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Master Humphrey's Clock

Master Humphrey's Clock


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Charles Dickens agreed a contract with William Hall, the part owner of Chapman and Hall, to edit a weekly magazine, Master Humphrey's Clock . Hall agreed to pay him £50 for each issue, plus half the profits. Dickens planned to commission work from other writers and to contribute short stories and occasional essays himself. The magazine was to be sold in America and Europe and Dickens expected to make something like £5,000 a year from the venture.

The magazine sold 70,000 copies when it was published for the first time in April, 1840. William Macready commented that it might be "too good for so wide a circulation". Customers were disappointed by the fact that Dickens only contributed the occasional article and sales fell dramatically. Dickens wrote to a friend that "day and night the alarum is in my ears, warning me that I must not run down... I am more bound down by this Humphrey than I have ever been yet - Nickleby was nothing to it, nor Pickwick, nor Oliver - it demands my constant attention and obliges me to exert all the self-denial I possess."

Charles Dickens decided he had to be the sole contributor and that he had to produce a full-length serial like The Pickwick Papers , Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby for the journal to be a success. He decided to develop a short-story, The Old Curiosity Shop , that appeared in an early edition, into a serial. It was not long before the whole of Master Humphrey's Clock was taken up by the story. The magazine now had a circulation of 100,000. Dickens later explained: "In writing the book I had it always in my fancy to surround the lonely figure of the child (Nell) with grotesque and wild, but not impossible companions, and to gather about her innocent face and pure intentions associates as strange and uncongenial as the grim objects that are about her bed when her history is first foreshadowed."

The story, illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne, tells of Nell Trent, a small and delicate child of "angelic purity of character and sweetness of disposition" who lives alone with her grandfather, an old man, who is the proprietor of the Old Curiosity Shop. In an attempt to provide for Little Nell he becomes a gambler. He loses heavily and borrows money from Daniel Quilp, a rich dwarf, pledging his shop and stock as security for the debt. His luck does not change and he loses his home and business.

Little Nell now takes charge and persuades her grandfather to lead him away from London and the temptation of the gaming tables. While they are wandering the country they meet Mr Marton, a kind-hearted schoolmaster. He is travelling by foot to a distant village, where he has been appointed as a teacher of the local school. After hearing their story, Marton invites Nell and her grandfather to accompany him, promising to help them find work in the village. He manages to do this and they are giving a pleasant home and employment connected to the parish church.

After the publication of The Old Curiosity Shop , the critic, R. Shelton MacKenzie suggested that: "Little Nell, who is thought of by readers rather as a real than a fictitious personage... She is an idyllic impossibility... She is only too perfect - and her death is worthy of her life. Many a tear has been drawn forth by her imaginary adventures." Another critic writing at this time, Blanchard Jerrold, argued: "The art with which Charles Dickens managed men and women were nearly all emotional. As in all his books, he drew at will the tears of his readers... There was something feminine in the quality that led him to the right verdict, the appropriate word, the core of the heart of the question in hand... The head that governed the richly-stored heart was wise, prompt, and alert at the same time."

On 13th February 1841, the first episode of Dickens's next novel, Barnaby Rudge , was published in Master Humphrey's Clock . It was his first attempt at writing an historical novel. The story opens in 1775 and comes to its climax with a vivid description of the Gordon Riots. On 2nd July, 1780, Lord George Gordon, a retired navy lieutenant, who was strongly opposed to proposals for Catholic Emancipation, led a crowd of 50,000 people to the House of Commons to present a petition for the repeal of the 1778 Roman Catholic Relief Act, that had removed certain disabilities. This demonstration turned into a riot and for the next five days many Catholic chapels and private houses were destroyed. Other buildings attacked and damaged included the Bank of England, King's Bench Prison, Newgate Prison and Fleet Prison. It is estimated that over £180,000 worth of property was destroyed during the riots.

Hall employed Hablot Knight Browne and George Cattermole to provide the illustrations. Browne produced about 59 illustrations, mainly of characters, whereas Cattermole's 19 drawings were usually of settings. Jane Rabb Cohen, the author of Dickens and His Principal Illustrators (1980) has argued: "At the story's climax, Dickens really let his imagination go in describing the orgiastic riots, Browne readily caught his spirit. His designs, with their tumultuous crowds yet individualized participants, fully embodied the violent excitement of the prose." Robert L. Patten has pointed out that woodblocks were used for the magazine and could withstand up to 100,000 impressions, but it has been argued that they lacked the character and freedom of copperplate plates used by artists at the time.

