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Archived Group Reads 2020 > Nicholas Nickleby: Week 2: Chapters VII- XII

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message 1: by Piyangie, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Piyangie | 790 comments Mod
Nicholas finally arrives at Dotheboy Hall. We are given a thorough description of the school. It is no “Hall” after all but a crowded small place in a cold-looking house which Nicholas thinks as “Hell”. Nicholas is shocked and dismayed at his situation, but he is determined to give his best try at it so it would benefit her mother’s and sister’s cause.

As we feared in the first segment, Wackford Squeers is indeed wicked and cruel. His treatment of those young children is horrifying. He has no mercy or kindness. Mrs. Squeers matches him admirably in that respect.
The way the boys were fed and kept in cold, how their clothes were stolen and used on their own son was beyond comprehension. The boys are treated with brimstone and treacle to keep them healthy according to Mrs. Squeers!

What do you think of Dotheboy Hall? Are you surprised and shocked to find its true colours?

We are relieved as to the secret of Noggs’s letter. It is definitely not what I anticipated but was touched and happy that Nicholas will have a friend in Noggs.

Nicholas is in for more surprise at the Dotheboy's Hall when Miss Fanny Squeers shows some marked attention to him. The vanity would have it, Miss Squeers is quite sure of it being reciprocated. To his utter astonishment when Nicholas realizes that the young lady entertains some romantic ideas about him and quite determinedly and perhaps a little too rudely declares against any such feeling being ever returned. In this manner Nicholas adds another one to his list who could make his life at Dotheboy Hall more unendurable.
What did you think of this little episode?

We meet another new character at Dotheboy Hall in Smike. He seems to be once a pupil but abandoned and at the mercy of the Squeerses. Nicholas pities him and is quite oppressed by their cruel treatment against him. Nicholas’s kindness towards him brings Smike closer to him. What do you think of this odd friendship of sorts?

Meanwhile Ralph procures work for Kate at a milliner’s shop. Kate is not quite happy, more so after visiting the place with her uncle and meeting the husband of the milliner, Mr. Mantalini, whose looks which were so pointedly directed at her makes her exceedingly uneasy.
Kate and Mrs. Nickleby is removed from Miss Creevy’s lodgings and installed in rooms at a dilapidated house belonging to Ralph. It is interesting to note that Ralph was actually thinking of settling Mrs. Nickleby in an almshouse! If Kate had not insisted on her living with her mother, what would have been her plight? This is how Ralph is “taking care” of Kate and her mother in the absence of Nicholas.

What did you think of this segment?

Ralph Nickleby seems to a villain beyond any word can express. How do you view him now in the light of his “new” conduct?


Frances (francesab) | 304 comments We have certainly seen our share of villains so far in this novel, with few kind folk to counter balance this. The landlady at the Nickleby's brief residence appeared good-hearted-will she reappear later in the story? Smike has clearly become attached to Nicholas, but whether he will be able to help him in unclear. Newman Noggs has pledged to help Nicholas (and I presume the other Nickleby's) so there is another friend.

How would Nicholas ever escape his current situation, should he need to? Is there a village nearby? Would he have any way of paying his passage back to London? He truly seems at the mercy of the Squeers at the moment.


Brenda (gd2brivard) | 141 comments I don't think I'm surprised at Dotheboy "Hall". We knew Squeers was a shyster to begin with. Funny how Squeers tells Nicholas "they don't know it by that name in these parts". I took that as, don't mention that to the neighbors, as they might question Squeers and think he's being haughty or something. Although, the description of Nicholas first seeing the boys at the hall, was still more than I imagined.

Noggs letter did not sit well with me, it seemed foreboding. Although we know its probably got to get bad considering what we already know about Ralph, Squeers and the "Hall".

Miss Squeers new attention to Nicholas also seemed foreboding. There is no way that can end well in my opinion. The Mrs. HATES him, he's got nothing and has no prospects. And the Mrs. seems even worse than the Mr, in her hate for all of the boys and seemingly no remorse, guilt, shame, etc. The whole family is just horrid. They just prey on weakness and thrive off of it.

