Only one unhappy ending

Dear Charlie,

Poor, poor little Nell! I know I thought she was a touch too innocent for her own good, but having finished The Old Curiosity Shop today I feel slightly guilty for ever thinking ill of her. I may be on vacation, but I had a solid lump in my throat for that entire chapter where the travelers finally track down her whereabouts, but arrive too late – and her grandfather’s reaction!  And Kit! And even the goddamned bird! Ack! Just take my heart and rip it apart, why don’t you?

Americans loved Little Nell almost as much as Dickens himself, it seems, as this statue in Philadelphia testifies.

I’m being selfish, I know. Killing off such a lovely heroine was even harder for you as the writer than for me as the reader. “I am breaking my heart over this story, and cannot bear to finish it,” you wrote to your illustrator, and I believe it, especially since I read here that your sister-in-law was the inspiration for Nell. I hope, in that case, that the novel was in some way a cathartic experience for you.

In every other respect, though, your supporting cast’s stories are deeply satisfying. Kit’s honesty and integrity is amply rewarded, in spite of his loss, and Sampson Brass’s crimes are also rewarded in kind. I was thrilled to see that Dick Swiveller, weak willed though he is, was not beyond hope, and he and the “small servant” are such an adorable pairing, especially when they first play cribbage together in Brass’s gloomy kitchen and strike up an unlikely friendship. His original companion, Nell’s brother of dubious reputation, faded into oblivion rather early, which was a bit of a shame, but I suppose he got his just desserts. I wonder what became of the very interesting Sally Brass? If ever there was an interesting story waiting to be told, it’s of her adventures after she slips away quietly and vanishes. Soldier? Pirate? Beggar? Personally, I vote pirate.

And Quilp! Oh, Charlie, thank you for dealing with him so irrevocably! I was a little disappointed at his rather quiet death, but when I read about his being buried with a stake through his heart I nearly cheered out loud. Ha! Take that, you bastard!

I’ll bring this letter to a close by quoting from your friend Forster, who was touched by a poem originating from the state in which I’m currently residing. Little Nell’s power was felt even out here in your time, as well as in mine, as Forster says that her “gentler influences, which, in even those Californian wilds, can restore outlawed “roaring camps” to silence and humanity.”

Yours in silence and humanity,


P.S. I didn’t bring any other volumes of yours with me on this trip, but I’m a little ahead of schedule, so I’m going to read some twentieth-century literature on the remainder of my vacation. I hope you don’t mind. I may even write to tell you about what I read.