Nicholas Nickleby, Paperback
3.5 out of 5 (7 ratings)

Description

One of the touchstones of the English comic novel, the Penguin Classics edition of Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby is edited with an introduction by Mark Ford. When Nicholas Nickleby is left penniless after his father's death, he appeals to his wealthy uncle to help him find work and to protect his mother and sister.

But Ralph Nickleby proves both hard-hearted and unscrupulous, and Nicholas finds himself forced to make his own way in the world.

His adventures gave Dickens the opportunity to portray an extraordinary gallery of rogues and eccentrics: Wackford Squeers, the tyrannical headmaster of Dotheboys Hall, a school for unwanted boys, the slow-witted orphan Smike, rescued by Nicholas, the pretentious Mantalinis and the gloriously theatrical Mr and Mrs Crummels and their daughter, the 'infant phenomenon'.

Like many of Dickens's novels, Nicholas Nickleby is characterised by his outrage at cruelty and social injustice, but it is also a flamboyantly exuberant work, whose loose, haphazard progress harks back to the picaresque novels of Tobias Smollett and Henry Fielding. In his introduction Mark Ford compares Nicholas Nickleby to eighteenth-century picaresque novels, and examines Dickens's criticism of the 'Yorkshire schools', his social satire and use of language.

This edition includes the original illustrations by 'Phiz', Dickens's original preface to the work, a chronology and a list of further reading. Charles Dickens is one of the best-loved novelists in the English language, whose 200th anniversary was celebrated in 2012.

His most famous books, including Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield and The Pickwick Papers, have been adapted for stage and screen and read by millions.

If you enjoyed Nicholas Nickleby, you might like Dickens's David Copperfield, also available in Penguin Classics. 'The novel has everything: an absorbing melodrama, with a supporting cast of heroes, villains and eccentrics, set in a London where vast wealth and desperate poverty live cheek-by-jowl' Jasper Rees, The Times

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Review by
5

NICHOLAS NICKLEBY is a significant Dickens in the uncannily absorbing way the narrative diversifies to various literary discourses. The protagonist's experiences and encounters in adverse milieu through life not only embody melodrama, comic relief, political satire, class comedy, social criticism, and domestic farce, they allow Dickens the opportunity to portray, to the minutest nuance, an extraordinary cast of rogues and eccentrics. The main frame of NICHOLAS NICKLEBY is a quintessential Dickens: a generic, virtuous man who concerns with the affair of establishing his identity as a gentleman and the pruning of whom entwines him in a checkered fate. Nicholas Nickleby has committed no fault and offenses, and yet he is to be entirely alone in the world, to be separated from the people he loves, and to be proscribed like a criminal. The more unbearable the ordeals and the more injudicious the deal of the hand from life, the more profusely the novel accentuates Dickens' outrage at the cruelty and social injustice. When Nicholas Nickleby is left exiguous after his father's death, he turns to his hard-hearted uncle to solicit succor. But Ralph Nickleby, a most unscrupulous and avarious man he is, demonstrates that he is proof against all appeals of blood and kindred, and is steeled against every tale of distress and sorrows. The man will never fail to exert any resolution or cunning that will promise increase of money for there is scarcely anything he will not have hazarded to gratify his greed. It's not that he is unconscious of the baseness of the means with which he acquires his gains. He cares only for gratification of his passions of avarice and hatred. He might have from the beginning conceived dislike to his nephew whom he brazenly places in Squeers' Dotheboys Hall, a school for unwanted boys, as an assistant master. The cruelty of Squeers, who's coarse and ruffian behavior even at his best temper, Nicholas has been an unwilling witness. The filthy condition of the school and the bodily distortion of the boys impart in him a dismal feeling. The thought of being a helper and abettor of such squalid practice fills his with honest disgust and indignation. The cruelties descend upon helpless infancy fuel this rightful indignation in Nicholas, who interferes with the schoolmaster's flogging a boy named Smike and astonishes everyone in school. Not only does Ralph persuade Nicholas' family to renounce him for the atrocities to Squeers of which he is guilty, he also betrays his niece Kate into the company of some libertine men who are clients of his and who speak of her in a most casual, lecherous, ribald and vulgar terms. She is roused beyond all endurance by a profusion of compliments of which coarseness becomes humor and of which vulgarity softens down to the most charming eccentricity. The mutual hatred between uncle and nephew aggravates as Nicholas overhears conversations about his sister. The hidden feud further percolates to the surface and leads to a pitch to its malignity as he tries to rescue a girl from a marriage to which she has been impelled. As the uncle insidiously hatches a scheme to retaliate against his nephew who has in every step of the way interceded and thwarted his plans for mercenary gains, Nicholas entwines with a cast of characters who are humorous, memorable, and true to life. Peripheral to his molding to become a gentleman are episodes of political satire, theatrical success, courtship, family farce, and chicanery. The most significant character is no doubt Smike, whom Nicholas saves from the hellish grip of the schoolmaster and has become his best friend. Nicholas' unfailing love and protectiveness toward the boy accentuates his being the novel's hero, whose domestic virtues, affections, compassion, and delicacy of feelings qualifies him to his later fortune and does him justice. NICHOLAS NICKLEBY is a flamboyantly exuberant work in which Dickens wreaks the tension of his social satire to a pitch. Details on the Yorkshire school offer such magnifying vision of the cruelty, filthiness, and despotism in the boarding schools. Nor does he spare the rogues and the greedy, whose squeamishness he sarcastically embellishes as a common honesty and whose pride as self-respect. NICHOLAS NICKLEBY also evokes the subtle problem of human nature in establishing boundary of one's remorse. Although Ralph might feel no remorse in his betraying his niece to the temptation of his libertine clients, he hates them for doing what he has expected them to do. In a sense, Nicholas is seen as the unswerving force that is determined to right the wrong of the society. He tries to appeal to the compassion and humanity of those who have gone astray and to lead them to consider the innocent and the helpless. Nicholas might embody energy for radicalism and ambition to challenge social injustice; his ultimate goal is the recovery of his ancestral position in the social hierarchy. But in the effort to undertake the good deeds, he is influenced by no selfish or personal consideration but by pity for the people he helps and detestation and abhorrence of the heartless schemes. In the same way he is determined to appeal to his uncle's humanity and not to wreak revenge on him. But Ralph's hatred for his nephew has been fed upon his own defeat, nourished on his interference with all his schemes. NICHOLAS NICKLEBY is a sober social commentary woven with social and domestic issues. Woven in one man's aspiration to restore family's ancestral dignity is Dickens' own musing, monologues, teachings on the soul, the life, and the moral. The discourse at times assumes a voice of despondency, sobriety and indignation.

Review by
2

My fourth Dickens read, and maybe my second favorite, right behind David Copperfield. It's the same sort of traveling feast of characters as that and the Pickwick Papers, and the usual good vs. evil storyline. The secondary characters in this one are so good, though, that it makes up for some of the more formulaic aspects: La Creevy, John Browdie, Newman Noggs, and the deliciously good villains: "schoolmeasther" Squeers, Ralph Nickleby, and Arthur Gride. I don't remember if most Dickens books have such a great plot twist at the end as this one, but it was a good one!This might be the fastest I've ever read a Dickens novel: 15 days!

Review by
4

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 and Tobias Smollett's Humphrey Clinker.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.

Review by
2

I remember finding this one pretty tedious, although some of the characters intrigued me deeply.

Review by
4

I liked this book even more than Great Expectations - maybe because I was reading it on the beach. Dickens creates such wonderful heroes and such funny conversation.

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