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Daniel Quilp by 'Kyd' (1889)

Daniel Quilp is one of the main antagonists in the novel The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens, written in 1840. Quilp is a vicious, ill-tempered and grotesque dwarf and is the villain of the story. Quilp is as near that Dickens ever came to creating a monster.[1] Actors who have portrayed him include Hay Petrie, Anthony Newley, Patrick Troughton and Toby Jones.


Dickens describes Quilp as "so low in stature as to be quite a dwarf, though his head and face were large enough for a giant. His black eyes were restless, sly and cunning, his mouth and chin, bristly with the stubble of a coarse hard beard; and his complexion was one of that kind which never looks clean or wholesome. But what added most to the grotesque expression of his face, was a ghastly smile, which appearing to be the mere result of habit and to have no connection with any mirthful or complacent feeling, constantly revealed the few discoloured fangs that were yet scattered in his mouth, and gave him the aspect of a panting dog... he ate hard eggs, shell and all, devoured gigantic prawns with the heads and tails on... drank boiling tea without winking, bit his fork and spoon till they bent again, and in short performed so many horrifying and uncommon acts that the women were nearly frightened out of their wits, and began to doubt if he were really a human creature."[2] He is the most repulsive of all Dickens' grotesque characters, with no redeeming features.

Quilp and Little Nell[edit]

Quilp plots with Sampson Brass, illustration by 'Phiz' for The Old Curiosity Shop (1840)

Daniel Quilp lives in Tower Hill on the North side of the River Thames; he also has a wharf on the south side of the river from where he conducts his business as a ship breaker and usurer. He takes great pleasure in tormenting his pretty wife, Mrs. Betsy Quilp, as well as Little Nell, her grandfather, Sampson Brass and Kit Nubbles.

Quilp lusts after Little Nell and, hoping eventually to marry her after disposing of his wife, he lends money to her gambler grandfather knowing he will not be able to repay the loan. When the grandfather gambles the money away hoping to provide for Nell's future Quilp seizes The Old Curiosity Shop, forcing Nell and her grandfather to flee from London in an attempt to escape from Quilp, who tries to hunt down the couple as they journey across the country.

Eventually Quilp himself is hunted by the police for his crimes and, lost in the fog, he accidentally drowns in the Thames at his own wharf.[1] On Quilp's death his wife inherits his property, and when she remarries her new husband is the opposite of Quilp in every way.[3]

Media portrayals[edit]

Quilp has been played by:




See also[edit]

  • Quilp Rock an island in Antartica named after the character.


External links[edit]