An interesting note how Miss Squeers asked "the hungry servant" (I just don't even know how to take that she's not even given a name, but just referred to as that) what she thinks of Nicholas and remarks how strait his legs are. As none of the boys there have strait legs. How horrible!

I do hope Nicholas can save Smike. The poor thing has nothing and no one. It breaks my heart, and Nicholas's as well.

Mr. Mantalini is an interesting character, funny how Dickens just went on and on about his mustache. And him and the Mrs with their little lovey dovey nonsense to each other.

I wonder what is beneath Noggs, he seems to have more depth to his character and compassion than Ralph. He procured the necessaries for the ladies house. He seems to be about the only character besides Nicholas or Kate that does have any compassion.

I had to skim over most of Mrs. Nickelby's larger ramblings. She grates on my nerves. I did think Mrs. LaCreery very touching when they left her house.

Did I miss something about Noggs and Nicholas Nickelby (the father)?

I thought this was an interesting section. We're learning more about the characters and the "Hall".


message 4: by Robin (new)

Robin | 162 comments The cruelty that Nicholas Nickleby observes at Dotheboy 'Hall' is well researched and undoubtedly reflects the reality. However, I felt that this whole section relating to the boys, their treatment, and the adult Squeers was very overwritten. It is surprising to me that such overwriting made the social impact Dickens wanted - and yet, according to some of the commentators, it did. The writing lacks any subtlety, which might have made the section stronger. The cartoon characters further spoilt this part of the novel.
As unappealing, but more well drawn, was the scene between Fanny, her recently engaged 'friend', and Nicholas. The interplay between the characters is a little more comic, although they, too are one dimensional. Perhaps Fanny, as unpleasant as she is, cannot be blamed for wanting to find a suitor. For all women in this period marriage is the only option.
A clever device, showing that the school situation is expected to be perpetuated , is the conversation with young Squeers - this is also an admission that Fanny cannot expect to inherit the school and its income.
The letter from Noggs, gives the story momentum, even though we are not sure of the content, we know that it has been kept secret from Ralph. Therfore, it raises the possibility that for Nicholas , his time at Dotheboy Hall is not going to be perpetuated.
Another sympathetic character, who is also likely to move the story along, is the poorly treated Smike.
In Kate's story we are subjected to Mrs Nickleby's obfuscation once again. In doing this , she hides from herself the possibilities of Kate's employment, while Kate is worried about what might happen. In writing Mrs Nickleby's character in this way, it seems to me, that he is setting up a situation wher ethe younger Nicklebys will have to take responsibility for their own lives, while continuing with their filial duty.
I did not like reading about the boys at Dotheboy Hall, being all too aware that the picture represented by Dickens was realistic. It is worrying that parent who could afford for their children to be 'cared' for would send them off unaccompanied to a strange educational facility. This demonstrates perhaps a lack of care, but also the problems of transport. It is possible that the worst schools were at the far reaches because this prevented oversight. At the same time, it has to be acknowledged that, while not so egregious, English public schools and Australian private schools are not innocent even in these days in mistreatment of pupils. Possibly, the same applies to schools funded by parents in other countries?
So, oh dear, I am criticising Dickens' writing. I've seen glimpses of something better, and have hopes for the remainder of the novel.


message 5: by Piyangie, Moderator (last edited May 24, 2020 11:40PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Piyangie | 790 comments Mod
Frances wrote: "We have certainly seen our share of villains so far in this novel, with few kind folk to counter balance this. The landlady at the Nickleby's brief residence appeared good-hearted-will she reappear..."

I have a feeling we'll see more of the landlady in the future. Dickens wouldn't have introduced her with such warmth if she wouldn't. Anyway, I really hope she will. As it appears, she and Noggs are the only true friends that Nicklebys can rely on.

It looks like Nicholas is coming to a point that he could no longer endure his situation with the Squeers. And although it appears that he is in the moment at the mercy of the Squeers, I feel his spirit would rebel and find a way to break off. But Smike will be another obstacle. I don't think Nicholas would have the heart to leave behind Smike to his suffering. It would be unkind to deprive Smike of the only true kindness he is ever known.


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Piyangie | 790 comments Mod
Brenda wrote: "Noggs letter did not sit well with me, it seemed foreboding. Although we know its probably got to get bad considering what we already know about Ralph, Squeers and the "Hall"....

