The Old Curiosity Shop opens with the never-ending feet of London as a sick man might hear them, imagining the people, the faces, the destinies, ‘the stream of life that will not stop, pouring on, on, on, through all his restless dreams, as if he were condemned to lie, dead but conscious, in a noisy churchyard, and had no hope of rest for centuries to come’. This vision of London is the narrator’s, the old man (bequeathed to the novel by Master Humphrey’s Clock) who sets the tale in motion and then withdraws. The opening chapter sets a tone which is to pervade the novel. As Dickens said later in his Preface, the story came from a deep region of his mind:
I had it always in my fancy to surround the lonely figure of the child 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 fore-shadowed.
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