Nell Trent

Last updated
Nell Trent by 'Kyd' (1910) Little Nell Kyd 1920.jpg
Nell Trent by 'Kyd' (1910)

Nell Trent, also referred to as Little Nell, is a fictional character in the 1841 novel The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens. The novel's main character, she is portrayed as infallibly good and virginal. An orphan, she leads her grandfather on their journey to save them from misery but gradually becomes weaker throughout the journey, and although she finds a home with the help of a schoolmaster, she sickens and dies before her friends in London find her. Her death has been described as "the apotheosis of Victorian sentimentality." [1]

Contents

Character

Nell comforts her grandfather - illustration by George Goodwin Kilburne George Goodwin Kilburne Little Nell.jpg
Nell comforts her grandfather - illustration by George Goodwin Kilburne

In the novel Nell Trent is a beautiful and virtuous young girl of "not quite fourteen". An orphan, she lives with her maternal grandfather (whose name is never revealed) in his shop of odds and ends, the Old Curiosity Shop of the title. She lives a lonely life with only one friend, Kit Nubbles, an honest boy employed at the shop, whom she is teaching to write. In an attempt to provide for her once he is gone her grandfather gambles extensively at cards and borrows heavily from the villainous Daniel Quilp, who lusts after Little Nell and hopes eventually to marry her after disposing of his wife. Eventually Quilp seizes possession of the shop and evicts Nell and her grandfather who travel to the Midlands to live as beggars.

The two are pursued by Nell's wastrel older brother, Frederick, who is convinced that Nell has a secret fortune, and by the good-natured but easily led Dick Swiveller. They are joined by Quilp who knows that there is no fortune, but sadistically chooses to 'help' them to enjoy the misery it will inflict on all concerned. Quilp begins to try to track Nell down, but the fugitives are not easily discovered. Nell, having fallen in with a number of characters, some villainous and some kind, succeeds in leading her grandfather to safety in a far-off village (identified by Dickens as Tong, Shropshire), but this comes at a considerable cost to Nell's health. [2]

A mysterious 'single gentleman' (who later turns out to be the younger brother of Nell's grandfather - and is revealed as Master Humphrey, the narrator) is also searching for Nell and her grandfather. Quilp is hunted down and dies trying to escape his pursuers. By the time Nell is found by her rescuers she has died as a result of her arduous journey. Her grandfather, already mentally infirm, refuses to admit she is dead and sits every day by her grave waiting for her to come back until, a few months later, he dies himself.

Death of Little Nell

"At rest" - Nell on her deathbed - illustration by George Cattermole The Old Curiosity Shop At Rest.jpg
"At rest" - Nell on her deathbed - illustration by George Cattermole

Dickens describes the death of Nell:

She was dead. No sleep so beautiful and calm, so free from trace of pain, so fair to look upon. She seemed a creature fresh from the hand of God, and waiting for the breath of life; not one who had lived and suffered death. Her couch was dressed with here and there some winter berries and green leaves, gathered in a spot she had been used to favour. "When I die, put near me something that has loved the light, and had the sky above it always." Those were her words.

She was dead. Dear, gentle, patient, noble Nell was dead. Her little bird – a poor slight thing the pressure of a finger would have crushed – was stirring nimbly in its cage; and the strong heart of its child-mistress was mute and motionless for ever. Where were the traces of her early cares, her sufferings, and fatigues? All gone. Sorrow was dead indeed in her, but peace and perfect happiness were born; imaged in her tranquil beauty and profound repose. [3]

Her death caused a sensation among readers at the time, with many dismayed by Dickens killing the much-loved central character. Dickens received numerous letters from readers begging him to let Nell live. In America crowds waited anxiously at the dockside for the ships arriving from England to hear of the fate of Little Nell. [4] However, others thought the ending melodramatic and overly sentimental, with later writers describing it as "the apotheosis of Victorian sentimentality." [1] In a letter to his friend Ada Leverson the author Oscar Wilde wrote, "One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing", [5] while Aldous Huxley described the passage as "inept and vulgarly sentimental". [6]

Little Nell's grave

Reputed grave of Little Nell in St Bartholomew's churchyard Little Nell's grave in St Bartholomew's churchyard, Tong, Shropshire.jpg
Reputed grave of Little Nell in St Bartholomew's churchyard

The reputed grave of Nell Trent is in the churchyard of St Bartholomew's Church in Tong in Shropshire where there is a plot that has a little metal plate attached to it which reads "The reputed grave of Little Nell". [7]

The "grave" is thought to have come about because Charles Dickens's novel was serialised and shipped over to the United States where it was very popular, and as a result, Americans began coming over to England to visit scenes featured in the book. The tourists recognised the references to Tong church from the book and came to view the supposed "grave", which of course was not there.

