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Nicholas Nickleby
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1001 Monthly Group Read > February {2012} Discussion -- NICHOLAS NICKLEBY by Charles Dickens

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Charity (charityross) Celebrate Charles Dickens' 200th birthday by discussing Nicholas Nickleby with us this month!


Silver | 311 comments I have rather mixed feelings about Dicken's while on the whole I enjoy his books, I find often there are large portions of this stories that have a tendency to be rather tendency and run quite dull. As well I usually am left with mixed feelings about his characters. The heroes/heroines of his stories tend often to be too overly good and perfect, and tend more toward being passive, and docile so they are kind of boring and sometimes frustrating.

With that being said, I have to say I am enjoying Nicholas Nickleby nearly as much as Great Expectations (my favorite work of his.)

I love the character of Nicholas. I appreciate his open frankness and the way in which he speaks his mind and gives his honest opinion without care for what anyone else might think. I also really like the way in which he stays true to himself even if in so doing might result in negative consequences for him.

I also love La Creevy, and find her to be fascinating and entertaining.

And Ralph almost reminds me of a villain in a Gothic novel, whenever he is up to something it keeps me on edge wondering just what devious plans he has up his sleeve now. I never know just what he is going to do next when he involves himself in the Nickelby family.


message 3: by Bea (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bea | 110 comments This is my favorite of the early Dickens novels. I won't be re-reading it with the group but will be lurking with you to remind myself of what fun it was.


Denise | 92 comments Starting listening to the audiobook yesterday. Since I happen to be reading Bleak Houseat the same time, I think I will make February "Dicken's month"


message 5: by Rosemary (last edited Feb 17, 2012 03:34AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rosemary | 70 comments I loved this one. I had not read it before and it has just become one of my favourite Dickenses. It got off to a great start with Dotheboys Hall - I was only sorry that section was so short - and the last quarter became a real page-turner for me.

The part where Nicholas becomes an actor seemed a little long and pointless. It was obviously contrived to keep him out of London and stop him interfering in Kate's story too soon. Still, it was entertaining enough.

I thought Nicholas and Uncle Ralph were both very well drawn characters. I had a little trouble with Smike - I couldn't quite believe in him, and I thought what happened to him at the end was awfully convenient. But that's Dickens - he does like to wrap everything up excessively neatly.

Kate and the other girl, like most of Dickens's heroines, seemed to have dropped straight down from heaven without the tiniest spark of sin (or fun) but I rather liked Kate all the same. I agree with Silver that Miss La Creevy is a breath of fresh air and I liked that things worked out well for her at the end. Mrs Nickleby reminded me of Mrs Bennet in Pride & Prejudice. I thought her 'romance' with the man next door was hilarious, though rather cruel.


Silver | 311 comments I enjoyed the theater scene, I thought it was quite amusing, and I do tend to love theatrical characters, often because of the fact that they do tend to go so much against the conventions of the society in which they live in. I also enjoy books which revolve around theater, and actors and being drawn into that world, which is often regarded as scandalous and debauched.

I have mixed feelings about Kate, I have not yet quite brought myself around to completely liking her, as well it is true in many ways she is a typical Dickens' heroine, but I do find her less annoying than I do most of his heroines. I appreciate the way in which she does stand up for herself. So though she may be holier than thou, at least she is not as meek and submissive as many of his heroines are. I loved when she told off Mrs. Wititterly


Michelle (fireweaver) | 104 comments just started it this weekend, and so far, I'm liking it a whole lot more than I expected to. I despised the Dickens they force-fed us in high school, and I'm wondering if the difference is that NN is a lighter, more comedic novel, or that I just missed all the snarky, sly asides when I was a kiddo.


Rachel (Sfogs) | 226 comments I've just got this book out of the university library


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 11 comments It is one of the most optimistic novels by Dickens. And its topicality is amazing. It is both realistic (hardship, hard work, depravity, and one proverbial institution also known as Dotheboys Hall) and magical (Brother Cheerybles). His main characters are very pro-active, even Smike runs away from the charitable slavery of the Squeers, though the first impression is that he is a very submissive young man.
It has already been mentioned that Dickens portrays relatively independent feminine characters in this novel. I really like the cameo character of Miss La Creevy.


Velma (velmalikevelvet) | 24 comments Charity wrote: "Celebrate Charles Dickens' 200th birthday by discussing Nicholas Nickleby with us this month!"

Not too late to join in, I hope? I found a recent Penguin Classics edition at the local thrift shop today.


message 11: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Walsh (teew) This is my favorite Dickens. It blends many of his most powerful themes: a child's path through adversity, those "crazy" characters, the theater, but most of all, the friendship/devotion between Smike and Nicholas. This bond, to me, lasts through the novel, and has affected my outlook on what it means to be a true friend!


