Old Curiosity Shop by Thomas Worth in the first Household Edition volume, published by Harper & Bros., New York (1872), 12: 3 ½ x 5 ¼ inches (9.2 x 13.5 cm) framed.End of Chapter I of Dickens's
Context of the Illustration: Master Humphrey turns to leave the Curiosity Shop
"And what becomes of you, my pretty one?"
"Me! I stay here of course. I always do."
I looked in astonishment towards the old man, but he was, or feigned to be, busied in the arrangement of his dress. From him I looked back to the slight gentle figure of the child. Alone! In that gloomy place all the long, dreary night.She evinced no consciousness of my surprise, but cheerfully helped the old man with his cloak, and when he was ready took a candle to light us out. Finding that we did not follow as she expected, she looked back with a smile and waited for us. The old man showed by his face that he plainly understood the cause of my hesitation, but he merely signed to me with an inclination of the head to pass out of the room before him, and remained silent. I had no resource but to comply.When we reached the door, the child setting down the candle, turned to say good night and raised her face to kiss me. Then she ran to the old man, who folded her in his arms and bade God bless her.
"Sleep soundly, Nell," he said in a low voice, "and angels guard thy bed! Do not forget thy prayers, my sweet." [Chapter I, 11]
Commentary: Master Humphrey's response to Grandfather Trent's Neglect
Whatever is soi young a child doing near Covent Garden, the notorious haunt of prostitutes, after all the shops have closed? Worth's initial plates for Chapter One underscore both Grandfather Trent's neglect of his granddaughter and the perspective of the narrator, the old bachelor and collector of stories, Master Humphrey. Worth does not indicate Master Humphrey's conflicting responses to the grandfather's tender goodnight to Nell, whose safety he has compromised by entrusting her with a mission to the seedy Covent Garden area.
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.
Worth, on the other hand, does not make the shop dark, cavernous, and atmospheric, but simply cluttered with the bric-a-brac of past centuries. As Master Humphrey turns to go, his facial expression to be guessed at by the reader, the grandfather in boots, hat, and cloak is apparently going out, too. Thus, Worth again draws our attention to the grandfather's neglect of his in loco parentis responsibilities. And he ends the chapter with yet another mystery: whatever can be calling forth the proprietor of the old curiosity shop at this late hour?
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
- O. C. Darley's Little Nell and her Grandfather (1888)
- O. C. Darley's Dick Swiveller and Quilp (1888)
- O. C. Darley's "Do I love thee, Nell," said he; "say do I love thee, Nell, or not?" (Frontispiece, Vol. 1, 1861)
- O. C. Darley's The Fugitives (Frontispiece, Vol. 2, 1861)
- O. C. Darley's "Marchioness, your health. You will excuse my wearing my hat . . ." (Frontispiece, Vol. 3, 1861)
- Kyd's Player's Cigarette Card watercolours, Nell (1910)
- Harry Furniss's lithographs, Characters in the Story (1910)
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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Last modified 4 October 2020