However, in about 1910, a verger and village postmaster, George H. Boden (1856–1943), apparently asked local people to pay for a headstone, forged an entry in the church register of burials (apparently the giveaway was that he used post office ink to do this), and charged people to see the "grave". The marker has been moved from time to time to make way for genuine graves. [8] Despite being a fake and also that Nell is a fictitious character, the grave has attracted many visitors including some from as far afield as America. [9]

Tong has been identified as the setting for Nell's death because Dickens' grandmother was the housekeeper at Tong Castle [10] and whilst he was staying at nearby Albrighton to visit her, he is said to have penned the closing lines in the novel. [11] Dickens himself confirmed this to the clergy in the church of Tong after publication of The Old Curiosity Shop, with Dickens also describing the church as "...a very aged, ghostly place". [12]

Notable portrayals

Dickens and Little Nell, an 1890 statue by Francis Edwin Elwell exhibited in Philadelphia Dickens Statue.png
Dickens and Little Nell , an 1890 statue by Francis Edwin Elwell exhibited in Philadelphia

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles Dickens</span> English writer and social critic (1812–1870)

Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime and, by the 20th century, critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius. His novels and short stories are widely read today.

<i>The Old Curiosity Shop</i>

The Old Curiosity Shop is one of two novels which Charles Dickens published along with short stories in his weekly serial Master Humphrey's Clock, from 1840 to 1841. It was so popular that New York readers stormed the wharf when the ship bearing the final instalment arrived in 1841. The Old Curiosity Shop was printed in book form in 1841.

Sentimentality originally indicated the reliance on feelings as a guide to truth, but in current usage the term commonly connotes a reliance on shallow, uncomplicated emotions at the expense of reason.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tong, Shropshire</span> Human settlement in England

Tong is a village and civil parish in Shropshire, England. It is located between the towns of Shifnal, Newport and Brewood. It is near junction 3 of the M54 motorway and A41 road. The population of the village which was included in the civil parish at the 2011 census was 243. The village is also near to Weston Park and the village of Weston-under-Lizard.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sarah Gamp</span>

Sarah or Sairey Gamp, Mrs. Gamp as she is more commonly known, is a nurse in the novel Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens, first published as a serial in 1843–1844.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sampson Brass</span>

Sampson Brass is a fictional character in the 1841 novel The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens. He is a corrupt attorney who affects feeling for his clients, whom he then cheats. Among his clients is the villainous Daniel Quilp, the novel's antagonist. From Bevis Marks in the city of London, he assists Quilp in fraudulently gaining possession of Nell's grandfather's house, plots against Kit Nubbles, and hires and then dismisses Dick Swiveller.

Little Nell may refer to:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Quilp</span> One of the main antagonists in the novel The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

Daniel Quilp is one of the main antagonists in the novel The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens, written in 1840. Quilp is a vicious, ill-tempered and grotesque dwarf and is the villain of the story. Quilp is as near as Dickens ever came to creating a monster. Actors who have portrayed him include Hay Petrie, Anthony Newley, Patrick Troughton, Trevor Peacock, and Toby Jones.

<i>Blaze</i> (novel) 2007 novel by Stephen King

Blaze is a novel by American writer Stephen King, published under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman. King announced on his website that he "found it" in an attic. As stated in the afterword of Different Seasons, it was written before Carrie. King offered the original draft of the novel to his Doubleday publishers at the same time as 'Salem's Lot; the latter was chosen to be his second novel and Blaze became a "trunk novel." King rewrote the manuscript, editing out much of what he perceived as over-sentimentality in the original text, and offered the book for publication in 2007. The book also contains "Memory", a short story that was first published in 2006 and which King has since worked into Duma Key.

<i>The Old Curiosity Shop</i> (2007 film)

The Old Curiosity Shop is a British television film adapted from the Charles Dickens's 1841 novel The Old Curiosity Shop. It stars Irish actress Sophie Vavasseur as Nell Trent, with Derek Jacobi as her grandfather, Toby Jones as Quilp and George MacKay as Nell's friend, Kit. It was broadcast on 26 December 2007 on ITV. The adaptation is in general very faithful to the novel. The most significant changes are the removal of the Garlands and their household and the identity of the Single Gentleman who is changed from Grandfather's brother to his estranged son and Nell's father.