Michelle (fireweaver) | 104 comments Velma, definitely not too late, the discussion goes on until march 15th.

anyone else on the fence, remember this one is in the public domain, so is available free from all ebook sources, including reading it here on GR.


Velma (velmalikevelvet) | 24 comments Michelle wrote: "Velma, definitely not too late, the discussion goes on until march 15th.

anyone else on the fence, remember this one is in the public domain, so is available free from all ebook sources, includin..."


Thanks Michelle!


message 14: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben (hell_ben_t) | 12 comments I really enjoyed this. Definitely the best of Dickens' first three novels, only the somewhat cloying ending which ties up every single loose end (in fairness, not unusual in Victorian literature), and the overuse of the unlikely coincidence as a plot device (Squeers' kidnapping of Smike in London being a prime example) annoyed.

Where Nicholas Nickleby really succeeds however, is as a comic novel, and as a showcase for a panoply of incredibly memorable Dickensian characters (eg. La Creevy / Wittiterly / Squeers / the Cheerybles). Parts of the novel are genuinely funny, and it's rarely less than amusing. More than that though, there are moments of truly insightful satire, where Dickens' personal views on the social depravity of 19th century London, and the mendacious averice of what might be termed the '1%' of the time really come shining through the text.

It's commonly held that Dickens wrote greater novels (not that I've read them as I intend to read him in chronological order), but Nicholas Nickleby is still treasure indeed.


message 15: by Beth (new) - rated it 3 stars

Beth (eparks4232) | 141 comments I'm only a little way into it, since I have been trying to do several group reads at once, and I'm not reading much of the discussion yet as a result, but did want to say that I'm having fun being back in a Dickens tale. I used to read a lot of his stuff when I was in college, and it has been years since I have read anything by him. I'm trying not to be put off by how huge this is, since I know Dickens goes quickly, but somehow on a kindle, I tend to find long books seem longer than they do when you are moving the bookmark through a thick physical book. I am already savoring Dickens's humor and the marvelous names he give his characters.

I'll be back to comment some more as I get further into the book!


Charity (charityross) Velma wrote: "Not too late to join in, I hope? I found a recent Penguin Classics edition at the local thrift shop today."

Never too late! Jump in whenever you're ready!!


message 17: by Bea (last edited Feb 29, 2012 08:07AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bea | 110 comments Beth wrote: "I'm only a little way into it, since I have been trying to do several group reads at once, and I'm not reading much of the discussion yet as a result, but did want to say that I'm having fun being ..."

I find that Dickens flies by in a good audio version. I usually go for the ones narrated by Simon Vance.


EShay Fagan (eshay11) | 23 comments Bea, that is some good advice, I'm having a hard time getting into the book. Too many life distractions taking me away from wonderful reading!


Denise | 92 comments I have been listening to the Blackstone Audioversion. I am about 70% through and enjoying it immensely. The narrator is very good. His delivery of different characters, even Ralph, conveys personality characteristics integral to the story. I will have to check to see if it is Simon Vance. I find audioversions work well when I am doing things like cooking, dusting, organizing things that do not require thought etc. Listen in the car on the way to work as well. Very preferable compared to the news.


message 20: by Michelle (last edited Feb 29, 2012 05:16PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Michelle (fireweaver) | 104 comments whew! finished it today. Beth, I'm likewise a bit daunted by its size (though I too am e-reading it), but I chalk that up in part to climbing the mountain that was The Terror earlier this month. two 8-900 page behemoths that close together fry your brain, even when each of them are this good.

Ben, I was thoroughly charmed by the humor and silly/sweet people in this book. I haven't read dickens since high school, and liked this a whole lot more than anything else of his. the witty little jokes about society and privilege and class were fun, even when they were highlighting the huge disparity of the time.

by the end, though, I was more than ready to be done with it. I know that it was originally published as a magazine serial, and I'm certainly wondering if he was getting paid by the page. there were just too many long-winded tangents that did nothing to forward the plot or set the scene, and I kept skimming them with my modern tastes wishing for a ruthless editor.

I remember liking the recent-ish movie version very much...think I'll watch it again to see if I like the story better when it's trimmed down to only 2 hours.


message 21: by Ben (last edited Mar 02, 2012 09:37AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben (hell_ben_t) | 12 comments Michelle wrote: "I'm certainly wondering if he was getting paid by the page"

Very perceptive! The notes on the text in the Penguin Classics version outline the fact that this was basically the case and caused some problems when deadlines were approaching. The very bizarre chapter about a third of the novel in, where there's a huge digression which essentially recounts two old fairy stories for no apparent reason (one English and one German although the exact content has already been forgotten) was Dickens solution to one such deadline, which utterly failed to advance the plot.