John Forster claimed that the last section of the book deserved the highest praise: "There are few things more masterly in his books. From the first low mutterings of the storm to its last terrible explosion, the frantic outbreak of popular ignorance and rage is depicted with unabated power. The aimlessness of idle mischief by which the ranks of the rioters are swelled at the beginning; the recklessness induced by the monstrous impunity allowed to the early excesses; the sudden spread of drunken guilt into every haunt of poverty, ignorance, or mischief in the wicked old city, where such rich materials of crime lie festering."

Charles Dickens hoped that it would become as popular as the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott. The Dickens's scholar, Andrew Sanders, has argued: "With Barnaby Rudge Dickens laid serious claim to be the heir of the most popular novelist of the generation before his own: Sir Walter Scott. Despite the slow beginning, which establishes character, the historical situation, and the idea of mental and moral dysfunction, Dickens's narrative first flickers and then blazes with something akin to the fire with which the rioters devastate London."

The public did not like the story and sales of Master Humphrey's Clock fell dramatically after the publication of the first episode. In August 1841 Dickens and his personal agent, John Forster , had a meeting with William Hall about the disappointing sales and it was agreed that the journal would be closed down when Barnaby Rudge came to an end. However, Dickens promised Chapman and Hall that they could publish his next novel, Martin Chuzzlewit . The terms of the agreement were very generous with Dickens being paid for each monthly installment, would receive three quarters of the profit and retain half the copyright.


The Old Curiosity Shop

The Old Curiosity Shop is one of two novels (the other being Barnaby Rudge) 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. [1] The Old Curiosity Shop was printed in book form in 1841.

The plot follows the life of Nell Trent and her grandfather, both residents of The Old Curiosity Shop in London.

Queen Victoria read the novel in 1841 and found it "very interesting and cleverly written". [2]


P. xiv PREFACE TO THE FIRST VOLUME

When the Author commenced this Work, he proposed to himself three objects&mdash

First. To establish a periodical, which should enable him to present, under one general head, and not as separate and distinct publications, certain fictions that he had it in contemplation to write.

Secondly. To produce these Tales in weekly numbers, hoping that to shorten the intervals of communication between himself and his readers, would be to knit more closely the pleasant relations they had held, for Forty Months.

Thirdly. In the execution of this weekly task, to have as much regard as its exigencies would permit, to each story as a whole, and to the possibility of its publication at some distant day, apart from the machinery in which it had its origin.

The characters of Master Humphrey and his three friends, and the little fancy of the clock, were the results of these considerations. When he sought to interest his readers in those who talked, and read, and listened, he revived Mr. Pickwick and his humble friends not with any intention of re-opening an exhausted and abandoned mine, but to connect them in the thoughts of those whose favourites they had been, with the tranquil enjoyments of Master Humphrey.

It was never the intention of the Author to make the Members of Master Humphrey&rsquos clock, active agents in the stories they are supposed to relate. Having brought himself in the commencement of his undertaking to feel an interest in these quiet creatures, and to imagine them in their chamber of p. xv meeting, eager listeners to all he had to tell, the Author hoped&mdashas authors will&mdashto succeed in awakening some of his own emotion in the bosoms of his readers. Imagining Master Humphrey in his chimney corner, resuming night after night the narrative,&mdashsay, of the Old Curiosity Shop&mdashpicturing to himself the various sensations of his hearers&mdashthinking how Jack Redburn might incline to poor Kit, and perhaps lean too favourably even towards the lighter vices of Mr. Richard Swiveller&mdashhow the deaf gentleman would have his favourite and Mr. Miles his&mdashand how all these gentle spirits would trace some faint reflexion in their past lives in the varying currents of the tale&mdashhe has insensibly fallen into the belief that they are present to his readers as they are to him, and has forgotten that, like one whose vision is disordered, he may be conjuring up bright figures when there is nothing but empty space.

