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Nicholas Nickleby
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The Dickens Project > "Nicholas Nickleby" by Charles Dickens, Week Three, Chapters 11-15

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Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1352 comments Mod
Discussion is now open for the third part of the book (Chapters 11-16)


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1352 comments Mod
My general observations and tentative topics for a discussion.


This part of the book takes us to three different places: a new/very old cottage where Kate and Mrs. Nickleby were going to live, the Dotheboys Hall, and the lodgings of Mr. Noggs. Which of these three places do you find the most memorable and true-to-life?

Dickens definitely shifts his attitude towards Fanny Squeers, who goes through a transformation from a certain lady trapped in the predicament of her vivid imagination and ‘a damsel in distress’ to a vicious tool of her father’s malicious mind. Has she ever had a potential to become a semi-decent character?

What do you think about the transformation that Nicholas underwent, who became a certain hero defending the poor and the oppressed? Do you think his noble and violent behavior will have long-term repercussions in the novel?

Is Smike a deeply tragic character? Is he a realistic character or a symbol?

Chapters 14 and 15 are an amalgamation of both social satire and irony, an example of vanity, nobility, and middle-class morality. Do you think the chapter benefits from its complex nature or has it become more confusing for an interpretation?

Here are my favourite lines from these chapters.


In that quarter of London in which Golden Square is situated, there is a bygone, faded, tumble-down street, with two irregular rows of tall meagre houses, which seem to have stared each other out of countenance years ago. The very chimneys appear to have grown dismal and melancholy, from having had nothing better to look at than the chimneys over the way. Their tops are battered, and broken, and blackened with smoke; and, here and there, some taller stack than the rest, inclining heavily to one side,and toppling over the roof, seems to mediate taking revenge for half a century's neglect, by crushing the inhabitants of the garrets beneath.

The fowls who peck about the kennels, jerking their bodies hither and thither with a gait which none but town fowls are ever seen to adopt, and which any country cock or hen would be puzzled to understand, are perfectly in keeping with the crazy habitations of their owners. Dingy, ill-plumed, drowsy flutterers, sent, like many of the neighbouring children, to get a livelihood in the streets, they hop, from stone to stone, in forlorn search of some hidden eatable in the mud, and can scarcely raise a crow among them. The only one with anything approaching to a voice, is an aged bantam at the baker's; and even he is hoarse, in consequence of bad living in his last place.



Robin | 402 comments Nicholas is a bit like Superman emerging from a mild alter ego, that is, he seemed so polite and withdrawn, and suddenly he stands up to Squeers in a dramatic fashion. It's not his own misery that drives him to act, but the cruelty to the defenseless Smike. It's a bit hard to imagine a young man whose "blood is up", speaking like this:
"my indignation is aggravated by the dastardly cruelties practiced on helpless infancy in this foul den."

I suppose it's a reflection of his nobility that he speaks in this way. (as opposed to the way Fanny expresses herself in the delightfully awful letter she sends to Ralph.)

Dickens has a huge range of speech and characters in these chapters. It's like a Shakespeare play, where Nicholas is the hero speaking in poetry, while the Kenwigs party speaks in prose.


message 4: by Zulfiya (last edited Jan 24, 2012 10:40PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1352 comments Mod
Robin wrote: "Nicholas is a bit like Superman emerging from a mild alter ego, that is, he seemed so polite and withdrawn, and suddenly he stands up to Squeers in a dramatic fashion. It's not his own misery that ..."

I had a feeling that Nicholas had a rebellious doppelganger in chapter 13. His transformation is amazing, and I can't say that it is believable. It seems that Dickens decided to infuse some flair into Nicholas to avoid creating the insipidly good and compliant character. I would say, Nicholas's character development in this chapter was a non sequitur. (Excuse my Latin:-)) But it could be justified by some future actions in the book.


Mari Mann (MariMann) | 43 comments Robin wrote: "Nicholas is a bit like Superman emerging from a mild alter ego, that is, he seemed so polite and withdrawn, and suddenly he stands up to Squeers in a dramatic fashion. It's not his own misery that ..."

I enjoy your observations, Robin, they give some good insight into the characters and events. I also like your comparison to a Shakespeare play. It does seem that Dickens has a remarkable ability to inhabit so many various characters, all so different and all drawn so vividly.

Nicholas' "Superman" transformation is a bit unbelievable, as Zulfiya says, although I guess he did show a bit of spirit back when he was offended by his uncle Ralph when they first met. He has been insipidly good so far, and I would also add that both he and Kate have shown themselves as being a tad snobbish, as when Nicholas would "shrug" when asked things, as if he couldn't be bothered with trivial questions. And when Kate is being introduced to Mr. & Mrs. Mantalini, and Mrs. Mantalini says "You will pay no attention, if you please, to what Mr. Mantalini says" and Kate answers "I do not, ma'am" said Kate, with quiet contempt." Contempt? She has just met these people, they are going to give her a job and she already feels contempt for them? That attitude does not make me have much sympathy for her.


message 6: by Hedi (last edited Jan 29, 2012 10:33AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hedi | 586 comments Zulfiya wrote: "I had a feeling that Nicholas had a rebellious doppelganger in chapter 13. His transformation is amazing, and I can't say that it is believable. ..."

