on 7 August 2002
What can you say? Dickens writes brilliantly.
This entertaining saga follows the handsome eponymous hero through the slings and arrows that follow him into adulthood.
All I had heard about before was Wackford Squeers and Dotheboys Hall, but that is mostly over by the end of the first quarter.
As usual, the plot is a bit pointless but the characters are fantastic, and I thought the cameo role for the villain Mulberry Hawk led to some of the best bits of writing in the book, in particular the description of a drunken argument that leads to a duel. Dickens is such a good writer that he can toss off sensational bits of writing like this on bits of the plot that are far from crucial. His talent just can't be contained.
This, though, is the ignore the main part of the drama as Nickleby fights to overcome the injustices that assail his family. The book certainly has some powerful moments, as well as genuinely funny comic interludes.
Of the characters, Smike is the most tragically drawn and perhaps the most famous: I am not sure that authors today would treat mental impairment the same way, but that is perhaps a failure of today's readers and writers.
I suppose I don't think this novel has the depth of later work like "David Copperfield", which covers similar material, but it is still leagues ahead of most things you will read.
Thoroughly enjoyable and full of humanity.
A handsome young man who finds himself the sole support of his mother and sister after his father's death, Nicholas Nickleby is hopeful that his uncle, Ralph Nickleby, a weathy speculator in London, will assist the unfortunate family in its hour of need. Ralph's cruel response, however, is to make Nicholas the assistant headmaster at a notoriously abusive school in northern England and to make his beautiful sister a seamstress and part-time hostess at his own parties. There she is subjected to innuendo and to the drunken intentions of men whose accounts help keep Ralph a wealthy man.
This early novel is pure melodrama, with the good characters being unbelievably good, and the evil being unbelievably bad. The multiple adventures of Nicholas through a variety of settings, both in the city and in the countryside, create a broad picture of life in England in the 1830s. Nicholas's job as assistant headmaster exposes him to the horrors of so-called boarding schools for young boys, which were essentially warehouses for young children where they were forced into physical labor, kept malnourished, and beaten regularly. These abuses, based on Dickens's personal observations, so horrified his readers that major reforms of these schools eventually resulted. When Nicholas, in frustration, finally beats headmaster Wackford Squeers for his abuse of the children, Nicholas and Smike, a crippled boy who has been the headmaster's slave, escape together.
Their interlude with a traveling theatrical company, led by friendly Vincent Crummles, gives Nicholas much needed emotional support and provides Smike with a temporary home--until Nicholas is called to return to England to rescue his sister from unwanted attentions fostered by her uncle. Eventually Nicholas works in London for the saintly Cheeryble brothers and meets Madeline Bray, the love of his life.
Long recognized as one of Dickens's best novels for its wide assortment of characters, the novel mixes delightful humor with the pathos. The complex plot employs coincidence and miraculous interventions to save the day for the good characters while well-deserved disasters befall the evil ones. Dickens's vibrant descriptions bring people, places, and scenes fully to life, and the realistically described social conditions provide a clear vision of life's travails.
Despite its great length, the novel is a fast read--and fun--but it is soap opera-like in its ups and downs, and the main characters are not fully developed. One knows little about Nicholas except what one "sees"--that he has a kind heart and acts on it--but we know little about his inner life. (David Copperfield and Pip in Great Expectations are still ten and twenty years away.) Sentimental and occasionally bathetic, the novel involves the reader in the social abuses, some of which were improved as a direct result of this book's publication. Mary Whipple
on 8 January 2008
Nicholas Nickleby follows the fortunes and misfortunes of the titular character. There have been other tales in a similar vein but none tell a tale quite the way Dickens does. His characters are larger than life. Wackford Squeers and Uncle Ralph Nickleby are antagonists you love to hate, one can't help pitying Smike and Noggs and the well-meaning Mrs Nickleby torments the reader whenever she opens her mouth.
Dickens rarely abandons his satirical style. I particularly enjoyed his depictions of the Crummles' drama troupe. The scene in which Nicholas gives Squeers a bit of his own medicine is one of the best in literature. There are moments of tragedy in the tale and these are told skillfully.
Some complain of his detailed descriptive style but I find the way he sets a scene pure genius. This is epitomised in his description of the house of Arthur Gride. His furniture tells more about him than any personal description ever could.
This is a book I will read again and again.
