Nicholas Nickleby, Week 3 ~ and a Week 2 Wrap-Up

Wherein we glance back at the second week of the #DickensClub reading of Nicholas Nickleby (week 23 of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club); With General Memoranda, a summary of reading and discussion, and a look ahead to week three.

Edited/compiled by Rach

“Felix Octavius Carr Darley’s 1861 lithographic frontispiece The Rehearsal (1861).” https://victorianweb.org/authors/dickens/nickleby/crummles.html

“All the world’s a stage…”

Friends, we come to some of the most theatrical passages in this exuberantly theatrical book! And what lively discussion we’ve had under the posts this week. I have attempted to compile some highlights by theme, but I hope you have a chance to read the comments and posts in full, as it is so worth the deeper dive.

If you want to skip ahead to any section of this post, here are some quick links for you:

  1. General Mems
  2. Week Two Nicholas Nickleby Summary (Chapters 15-26)
  3. Discussion Wrap-Up
  4. A Look-ahead to Week Three of Nicholas Nickleby (14-20 June)

General Mems

If you’re counting, today is Day 161–and Week 24–in our #DickensClub! It will be Week Three of Nicholas Nickleby, our fourth read of the group. Please feel free to comment below this post for this week’s chapters, or to use the hashtag #DickensClub if you’re commenting on twitter.

No matter where you’re at in the reading process, a huge “thank you” for reading along with us! Heartfelt thanks to our dear Dickens Fellowship for retweeting these and for keeping us all in sync. A huge “thank you” to The Circumlocution Office (on twitter also!) for providing such an online resource for us.

And a very warm welcome to our newest member, Robert! Thank you for joining us!! And for any more recent members or for those who might be interested in joining: the updated two-year reading schedule is at this link, and Boze’s Introduction to Nicholas Nickleby (with the reading schedule) can be found here. If you have been reading along with us but are not yet on the Member List, we would love to add you! Please feel free to message Rachel here on the site, or on twitter.

Week Two Nicholas Nickleby Summary (Chapters 15-26)

London. We left Newman Noggs at the Kenwigs’ party last week, where he was called for by Mr. Crowl regarding two mysterious visitors that had just arrived at Newman’s flat…

Of course, our two mysterious visitors are Nicholas and Smike, weary with their long journey from Yorkshire. Nicholas insists on hearing all the news, including what Ralph has heard from Dotheboys Hall, and Newman shows him the “choice epistle”—and surely one of the most hilarious missives ever—written by Fanny Squeers, which he had copied out, accusing Nicholas not only of near-murderous violence, but of theft and kidnapping. (Though Smike is about Nicholas’ own age!)

Newman persuades Nicholas not to make any rash visit that night. Nicholas does, however, secure the interest of the Kenwigs family and their guests—who had to do some work to appease Mr. Lillyvick after certain perceived offenses to his dignity had occurred—by appearing with their baby who had just been snatched by Nicholas from some threatening nearby flames when the child’s minder had accidentally fallen asleep and set her own hair on fire with the candle.

“Nicholas engaged as Tutor in a private family,” by Phiz. https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-nickleby.html

The following day, having secured a rented room for himself and Smike, Nicholas visits a General Agency Office to look for work, and acquires a lead on a secretarial position for a gentleman in public office. (This does not go well.) But Nicholas encounters a beautiful and sad young woman, also looking for work, and though no word passes between them, Nicholas is mysteriously struck with and fascinated by her.

Nicholas then takes on the role of private tutor to the Kenwigs children, brought about reluctantly by Newman, who was afraid of offending Nicholas by proposing something beneath him, but Nicholas readily and joyfully accepts.

“Madame Mantalini introduces Kate to Miss Knag,” by Phiz. https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-nickleby.html

Meanwhile, Kate arrives for her first day on the job at Madame Mantalini’s, where too-doting assistant Miss Knag appears to take a special fancy to her, sympathizing with—and emphasizing—Kate’s neophyte clumsiness and ignorance, and making her feel even more awkward than before. That is, Miss Knag’s doting lasts only until Kate is actually the preferred one (by the rude but hilarious old lord and his too-young wife who have come to look at dresses), and Miss Knag is summarily sent down, where she turns the opinion of the other workers against Kate.

“Miss Nickleby introduced to her uncle’s friends,” by Phiz. https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-nickleby.html

So, it has been a rough week for Kate, and concludes with Ralph’s invitation to have her play hostess at his home to a group of friends—all men—with whom Ralph has business transactions. We are then introduced to the scoundrel Sir Mulberry Hawk, his dissolute and misguided but not malicious young lord that he’s sponging off of, Lord Frederick Verisopht, among others (Messrs Pyke, Pluck, & Snobb; Colonel Chowser). During the course of the evening, Kate is humiliated by their lewd talk and insinuations about her, making her the subject of a bet, and she leaves abruptly to compose herself, where she is accosted by Sir Mulberry who does not understand the word “no” or anything equivalent from a woman. Ralph, who has stood by allowing all this to ensue, finally intervenes—too little, too late–in part because he has little to gain by Sir Mulberry’s attentions toward his own niece, having held up hope for the young lord, and partly out of some vestige of a better nature within himself.

