Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Old Curiosity Shop

It appears that every year as the final leaves fall and Christmas music begins to churn out of the store overheads I have a sudden need to wander the damp and dreary roads of 19th century London. Maybe this is because the cold winter months bring to mind the image of Christmas and Christmas brings to mind Charles Dickens undeniably most famous work- A Christmas Carol. So I will wander my way into an old bookstore with a cat sleeping by in a window, I'll search the dusty shelves for Dickens, and I'll buy a book of his that I had never read before. Near Halloween I had this reoccurring urge and found my way into one of my favorite bookstores. It was there that I came across many Dickens books I do not own. Curious about each I brushed my finger along their spine until I found a title reflective of my adventure: The Old Curiosity Shop. My well known problem with classic literature is that I read very slowly. While modern day novels are read in less than a week (sometimes in a day) the classics take a month. Why? The language is harder for one. I'm not used to hearing this type of spoken rhetoric so it takes me some time to grow used to it. Also, and this is the big flashing reason it takes me so long, I concentrate on each page and I like to fully submerge myself in these tales. I can't just read it for a couple of minutes at a time.

The Old Curiosity Shop, a book I knew nothing about, quickly became a part of my life through the descriptions of plot and place. I fell in love with the two children characters Nell and Kit. I hated Quilp. And despite the little time I had in length to sit and read, the book was never far from my mind. It was a companion of mine on evenings at the college when no students needed my help (because in the past month I've gained a job as a reading and writing tutor at a local college) and it was nice to turn to during those quiet moments.

Nell and her Grandfather leave their home (the curiosity shop) and depart on an adventure of travels in order to distance themselves from the evil characters that formerly lurked in their eyes. Along their travels they meet a host of people and face many problems that Nell must work through.

The novel has so much one could discuss but I feel the need to focus on one of the more popular characters first. Nell's grandfather would not find a fan in me. I found him to be a selfish man who was too wrapped up in his own mind and pain to place his granddaughter's needs first. I could dive into examples, I could back up my statements, but this is not the blog for that type of talk. You should not read this in an attempt to gain further understanding of the book. That type of information can be found through a scholarly journal.

So without examples, do believe me when I say I do not like the grandfather. I feel that he certainly loves Nell but his priorities are skewed. Nell, being a child, should be taken care of by her elder (IE: the grandfather). I agree with Nell's estranged brother who felt the grandfather was using Nell. Perhaps my dislike arises from my mothering nature. Perhaps that is the stem of it all. I want to care for Nell, I want to ease her fears and I want to ensure her health. And maybe that is Nell's personality as well. She sees someone who is helpless and will do anything to place their needs before her own. Maybe I'm seeing it all wrong but really, Nell is reaching out to help her Grandfather because it is in her genetics and it is not her Grandfather's self absorbed decision. Nell just feels that she must.

Either way, I still don't like him. Towards the end of the book I began to feel sorry for the character as he redeemed himself slightly. In all reality the character suffers from a social disease which mirrors a grander issue with society and many people in the world. The character finally pulls himself away from his self absorbed existence and realized what was at stake- but far too late to make any type of a difference.

The book had a bitter sweet ending. No mention of how it ends, that will be left for you to discover on your own, however I appreciate the choice Dickens made in how to end the novel. Most times I am left wondering what happens to the characters in books but this novel luckily ends with a brief sum-up of what happened to each character. To this I feel the book comes to a more complete close.

I enjoyed this book, it satisfied my hunger for a Dickens tale, however the one problem I have with Dickens is that every time I read one of his books- I want to read more. But not right now, maybe later on, maybe next winter.

For anyone traveling in the future, the curiosity shop is a real place! Check it out when you're in England or travel there through the powers of the internet. 

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