This article argues that Charles Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop demonstrates the ways in which labor exploitation can occur in situations of apparent generosity, freedom, or even kindness. One of the most insidious aspects of Little Nell's victimization by labor is that the situation is hard for her to detect until it is too late. This aspect of the novel anticipates the particular hardships of the twenty-first-century gig economy, at the core of which is the systematic representation of work as something other than work. I thus approach The Old Curiosity Shop as a hybrid text, solidly grounded in nineteenth-century concerns about work while forecasting the generalized uncertainty in which we currently find ourselves as workers and humans. In the first section, I examine the novel's attention to the particular temporalities of Victorian casual labor; in the second, I locate moments in which its depictions of temporary work compel us to think through our own. Dickens's novel teaches us that work does not have to be experienced as painful to cause irreversible damage.

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