Please forgive me if this letter is less coherent than usual, but the incongruity of our circumstances has never been more apparent. Here I am, having finished the first volume of The Old Curiosity Shop, on a patio in Palm Desert, where it’s 35 degrees Celsius in the shade (96 F), while you, my dear friend, languish, dead, in a chilly 19th century English autumn. I considered bringing your American Notes with me, but even then I suspect you never made it as far as California, so I’ll save those for their proper chronological place.
My brain may be liquefying in the sun, but I can make one tenuous connection with your novel, in that both Little Nell and I have left our home town in anticipation of brighter days ahead. And since I’ll be travelling to Las Vegas, we might even be able to compare notes on wax-works exhibitions, where Nell herself is currently employed the last time we saw her. I think, though, that that’s where any similarities end.
Obviously, reading about the trials of Nell makes me think back to poor little Oliver, both young innocents cast upon the world to find their own way, and both slightly aggravating in that very innocence. Could you not have given the girl a few brains? I mean, she’s thought far enough ahead to stash a gold coin for a rainy day, but then you have her witness her grandfather suffer a huge relapse into his gambling addiction in an inn full of suspicious characters – wouldn’t you have her think of hiding the money before she goes to bed? On the other hand, having her discover that it was her grandfather stealing into her room to search for the money was terrifying and heartbreaking. You really have nailed both her love for her grandfather (and his devotion to her) and her pain and fear at seeing the person he turns into when tempted. And the way he turns from a gentle but vacant figure to this insatiable creature who takes everything from Nell in order to win her a fortune is chilling. It’s truly a brilliantly written relationship. She is absolutely caught between a rock and a hard place here, and we haven’t even begun to talk about the “baddies” that are circling around her and waiting to strike. Poor old Kit seems very far away and powerless, although I am glad to see that he’s gainfully employed with some good people.
Speaking of baddies, Mr. Quilp has to rank right up there with the best (or the best so far). And it looks like I’m justified, because he’s #28 on this list of literary villains; there’s just something so frightening about someone who will go out of his way to make others lives worse, and his behavior towards his wife is downright sickening. Sikes and Ralph Nickleby may have met grisly ends, but I sincerely hope you have something extra nasty in store for Quilp. Something lingering involving spikes, perhaps.
Anyway, I should get back out and enjoy the sunshine while I can. Maybe bring Volume 2 along with me. In closing, I just stumbled across this and I share this fellow blogger’s feeling:
Until next time, I remain,