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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.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 1 September 2007
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
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on 3 January 2013
Nicholas Nickleby was serialised between 1838 and 1839. It is almost 900 pages long and comprises 65 chapters. Charles Dickens was 26 years old when it was released - his third novel, following on from The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist. One further statistic of note is that the bus ride from Tollesbury to Maldon that I undertake each day for work lasts almost exactly a Nicholas Nickleby chapter. As such, given that it was originally published as a long running serial, I feel that little bus journey contributed greatly to me finishing only my second Charles Dickens novel.

Anyway - on with the review!

The novel, as you would expect, follows the eponymous hero in various encounters that shape both his own future and that of those he comes to love and befriend. He is opposed all the way by his dastardly money-lending Uncle Ralph who enlists the help of various unbecoming fellows, including the wicked schoolmaster Wackford Squeers and the old lecher Arthur Gride, in his attempts to thwart the young upstart in his quest to see goodness triumph. If you throw into the mix the vaudevillian Crummles family, a mad old man with very small clothes who throws vegetables over the fence in order to woo Nicholas' mother and two angelic old twins called the Cheerybles - oh and not to mention the foppish Lord Verisopht and the drunken hidden hero of the novel, Newman Noggs - then it is quite clear that this is no tedious novel.

Nicholas Nickleby is pure entertainment from start to finish.

Ironically the character that I did not really take to was Nicholas himself. He is rather one dimensional in his unstinting goodness and somewhat irritating in the way he imposes his morality on others. His actions though are wonderful, particularly the way he cares for young Smike, that tragic young boy whom he extricates from the clutches of the villainous Wackford Squeers. It is the characters of lesser morals, such as Ralph Nickleby, Arthur Gride and the aforementioned Wackford Squeers, who really do make the novel throb. Wonderful as the Cheeryble Twins are, it is the dark deeds of the villainous that really shows the author at his best. He rails against the rich and the powerful, those who take advantage of their status, their gender and their profession. The descriptions of the school where Nicholas encounters Smike is one of the most harrowing I have read in any novel. The small episode towards the end where Nicholas cares for his ailing young friend is touching beyond words.

Interspersed with the blistering social commentary is a story of love and devotion, of people struggling to the point where all they have to rely on is each other and a fundamental belief that all will come good in the end.

Finally, I will repeat some of the statistics from earlier. Nicholas Nickleby was written by a 26 year old man 175 years ago and it is almost 900 pages long - impressive at every turn. It is certainly as relevant today as ever it was and has served over the last few months to make my little bus journeys entirely wonderful!
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on 7 May 2017
A huge 880 page eventful book of the, as most Dickens written, serialised story of a young man maturing in 1840s England. Basically at 19 proud, fiery, well mannered Nicholas loses his father, and comes under the ‘protection’ of his baddy uncle Ralph. This miserly, scheming business man has Nicholas sent to Yorkshire as a tutor working for the equally bad headmaster Squeers, who runs a dirty Olivereque school; while Nicholas’s mother and pretty sister Kate are installed in a poor flat and need to seek work. Nicholas befriends poor Smike a bullied pupil and after a bust-up both runaway back to London and initially join a travelling theatre. Ralph, grows to hate Nicholas and family more and more, and plots to make money from Kate’s eligibility. There are over 20 main characters along the way creating a classic Dickensian narrative leading to, perhaps for some might be but fortunately not for me, predictable ‘reveal’ and dramatic, tragic conclusion.

