Celebrating Charles Dickens: Nicholas Nickleby (1838)

The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again. –  Nicholas Nickleby – Charles Dickens


Nicholas Nickleby Cover

Nicholas Nickleby Cover

A young gentleman must earn a living when his father’s death leaves the family bereft of financial support because of a bad investment.  To support his mother and sister, he accepts a position as a schoolmaster in a country school and is horrified about what he sees.  After an incident at the school, the young man leaves with a new friend.  This is the story of Nicholas Nickleby, who is the title character of Charles John Huffam Dickens’s third novel.

Dickens first wrote Nicholas Nickleby as a serial in 1838. Hablot K. Browne (known as Phiz) contributed illustrations for the story.  The following year it was republished in book format. A second edition was published with revisions in 1848.

As the novel progresses, Nicholas finds another position as a private tutor and then works in a theater company owned by the Crummles, a husband and wife team.  (Nicholas isn’t the only one working–his sister Kate briefly works too)  When an urgent situation arises, Nicholas and Smike immediately leave but not without a dramatic personal farewell from Mr. Crummles.  Nicholas’s new position is as a clerk in the Cheeryble brothers’ shop; the brothers are merchants.  All the while his uncle, Ralph Nickleby, becomes obsessed about ruining his nephew…


Chimney-Scene--- by 'Phiz'

If you have read any of Dickens’s novels, he writes about serious topics. For Nicholas, one especial topic touched on is the notorious boarding schools of the day–something Dickens observed first hand. Poverty and greed are other recurring themes.  There also are plenty of comical scenes throughout the story.  For instance, coming down a chimney is no way to make a neighborly impression!  Romance is also part of the plot line.  Nicholas develops feelings for Madeline Bray and intervenes for her during a crucial moment in the story.

Nicholas Nickleby Illustration

Nicholas Nickleby Illustration - by Hablot K. Browne

This was my fourth Dickens novel.  In junior high school, I read Great ExpectationsOliver Twist, and Tale of Two Cities for fun. I bought Nicholas Nickleby (published by Penguin Classics with a 2003 copyright date) at Borders three years ago, read a few chapters, and set it aside.  This year is Dickens’s bicentennial birthday so it was a good reason for me to resume reading the novel.  Although the novel is long, I enjoyed it.  What’s a Dickens novel without memorable villians, eccentrics, and comics? You’ll meet plenty along the way.  At times there were slow parts, but it didn’t detract from the story. I enjoyed seeing the illustrations as I read.  For the Penguin edition, Mark Ford wrote the introduction, and a Dickens chronology is included. Appendixes and explanatory notes follow the text.

Like Dickens’s other novels, Nicholas Nickleby has been adapted for TV and as a movie.  It was a TV mini series in 1947 and 1982. The latest TV adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby was in 2001.  In college, I watched it on Bravo one night and enjoyed it. (We had good cable service for a small college!) In this adaptation, James D’Arcy stars in the title role, Sophia Myles as his sister Kate, and Charles Dance as Ralph Nickleby.  It was this 2001 adaptation that introduced me to the novel.

In 2002, Charlie Hunnam starred as Nicholas in a movie adaptation of the novel. Of course, a lot of the novel was cut for the movie, so you don’t get the full story.  I have seen this too and prefer the 2001 adaptation.

Nicholas Nickleby is still available in print and online for your reading pleasure.  If you read this novel years ago or haven’t read it yet, do pick it up and enjoy!

Link of interest

Charles Dickens Museum: www.dickensmuseum.com/

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