Thursday, August 6, 2020

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens (novel #154)

Dreams are the bright creatures of poem and legend, who sport on earth in the night season, and melt away in the first beam of the sun, which lights grim care and stern reality on their daily pilgrimage through the world.


Nicholas Nickleby could easily have been titled: A Tale of Two Nicklebys [Nicholas and his uncle Ralph], but this would probably have necessitated a different title for a later Dickens’ masterpiece, so it is best to leave it as CD intended.


It begins with old Godfrey Nickleby, who leaves small fortunes to his two sons, Ralph and younger brother Nicholas. Ralph becomes a shrewd businessman, and Nicholas a gentleman farmer. Ralph succeeds, and Nicholas fails. Failure brings an early demise and Nicholas senior leaves his widow, grown son Nicholas, and teen daughter Kate, nearly penniless.


In short…well in short, I can use the author’s own words…

In short, the poor Nicklebys were social and happy; while the rich Nickleby was alone and miserable.


Poor Ralph. He was in position to be such a comfort to his brother’s family, but he misses the blessing of being a blessing. Instead, he does the least possible for them and uses Nicholas and Kate deceitfully.


But there is a glimmer of hope for the old scrooge, as he is touched by Kate’s genuine goodness.

And yet I almost like the girl, or should if she had been less proudly and squeamishly brought up. If the boy were drowned or hanged, and the mother dead, this house should be her home. I wish they were, with all my soul. 

 …and in that one glimpse of a better nature, born as it was in selfish thoughts, the rich man felt himself friendless, childless, and alone. Gold, for the instant, lost its lustre in his eyes, for there were countless treasures of the heart which it could never purchase.



But, there is one broad sky over all the world, and whether it be blue or cloudy, the same heaven beyond…


And Heaven it seems, keeps accounts.

I really enjoyed Nicholas Nickleby. It is Dickens’ third novel, and I found it quite evocative of Dickens’ later and best known tale. Ralph is much like that most infamous miser Scrooge, Ralph’s clerk Newman Noggs is reminiscent of Bob Cratchit, Kate may be compared to Scrooge’s nephew Fred, and there is even a Tiny Tim like character in Smike. Overall, a wonderful tale. Have you read Nicholas Nickleby? Did the characters remind you of A Christmas Carol?


My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This novel satisfies square B5, Classic of Europe in the 2020 Classic Bingo Challenge, and 19thCentury Classic in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2020


One last excerpt:

In short, charity must have its romance, as the novelist or playwright must have his. A thief in fustian is a vulgar character, scarcely to be thought of by persons of refinement; but dress him in green velvet, with a high-crowned hat, and change the scene of his operations, from a thickly-peopled city, to a mountain road, and you shall find in him the very soul of poetry and adventure.




  1. i've read it a couple of times and liked it a lot. i can't say i made the "Christmas Carol" connection, tho... pretty astute, i must say...

  2. I read Nicholas Nickleby earlier this year, and enjoyed it as much as the first time I read it.I also made the connection with a Christmas Carol, and Ralph very much reminded me of Scrooge without Scrooge’s happy ending. One of my favorite things about reading and re-reading a favorite author is seeing connections between various works and how the author sometimes worked out character issues in different ways as he or she matured as an author.

    1. I don't reread a lot, but I do find Dickens is often better on a reread. There is a lot of foreshadowing you miss the first time. Thanks Jane.

  3. Interesting! I didn't specifically see Scrooge in Ralph Nickleby , but now that you point it is clear. But I did read Dombey and Son earlier this year and saw parallels between Dombey Senior and Scrooge. There is, is as you point out, a joy in providing comfort and solace to others when they need it and this them clearly reverberates in many of Dickens' novels.

    What I liked best about Nicholas Nickleby was Nicholas himself. He was such a hothead but with such a big heart and courage. Dickens’ heroes are occasionally a little bland – he sometimes saved his creative talents for the bad ‘uns. But not here. :D

    1. I agree; Nicholas was a more enjoyable than many Dickens' heroes, because he was flawed.


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