Charles Dickens had hoped that Master Humphrey's Clock, priced at 3d. per, number would quickly establish itself in April 1840 as a weekly literary magazine to which many writers and illustrators would contribute. It quickly became apparent to him, however, that the scheme for an 18th-c. style miscellany was failing, and that, instead of incidental pieces about Sam Weller and Samuel Pickwick, he was going to have run a weekly serialised novel in order to attract readers and render the magazine commercially viable. On 25 April 1840, accordingly, Dickens inaugurated the picaresque novel entitled The Old Curiosity Shop, which concluded with weekly part no. 40 on 6 February 1841. The action, however, is hardly contemporary, as the story seems by a number of allusions to be set in the 1820s. The following summarizes the points in favour of a chronological setting of approximately 1825 for Dickens's fourth novel.
In Chapter 50's illustration, Quilp on his Hammock, Harry Furniss in the Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910) introduces an almanack dated 1837 among the background details in Quilp's counting-house. Furniss may have seized upon 1837 as the date of the action of The Old Curiosity Shop (1840) as at least 1837 from a probable error that Dickens made when introducing Sampson Brass, Quilp's solicitor, as "one of her Majesty's attorneys" in Chapter 13. However, Dickens — without making overt political references that would have confirmed an earlier date — nevertheless seems to have had the post-Waterloo period of the early 1820s rather than the industrial 1830s in mind as his chronological setting. Consider the following points, in particularly, Grandfather Trent's fear that, if they are returned to London by the authorities, "They will shut me up iin a stone room, dark and cold, and chain me up to the wall, Nell, — flog me with whips, and never let me see thee more!" (Chapter 19):
- Grandfather Trent on the high road repeatedly expresses his fears about being incarcerated in a madhouse, where he will be chained to a wall and routinely whipped; such practices had ceased by Victoria's reign.
- In Chapter 29, the girls' school principal, Miss Monflathers, refers to the death of Lord Byron as a recent event: he died on 19 April 1824 in Greece.
- At his trial in Chapter 63, Kit Nubbles is charged with "acting against the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King" (George IV), who died on 26 June 1830. He has been framed by Quilp, and faces the prospect of being sentenced to transportation which was dying out as a judicial punishment by the mid-1830s, stopped in 1840, and abolished entirely in 1857.
- As a result of the inquest's ruling Quilp's death in Chapter 73 a suicide, the court orders his body taken to the nearest crossroads and buried with a stake through its heart: this practice ended in 1823.
- A general absence of railway travel; travellers rely on coaches, turnpike roads, and barges throughout the novel: by 1837 England's railway network was already well established as a result of a construction boom in 1836, and regular service was available between Birmingham and London by 1831.
- Nell, Quilp, and Accidental Suicides in Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop
- The Phiz and Cattermole Illustrations for The Old Curiosity Shop
- The Old Curiosity Shop Illustrated: A Team Effort by "The Clock Works"
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Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop. Illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz"), George Cattermole, Samuel Williams, and Daniel Maclise. London: Chapman and Hall, 1841. Rpt., 1900 in The Authentic Edition.
_____. The Old Curiosity Shop. Illustrated by Thomas Worth. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1872. VI.
_____. The Old Curiosity Shop. Illustrated by Charles Green. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1876. XII.
_____. The Dickens Souvenir Book. Illustrated by Fred Barnard and Others. London: Chapman and Hall, 1912.
_____. The Old Curiosity Shop. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 viols. London: Educational Book, 1910. V.
Hammerton, J. A. "XIII. The Old Curiosity Shop." The Dickens Picture-Book. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book, 1910. 170-211.
Kitton, Frederic George. "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne), a Memoir, Including a Selection From His Correspondence and Notes on His Principal Works. London, George Redway, 1882.
Lester, Valerie Browne. Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004.
Matz, B. W., and Kate Perugini. Character Sketches from Dickens. Illustrated by Harold Copping. London: Raphael Tuck, 1924.
Schlicke, Paul, ed. "The Old Curiosity Shop." Oxford Readers' Companion to Dickens. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1 999. 422-27.
Steig, Michael. "Phiz's Marchioness." Dickens Studies. 2, 3: (September 1966): 141-46.
_______. Chapter 3. "From Caricature to Progress: Master Humphrey's Clock to Martin Chuzzlewit." Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U. P., 1978. 53-85.
Stevens, Joan. "'Woodcuts Dropped into the Text': The Illustrations in The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge." Studies in Bibliography. Vol. 20 (1967), 113-134.
Vann, J. Don. "The Old Curiosity Shop in Master Humphrey's Clock, 25 April 1840-6 February 1841." Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: MLA, 1985. 64-5.
Created 18 July 2020