The Old Curiosity Shop

Early this morning I finished reading ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’ by Charles Dickens, and scanned the last three of Charles Keeping’s illustrations to my Folio Society edition of 1987.

This book bears all the qualities of Mr Dickens’s story-telling. We have mystery, suspense, moving prose, humour, and more than a touch of sarcasm. There is a wealth of characters intricately knitted together. As is typical the personages are uncomplicated; they are either sinners or saints.

The prose flows at quite a rate; the descriptions of a range of locations from city to countryside are often lyrical, and at times unattractive. Dialogue expands characterisation, while refraining from irritating attempts at the vernacular such as sometimes employed elsewhere. Cameo introductions of various contemporary environments and individuals are informative. I find it is quite helpful that the author reminds us of characters we may have forgotten about.

Christopher Hibbert’s knowledgeable and informative introduction expresses the commonly held view that in this work Dickens is attempting to write out his grief at the death of his idealised and adored young sister-in-law.

Normally when I review a book I try not to reveal anything of the story. This has been largely adhered to despite my decision to feature every one of the artist’s exemplary illustrations. Mr Keeping’s final image does indicate the ending, but hopefully there is still much to discover for new readers.

‘The water toyed and sported with its ghastly freight’ is suitably grim.

The young gentleman in ‘Bidding the travellers farewell’ is recognisable from previous portraits, notably in the dock. It is clear that the young lady does not want him to leave.

‘She was dead, and past all help, or need of it’

For a number of years around the end of the last millennium, I performed a consultancy role at Portugal Prints, the Westminster Association of Mental Health project then situated in Portugal Street, WC2. This was around the corner from Portsmouth Street where stood the 16th century building which had inspired Charles Dickens as a starting point for this novel. I never actually entered the establishment in that incarnation because it was never open when I walked past and I probably couldn’t have fitted into it. Google now tells us that it is a high-end shoe shop.

A parcel arrived from Becky and Ian this morning. It contained a splendid Mother’s Day bouquet with small packet of fudge chocolates. Becky made the vase for Jessica and me when she was an art student at Newark in the early 1990s. The book is one of Becky’s presents to me for Christmas 2020. It lives on the coffee table. Jackie produced this photograph.

Just as I settled down to watch Six Nations rugby this afternoon, we suffered a power cut which meant I missed the first half of the game between Italy and Wales. Jackie decided to go shopping. There was some difficulty for her leaving the house, because

temporary traffic lights were in place to enable the electrical engineers to fix the problem of a line tangled in the conifers central to her picture.

The second rugby match was between England and France. While I watched that

the Assistant Photographer focussed on the sunset which signalled that the gale is over.

This evening we dined on oven haddock and chips, small peas, pickled onions, and gherkins with which Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Malbec.