Monday, July 16, 2012

The Old Curiosity Shop

[Conclusion in English is at the bottom of this post]

Di sinilah semuanya berawal, di sebuah old curiosity shop di kota London—sebuah toko yang menjual barang-barang antik (di mana anda akan menemukan sesuatu yang mengundang keingintahuan=curiosity), karena di sinilah tokoh utama kita, seorang gadis yatim-piatu berusia empat belas tahun bernama Nell tinggal bersama kakeknya. Hanya berdua saja di dunia ini menjadikan Nell dan kakeknya memiliki ikatan cinta kasih yang amat kuat, sehingga meski hidup pas-pasan, mereka berdua merasa bahagia.

Sayangnya sang kakek, dalam harapannya untuk mengentaskan Nell dari kemiskinan, mencoba mencari uang lewat jalan pintas—perjudian. Ketika akhirnya harta mereka yang sedikit dan rumah mereka berpindah ke tangan lintah darat jahat bernama Quilp, mereka pun terpaksa pergi dari rumah, mencoba mencari kebahagiaan di alam bebas, rela hidup sederhana daripada berada di bawah kekuasaan Quilp. Dalam pengembaraan mereka, ada begitu banyak hal terjadi. Ada saat-saat mereka bertemu dengan orang-orang yang baik hati, yang memberi tumpangan dan uluran kasih, namun ada juga orang-orang jahat yang ingin memanfaatkan kerapuhan kakek Nell dalam perjudian.

Sepanjang pengembaraan mereka, Nell—di usianya yang teramat muda—harus menanggung beban yang terlalu berat baginya. Ia harus bertahan hidup sembari khawatir Quilp akan menemukan mereka, sekaligus memelihara kakeknya yang—setelah ‘kejatuhan’ mereka—mengalami kemunduran mental. Yang lebih hebat lagi, Nell menjadi semacam hati nurani bagi si kakek; pada saat si kakek nyaris jatuh dalam jerat jahat perjudian, Nell lah yang harus mengambil keputusan berat dan berani untuk melarikan diri.

Setelah semua pengalaman mereka—yang indah maupun yang kelam—akhirnya mereka tiba di sebuah desa nan tenang dan memulai hidup yang baru. Akankah mereka menemukan kembali kebahagiaan seperti yang sering mereka rasakan ketika masih di rumah lama mereka, old curiosity shop?

Sementara itu, ada juga seorang anak laki-laki yang biasa bekerja di curiosity shop kakek Nell, bernama Kit. Ia anak yang miskin, baik hati, jujur dan sangat mengagumi Nell. Ketika Nell dan kakeknya pergi mengembara, ia pun mengalami banyak petualangan, dari yang menakutkan hingga membahagiakan. Kisahnya boleh dibilang mengiringi kisah Nell. Dengan dua tokoh utama ini, banyak pula hadir para ‘penggembira’, baik dari kubu yang jahat maupun yang baik, menjadikan kisah ini semacam dongeng yang dituturkan dengan indah oleh Charles Dickens, kisah yang akan selalu melekat di benak siapa pun yang membacanya.

Nell & grandfather in Mrs. Jarley's caravan


This is my fifth Dickens, and I can say that The Old Curiosity Shop has just become my new favorite. Usually I don’t quite like tales, where there were only black and white, the good ones must be perfect: handsome, kind-hearted, yet weak and poor; while the bad ones were always imperfect: ugly, wicked, heartless and powerful. Can you see Little Nell and Quilp in those two opposite frames? Like I said, if I don’t like tales, then I should have disliked The Old Curiosity Shop. However, it turned out that I really enjoyed reading this book. One of the reasons perhaps, because this book spoiled me with many adventures scenes during Nell and grandfather’s pilgrimage, which made the plot went quite fast. Other reason is the appearance of comical characters like the funny-eccentric Dick Swiveller or the street entertainers Nell met within her pilgrimage. Mrs. Javier’s waxwork company and Whisker the funny pony of Mr. Garland were also highly entertaining!

Besides the entertaining aspects, I also found satisfaction in Dickens’ concerns of injustice—especially to children—which became this book’s main theme. For your information, I always love to read novels that bring concerns for injustice as the main theme! Here we got two cases, one was Little Nell and the other was Kit. Both were innocent and kind-hearted children who must suffered from adult’s faults, crime and greediness. Dickens interestingly crafted these two cases in two separate frames of story with Quilp being one of the main red-thread that related them both to be concluded in the last chapters.

