"I turned hastily round, and found at my elbows a pretty little girl, who begged to be directed to a certain street" Chapter I of Dickens's Old Curiosity Shop by Thomas Worth in the first Household Edition volume, published by Harper & Bros., New York (1872), 9: 3 ½ x 5 ¼ inches (9.2 x 13.4 cm) framed.

Context of the Illustration: Master Humphrey encounters Little Nell near Covent Garden

One night I had roamed into the City, and was walking slowly on in my usual way, musing upon a great many things, when I was arrested by an inquiry, the purport of which did not reach me, but which seemed to be addressed to myself, and was preferred in a soft sweet voice that struck me very pleasantly. I turned hastily round and found at my elbow a pretty little girl, who begged to be directed to a certain street at a considerable distance, and indeed in quite another quarter of the town.

"It is a very long way from here," said I, "my child."

"I know that, sir," she replied timidly. "I am afraid it is a very long way, for I came from there to-night."

"Alone?" said I, in some surprise.[Chapter I,8]

Commentary: The Riddle of the Lost Child

Whatever is so young a child doing near Covent Garden, the notorious haunt of prostitutes, after all the shops have closed? The plate, appearing in the middle of Chapter One also underscore the perspective of the narrator, the old bachelor and collector of stories, Master Humphrey, who keeps manuscripts stored in his grandfather clock.

In the original Cattermole illustration, Nell has already encountered Master Humphrey in the streets near Covent Garden (which Worth describes without much specificity) and is just being reunited with her grandfather in the gloomy shop well after dusk. Green's handling this situation as a dark plate is particularly effective. Taking the child through the City, Master Humphrey is surprised to discover that she does not live with her parents in a hovel or flat, but with her grandfather in the musty treasure-trove of the antique shop. Dickens in his guise as the aged, kindly flaneur of London's streets after dusk, Master Humphrey, prepares the reader for Cattermole's depiction of the encounter at the door of the curiosity shop. Worth, on the other hand, seems much more interested in describing Master Humphrey and the plight of the child lost in Europe's largest city.

Cattermole's and Green's Versions of Nell's Return Home

George Cattermole's iconic realisation of Nell's return to the safety of the curiosity shop after executing some vague errand for her grandfather: The door being opened, the child addressed the old man as her grandfather, and told him the little story of our companionship (Part 1: 25 April 1840).

Green has adopted here the style of the dark plate in order to introduce the gloomy interior of Grandfather Trent's place of business which is also his home: The door being opened, the child addressed him as her grandfather (Chapter I).

Relevant Illustrations from various editions

Scanned image 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 Thomas Worth. The Household Edition. New York: Harper & Bros., 1872. I.

_____. The Old Curiosity Shop. Illustrated by Charles Green. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1876.

_____. The Old Curiosity Shop. Illustrated by William H. C. Groome. The Collins' Clear-Type Edition. Glasgow & London: Collins, 1900.

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

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Last modified 4 October 2020