Surely Noggs knows something about the Squeers and the Hall and their connection with Ralph. When Nicholas mentions to Noggs of his new employment the first time they met, Noggs's reaction speaks for it. He must have known it would be impossible for Nicholas to continue working there and that induced him to offer what help he could if Nicholas needs it.


message 7: by Piyangie, Moderator (last edited May 25, 2020 12:02AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Piyangie | 790 comments Mod
Brenda wrote: "I do hope Nicholas can save Smike. The poor thing has nothing and no one. It breaks my heart, and Nicholas's as well...

I think he will. Smike has already gotten to his heart.

"Did I miss something about Noggs and Nicholas Nickelby (the father)?"

I'm confused there too. Noggs seems to have known his father which that gentleman seems unaware. Certainly, Nicholas has no knowledge about it. Perhaps we'll learn the connection in chapters to come.


message 8: by Piyangie, Moderator (last edited May 27, 2020 05:27AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Piyangie | 790 comments Mod
Robin wrote: "The cruelty that Nicholas Nickleby observes at Dotheboy 'Hall' is well researched and undoubtedly reflects the reality. However, I felt that this whole section relating to the boys, their treatment..."

I too think Dickens overwrote things to give it more effect. It turned out well for him, for it was taken notice of and certain reforms were made. But I'm sure he had enough materials and evidence that such institutions existed especially as far as in Yorkshire away from the scrutinizing eyes of London. Anyway, I admit that it was a difficult part to read.

It also looks that these institutions served as a place to send the "unwanted" children who have become either dependant or a burden. In the first segment, we saw why the two boys were given to the custody of Squeers by Mr. Snawley - it was simply to get rid of them, being their stepfather. The mother has some wealth and he fears that it will be spent upon the boys. How cruel is that?


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Christine Covil | 13 comments Did I pick up something about Ralph placing a child at Dotheby Hall previously, who had died. There's such a lot going on I find its easy to miss some of the "clues". I'm thinking this might be the connection between Ralph and Noggs, possibly Noggs remembers another child who suffered and died at Dotheby Hall?

The hall is really chilling, I almost don't want to read and yet don't want to turn a blind eye to what was obviously a very real situation as I know Dickens had his own experience and he did through research. It seems most of the children here were unwanted either because they were illegitimate, had physical or mental issues, or were the result of a first marriage with a new parent not wanting them. It has to be remembered there was no contraception and no welfare state, a sobering though to balance against our modern day critique of how things were then!

On the one hand children were held up as cherubs and on the other were often heartlessly neglected. I believe "children should be seen and not heard" hails from this era does it not?

In the case of Dotheby Hall it seems out of sight out of mind was the approach (as an aside, children were also left with unscrupulous childminders, starved and drugged, sometimes fatally and many women worked and children were routinely farmed out - the miniature painter is one example of a working woman as were the mill workers in North and South) Dotheby Hall is totally repugnant and heartbreaking but I do think we owe a debt of gratitude to Dickens who was explicitly showing what was going on with the aim of exposure and in the hope that these sufferings would be addressed.

Victorians could be sentimental and playing into those emotions with the character of Smike was a clever move on Dickens part. It does grate that the characters are so one dimensional and I found it almost as disturbing that Smike is portrayed as a complete victim and so grovelling towards Nicholas, I wish Dickens had given him at least some humour or other individual traits to show his humanity and make him more rounded.

I noticed the parallels with North and South where Bessy is subjected to a working environment that kills her. I have to say, in hindsight, I found this just as sinister as the practises in Dotheby Hall, possibly more so as there seems little attempt by Elizabeth Gaskell to address this with Mr Thornton, indeed Mr Thornton is held up as a sensitive caring man, which he evidently is not. I would go so far as to say, in hindsight, the romance between Margaret and John seems to take over all other considerations in the novel toward the end and detracts from the message of social reform. At this stage, I'm feeling more in tune with Dickens even though I do agree with the comments on his characterisation and writing style he is definitely making more of an impression.