I found the characters in many cases well rounded and enjoyable, indeed I’d say I found many more deep and engaging than, somewhat saccharin Nicholas himself (I’m think Ralph, Newman Noggs and John Browdie). The occasionally funny Dickensian turn of phrase equally entertaining. I’d recommend getting a version with a character list and the original illustrations. It is a very, very long book, which although written in bite sized chapters, I think requires that the reader keeps to a sustained reading pace otherwise risking it becoming, even for me in places, lacking drive and focus. For me one for the better Dickens, helped by me not actually knowing the, usefully uncomplicated story at all.
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on 4 January 2017
We have in the protagonist, Nicholas Nickleby, one of Dickens` more belligerent, confrontational heros. He gets involved in physical exchanges on more than one occasion which is somewhat unusual for Dickens:
`He`s a violent youth at times,` said newman, looking after him;
`and yet I like him for it.`
Besides this, there are the usual well drawn characters and the predictable melodramatics which we come to expect from this genre. The sub plots in this novel may appear a little more incoherent than usual, such as when Nicholas and Smike go to Portsmouth in order to escape their turmoil and spend some time treading the boards in a theatre company. Another reviewer complained of the number of coincidences - the frequency of the same characters mysteriously reappearing together in the same situations. This is not an uncommon technique and although I too find it a little contrived at times, I think there is a case for allowing it in the interest of coherence of story line. Also coincidences do happen and so their usage is not totally spurious.
Personally, I like to try and transport myself back to the Nineteenth Century and imagine what it must have been like, sitting on an omnibus reading Dickens in the paper on the way to work. The work is of its time and requires a certain adjustment of mind set in order to get it. It is in some ways quite a powerful novel, the twists and turns working on the emotions. A fairly long book, it is also quite memorable.
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on 17 October 2011
The eponymous Nicholas Nickleby travels to London with his mother and sister, Kate, following the death of his father which leaves his family penniless. There he seeks help from their only remaining relative, Ralph Nickleby, who has no desire to assist Nicholas at all, and quickly packs him off to Yorkshire to take a low-paying job as assistant to the wicked school master Wackford Squeers. After witnessing the cruelty that goes on at Dotheboys Hall, Nicholas finds himself unable to stop himself intervening as Squeers punishes a particularly wretched boy known as Smike and is forced to flee back to London following his actions. THere he must once again find work to support his family, while defending his sister from the lecherous advances of Sir Mulberry Hawk and attempting to trace a mysterious lady he has seen.

There is much to be enjoyed in Nicholas Nickleby. The plot is engaging and its episodic structure, a legacy of publication in installments no doubt, causes it to tear along at an impressive pace, surprising considering the size (not to mention the tiny print) of the volume. The tone of the writing is often light and comic and it is populated by a whole host of entertaining caricatures, by turns repulsive and delightful, with equally entertaining names. Who could fail to be intrigued by such intriguing, and indeed revealing, names as Smike, Newman Noggs, Madame Mantalini, Sir Mulberry Hawk, Lord Frederick Verisopht, the brothers Cheeryble and of course, Wackford Squeers?

The problem with Nicholas Nickleby is that, even with my limited experience of Dickens, I was able to guess exactly what would happen to every last character the moment that they were introduced. This of course is not a problem in and of itself: there are plenty of authors whose books I love who are equally predictable. So often in literature it is not where and author goes with a book but the way in which they get there that is of interest, and this is something that I didn't find wholly satisfying with Nicholas Nickleby. Dickens is by no means a concise writer and is often unnecessarily verbose, particularly when he was grinding the axe of social injustice. I know that he writes social satire and that his novels were intended to bring the plight of the urban poor to the attention of the masses, but as a reader I think they detract from the story with their length and sentimentalism.

I also found that, much as I enjoy Dickens' well-written and insightful caricatures, I missed the presence of more developed and believable characters in the novel. This was particularly apparent with the young female characters, Kate Nickleby and Madeline Bray. They seem to have no function other than to be good, beautiful and submissive and act as lures for the evil gentlemen and ultimate rewards for their good counterparts. The two are so similar that they are virtually interchangeable, and I wish that they had at least a few distinguishing features and character traits. From the amount of times I've heard Little Dorrit referred to as `Little Doormat' it would seem that this might be a problem which extends beyond Nicholas Nickleby into Dickens' other works. I really hope that isn't the case.
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on 27 September 2011
This was Dickens' third novel which he started writing in 1838, while he was finishing Oliver Twist, and finished writing in 1839, while he was starting The Old Curiosity Shop. Like most of his novels, it was originally published in monthly instalments before being published in a single volume.