The short papers which are to be found at the beginning of the volume were indispensable to the form of publication and the limited extent of each number, as no story of length or interest could be begun until &ldquoThe Clock was wound up and fairly going.&rdquo

The Author would fain hope that there are not many who would disturb Master Humphrey and his friends in their seclusion who would have them forego their present enjoyments, to exchange those confidences with each other, the absence of which is the foundation of their mutual trust. For when their occupation is gone, when their tales are ended, and but their personal histories remain, the chimney corner will be growing cold, and the clock will be about to stop for ever.

One other word in his own person, and he returns to the more grateful task of speaking for those imaginary people whose little world lies within these pages.

It may be some consolation to those well-disposed ladies and gentlemen who, in the interval between the conclusion of his last work and the commencement of this, originated a report that he had gone raving mad, to know that it spread p. xvi as rapidly as could be desired, and was made the subject of considerable dispute not as regarded the fact, for that was as thoroughly established as the duel between Sir Peter Teazle and Charles Surface in the School for Scandal but with reference to the unfortunate lunatic&rsquos place of confinement one party insisting positively on Bedlam, another inclining favourably towards St. Luke&rsquos, and a third swearing strongly by the asylum at Hanwell while each backed its case by circumstantial evidence of the same excellent nature as that brought to bear by Sir Benjamin Backbite on the pistol shot which struck against the little bronze bust of Shakespeare over the fireplace, grazed out of the window at a right angle, and wounded the postman, who was coming to the door with a double letter from Northamptonshire.

It will be a great affliction to these ladies and gentlemen to learn&mdashand he is so unwilling to give pain, that he would not whisper the circumstance on any account, did he not feel in a manner bound to do so, in gratitude to those amongst his friends who were at the trouble of being angry at the absurdity that their inventions made the Author&rsquos home unusually merry, and gave rise to an extraordinary number of jests, of which he will only add, in the words of the good Vicar of Wakefield, &ldquoI cannot say whether we had more wit among us than usual but I am sure we had more laughing.&rdquo

Devonshire Terrace , York Gate , September, 1840.


Story order

Master Humphrey's Clock was a weekly serial that contained both short stories and two novels (The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge). Some of the short stories act as frame stories to the novels so the ordering of publication is important.

Although Dickens' original artistic intent was to keep the short stories and the novels together, he himself cancelled Master Humphrey's Clock before 1848, and described in a preface to The Old Curiosity Shop that he wished the story to not be tied down to the miscellany it began within. [1] Most later anthologies published the short stories and the novels separately. However, the short stories and the novels were published in 1840 in three bound volumes under the title Master Humphrey's Clock, which retains the full and correct ordering of texts as they originally appeared. The illustrations in these volumes were by George Cattermole and Hablot Browne, better known as "Phiz".


Tag Archives: Master Humphrey's Clock

George W. M. Reynolds (1814-1879) remains little known except by the most persistent readers of Victorian and Gothic Fiction. One reason he is ignored and even disparaged has to do with his rivalry with Charles Dickens, whom he outsold, and also because he tended to pirate ideas from others and then make them his own. I have written numerous blog posts here about many of Reynolds’ other novels, including Pickwick Abroad (1837-8), an unabashed sequel to The Pickwick Papers (1836-7). Most will likely not agree with me, but I frankly enjoyed Pickwick Abroad more than The Pickwick Papers, largely because Reynolds has much more of a plot to his novel.

Master Timothy’s Bookcase is another example of how Reynolds was able to capitalize upon popular contemporary books and make them his own. In 1840-1, Dickens published Master Humphrey’s Clock, a work largely forgotten and seldom read today, known primarily because within its pages Dickens published The Old Curiosity Shop (1841) and Barnaby Rudge (1841). Dickens set out to write a serial centered around Master Humphrey, an old man with a longcase antique clock, in which he keeps his manuscripts. Master Humphrey gathers about him a group of friends who form a club consisting of them reading their manuscripts to each other. The manuscripts are the short stories in the book. Among the friends is Mr. Pickwick, so in some sense, the book is a sequel to The Pickwick Papers. Within Master Humphrey’s Clock, The Old Curiosity Shop was to be a short story, but Dickens then decided to develop it into a novel, and by the time Dickens got well into the novel, Master Humphrey’s Clock had become little more than a frame. When the novel was completed, Dickens briefly returned to the original format of Master Humphrey’s Clock before starting on Barnaby Rudge, and after Barnaby Rudge was concluded, he quickly wrapped up Master Humphrey’s Clock by having Master Humphrey die.