I had the feeling that this was not such a big transition, but more of a development over time, as in chapter 8 the despair and disgust, but also the dilemma of Nicholas are hinted at.

"There was a small stove .... by it Nicholas sat down, so depressed and self-degraded by the consciousness of his position, that if death could have come upon him at that time he would have been almost happy to meet it. ... being there as an assistant, he actually seemed ... to be the aider of the system which filled him with honest disgust and indignation, he loathed himself,..., prevent his raising his head again. ... at all events, others depended to much on his uncle's favour to admit of his awakening his wrath just then."

I think at this point he was already very close to (at least) leaving, but considered the probably very negative consequences not only for him, but esp. for his mother and sister. However, to me it just seemed a matter of time until the explosion would come.
It seems kind of tragic that a disgusted person like Smike is still worth the efforts of searching for him in such a large extent, just to abuse him as cheap labor and for the sadistic behavior of his masters.
This revelation might have been really the trigger for Nicholas to react and become "Superman", but still, in the end, despite saving Smike, he is "only" able to leave, not to save the boys altogether. They are left behind and are still exposed to the sadistic and cruel behavior of their teacher, who now might be even more cruel due to having been embarrassed in front of all the boys.
However, to me this behaviour is believable. It would have been different, if Nicholas had really been able to change everything and save everyone.

Robin wrote: "I suppose it's a reflection of his nobility that he speaks in this way. (as opposed to the way Fanny expresses herself in the delightfully awful letter she sends to Ralph.)"

I had this impression, too, especially during the scenes with Nicholas at the Kenwigs's party, when the conclusion - even of Mr. Lillyvick - was that Nicholas was very gentlemanlike, which is definitely a contrast to the rest of the party and the whole environment/ neigbourhood.


message 7: by Hedi (last edited Jan 29, 2012 10:57AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hedi | 586 comments Zulfiya wrote: "Here are my favourite lines from these chapters.

In that quarter of London in which Golden Square is situated, there is a bygone, faded, tumble-down street, with two irregular rows of tall meagre houses, which seem to have stared each other out of countenance years ago. The very chimneys appear to have grown dismal and melancholy, from having had nothing better to look at than the chimneys over the way..."


Zulfiya, I liked these paragraphs also - among a few others - best in these chapters.


message 8: by Hedi (last edited Jan 29, 2012 10:56AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hedi | 586 comments Zulfiya wrote: "This part of the book takes us to three different places: a new/very old cottage where Kate and Mrs. Nickleby were going to live, the Dotheboys Hall, and the lodgings of Mr. Noggs. Which of these three places do you find the most memorable and true-to-life? "

I do not know how you all felt about this, but to me due to the things that happened, Dotheboys Hall, is the most MEMORABLE place followed by the lodgings of Mr. Noggs. Actually, we have been drawn away a little from Mrs. Nickelby's and Kate's fate in these chapters - at least in my opinion - but will hopefully learn more again soon.

As for being TRUE-TO-LIFE, I am not so sure, how I would rank the places then. Dotheboys Hall seems so extreme, but Dickens wanted to point out these social issues, too. So they might well be very real.
I think both the lodgings of the Nickelby ladies and the lodgings of Mr. Noggs are very representative of the 19th century and also of the fall of ladies and gentlemen, who lost everything and ended up in these dwellings and neighbourhoods.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1352 comments Mod
Wow, Hedi, just wow!!!!!


Hedi | 586 comments Zulfiya wrote: "Wow, Hedi, just wow!!!!!"

I hope it made some sense. ;-)


message 11: by Bob (last edited Jan 31, 2012 03:21PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bob | 33 comments Zulfiya wrote: "Chapters 14 and 15 are an amalgamation of both social satire and irony, an example of vanity, nobility, and middle-class morality. Do you think the chapter benefits from its complex nature or has it become more confusing for an interpretation?"

I really enjoyed these chapters - the family gathering with the tax/rate collector playing the "lord" role and everyone sucking up to him. It's as if Dickens' people are stuck in a hierarchic concept of their society, so that everyone insists on maintaining a pecking order of class or rank gradations even if the wealth differences involved are not necessarily all that great. And then you have an overlay of where a person used to be affecting how he is perceived now - e.g., Noggs is recognized as someone who used to be a "gentleman" - while up in Yorkshire, the corn-dealer's son is scorned by Miss Squeers as low-born, despite his good prospects. At the same time, Mr. Lillypad (Lillywick?) insists that Nicholas only appears to be a gentleman - and that his actual status is determined by the fact that he's a "mere" private teacher - so relative wealth once again enters in as a status fixing device.