One of the difficulties I have had with Dickens' longer novels is finding a well-made edition that didn't look like I was carrying a dictionary around with me. Like the other books in the Collector's Library this book features clear type on high quality blue-white paper and an excellent sewn binding. The charming small size brings to mind the 'pocket editions' from various publishers before the advent of the cheap pulp paperback. Nicholas Nickleby is an amazing two and a half inches thick so it won't go in my coat pocket but it still is a very handy size that is very easy to carry around. The gold edging to the pages, red cloth covered boards and silky ribbon marker are deluxe features of the Collector's library editions. I like the sturdy laminated dustwrappers as well.
Definitely my favourite editon of Nicholas Nickleby.
on 10 January 2016
To try and describe the plot, a well off family is left destitute after the father dies leaving his two children with little choice but to go out and make their way in the world in order to support their mother. A villainous uncle called Ralph arranges for the young man Nicholas to be placed as a teacher in a school run by the tyrannical headmaster Wackford Squeers, the horrible treatment and cruelty Nicholas witnesses leads him to snap and he is sacked from the school after assaulting Squeers and thrashing him in front of the boys. Nicholas quickly flees, though not before making a handful of new young friends, one of whom escapes with him.
Meanwhile his pretty younger sister Kate is sent to work in a dress making business while she continues to live with her comically naive and highly flappable mother. Kate's sweet nature makes her the favourite of her employer but also the envy of some of the other women she works with. When her employer losses control of the business, Kate too finds herself without a job. To make matters worse one evening she is made by her Uncle to attend a party, she arrives to find she is the only woman present and things instantly get worse as the men start to aggressively flirt with her leading to her fleeing home in tears. The siblings reunite and a confrontation takes place with Uncle Ralph who decries their ingratitude to him. The Siblings declare they will from now on make their own way without him and cut their ties.
The second part of the books takes a slightly more serious side. The feeble companion who traveled with Nicholas from the school feels as though he is being pursued by a shadow from his past, both Nicolas and Kate fall in love with a suitable match and a diabolical plot is uncovered in which a pretty destitute girl is close to being forced into marriage with a vile creepy associate of Uncle Ralph who himself is also plotting revenge against his nephew. The mother continues to provide the comic relief as the fat bumbling character who herself becomes involved in a comical little love affair she misunderstands. I couldn't but help but wonder if the unflattering portrayal of the mother was based on Dicken's own wife who he had grown fed up with.
The novel's protagonist Nicholas is well written, a young, caring, sensitive but hot headed young man who is forced to step up and provide for his mother and sister. The ending of the book does follow a weakness in trend in the writing of Dickens where a wealthy benevolent gentlemen or two arrive on the scene and are able to solve many of the financial problems our characters endure. Any happiness our characters are granted at the end feels well earned considering the difficulties they go through during the book. Within the gritty and unjust world we read about humour still appears in unexpected places, often through the absurdity of the situation or the dry wit of the narrator.
To compare with other books, unlike Great Expecations Nicholas Nickleby is written in the third person, there are of course lots of characters, but unlike Our Mutual Friend, these characters are introduced slowly through the novel and routinely interact with each other across the novel.
on 15 February 2014
I just love Dickens! There is so much of human life in his novels which has not dated over the decades since he laid down his pen. Quill? The same problems face us today as in the 19th. century because we are living, sentient beings with the same loves, detestations, ambitions, loyalties, etc. Reading a novel by Dickens is a rewarding but not always an easy experience, though it is comforting to have a tolerably 'happy' ending. I cannot help feeling a spark of compassion for the uncle, Ralph Nickleby, though he is one of the villains, and Squeers gets what he deserves.One of the saddest episodes is when the boys are released from their prison-like school to freedom but as some of them have nowhere to go they end up destitute and, in some cases, die from cold and malnutrition. Nicholas himself matures over the period covered by the novel from niaive young man who is forced to make personal sacrifices to one who is well-grounded and very likeable. He is everything that his uncle hated in his own younger brother and loathes poor Nicholas on sight. Mrs. Nicholby - well, we have all met women like Mrs. N. One of my favourite extracts would have to be when Nicholas goes for a job interview for an MP's secretary - nothing changes! This has obviously been written by Dickens to get across his point about the hypocrisy of politicians as the character only appears on this one occasion to demonstrate how poorly they represent the ordinary man in the street. Yes, a very long book but I could hardly put it down even though I have read it many years ago. Which Dickens shall I read next?
on 4 March 2013
This is one of my favourite Dickens books and I have read it and seen it in various formats over the years. I have several other audiobooks narrated by Anton Lesser and for me his is the best in his field. He has a tremendous ability to capture the atmosphere of a story with a range of voices that I have not encountered with other readers and the pace of his readng is spot on.
