather represents that cruel world that prevented a child from enjoying imaginative play and carelessness. She is being forced to grow up and that is killing her.
But what about you, dear reader, what did you make of Nelly’s grandfather? I’m curious to know so let me know in the comments!
May we meet again!
PS: I’ve mentioned a lot how I think The Old Curiosity Shop is like a fairy tale for adults. One thing I find so fascinating is how Dickens, a man who excelled beyond measure at naming his characters, would not give a name to Nell’s grandfather.