From the Punchmen to Pugin's Gothics: The Broad Road to a Sentimental Death in The Old Curiosity Shop
In The Old Curiosity Shop Dickens integrates a typically intricate variety of subplots, characters, and settings. And yet, more than his other novels, The Old Curiosity Shop has dismayed readers by its disunity and lack of design. By focusing on four of its seemingly disconnected motifis-the Punch and Judy show, the traveling waxworks, Gothicism, and gambling-I hope to show that a certain coherence is evident in the novel's preoccupation with questions of class position, class mobility, and the class status of various cultural practices. This preoccupation supplies as tight symbolic organization that underlies the disorder of the plot, but it does not indicate a thematically self-consistent text. On the contrary, the coherent symbolic economy of The Old Curiosity Shop is itself symptomatic of contradictions inherent in the ideological interleaving of Protestantism and capitalism in early Victorian England.