Honestly, there is little in Master Humphrey’s Clock of interest. The narrator is likeable but hardly fascinating and the short stories are forgettable. Even Dickens apparently realized the faults of the book, choosing that The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge would stand on their own in the future, as stated in the preface to the 1848 edition of The Old Curiosity Shop. Today, Master Humphrey’s Clock is usually published separately from the two novels it launched.

Reynolds clearly decided to capitalize on the popularity of Dickens’ work when he created the similarly titled Master Timothy’s Bookcase, which began circulating in July 1841, just a month or so before Master Humphrey’s Clock ended. However, in my opinion, Reynolds vastly improved upon Dickens’ format by tying the stories together far more tightly than Dickens. He also weaves in the supernatural to explain how all the stories become known to the main character, Sir Edmund Mortimer, through the supernatural agency of Master Timothy’s Bookcase.

The story begins with a brief history of the Mortimer family and the strange circumstances under which they have operated for centuries. Mortimer House is the family mansion in Canterbury. It has a wing that contains six special rooms. In each room, one of the past heads of the family has died. Each man is said to have learned the day of his death by dire warning and then gone to the appropriate room to die. On January 1, 1830, the sixth head of the family, Sir William Mortimer died, leaving his son Edmund to take up the title.

Sir Edmund does not know the full secret of the house until he inherits it. He does knows the family is watched over by a guardian genius. This genius, Master Timothy, soon appears and explains matters to him. Each past head of the family had been granted a gift as a means to find happiness. However, none of Sir Edmund’s ancestors succeeded in finding happiness with their choices. Most recently, Sir William had sought happiness in Wealth but failed to achieve it. Sir Edmund decides he will choose Universal Knowledge to help him make good decisions. (This is an interesting choice since it is similar to King Solomon choosing Wisdom Solomon was known for his wise decisions, particularly in the case where two mothers claimed the same child was hers.)

Master Timothy tells Sir Edmund he will receive Universal Knowledge in the form of a supernatural bookcase that only he will be able to see and that will always be with him. Any time he wants to know anything about anyone or any situation, he can consult the bookcase and read the truth.

Master Timothy’s own story is then shared. In 1530, Sir Edmund’s ancestor, Henry Mortimer, was asked by a Mr. Musgrave to take a child to Lord Davenport and tell him it was his. Mr. Musgrave’s daughter, Mary, had apparently given birth to the child, fathered on her by the lord. However, Lord Davenport rejected the child, but when Henry tried to find Mr. Musgrave again, he had left the vicinity. Henry ended up raising the child himself. He named it Timothy after the relative who had raised him. After three years, Mary came to find Henry and Timothy. By then, her father, Mr. Musgrave, had died, and she was very wealthy. She decided to live near Henry and her child while pretending to be a widow. Unfortunately, Timothy died at age sixteen. Then Mary died, leaving all her wealth to Henry. Henry used the wealth to build Mortimer House. Then one night, Timothy’s apparition appeared to him and offered to reword his good deeds by granting him anything he wanted. Henry chose the gift of Glory, ultimately becoming a general and being knighted by King Edward VI. However, he did not find happiness.

Now having inherited the title and received his gift, Sir Edmund is not allowed to stay at Mortimer House. He can only return there to die, so he plans to live elsewhere. He is invited by Sir Ralph Lindsay to stay with him. From here, the plot becomes too complicated to easily summarize. Suffice to say, Sir Ralph’s family has its secrets, which eventually causes Sir Edmund to consult Master Timothy’s Bookcase. He continues to consult the bookcase throughout the novel in his various encounters with people until he begins to learn their secrets and begins to bemoan the gift of Universal Knowledge because it has revealed to him the hypocrisy of people.

