Possessing herself of the key, she rejoined the old man in safety Chapter XII of Dickens's Old Curiosity Shop by Thomas Worth in the first Household Edition volume, published by Harper & Bros., New York (1872), facing title-page: 5 1⁄16 x 7 ⅝ inches (13 x 19.4 cm) framed.

Passage Anticipated: Stealing away from Quilp

At last they reached the passage on the ground floor, where the snoring of Mr. Quilp and his legal friend sounded more terrible in their ears than the roars of lions. The bolts of the door were rusty, and difficult to unfasten without noise. When they were all drawn back, it was found to be locked, and worst of all, the key was gone. Then the child remembered, for the first time, one of the nurses having told her that Quilp always locked both the house-doors at night, and kept the keys on the table in his bedroom.

It was not without great fear and trepidation that little Nell slipped off her shoes  and gliding through the store-room of old curiosities, where Mr. Brass — the ugliest  piece of goods in all the stock — lay sleeping on a mattress, passed into her own little chamber.

Here she stood, for a few moments, quite transfixed with terror at the sight of Mr. Quilp, who was hanging so far out of bed that he almost seemed to be standing on his  head, and who, either from the uneasiness of this posture, or in one of his agreeable  habits, was gasping and growling with his mouth wide open, and the whites (or rather the dirty yellows) of his eyes distinctly visible. It was no time, however, to ask whether anything ailed him; so, possessing herself of the key after one hasty glance about the  room, and repassing the prostrate Mr. Brass, she rejoined the old man in safety. They got the door open without noise, and passing into the street, stood still. [Chapter XII,  46]

Commentary: The Morning of the Trents' Departure

For those readers who were not already intimate with the intracies of the plot, whether Nell and her grandfather will outwit the cunning Quilp and escape from London must have been one of the most suspenseful moments in the first dozen chapters Ingeniously, Worth has introduced simultaneously the three characters that dominate the first movement of the story: Nell, stealing the key; Daniel Quilp, sleeping in a distorted pose; and Grandfather Trent, waiting to have Nell open the front door by stealing the key from under Quilp's. The plate also establishes the odd relationship between the well-meaning but utterly incapable grandparent and his determined grandchild, who plays the custodial role as she attempts to escape from Quilp and keep her grandfather away from gambling.

Phiz's iconic realisation of Nell's escape from London and the sexual designs of the odious dwarf: The Pilgrimage Begins (Part 8: 27 June 1840).

Other Introductory Illustrations of Daniel Quilp

Left and centre: Clayton J. Clarke's amusing caricatures of the demonic villain in the Player's Cigarette card series, Quilp (Card No. 27, 1910) and Quilp in his series of Dickens characters, dating from 1888. Right: Harry Furniss's character study of the novel's self-satisfied, diminutive villain: Quilp (1910).

Relevant Illustrations from various editions

Scanned images and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


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Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop in Master Humphrey's Clock. Illustrated by Phiz, George Cattermole, Samuel Williams, and Daniel Maclise. 3 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1841; rpt., Bradbury and Evans, 1849.

_____. The Old Curiosity Shop. Frontispieces by Felix Octavius Carr Darley and Sir John Gilbert. The Household Edition. 55 vols. New York: Sheldon & Co., 1863. 4 vols.

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_____. The Old Curiosity Shop. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book, 1910. V.

Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book, 1910. XVII.

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Matz, B. W., and Kate Perugini. Character Sketches from Dickens. Illustrated by Harold Copping. London: Raphael Tuck, 1924.

Steig, Michael. Chapter 3. "From Caricature to Progress: Master Humphrey's Clock to Martin Chuzzlewit." Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U. P., 1978. 53-85.

Last modified 4 October 2020