The other thing that always strikes me about these Victorian novels is the way that having an "income" serves as a marker of class. Everyone is always described in terms of their "income" - which, as often as not, is some kind of unearned rent rather than a salary or other reward for effort.

I come away with the same overall impression as I got from Vanity Fair - everybody is caught up in this great confusion due to the rapid transition that the society is undergoing. People are grasping desperately for a way to increase their wealth and are simultaneously holding on to their notions of class and rank to somehow "freeze" the flux and make some kind of sense of what's going on around them.


Lynnm | 2069 comments Made it to Chapter 15 in catching up here.

I would agree with Hedi that it isn't unbelievable that Nicholas would finally stand up to Squeers. He's disgusted right from the beginning, but is worried about keeping his position so that he can help his mother and sister. But finally, after all the abuse that he sees - towards Smike and the other boys - it is too much for him. I actually think that it is very realistic. Most everyone restrains themselves at first when seeing a wrong. We want to make sure we understand the situation, or figure out the right way to stop what is wrong so that we don't make the situation worse, etc.


message 13: by Lynnm (last edited Feb 02, 2012 08:25AM) (new) - added it

Lynnm | 2069 comments Bob wrote: "The other thing that always strikes me about these Victorian novels is the way that having an "income" serves as a marker of class"

Isn't that true even today? People with money tend to be treated better than those without. There are certain assumptions made for those with money: they worked hard for it, they take risks, etc. We rarely look for the truth: they may have made their money merely through inheritance, they might bend the rules to make their money, etc.

And people without money are sadly still felt to be somehow responsible for their lack of money.

But I do agree that they seem to talk incessantly about money and class in Victorian novels. The same could be said about 18th century novels as well.

And really like your point about the hierarchy, deserving or not. To me, Nicholas is a gentleman because of his honorable behavior. Lillyvick is considered to be a gentleman because of his money, but really, he's just a bag of egotistic hot air who preys on people to make his living, and uses his money to manipulate those around him. ;)


Deborah (DeborahKliegl) | 1473 comments I'm finally catching up too. Like Lynnm and Hedi I didn't find Nicholas' change of personality unbelievable. To me it seemed as if once the guilt of additional poor treatment due to something he had done was on his conscience, he just broke. It was the last straw so to speak.

I agree we temporarily lose site of the ladies at this point, but am fearing Kate will not do well in her situation. Am also fearing that one of the creepy guys (can't remember his name) will try to abuse her.

I found the school scenes to be realistic and saddening. It was not uncommon for people to hide children or family members that were different, ie mentally ill, physically disabled, etc. What better place than in a school far away were the fee was small and they still kept the child even if you stopped paying?

Miss Squeers seemed a sham to me at the beginning. She has no idea of reality, and it has been instilled in her what she wants, she can have without regard for anybody else. Her attraction to Nicholas certainly shows that - especially her reaction to his refusal.

I agree that the income/class thing is very dominate in the story, but that was life then. It really is still life today although we don't like to think about it. How many of us start a conversation with somebody new with what do you do? Granted you're not asking dollars and cents, but isn't it the same thing? You're fitting them into some type of social construct.

I really love the Noggs character. I find him creepy yet kind which is a strange combination. I also enjoyed all the little jokey barbs Dickens used in these chapters and found myself smiling at some of them. I think it helps from bogging down the story with all the darkness it carries.

Dickens has really shown us the best and worst of society regardless of position. It can be a person like Noggs trying quietly to help when he can (setting the house up for the ladies) or evil like the schoolmaster or in between like the blow hard water collector.


Bob | 33 comments Deborah wrote: "I'm finally catching up too. Like Lynnm and Hedi I didn't find Nicholas' change of personality unbelievable. To me it seemed as if once the guilt of additional poor treatment due to something he ..."

Very insightful comments!

Regarding the income/class thing, I agree it's still here today. What I find fascinating about these Victorian classics, though, is how they enable us to focus in on the moment of the big change - what Karl Polanyi called The Great Transformation - from a status-based to a market-based society. There is something about the way everybody constantly seems to be chaotically rushing about and nervously looking over their shoulders that I just find tremendously evocative. Like they just "don't know what hit them".


Deborah (DeborahKliegl) | 1473 comments I was watching a PBS show a few weeks ago about the Titanic among other things, and the show indicated that after the great loss of the passengers, who were mostly 3rd class passengers, the tier levels of class would be diluted to a great extent by this event. But that occurrence is much much later than what we are reading which means it stays somewhat still enforce until 1920's.


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