While at first the knowledge is a mental burden to Sir Edmund, he never uses it to benefit himself or hurt others. However, he finally determines he can use the knowledge to help another, and so while in France, he tries to persuade a marquis to support his nephew’s wife, who is destitute. After Sir Edmund reveals to the marquis that he knows his secrets—secrets it is impossible anyone can know—the marquis agrees to aid his nephew’s wife. He gives Sir Edmund a box with valuables in it to bring to the widow, and Sir Edmund departs. However, the marquis is so upset that Sir Edmund knows his secret that he immediately cuts his throat with a razor. Sir Edmund is accused of murder and ends up in prison. He realizes his situation is the result of abusing the knowledge he received from the bookcase, and he wonders why the genius of his family would bestow gifts upon his family if they are only to bring misery to the Mortimers.

When Sir Edmund comes to trial, the judge decides he is a lunatic and sends him to an asylum in Paris. By this point, Sir Edmund himself wonders if he is a lunatic. He remains in the asylum until the Revolution of 1830 results in the inmates being freed. Sir Edmund now returns to England with plans to marry the woman he loves (who has her own secret, or rather she is keeping the secret of another, as Sir Edmund learned through the bookcase). But before the wedding can take place, Master Timothy summons Sir Edmund to return to Mortimer House, saying that upon his twenty-fifth birthday, he may peruse the family manuscripts. The servant at the house is alarmed when Sir Edmund arrives because he was not supposed to until the day before he is to die. Sir Edmund, however, assures him all is well. Sir Edmund is then granted the opportunity to read manuscripts that tell him the stories of all his ancestors and the various gifts they had chosen, each one of which brought misery.

Sir Edmund is now struck by the futility of seeking happiness. Then he sees an inscription suddenly appear over the door of the room he is in, making it clear this is the day he will die. Master Timothy appears and explains that man’s life comes to an end when he realizes the futility of the aim that influenced his career. Before he dies, Sir Edmund is allowed to see the largely miserable fates of all those he has known and whose stories he has learned through the bookcase. He remains skeptical he will himself die, waiting almost to the last second, thinking he is safe when an assassin breaks into the house and murders him, someone who bears him a grudge from earlier in the novel.

Sir Edmund dies as Master Timothy declares to him that the gift he should have chosen was Virtue—a curious choice since one can’t help recalling that the subtitle of Pamela (1740), considered the first novel, is “Virtue Rewarded.” This ending makes the novel far from perfect since Sir Edmund has never really done anything terribly unvirtuous or sought to hurt anyone, but apparently prying into people’s secrets is not virtuous. While Reynolds refers to Sir Edmund’s gift as Universal Knowledge, it is also clearly forbidden knowledge—the quest for which is a frequent Gothic plot that always results in disaster for those who seek it and stems back to the story of the Garden of Eden and eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. (For more on the quest for forbidden knowledge and its subsequent punishment in Gothic literature, see my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption.)

While Master Timothy’s Bookcase is not a perfect novel, the stories in it are more intricately weaved together than those in Master Humphrey’s Clock. No driving motive or goal strengthens the plot, but the number of stories, many of which concern crimes or at least secrets, makes the book read like a rehearsal for Reynolds’ much greater work, The Mysteries of London (1844-5), another book whose idea he stole from another author’s work, in this case French novelist Eugene Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris (1842-3). One reason Master Timothy’s Clock has received a little attention is that one of the stories offers a solution to who was the mysterious Man in the Iron Mask. (One is tempted to accuse Reynolds’ of trying to capitalize upon Dumas’ work here, but Dumas’ novel was not published until 1847-1850). Unfortunately, Reynolds’ story of the Man in the Iron Mask is probably the weakest and most predictable story in the novel, and it is the only one Sir Edmund does not learn from the bookcase but from another person he meets. I will not reveal who Reynolds claims the man was, but it is a real stretch that has nothing to do with French royalty. Despite the disappointing treatment of this mystery, I doubt most readers will be disappointed overall by Master Timothy’s Bookcase. In fact, I am surprised it is not one of Reynolds’ best-known works.

Is Master Timothy’s Bookcase great literature? No. Is it an entertaining novel that does reveal some truths about human nature? Yes. Is the morality a bit in your face, if not a little preachy? Yes, but so was the work of most of the Victorians. And if Sir Edmund had chosen Virtue over Universal Knowledge, what a dull novel it would have been. Fortunately, Reynolds was a masterful storyteller, as most of the novel reflects. Consequently, his place in Victorian and Gothic literature deserves far more assessment. After all, if he outsold Dickens, we are missing out on a real understanding of Victorian culture and literature if we overlook him. I look forward to the day when George W. M. Reynolds is hailed as a major author of the period alongside Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope, Eliot, and the Brontës.