Denise | 92 comments Well, I completed the audioversion yesterday (narrator was not Simon Vance). While I predicited most of the ending, I have to admit that there was a zinger. SPOILER! I did not forsee Smits' relationship to his would be father.I found it a wonderful twist to the story.


Silver | 311 comments Denise wrote: "Well, I completed the audioversion yesterday (narrator was not Simon Vance). While I predicited most of the ending, I have to admit that there was a zinger. SPOILER! I did not forsee Smits' relatio..."

I have to say that I began to suspect who Smite's farther really was early on, but I never guessed that Ralph did not know the truth. I had presumed that Ralph intentionally scent Smite away to keep his bastard out of his way and to prevent anyone from knowing the truth of his parentage. The idea that Ralph himself had no idea that Smite was his sun surprised me.


message 24: by Bea (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bea | 110 comments Denise wrote: "Well, I completed the audioversion yesterday (narrator was not Simon Vance). While I predicited most of the ending, I have to admit that there was a zinger. SPOILER! I did not forsee Smits' relatio..."

Was it Robert Whitfield? If so, that's a pseudonym for Simon Vance.


message 25: by Denise (last edited Mar 02, 2012 11:24AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Denise | 92 comments Bea wrote: "Denise wrote: "Well, I completed the audioversion yesterday (narrator was not Simon Vance). While I predicited most of the ending, I have to admit that there was a zinger. SPOILER! I did not forsee..."

In fact, it was. Learn something new every day. He was both very believeable and enjoyable.

It is also my understanding that PBS is currently running this on Sundays, Masterpiece Classics. Looking at the PBS schedule for the rest of the year, it appears that Great Expectation is scheduled for later in the year.


Philip Lane | 21 comments I thoroughly enjoyed it, having seen it on stage and TV but never having read it before. I liked the fact that it was long but agree that the ending was a bit abrupt and tied up loose ends too neatly. I feel that the variety of characters and situations make it more readable. The combination of social comment, humour, description, melodrama and gothic elements make it into a really tasty salad of a novel. I see Smike as a very central character and to whom I felt deep sympathy, he is strong and his relationship with Nicholas is positive for both of them. However I also felt that Dickens is sending a message about how deeply young children can be scarred by both emotional and physical cruelty and so found his fate quite appropriate. One of my favourite novels.


Andrea Strawbridge | 3 comments Too many coincidences. It was, as if Dickens' London was only inhabited by his characters. Also, did J K Rowling base Dobby on Smike?
I am glad it wasn't the first Dickens I have read or it would have been my last.


Velma (velmalikevelvet) | 24 comments This is my first experience with Dickens (in print, at any rate), and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I know that NN isn't typical Dickensian fare, that he is usually much darker, but if I had any idea how funny he can be, I would have read him much sooner.

I didn't read any of this discussion (apart from the welcomes-thanks!) until I finished the book, to avoid spoilers, so I've got all my comments saved up. I did a bit of further reading about the novel after I was done, & learned a couple of things that people mentioned here that I thought I'd share.

--I too liked the Miss La Creevy character, and found it interesting to read that researchers believe that she was possibly based in part on Dickens' mother, which may explain her appeal

--Not only was Dickens not paid by the page, but apparently he edited the final version DOWN in length for space considerations; it could have been even longer!

--I found the explanation about the significance of the theater passages in the Penguin introduction to be very interesting; it offered an interesting perspective on both the personal reasons Dickens had for including that plot line and how it was the metaphor for role-playing that was a major theme throughout NN

I'm looking forward to reading more Dickens now that I know how much I like his writing. Oh, and if you want to read my review/notes, go here.


message 29: by Bea (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bea | 110 comments Our Mutual Friend is at least as hilarious as NN and is one of my two favorite Dickens novels, tied with Bleak House. I think NN is the best of the early Dickens novels, though.


Rachel (Sfogs) | 226 comments *FINISHED* ~!!! <3

I REALLY loved this story!!! My first ever read of Dickens was a complete success! The characters were so well developed! I loved Smike, Mr and Mrs Browdie etc, etc, and Mrs Nickleby was a real laugh! The only problem with such a long book, is that when it finishes you really miss it.


Velma (velmalikevelvet) | 24 comments Bea wrote: "Our Mutual Friend is at least as hilarious as NN and is one of my two favorite Dickens novels, tied with Bleak House. I think NN is the best of the early Dickens novels, ..."