I also felt the price offered through Naxos Direct was very good for such a work.
on 11 March 2016
I was stunned when this arrived. It is in pristine, new, condition, and was packaged so well too. It is a beautiful edition. I am yet to read it. Haven't read it for decades, but looking forward to it. I know it was one of my favourites by Dickens.
on 26 February 2015
This is an excellent book. The story is interesting; all the characters are good — some are brilliant. What I found particularly outstanding in this book, is Dickens style of writing which is even better than usual. This book shows Dickens to be without equal regarding his observation and understanding of the human race.
This book contributes greatly towards the claim that Charles Dickens is the best author of all time. Well worth reading.
There are several reasons why this picaresque work is rarely ranked with Dickens' greatest works. It was only his second novel, written under pressure as Dickens could never refuse a commission and its conclusion seems rushed, under-inspired and even a little mundane to some readers.
Spoiler alert: the plot wanders and is not amongst his most taut or gripping but the tale looks up towards the end with the attempted abduction of Smike and the pathos of his plight, the rescue of Madeline and the suicide of Ralph Nickleby. The dastardly plot to marry off Kate to a grubby old miser is somewhat contrived and melodramatic, as is the demise of the foppish lord but it still entertains. For some, the theatrical interludes drag, reflecting Dickens' own ambivalent fascination with the stage; others relish their high comedy. I do not appreciate the feckless, despicable Mr Mantalini whereas some find him hilarious; his profligacy and dishonesty unnerve and irritate me!
By common consent, the best of the novel is in the first half, the most celebrated episode describing the wretched Dotheboys Hall in bleakest Yorkshire. Similarly, the most memorable character is the odious Wackford Squeers, based on Dickens' personal research into such establishments. Nicholas himself is not especially vivid but that is true of several of Dickens' eponymous young men; he is a vehicle for a classic "rags to riches" yarn. Kate is yet another saintly female with which the Dickens addict becomes familiar. Some of the characters seem like prototypes for others more strikingly evoked in later novels: Ralph Nickleby becomes Dombey, Kate Little Dorrit, Mantolini Mr Micawber and Miss la Creecy one of the many eccentric old maids with hearts of gold who people the later works.
Yet this is still Dickens and there are some splendid vignettes, while his inimitable prose remains a wonder; he describes Squeers thus: 'He had but one eye, and the popular prejudice runs in favour of two".
For his greatest novels, turn to mature works such as "Dombey and Son" and "Our Mutual Friend" - but this is still a marvelously entertaining novel.
on 20 May 2001
Dickens is the definitive readers writer. He writes for the sheer pleasure of just sitting done and curling up with a book. This does have its immense upsides. With Dickens you can just relax, and be immersed in a familiar yet strange world, full of vivid fascinating characters, that I think are brilliantly portrayed although their is some critical debate on the matter. You can just get carried up in the narrative whirl with these figures, who become best freinds and worst enemies. In Nickleby you hate Squeers, you hate Ralph, you heart goes out to Smike with extraordinary tenderness. Its all rapt up in the typical Dickens plot ( convoluted) and in typical Dickensian language(convoluted) but Dickens can pull this off like no one else. However despite all the featuires that we have come to know and love in the early Dickens this one does not quite live up to The Pickwick Papers for instance. It lacks the fresh vibrancy of that work, the sense of immediacy, the rich vigour of life that exuded from its pages. It feels slightly more precise, but in comparison to the Papers again this presicion takes on a slightly clinical air. Nickeby is a novel, yet in a way it still feels a bit like a series of sketches, like the Papers and Boz. Notorious is the portrayl of cruel and archaic boarding scholls in a biting satire. Well there is some of that, but it is a suprsingly short amount. Nicholas himself is one of the worst characters, complelty facile he is the hero personified. Where there is unjustice there he leaps with brave impetuosity. In this though he becomes one dimensional, which is the danger all Dickens characters face. The plot seems a bit ponderous and lacks the deft skill of works such as Bleak House. On the whole I love Dickens and despite its faults its well worth reading, if your ever bored, just pick it up and within five minutes boredom is but a distant memory. Its true.