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Title: Nicholas Nickleby
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Format: Digital Edition
Nicholas Nickleby dies of a broken heart after speculating all his families money and losing it. He dies and leaves behind a wife and his young son Nicholas and a younger daugher Kate. He leaves them to the tender mercies of his brother Ralph, a rich money lender.
Ralph sends Nicholas to a school master as an aide with the promise that Ralph will take care of Mrs Nickleby and Kate as long as Nicholas stays the course. Said schoolmaster, one Wackford Squeers, is in cahoots with Ralph on various usurous objectives that Ralph has in mind. Squeers uses and abuses his charges and also gets free labor from a simple minded orphan named Smikes. When Squeers begin to beat Smikes almost to death, Nicholas intervenes even though he knows it means his Uncle Ralph will kick his Mother and sister out onto the streets.
Nicholas and Smikes join an actors troupe to earn a living. Nicholas receives a letter from an employee of his Uncle begging him to come back to London.
During this time, Ralph had used his niece Kate as bate to entice a young lord to get money from him. Kate begs her Uncle to spare her the shame of such a thing but Ralph will not relent. Money is his god.
Nicholas returns to London, defies his Uncle, starts a new job with the Cheeryble brothers. He comes across a beautiful young woman and has to contend with his Uncle and Wackford Squeers trying to kidnap Smikes. Many schemes of Ralph all come together around Nicholas and with the help of various friends, Nicholas overcomes all and sees Ralph ruined.
Nicholas marries the beautiful young lady, Kate marries Frank Cheeryble, the nephew of the Cheeryble brothers and everything works out well for the good guys and the bad guys all get their just desserts, whether prison, murder or exile.
First, let’s deal with something here. Wackford Squeers. I have been saying that name in dulcet tones for the last 2 weeks. I mean, how PERFECT is that name for a villain? Wackford Squeers, Wackford Squeers, Wackford Squeers. This could probably have been a 5star book just on the strength of that name alone. Thankfully, the rest of the book carries its weight as well.
The characters, all of them, are fantastic. From youthful, hotheaded and sometimes silly Nicholas to grasping, hate filled Uncle Ralph to poor, pathetic, heart breaking and sympathy inducing Smikes to cruel, petty and cowardly Wackford Squeers. Dickens doesn’t just write ABOUT these characters, he brings them to life, in all their glorious ups and downs. I know that Dickens is shamelessly manipulating me with how he describes poor Smikes but I don’t care because he does it so well. My heart broke for the poor wretch even while I KNEW that Dickens was doing this cold heartedly to bring about just such a reaction from me. And Wackford Squeers, my goodness, such a vile pot of avarice, cowardice and bulliness that I loved to hate him. Plus, singing his name to the tune of ♪Davey,♪ Davey Crockett,♪King of the Wild Frontier♪ fit perfectly and almost had me dancing with glee.
The trials and tribulations of Nicholas, Kate, various other side characters, all tie into a wondrous tapestry that simply enchanted me. Now, this being Dickens, and originally serialized, and Dickens being paid by the word, there were times that I was tempted to skim or let my mind wonder during some of the more descriptive pages or while Mrs Nickleby would wax eloquent about something that nobody cared about, but I overcame and read every word and I must say, I am richer for it. While Dickens isn’t by any means a sparse writer, neither is he a wasteful writer. His descriptions bring the people walking the street alive. His words make the characters as real as real can be. When I was tempted to simply skip anything involving Mrs Nickleby and her pointless reminisces and get annoyed by her, it was what Dickens was aiming for. He wanted a character just like that and he created her from thin air.
While I gave this 5stars back in ’07 and 5 stars again, I don’t know if I’d recommend anyone starting their exploration of Dickens with this or not. First off, it is over 1000pages for the entire novel. Even the broken up edition I read back in ’07 was almost 600 pages for each volume. However, thanks to the likes of Sanderson, Martin and Co, the Mega-Novel (trademark pending) is becoming main stream and the mere size of Dickens might not be quite the impediment it would have been even 20 years ago. The other thing would be this showcases the Victorian ideals to a T(ea) (haha!!!!) and that might be off putting those of modern culture. Nicholas not pursuing Madeline Bray because it wouldn’t be proper as he wasn’t of the same class anymore (she was monied while the Nickleby’s weren’t anymore) and Nicholas persuading his sister Kate to not accept Frank Cheeryble’s proposal (at first) because it wouldn’t look right since Nicholas worked for the Cheeryble Uncles. It is very much outside the egalitarian ideas we carry around today that I can see it turning people away. Now, that being said, anyone who IS turned off from Dickens because of something like that doesn’t deserve to read the Master anyway. So no great loss.
After arguing with myself in the above paragraph, I have realized this book not only gets my unadulterated acclamation, but my highest recommendation AND the first of the year Best Book of the Year tag. I wish I could praise this book more, I really do but this will have to do.