Speaking of the last chapters, they were very emotional, and this aspect is the one I like the most from this book. **spoiler** I can feel that Dickens had poured out his own emotion into these last chapters—the scene of Nell’s death, that he wrote them while remembering and memorizing the death of Mary Hogarth—her sister-in-law—in her seventeenth age, almost as youth as Nell was. You might have read on his biographies, that Dickens have an affection towards Mary, and was quite shocked when Mary died from heart failure in his arm. “Mary’s death affected him grievously and the shock never seemed completely to dissipate.” [from Dickens’ Bicentenary 1802-2012 by Lucinda Dickens Hawksley]. I can’t but share Dickens’ grief when he wrote about Nell’s burial, and how his grandfather and others felt about it, feel how Dickens must have felt on Mary’s sudden death, and the consolation he must have seek at that time, just as what he wrote here...

“Oh! It is hard to take to heart the lesson that such deaths will teach, but let no man reject it, for it is one that all must learn, and is a mighty universal Truth.”

And from the same book too—Dickens’ Bicentenary—I learned that writing about Nell’s death had re-opened Dickens’ old wound of Mary Hogarth: “I am ….nearly dead with work—and grief for the loss of my child.**spoiler ends**

And last but not least, I also like how Dickens concluded every piece of fragments nicely. I am a reader who judges a book from its ending, not about happy or sad ending, but more on whether it was cleanly closed or not. I don’t like it when there were still one or few things unfinished or unclear, it will make me keep asking questions like why that should happened, or what caused this or that, etc. In this book, one concern raised in my mind near the ending. I noticed that Kit—after his release from jail—had met and thanked everyone except the biggest heroes: Dick Swiveller and the Marchioness, whom Kit never mentioned nor made initiative to come to thank personally. You might think I’m being absurd to think of such small things like that, but as I said, I am a perfectionist when it comes to story ending, everything must be cleared up before I closed the book (most likely) forever. However, thanks to Dickens, I was rewarded by the final page where Kit and Barbara named one of their children as Dick “whom Mr. Swiveller did especially favour” (p. 544). And so…this story becomes one of my favorites of Dickens so far, and I rewarded him with five stars!

Title: The Old Curiosity Shop
Author: Charles Dickens
Publisher: Wordsworth Classics
Published: 1995
Pages: 544 + notes


  1. yay! glad that you enjoyed it mba! akupun senang memilih buku ini sebagai dickens pertamaku, karena meski agak lambat. alurnya bisa dijaga ttp menarik, dan swiveller tetap menjadi favoritku hihihi

    1. Haha...I think Swiveller is much more memorable than Little Nell, is he? Maybe it's because Dick is more real, while Nell is more like an angel in a tale.

  2. I've read 11 of Dickens' works so far but I still haven't gotten to this one. I highly recommend Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend. Keep reading Dickens, he is so worth it!

    1. Wow! I've just read 4 Dickens so far, and Our Mutual Friend does look promising (after I read your review!), but I plan to read all of Dickens and Zola's work anyway.

      Hey, it seems we have a similar taste of classics :)

  3. This is a Dickens classic I've never read, but it sounds intriguing. Like you, I prefer a conclusion that has strong resolution, even if it isn't a happy ending. I rather enjoyed the spoiler. Knowing Nell doesn't survive and that may well have been a personal experience for Dickens, would make me concentrate on the character development in a different way.

    I'm struck by how many of the same novel-construction issues of today are to be found in the classics. Styles and formulas certainly cycle like most other aspects of tradition. Very interesting read, thanks for the insight.

    1. And I think the classics authors did have some influences to our today's literature. Today's authors must have read those classics during their high school, and they have somehow affect their writings.

      Yeah, in classics I never mind the ending of a story, it makes me savour even more when I'm reading it.

  4. I've only started with Dickens, but I recently saw this one on my used bookstore's shelf. I hadn't heard much about it though, and now I wish I had picked it up! -Sarah

    1. Don't worry Sarah, Dickens' books are very easy to access I think, used or new.

  5. Hi Fanda. This was my seventh Dickens, and not at all my favorite - though I still enjoyed it. Thanks for including the info regarding Mary Hogwarth and the probable allusion in Nell. I didn't know that.

    1. Hi Joseph, I know, it's often difficult to love Dickens' totally. His protagonists are often "too good to be true" (Little Nell is the "worst", I think). But apart from that, I think they are still entertaining and memorable. Reading his biography(ies) really helped to understand more of his works and eccentricity, though.


What do you think?