Our Novel

For the 2019-2020 year, we will be reading and discussing The Old Curiosity Shop. Charles Dickens originally published the novel in weekly installments between 1840 and 1841. Originally intended to fill up space in the periodical Master Humphrey's Clock, the story grew into a full-length novel featuring some of the author's most famous characters.


The story follows Little Nell and her grandfather, who flee the clutches of the villainous Mr. Quilp. The setting alternates between London, where the titular shop is located, and the countryside where Nell and her grandfather meet a number of memorable people.


Among the characters in the novel are Dick Swiveller (who is always singing snatches of old tunes), the shrill old tyrant Sally Brass, and the two Punch and Judy men Codlin and Short. It was Little Nell who truly captured the imagination of readers in the 1840s, though. In New York, people allegedly swarmed the docks when it was time for a new installment of the novel to appear, eager to hear the latest news of the heroine.


Master Humphtrey's Clock used a variety of illustrators, including George Cattermole, Daniel Maclise, and  Hablot Knight Browne (“Phiz”). Unlike most of the illustrations used for Dickens's novels, these were done on wooden blocks so they could be dropped into the text, appearing on the same page as the story. If you get the Penguin edition of the novel, you should be able to see the original illustrations as well.


We hope you will join us in our year-long examination of a book that helped to make Dickens famous!