It has all the faults of Dickens. Cloying sentimentality and a virginal heroine who is far too good to be true. The evil monster is a disfigured dwarf (no political correctness in those days). The story line is nearly pure good against evil.
But it does have redeeming features. During their travels Nell and grandfather encounter a host of wonderful caricatures: the Punch and Judy men, the man whose dogs do tricks, the poet, the lady who owns the waxworks. Some characters have their own unique dialogues like the dissolute Richard Swiveller. There are some comic side snipes at Victorian institutions such as Littel Bethel. There are occasional glimpses of ambivalence: Quilp has a delightful line in being charming even whilst persecuting his victims (shades of Baron Corfu from Wilkie Collins Woman in White (?)) while the gradnfather is a gambler who steals from Nell and is prepared to steal from others to feed his addiction.
But I never really bought the plotline. Quilp lent grandfather money. Grandfather gambled it away. Quilp repossessed grandfather's shop but still lost money in the deal (how Quilp ever makes any money is a mystery because he never seems to DO anything). Somehow Quilp is the bad one in all this and grandfather is the victim. Ummm.
It contains one interesting oxymoron: a waxwork but robotic nun "shook its head paralytically".
Some interesting references:
- Don Cleophas Leandro Perez Zambullo is a character in a book called The devil on two sticks (1707) who is carried by Asmodeus through the air up to the steeple of San Salvador and there shown the interior of every private dwelling.
- At one moment Richard Swiveller, who loves beer, treats his girlfriend to a pint from Barclays. The Anchor brewery in Soutwark started in 1616 and was taken over by Barclay and Perkins in 1781 to become the largest brewery in the world by 1815. They merged with Courage in the 1950s.
- Dickens often hyphenates words which we wouldn't today such as brandy-and-water and bread-and-meat. He also uses the words somerset for somersault.
Feb 2009 508 pages