Thanks for pointing us to Our Mutual Friend, Rachel, I was looking for another Dickens farce.


message 32: by FrankH (last edited Mar 14, 2012 01:19PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

FrankH | 39 comments Loved this book in college, but found myself mildly annoyed this time round by extended segments that seemed neither to enrich character, further the plot or provide any interesting detail on life in Victorian London. Fairly early, the presentation of Mrs. Nickleby nattering and circumlocution became too tedious, grossly exceeding any reasonable word-count for detailing her often mis-directed verbosity. Likewise, the interplay of the Mantalinis seemed overdone, a comic trope of the younger man playing second fiddle to his older abused wife and later to an equally abused washer woman, indicative of his reduced circumstances. Dickens says at the opening that handsome Alfred Muntle changed his name to Mantalini for the sake of his wife's fashionable haberdashery, but are we meant to understand that his character has also comically changed from the British type to the more operatic, Continental model? There is a satirical impulse at work here, but I'm not sure about its target.

Dickens' fans like me come to Dickens today , I think, realizing that idealized, underdrawn heros and heroines, the occasional cloying sentimentality, and the baroque plotting resolved by hidden deeds and histories may all be part of a package deal. The author states in the introduction that the angelic Cheerbyles were nevertheless based on the real owners of a counting house and that he had no intention of constructing Nicholas, despite the demands of his readers, without the usual qualities of youth -- 'impetuous temper and little experience'. Today's artistic shortcomings, it seems, originate with yesterday's demands in the marketplace. For me, the value of Dickens' body of work resides in comic characterizations, the superb rendering of villains like Squeers, Gride and Ralph, and, of course, the language in the service of storytelling (In my book, the opening of Bleak House is unmatched as introductory fictional prose and foreshadowing). In the early chapters, Squeers still maintains a modicum of personal dignity as 'schoolmaster', even as his exploitation of his boys is exceeded only by his public declamations that his methods are in their best interest. By the time we see him tricking Peg to give up the property deed belonging to Madeline, he has foresaken any pretense that self-interest can lead to worthy ends. With Ralph, Dickens perfectly captures the psychology of avarice and usury taken to its logical conclusion . If not for the suicide and the revelation of criminality at the end, Ralph's earlier, ambivalent feelings towards Kate and her situation suggest a potential interest in rendering this dark character in the more complex mold of an Ebeneezer Scrooge, torn between love and his business affairs. It was not to be at this stage in Dickens' development. (Interestingly, Dickens does have Sir Frederick change from roue to champion of female virtue (Kate), only to kill him off -- strangely -- in a duel with Hawk. I wonder if other readers are unable to recall the plot detail surrounding the outcome of Hawk's plans for Nicholas the next day)

Several comments on language and style: Dickens often contrives to have his less-personable characters express themselves passionately, then follow archly with commentary on some incidental quality of the outburst, totally detached and objective, that still manages to lay bare the character flaw. Brings a grin to my face almost every time. When Mrs. Squeers complains to her husband of Nicholas, the 'proud, haughty, consequential turned-up-nosed peacock', the omniscient author retorts: 'Mrs. Squeers, when excited, was accustomed to use strong language, and moreover, to make use of a plurality of epithets, some of which were of a figurative kind, as the word peacock and furthermore the allusion to Nicholas' nose, which was not intended to be taken in the literal sense, but rather to bear a latitutde of construction according to the fancy of the hearers. Neither were they meant to bear reference to each other, so much as the object on whom they were bestowed...a peacock with a turned-up nose being a novelty in ornithology and a thing not commonly seen'. ('Not intended to be taken' and 'latitude of construction' has some bearing seemingly on the presidential debates of late.) Equally enjoyable is the manner in which Dicken's takes up a conceit or reference and uses it as a way to color our understanding of a scene or episode by what has gone before. Such is the case of Ninetta Crummles, usually referred to by both the author and the characters as the 'infant phenomenon' or simply the 'phenomenon'. The expression acts as a mnemonic to the episodes containing Vincent Crummles loving if deluded declaration of her precocious theatrical qualities, the grumbling of the troup members that must perform with her, and Nick's wise request to forego a joint appearance -- all narrative detail encapsulating the essential eccentricity of the Troup and its theatrical life, on and off the stage.

Happy 200th for Mr. Dickens (that's Dickens with a single 'k', the well known British author)!


message 33: by Keri (new) - rated it 3 stars

Keri | 17 comments Well, I made it halfway through before I realized that it's not on my version of the list. I went ahead and waded through, but honestly, I was seriously over it by the time I got through. I've read seriously long books before (Brothers Karamazov, A Suitable Boy, etc), so the length itself wasn't a problem. I just felt like it dragged in a number of parts, which made it feel more like a chore than a joy. The end sped up a bit, but it couldn't quite make up for the slow bits. I'm reading Tale of Two Cities now. Wish me luck!


message 34: by Beth (new) - rated it 3 stars

Beth (eparks4232) | 141 comments I'm glad I struggled through this one, but it did feel like more work than I remember Dickens feeling like before. I think it was partly the contrast with the prose of The Piano Teacher, which I just finished and which drags you headlong from the first page to the last.

Here is my review of it: http://bethslistlove.wordpress.com/20...


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