Illustrations for Uncollected Pieces from Master Humphrey's Clock

Related Material, Including Other Illustrated Editions of the Novel

  • Dickens's Barnaby Rudge (homepage)
  • Cattermole and Phiz: The Old Curiosity Shop : A Team Effort by "The Clock Works" (1841)
  • Cattermole's Seventeen Illustrations for Barnaby Rudge (13 Feb.-27 Nov. 1841)
  • Phiz's Original Serial Illustrations for Barnaby Rudge (13 Feb.-27 Nov. 1841)
  • Felix Octavius Carr Darley's Six Illustrations for Barnaby Rudge (1865 and 1888)
  • Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s ten Diamond Edition Illustrations (1867)
  • Fred Barnard's 46 illustrations for the Household Edition (1874)
  • A. H. Buckland's 6 illustrations for the Collins' Clear-type Pocket Edition (1900)

Scanned images, colour correction, sizing, caption, and commentary by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose, as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image, and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.] Click on the image to enlarge it.

Bibliography

Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index . New York and Oxford: Oxford U. , 1990.

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work . New York: Facts On File, 1998.

Dickens, Charles. Barnaby Rudge in Master Humphrey's Clock . Illustrated by Phiz, George Cattermole, Samuel Williams, and Daniel Maclise. 3 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1841.

_____. Barnaby Rudge . Frontispieces by Felix Octavius Carr Darley and Sir John Gilbert. The Household Edition. 55 vols. New York: Sheldon & Co., 1863. 2 vols.

_____. Barnaby Rudge . Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1867. 14 vols.

_____. Barnaby Rudge . Illustrated by Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1874. VII.

_____. The Old Curiosity Shop . Illustrated by William H. C. Groome. The Collins' Clear-Type Edition. Glasgow & London: Collins, 1900.

_____. Barnaby Rudge . Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book, 1910. Volume VI.

Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book . The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book, 1910.

Lester, Valerie Browne. Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens . London: Chatto and Windus, 2004.

Schlicke, Paul, ed. The Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens . Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1999.

Stevens, Joan. "'Woodcuts Dropped into the Text': The Illustrations in The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge ." Studies in Bibliography . Vol. 20 (1967), pp. 113-134.

Vann, J. Don. " Barnaby Rudge in Master Humphrey's Clock , 13 February 1841-27 November 1841." Victorian Novels in Serial . New York: MLA, 1985. 65-6.


Charting the publication history of Dickens’s weekly periodical Master Humphrey’s Clock (April 1840 to December 1841), this chapter focuses on the enormously popular novel The Old Curiosity Shop, which appeared within the Clock’s framing narrative as an extended tale told by Master Humphrey to his reading circle. Setting aside its reputation as an outmoded sentimental fiction, the chapter shows that Shop drew the attention of two prominent twentieth-century critics, Walter Benjamin and Theodor W. Adorno, who viewed Dickens’s novel as an illuminating allegory of modern capitalist culture. Exploring the rich critical response to Shop and its illustrations, the chapter opens up new avenues for interpreting the novel’s ‘mysterious’ depiction of modernity, including: the multiple meanings of curiosity the history of capitalism legal satire allegorical readings Victorian thing theory the novel’s relationship to didactic genres and children’s literature disability studies gender and sexuality studies and queer theory and comparative studies.

Sarah Winter is Professor of English and Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. She has published two books, The Pleasures of Memory: Learning to Read with Charles Dickens (Fordham University Press, 2011) and Freud and the Institution of Psychoanalytic Knowledge (Stanford University Press, 1999), as well as articles on Charles Darwin’s theories of emotional expression, language, and race on the novel and human rights and on Victorian ethnography and pedagogy. Her current book project, supported by a US National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for 2016–17, focuses on the history of habeas corpus, human rights, and the novel, and includes a chapter on Dickens’s stories about insolvent debtors and political prisoners.

