Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Dickens in The Old Curiosity Shop - all working up together in one delicious gravy

Note to skimmers, i.e., rational blog readers: Every quotation I’ve extricated from The Old Curiosity Shop here is meant to be enjoyable.

Dickens the creator of first-rate metaphors:

“Kit, who in despatching his bread and meat had been swallowing two thirds of his knife at every mouthful with the coolness of a juggler...” Ch. 1

Action as insight into character:

“'Owe indeed, ma'am!' replied Mrs Jiniwin. 'When my poor husband, her dear father, was alive, if he had ever ventured a cross word to me, I'd have--' The good old lady did not finish the sentence, but she twisted off the head of a shrimp with a vindictiveness which seemed to imply that the action was in some degree a substitute for words.” Ch. 4

Place as insight into character:

“It was a dirty little box, this counting-house, with nothing in it but an old ricketty desk and two stools, a hat-peg, an ancient almanack, an inkstand with no ink, and the stump of one pen, and an eight-day clock which hadn't gone for eighteen years at least, and of which the minute-hand had been twisted off for a tooth-pick.” Ch. 5

A long one, with no insights at all:

“The glow of the fire was upon the landlord's bald head, and upon his twinkling eye, and upon his watering mouth, and upon his pimpled face, and upon his round fat figure. Mr Codlin drew his sleeve across his lips, and said in a murmuring voice, 'What is it?'

'It's a stew of tripe,' said the landlord smacking his lips, 'and cow-heel,' smacking them again, 'and bacon,' smacking them once more, 'and steak,' smacking them for the fourth time, 'and peas, cauliflowers, new potatoes, and sparrow-grass, all working up together in one delicious gravy.' Having come to the climax, he smacked his lips a great many times, and taking a long hearty sniff of the fragrance that was hovering about, put on the cover again with the air of one whose toils on earth were over.

'At what time will it be ready?' asked Mr Codlin faintly.

'It'll be done to a turn,' said the landlord looking up to the clock--and the very clock had a colour in its fat white face, and looked a clock for jolly Sandboys to consult--'it'll be done to a turn at twenty-two minutes before eleven.'

'Then,' said Mr Codlin, 'fetch me a pint of warm ale, and don't let nobody bring into the room even so much as a biscuit till the time arrives.'” Ch. 18

Mr. Codlin has an extremely minor function in the plot of The Old Curiosity Shop. The landlord has none whatsoever. Nor does the stew. As far as the story is concerned, the whole passage could be cut, by, say, an editor with no taste or sense.

May I insert another note to skimmers, this time skimmers of Dickens? Slow down! Every Dickens novel is a storehouse of treasures like this. Don't leave them behind.


  1. Rest assured, I'm not skimming the quotes from Dickens. (Although 'm sure my boss would prefer it if I was!)

  2. I hope I didn't sound like a scold. Skim me, don't skim Dickens.

  3. This is why I wish I had 24 hours a day to read. I'm planning to get my hands on this novel today - hooray for Gutenberg. I think I'll take it a chapter a day, very slowly!

  4. A problem with Gutenberg's Dickens: no illustrations.

    Problem solved: http://charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-curiosity_shop.html

  5. Perfect, thank you! Onward with Dickens!