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Christine Covil | 13 comments I do think Nicholas was very unwise in the way he repulsed Fanny and was surprised he was so rude but it was refreshing that he should make such a mistake as this helps to make him more believable and sets a whole trail of events in motion. I thought the interaction between Fanny and her best friend was hilarious how they bait each other and fight and make up so intense! Thank goodness Dickens has such a sense of humour as it makes the horror more digestible!


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Piyangie | 790 comments Mod
Christine wrote: "I do think Nicholas was very unwise in the way he repulsed Fanny and was surprised he was so rude but it was refreshing that he should make such a mistake as this helps to make him more believable ..."

Nicholas is yet to learn a thing or two about the world. His naivety is shown in the manner he checked Fanny's feelings. But given who he is for the moment - a young spirited man, and given the indignation he had to suffer at Dotheby Hall, he couldn't have reacted any differently.


message 12: by Piyangie, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Piyangie | 790 comments Mod
Christine wrote: "Did I pick up something about Ralph placing a child at Dotheby Hall previously, who had died. There's such a lot going on I find its easy to miss some of the "clues". I'm thinking this might be the..."

Yes, Ralph had placed a child earlier in Dotheby Hall who have died. There is some mystery there. Perhaps Noggs might be having some knowledge connecting it with it. That may be why he reacted in that absurd manner when Nicholas informed hi of his employment.

And I agree with you Christine that British society certainly owes Dickens gratitude for his advocation for many social reforms strongly through his written work.


message 13: by Piyangie, Moderator (last edited May 26, 2020 11:47AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Piyangie | 790 comments Mod
Christine wrote: "It does grate that the characters are so one dimensional and I found it almost as disturbing that Smike is portrayed as a complete victim and so grovelling towards Nicholas..."

I feel Dickens intentionally creates the characters as such to give more emphasis to the message he is trying to convey. Yes, it is hard when the victim is mercilessly victimized and the wicked are unbelievably wicked that you wonder if it is within human capacity to be so. But this is what exactly Dickens wants - to show the extent of manipulation and ill-treatment the underprivileged suffer at the hands of the privileged.


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Christine Covil | 13 comments Thank you Piyangie yes I guess Nicholas couldn’t have acted differently given all these factors.

Dickens certainly does show the extent of mis treatment of the underprivileged in the way Smike is so completely broken. He took an uncompromising stance, which he considered to be necessary to get his point across


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Nina | 17 comments I took the episode between Miss Squeers and Nicholas to be pure satire, and well done satire at that. It was a subversion of certain Victorian romance/courtship scenes (I'm thinking mainly of Trollope) and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I agree with many of you in that Dickens can very heavy-handed in his imagery and symbolism. Depending on the novel, I either hate it or love it. I'm not particularly enjoying it in this book, but there is enough I AM enjoying to keep me reading.

I honestly think Dickens keeps the Squeers family from being too evil by the light-hearted tone used to describe them and their actions. When I compare the tone used in their scenes versus the tone used to describe Ralph, I think there is a noticable difference. Ralph is more overtly the villain and everything about him is sinister and gruff. The Squeers are cruel, but also buffoons. Ralph seems like a more "worthy" adversary, if that makes sense.

I'm not sure how I feel Kate yet. She's posed to be my favorite character, but she still seems to be struggling to come into her own as a character. Last week someone said that many of the characters seem like one-dimensional caricatures, and I think that is an ongoing issue. Robin mentioned the "overwritten" writing and the "cartoon characters" and I think the two are going hand-in-hand; Dickens is focusing more on the social commentary and less on fully-formed characterization.


message 16: by Karin (last edited May 26, 2020 06:12PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Karin Christine wrote: "I do think Nicholas was very unwise in the way he repulsed Fanny and was surprised he was so rude but it was refreshing that he should make such a mistake as this helps to make him more believable ..."

I agree, but I also don't think everything has sunk in and that he realizes he could use an ally. I suspect his rudeness is rooted in the horror of what he has seen; he assumes she is as bad as her father.

Nina wrote: "I took the episode between Miss Squeers and Nicholas to be pure satire, and well done satire at that. It was a subversion of certain Victorian romance/courtship scenes (I'm thinking mainly of Troll..."

This is a good point.

