The Old Curiosity Shop

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The Old Curiosity Shop is the title of the novel by Charles Dickens (1812-1870)[1] and of some of the dramatized versions of the novel.

The original novel

The Old Curiosity Shop was published serially from 1840 to 1841, and tells the sad story of Nell Trent ("Little Nell") and her grandfather, both residents of The Old Curiosity Shop in London. Portrayed as infallibly good and angelic, Nell takes her grandfather on a journey to save them from misery. She gradually becomes weaker as they go on and finally finds a home with the help of the schoolmaster. However it is too late and she sickens and dies before her friends in London find her.

The novel was so popular that New York readers stormed the wharf when the ship bearing the final instalment arrived in 1841.

Dramatizations of the novel

The novel has seen a number of dramatizations over the years, often named after Little Nell, the leading character, and frequently done in burlesque versions, especially in the 20th century. Among the dramatizations of the novel have been found are:

A version of The Old Curiosity Shop (possibly a play or reading by Dickens himself) was performed as part of a programme that also included The Innkeeper's Daughter and Poor Richard and Old Father Time was performed at Sadler's Wells, London, on 18 January 1841.

Little Nell and the Marchioness by John Brougham (New York, 1867). Also found as Little Nell.

Nell by Andrew Halliday (London, 1870).

The Old Curiosity Shop by George Lander, performed at the Theatre Royal, York, 14 May 1877.

Little Nell: A Burlesque Melodrama; Mortgage, Tears and Everything by John Nash (1940)[2],

The Old Curiosity Shop by Jane Bacon and John Greaves, performed at Conway Hall, London, on 10 December 1948

Little Nell and the Mortgage Foreclosure by John Donald O'Shea (),

For more information on some of the versions done in South Africa, see below

The Old Curiosity Shop, or Little Nell and the Marchioness by John Brougham (1867)

Also found as Little Nell and the Marchioness, The Old Curiosity Shop. Little Nell or (on one occasion, rather strangely) as The Old Curiosity Shop, or Little Nell, the Marchioness[3].

Suggested by an episode from the novel, the play is generally believed to have been written by John Brougham (1810-1880)[4], who had also dramatized a number of Dickens's other novels, including Bleak House and David Copperfield.

First performed on Broadway in Wallack's Theatre, on 14 August, 1867, playing till 12 September. On occasion referred to simply as Little Nell.

Nell by Andrew Halliday (1870)

Nell (also referred to as The Old Curiosity Shop in some sources) was written by by Andrew Halliday (1830-1877)[5], and opened at the Olympic Theatre, London, on 19 November, 1870.

Performance history of the various versions seen in South Africa

1882: A play called Little Nell was performed as part of a season of plays in the Theatre Royal, Burg Street, Cape Town, by Mabel Hayes (billed as Mrs R.J. Hall) and her company. This could have been either the the Brougham or the Halliday version, for no author is mentioned.


D.C. Boonzaier, 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1932. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: p.376

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