Initially I found Nicholas Nickleby a strange mixture of styles; Dickens' contract with his publishers was to write something 'of a similar character and of the same extent and contents in point of quantity' to The Pickwick Papers, Dickens' first novel, which was a lighter, more episodic work than Oliver Twist. However, Dickens' had been doing some investigative work in respect of the infamous 'Yorkshire schools' of the period and wanted to include some criticism of these schools in Nicholas Nickleby in the same way that he criticised the Poor Laws in Oliver Twist so it has some darker sections unlike The Pickwick Papers.

Nicholas Nickleby follows the adventures of our eponymous hero, Nicholas Nickleby, his mother and his sister Kate after the death of their father. The family begin the story in a very bad way as Nicholas' father was in debt when he died. They are forced on the mercy of their uncle, the dastardly Ralph Nickleby who obtains a position for Nicholas as a teacher at a Yorkshire boarding school. The first quarter of the book shows us the appalling realities of life in a boys' boarding school in Yorkshire through the eyes of Nicholas. The villains who run the school are appropriately grotesque and their pupils appropriately pathetic so it would be easy for the reader to assume that Dickens' descriptions of these schools was an exaggeration. However, from the information in the introduction to my edition (the Penguin Classics edition) it seems that Dickens' description of these schools was all too accurate. Thankfully, the popularity of Nicholas Nickleby meant that most of these schools were forced to close down over the next ten years.

As with all of Dickens' stories, the family who are obviously good and begin the book in poverty don't end the book that way, although there are many twists and turns before all the characters get what they deserve. I initially found the story somewhat rambling in nature and it felt like a lot of the incidents described, although amusing, didn't really have a bearing on the main plot. It helped me to think of these asides as being similar to The Pickwick Papers which is less plot driven and apparently this style of writing is similar to the picaresque style used by Henry Fielding in Tom Jones (Oxford World's Classics) and Tobias Smollett's Humphry Clinker (Penguin Classics).

In terms of characters there were some wonderful villains such as Wackford Squeers, the owner of the Yorkshire school, and Ralph Nickleby, Nicholas' uncle who takes an immediate dislike to his nephew. Both were so deliciously villainous that I felt myself wanting to boo or hiss at them in pantomime style every time they entered the story. There are also many ridiculous characters to laugh at such as Nicholas' mother who never fails to wander from the point in the most amusing fashion and the deceitful yet entertainingly flattering Mr Mantalini.

To me Nicholas Nickleby seems to lie somewhere in between Dickens' first two novels in terms of style, or rather, it seems to be combine aspects of both and so overall, I didn't think it worked quite as well as either. However, I still enjoyed it a lot, especially once I was past the slower first quarter of the book.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 26 September 2014
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.
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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?
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VINE VOICEon 18 September 2013
"And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward." -- Matthew 10:42 (NKJV)

Let me clear that I am reviewing the unabridged reading by Simon Vance.

Dickens can seem remote to us today. The settings and problems don't exist in the same format. Underlying thdse differences, however, there are universal truths that are still with us: greed leads to harming others, love is kind, doing good is admirable, and children and vulnerable people should be protected. Dickens has a marvelous way of drawing characters who, although exaggerated, ring true ... and elicit strong emotions from us through their dastardly and good actions. In part, this is true due to the large differences between those doing good and those doing evil. In part, it's because Dickens knew how to reveal a stony or a kind heart in ways that are unforgettable.

I find that listening to readings of the Dickens novels makes them seem more current and relevant. Good readers bring out more of my emotions and help me not to miss important parts of how Dickens portrayed his characters. Simon Vance has done both quite well from my perspective.

While the plot line here won't often dazzle anyone with its complexity or unpredictability, the key to this book's success can be found in the set of astonishingly well-drawn characters: Ralph Nickleby, Wackford Squeers, Smike, Mrs. Nickleby, Newman Noggs, Frank and Ned Cheeryble, and Sir Mulberry Hawk. Even several of the minor characters receive careful development, intensifying the reader's (and listener's) ability to relate to the story.

As in the best of Dickens' novels, there are some astonishing ironies included in the plot that make finishing the book feel especially rewarding. Keep with it, even if you feel a bit overwhelmed by over 30 hours of listening.

Enjoy a good long drive with this recorded book!
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