A new journey: Morality, religion, and The Old Curiosity Shop
The preface by the translators of The Old Curiosity Shop, Lin Shu and Wei Yi, highlights the importance of focusing on the depiction of Nell’s ‘exceptional filial piety’ and her grandfather’s stupidity and poverty in order to portray the conditions of the lower class, one which they believed to be the major goal of Charles Dickens’s writings. Full of religious imagery and spiritual undertones, The Old Curiosity Shop is widely considered a work that contains some of the strongest religious messages in Dickens’s oeuvre; it was also one of the first of Dickens’s novels that were translated and published in China in 1907.2 The novel was renamed The Biography of Filial Daughter Nell by the Chinese translators; the renamed title directs readers’ attention to the moral value of the book, though as this chapter demonstrates, it is the changes to the characterisation of Nell’s grandfather that exemplify the way in which the translators’ purposes could shape individual characters, and hence the overall narrative. The chapter will explore how the Buddhist undertone that underlines Nell and her grandfather’s journey of escape has subtly transformed the nature of Nell’s pursuit and the meaning of her death. It will further engage with a key question that the translated text raises: whose stories deserve to be recorded? By addressing this question, I shall explore how the translated novel becomes a means through which the translators reflect upon the value of telling stories of the lower class, whose lives were often neglected in official narratives. As this chapter
will demonstrate, the hybrid status of the text is reflected not only by the inclusion of the Buddhist elements but also the incorporation of a new character, Dickens the author-narrator, at key moments of the narrative.