Gwen's Reviews > Nicholas Nickleby

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
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Sep 17, 12

bookshelves: 1000-book-challenge, literary-spinach, favorites
Read in September, 2012

I think I enjoyed this one even more than Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist. I mean, at first I was worried it was going to be more of the same all the way through, when Nicholas was introduced to the schoolmaster and his poor little waif charges that resembled the children in Oliver Twist. Then in Chapter 6, he started up with the unrelated short stories again, like in Pickwick Papers, but fortunately, that was the only appearance of such filler.

When Nicholas Nickleby Sr. dies after making some bad investments, Mrs. Nickleby and her two children, Nicholas and Kate, move to London to seek out the assistance of their uncle Ralph Nickleby, who is a money-loving investment banker. Ralph instead sets both the children up with some rather unpleasant jobs. Nicholas, he sends to be an assistant teacher at a boarding school for neglected and disabled little boys, under the terrible headmaster Squeers. Kate, he sends to a milliner shop, which often underpaid the workers and made them prone to eventually entering into prostitution. Neither job goes very well.

The first two-thirds of the book involves the two siblings trying out various occupations on their own. Nicholas runs away from the boarding school with one of the boys, tries his hand at tutoring French, then falls in with a theater troupe. Kate is fired after the milliner loses her business to a rival employee, then works as a day companion to a rather nasty social-climbing upper middle-class woman.

There were a lot of great comic characters introduced in this section. I particularly loved the actors in Nicholas' theater job. They reminded me of the self-promoting, narcissist types I remember from when I had a part-time theater job in college. I noticed that the Child Phenomenon never had a line of dialog in that entire section, and she was all the more hilarious because of it.

I also found Ralph Nickleby rather interesting at first. He seemed to be developing a more rounded, nuanced character than Dickens' normal flat personalities by showing a genuine concern for Kate. He does not quite manage Scrooge's level of redemption, however; by the last third of the book, he is meaner than ever.

I honestly hated Lord Verisopht and Sir Mulberry Hawk at first. I mean, Dickens is good at writing unlikeable characters that are still enjoyable, but every time these two showed up, I wanted to stop reading for a few days. They were the sort of guys you wished the plot would drop an anvil on so that the story could move on. These two men attempt to sexually entrap Kate, then follow her around harassing her at her job for a month or two afterwards. However, Dickens ultimately played his cards right, because when Nicholas came and finally broke out the whoop-arse on those two, it had to be the BEST scene in the entire book (seriously, he really played out the tension in that scene for a nice payoff).

This climactic scene comes only two-thirds of the way through the book, and Nicholas soon after finds himself a dream job with a couple dream bosses, the Cheeryble Brothers (seriously, there is no way these two could ever exist in reality), so the third act of the book feels more like a sequel to the first part.

The main plot of this section involves a crush of Nicholas, Miss Madeline Bray, her cruel, sick father and his debts, and an elderly friend of Ralph named Gride who wishes to collect his debt by marrying her. This section felt much more like the stereotypical contrived serial story. I mean, the ending involves a unknown fortune in hidden paperwork, revealing the true birth of characters, and so on, which Dickens himself already used as the resolution to Oliver Twist, so it was a bit disappointing to see it again. I swear that the writing in this section felt very drawn-out and wordy also, although it might have just been that I was eager to get the book over with at that point.

There was also Mrs. Nickleby's neighbor, the crazy old guy who kept coming on to her with his weird sense of humor. Like Chapter 6, he seemed to serve no purpose to the overall narrative, and I feel like Dickens put him in for a few extra laughs, even though he wasn't that funny to me.

There were still enough moments of really awesome in this novel for me to enjoy it, however. I may even reread it someday (although preferably in an abridged version), but for now, I'm glad to be done with all 760 pages of it, and on to The Old Curiosity Shop.
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Quotes Gwen Liked

Charles Dickens
“Most men unconsciously judge the world from themselves, and it will be very generally found that those who sneer habitually at human nature, and affect to despise it, are among its worst and least pleasant samples.”
Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby


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