<i>The Old Curiosity Shop</i> (TV series)

The Old Curiosity Shop is a nine part 1979 BBC TV series based on the 1841 novel by Charles Dickens. It was directed by Julian Amyes, and adapted by William Trevor.

<i>Mister Quilp</i> 1975 British film

Mister Quilp is a 1975 British musical film directed by Michael Tuchner and starring Anthony Newley, David Hemmings and Jill Bennett. It is based on the 1841 novel The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens, under which name it was also released.

<i>The Old Curiosity Shop</i> (1934 film) 1934 British film

The Old Curiosity Shop is a 1934 British drama film directed by Thomas Bentley and starring Elaine Benson, Ben Webster and Hay Petrie. It is an adaptation of Charles Dickens' 1841 novel The Old Curiosity Shop.

The Old Curiosity Shop is a 1921 British silent drama film directed by Thomas Bentley and starring Mabel Poulton, William Lugg and Hugh E. Wright. It is based on the 1841 novel The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens. Bentley remade the novel as a sound film in 1934.

The Old Curiosity Shop is a 1914 British silent drama film directed by Thomas Bentley and starring Mai Deacon, Warwick Buckland and Alma Taylor. It was based on the 1841 novel The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens, and was the first of three film adaptations of the story by Bentley. It was made by the Hepworth Company, the leading British film studio before the First World War.

The Old Curiosity Shop is a 1984 Australian animated film based on the 1841 novel by Charles Dickens about a young girl (Nell) who lives with her grandfather in a shop, and what happens after they are evicted from the shop by Quilp, a moneylender. It was made by Burbank Films who produced a number of animated films based on classic novels. Their slate cost an estimated $11 million. The Dickens films sold to 20th Century Fox in the US and to the Seven Network in Australia.

<i>The Old Curiosity Shop</i> (1911 film) 1911 American film

The Old Curiosity Shop is a 1911 American silent short drama film produced by the Thanhouser Company. The film is an adaptation of the 1841 novel The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens that was limited to the time constrictions of the single reel format. The film focuses on the grandfather who gambles into poverty and the consequences which eventually claim the life of Little Nell. Its survival and attribution as a Thanhouser film was noted by Kamilla Elliott in her 2003 book Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate under the title Little Nell. In 2012, the work was confirmed to be a Thanhouser production at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. The identification of the film as Little Nell arose due to head of the film having been lost.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mary Hogarth</span> Sister-in-law of Charles Dickens

Mary Scott Hogarth was the sister of Catherine Dickens and the sister-in-law of Charles Dickens. Hogarth first met Charles Dickens at age 14, and after Dickens married Hogarth's sister Catherine, Mary lived with the couple for a year. Hogarth died suddenly in 1837, which caused Dickens to miss the publication dates for two novels: The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist. Hogarth later became the inspiration for a number of characters in Dickens novels, including Rose Maylie in Oliver Twist and Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop. Charles and Catherine Dickens' first daughter was named Mary in her memory.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dick Swiveller</span> Fictional character in The Old Curiosity Shop

Richard 'Dick' Swiveller is a fictional character in the 1841 novel The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens. Initially a comical accessory to the antagonists in the novel, he undergoes a transformation, becoming a key helpmate bridging the depiction of the main characters that are either mostly villainous or goodly in nature.

References

  1. 1 2 Little Nell: fictional character, Encyclopædia Britannica online
  2. 'The Old Curiosity Shop', Oxford Reference online
  3. Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop, Chapter LXXI, p.524
  4. Boev, Hristo.'De-territorialisation and Re-territorialisation in Little Nell’s Death-bed Scene — Deconstructing Little Nell', Victorian Web database
  5. Eaton, Marcia Muelder. 'Laughing at the Death of Little Nell: Sentimental Art and Sentimental People', American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Oct., 1989), pp. 269-282. Published By: University of Illinois Press
  6. Huxley, Aldous. Vulgarity in Literature (1930)
  7. "Cash boost for Tong church with a link to Dickens". Shropshire Star. 24 January 2017. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  8. "Verger faked grave of Little Nell". BBC News. 20 January 2010. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  9. Kasprzak, Emma (11 January 2012). "Celebrating Dickens's Shropshire links". BBC News. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  10. Winn 2014, p. 235.
  11. Andrews, Mark (7 February 2012). "The Black Country that Dickens hated to love". Express & Star . MNA Media. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  12. Moorwood 2013, p. 86.
  13. Biography at treccani.it