I think the overwriting is done for effect and I always bear in mind that Dickens was paid by the word so he is more prone to doing this and to dense prose. Despite this, though, he is one of my favourite Victorian authors.


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Robin | 162 comments Nina wrote: "I took the episode between Miss Squeers and Nicholas to be pure satire, and well done satire at that. It was a subversion of certain Victorian romance/courtship scenes (I'm thinking mainly of Troll..."

How I agree with you on this! I'll think about how I responded to the other Squeers interactions in the light of your comments. However, I wonder if Dickens did draw the different situations differently? I am seeing far more subtlety in the characterisations and interactions in the next chapters, which might support this?


Frances (francesab) | 304 comments Is the Barnard Castle mentioned in Noggs’ letter in ch 7 the same one Dominic Cummings drove to to test his eyesight?


message 19: by Robin (new)

Robin | 162 comments Frances wrote: "Is the Barnard Castle mentioned in Noggs’ letter in ch 7 the same one Dominic Cummings drove to to test his eyesight?"

Wouldn't that be fascinating. Perhaps Dominic Cummings would have been wiser to have been driven in a coach and horse?


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Piyangie | 790 comments Mod
Nina wrote: "I took the episode between Miss Squeers and Nicholas to be pure satire, and well done satire at that. It was a subversion of certain Victorian romance/courtship scenes (I'm thinking mainly of Troll..."

An interesting point of view, Nina. I too enjoyed that episode. It dulled the unpleasantness of the situation at Dotheby Hall.

I agree with you when you said that Ralph is a worthy adversary. He is more intelligent and cunning, so his villainy goes deeper than that meets the eye.

Kate's character is not yet presented as a character as her own and you are quite right there. I feel many characters are still in their early stages, and this will change gradually. At present, Dickens is more intent on social commentary than on the characters and the story.


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Piyangie | 790 comments Mod
Karin wrote: "I think the overwriting is done for effect and I always bear in mind that Dickens was paid by the word so he is more prone to doing this and to dense prose. Despite this, though, he is one of my favourite Victorian authors."

Dickens is one of my favourite authors too, Karin, despite his overwriting and verbosity. Given his liking for drama and that he was paid by the word, I excuse his excesses. :)


message 22: by Robin (new)

Robin | 162 comments Frances wrote: "Is the Barnard Castle mentioned in Noggs’ letter in ch 7 the same one Dominic Cummings drove to to test his eyesight?"

I have looked at the map . and see that your speculation is probably correct. However, Durham is (I think, and some UK resident will surely correct me if necessary) at the upper limit of Yorkshire. I now wonder whether Noggs was stretching the possibility that Nicholas would be anywhere near Barnard Castle. This could suggest that he was making a point, that he could be known well enough to ensure that Nicholas gets free drink at the nearby tavern. Also, is it possible that mentioning a castle with which he is familiar is another clue to Noggs' more genteel past. Is this a case of what began as an allusion to modern day politics actually having a resonance with Dicken's literary purpose!


message 23: by Trev (last edited May 30, 2020 03:12AM) (new)

Trev | 173 comments Barnard Castle is less than an hours drive from where Dotheboys Hall would have been situated. In a coach and horses it would have taken longer but still easily reachable. Nicholas would have had for more justification in being near there than a certain government special adviser.

This section at Dotheboys Hall reveals how Nicholas is learning quickly about the wickedness in the world but has not yet acquired the skills to deal with the situations he is confronted with. He is appalled with the treatment of Smike yet feels helpless about providing a remedy. His reactions to the antics of the two young women are purely instinctive as he has not developed the tact required to deal with such amorous encounters.

I fear for Kate in her new job but she seems to have the wherewithal to identify the dangers around her and the intelligence to do her best to stay out of trouble. The creepy old house seems to sound out an ominous warning. Has Ralph isolated Kate (with her mother) on purpose, or is it really just to save money? I hope that Miss Creevy will remain around to help both Kate and her mother and there is also Newman Noggs who seems genuinely concerned about their predicament.


message 24: by Robin (last edited May 30, 2020 03:44AM) (new)

Robin | 162 comments Trev wrote: "Barnard Castle is less than an hours drive from where Dotheboys Hall would have been situated. In a coach and horses it would have taken longer but still easily reachable. Nicholas would have had f..."