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Master Humphrey's Clock

THE reader must not expect to know where I live. At present, it is true, my abode may be a question of little or no import to anybody but if I should carry my readers with me, as I hope to do, and there should spring up between them and me feelings of homely affection and regard attaching something of interest to matters ever so slightly connected with my fortunes or my speculations, even my place of residence might one day have a kind of charm for them. Bearing this possible contingency in mind, I wish them to understand, in the outset, that they must never expect to know it.

I am not a churlish old man. Friendless I can never be, for all mankind are my kindred, and I am on ill terms with no one member of my great family. But for many years I have led a lonely, solitary life - what wound I sought to heal, what sorrow to forget, originally, matters not now it is sufficient that retirement has become a habit with me, and that I am unwilling to break the spell which for so long a time has shed its quiet influence upon my home and heart.

I live in a venerable suburb of London, in an old house which in bygone days was a famous resort for merry roysterers and peerless ladies, long since departed. It is a silent, shady place, with a paved courtyard so full of echoes, that sometimes I am tempted to believe that faint responses to the noises of old times linger there yet, and that these ghosts of sound haunt my footsteps as I pace it up and down. I am the more confirmed in this belief, because, of late years, the echoes that attend my walks have been less loud and marked than they were wont to be and it is pleasanter to imagine in them the rustling of silk brocade, and the light step of some lovely girl, than to recognise in their altered note the failing tread of an old man.

Those who like to read of brilliant rooms and gorgeous furniture would derive but little pleasure from a minute description of my simple dwelling. It is dear to me for the same reason that they would hold it in slight regard. Its worm-eaten doors, and low ceilings crossed by clumsy beams its walls of wainscot, dark stairs, and gaping closets its small chambers, communicating with each other by winding passages or narrow steps its many nooks, scarce larger than its corner-cupboards its very dust and dulness, are all dear to me. The moth and spider are my constant tenants for in my house the one basks in his long sleep, and the other plies his busy loom secure and undisturbed. I have a pleasure in thinking on a summer's day how many butterflies have sprung for the first time into light and sunshine from some dark corner of these old walls.

When I first came to live here, which was many years ago, the neighbours were curious to know who I was, and whence I came, and why I lived so much alone. As time went on, and they still remained unsatisfied on these points, I became the centre of a popular ferment, extending for half a mile round, and in one direction for a full mile. Various rumours were circulated to my prejudice. I was a spy, an infidel, a conjurer, a kidnapper of children, a refugee, a priest, a monster. Mothers caught up their infants and ran into their houses as I passed men eyed me spitefully, and muttered threats and curses. I was the object of suspicion and distrust - ay, of downright hatred too.

But when in course of time they found I did no harm, but, on the contrary, inclined towards them despite their unjust usage, they began to relent. I found my footsteps no longer dogged, as they had often been before, and observed that the women and children no longer retreated, but would stand and gaze at me as I passed their doors. I took this for a good omen, and waited patiently for better times. By degrees I began to make friends among these humble folks and though they were yet shy of speaking, would give them 'good day,' and so pass on.


Story order

Master Humphrey's Clock was a weekly serial that contained both short stories and two novels (The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge). Some of the short stories act as frame stories to the novels so the ordering of publication is important.

Although Dickens' original artistic intent was to keep the short stories and the novels together, he himself cancelled Master Humphrey's Clock before 1848, and described in a preface to The Old Curiosity Shop that he wished the story to not be tied down to the miscellany it began within. [1] Most later anthologies published the short stories and the novels separately. However, the short stories and the novels were published in 1840 in three bound volumes under the title Master Humphrey's Clock, which retains the full and correct ordering of texts as they originally appeared. The illustrations in these volumes were by George Cattermole and Hablot Browne, better known as "Phiz".


Master Humphrey's clock, etc.

This edition was published in 1881 by Chapman and Hall in London .

Table of Contents

Master Humphrey's clock.
Hunted down.
Holiday romance.
George Silverman's explanation.
The mystery of Edwin Drood.

Edition Notes

Vol. [2] of set has Edwin Drood on spine.

Includes facsim. of t.p. from original eds. of Master Humphrey's clock and The mystery of Edwin Drood.

"One thousand copies only of this édition de luxe . have been printed for sale, each of which is numbered."


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