Thank you, Trev. You have shed an interesting light on modern and olden day events associated with Barnard Castle. In relation to Ralph, I feel that his interest is usually monetary. Later in this section he shows some sensitivity towards the predicament in which he lands Kate at his dinner. This seems out of character, and I wonder whether it serves to demonstrate Kate's inner strength rather than a glimmering of good nature on Ralph's part. I agree with your assessment of Nicholas's response to the two young women. It really is quite a comic scene, and quite removed from the harrowing treatment of Smike and the other boys. I'm beginning to see some 'light' and 'shade' in the writing, rather than unrelieved gloom, with the farcical friendship between the women and their assessment of Nicholas.


message 25: by Trev (last edited May 30, 2020 04:08AM) (new)

Trev | 173 comments Robin wrote: "Trev wrote: "Barnard Castle is less than an hours drive from where Dotheboys Hall would have been situated. In a coach and horses it would have taken longer but still easily reachable. Nicholas wou...

With reference to Barnard Castle here is an interesting paragraph from the town’s Wikipedia entry.
‘Charles Dickens and his illustrator Hablot Browne (Phiz) stayed at the King's Head in Barnard Castle while researching his novel Nicholas Nickleby in the winter of 1837–38. He is said to have entered William Humphrey's clock-maker's shop, then opposite the hotel, and enquired who had made a certain remarkable clock. William replied that his boy Humphrey had done it. This seems to have prompted Dickens to choose the title "Master Humphrey's Clock" for his new weekly, in which The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge appeared.[11][12][13]‘


message 26: by Piyangie, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Piyangie | 790 comments Mod
Trev wrote: "This section at Dotheboys Hall reveals how Nicholas is learning quickly about the wickedness in the world but has not yet acquired the skills to deal with the situations he is confronted with. He is appalled with the treatment of Smike yet feels helpless about providing a remedy. His reactions to the antics of the two young women are purely instinctive as he has not developed the tact required to deal with such amorous encounters.

I fear for Kate in her new job but she seems to have the wherewithal to identify the dangers around her and the intelligence to do her best to stay out of trouble. The creepy old house seems to sound out an ominous warning. Has Ralph isolated Kate (with her mother) on purpose, or is it really just to save money? ..."


I agree with your character interpretation of Nicholas and Kate, Trev. And for Ralph, I too agree with Robin that Ralph's reasons in placing Kate and Nickleby in the old house are purely monetary.


Frances (francesab) | 304 comments Trev wrote: "With reference to Barnard Castle here is an interesting paragraph from the town’s Wikipedia entry.
‘Charles Dickens and his illustrator Hablot Browne (Phiz) stayed at the King's Head in Barnard Castle while researching his novel Nicholas Nickleby in the winter of 1837–38. He is said to have entered William Humphrey's clock-maker's shop, then opposite the hotel, and enquired who had made a certain remarkable clock. William replied that his boy Humphrey had done it. This seems to have prompted Dickens to choose the title "Master Humphrey's Clock" for his new weekly, in which The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge appeared.[11][12][13]."


I love this idea of Dickens' travelling to research his novels, and doing so with his illustrator!


Trisha | 46 comments Yes, Dickens used real places as settings for his books. Even the street names are real, many of them can still be found in London. It’s possible to find them yourself, but if anyone comes to London as a tourist when travel is possible again there are guided walks specifically related to Dickens’ books.


message 29: by Piyangie, Moderator (last edited Jun 02, 2020 08:22AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Piyangie | 790 comments Mod
Trisha wrote: "Yes, Dickens used real places as settings for his books. Even the street names are real, many of them can still be found in London. It’s possible to find them yourself, but if anyone comes to Londo..."

I would love to do that if life permits. I've had a fancy to walk on the roads and see the places in London which both Dickens and Virginia Woolf so beautifully describe in their books.


Allie | 11 comments Trisha wrote: "Yes, Dickens used real places as settings for his books. Even the street names are real, many of them can still be found in London. It’s possible to find them yourself, but if anyone comes to Londo..."

Ahh! That would be awesome!


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