“Mr Ralph Nickleby’s ‘honest’ composure,” by Phiz. https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-nickleby.html

Nicholas knows nothing of all this when he comes to see his mother and sister, and has to defend himself to his uncle. Ralph gives Nicholas an ultimatum: if Nicholas is to be the protector of Mrs. Nickleby and Kate, Ralph will have nothing to do with any of them. Nicholas, therefore, unable to provide for them himself, resolves to leave again.

Smike, feeling himself a burden and concerned that Nicholas has grown thin and worn with care, resolves to go his separate way. But Nicholas won’t have it:

“The word which separates us…shall never be said by me, for you are my only comfort and stay. I would not lose you now, Smike, for all the world could give. The thought of you has upheld me through all I have endured to-day, and shall, through fifty times such trouble. Give me your hand. My heart is linked to yours. We will journey from this place together, before the week is out. What, if I am steeped in poverty? You lighten it, and we will be poor together.”

Kate resumes her work at Madame Mantalini’s after three days’ indisposition following the traumatic dinner, only to find that all of the Mantalinis’ goods are ready to be taken possession of by Messrs Scaley and Tix, due to Mr. Mantalini’s extravagant living above his means. In a demonstration of melodramatic flair and timing worthy of the stage, Mr. Mantalini appears ready to do away with his life, which softens the heart and dampens the fiery anger of his “demd enchanting, bewitching, engrossing, captivating little Venus,” Madame Mantalini. But all appears to be over for the dressmaking and millinery business.

Needing to find new work, Kate, with the approval of her uncle, applies to be a companion to Mrs. Wititterly, a hypochondriac woman “of a very excitable nature; very delicate, very fragile; a hothouse plant, an exotic,” whose husband seems to encourage this perpetually reclining disposition. Kate is received favorably, and is engaged to begin within the week.

“The Country Manager rehearses a Combat,” by Phiz. https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-nickleby.html
“The great bespeak for Miss Snevellicci,” by Phiz. https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-nickleby.html
“Nicholas instructs Smike in the Art of Acting,” by Phiz. https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-nickleby.html

Meanwhile, Nicholas and Smike have set off on foot towards Portsmouth—Nicholas travelling under the name of Johnson—where they hope to engage themselves in some work on a ship. On the road, they meet with the actor-manager Vincent Crummles, who, with a theatrical generosity, takes them both on, with the prospect of Nicholas writing some pieces for his company, and with visions of poor, thin Smike as a convincing apothecary in Romeo and Juliet, and other roles in “the starving business.” We then meet the incomparable Mrs. Crummles; we meet the “Infant Phenomenon,” the Crummles’ daughter who has lived on a diet of gin-and-water to keep her growth down, and has remained ten years of age for some indeterminate time; we meet Messrs Folair and Lenville, self-absorbed actors, and Miss Snevellicci (who cajoles Nicholas into aiding her for a fundraising campaign). Not long after, they are joined by Miss Petowker of the Theatre Royal Drury-lane, recently engaged to Mr. Lillyvick (secretly, so as not to be dissuaded by the anxious Kenwigs family). Nicholas and Smike prepare for their roles as Romeo and the apothecary, respectively.

Meanwhile, back in London, Lord Verisopht has been trying to find out where Kate lives, and is given the required information from Ralph, with the understanding that it will not be shared with anyone—particularly Sir Mulberry. However, Sir Mulberry is on the scent himself, and from none other than Mrs. Nickleby! She has come to Ralph’s place of business, and finds herself charmed and overcome by the inexplicable attentions of all these “gentlemen,” including Pyke, Pluck, Lord Verisopht, and Sir Mulberry. Ralph tries to wash his hands of responsibility for what may ensue:

“‘If I had not put them in the right track to-day,’ thought Ralph, ‘this foolish woman would have done so. Well. If her daughter is as true to herself as she should be from what I have seen, what harm ensues? A little teazing, a little humbling, a few tears. Yes,’ said Ralph, aloud, as he locked his iron safe. ‘She must take her chance. She must take her chance.’”

Discussion Wrap-Up

This week, we celebrated Dickens’ life on the anniversary of his death, and I made a little audio recording of the prologue to Peter Ackroyd’s most marvelous biography of Dickens.

Marnie shared with us so many insights from her Week Two Nickleby Diary, hugely enriching the experience!

What we Loved

The Stationmaster gave us some fantastic Crummles dialogue to enjoy:

Adaptation Stationmaster comments

Lenny responds:

Lenny H. comments

Use, Speculation, Commodification, Nepotism

Squeers uses and abuses boys to make his living; Ralph uses Kate to charm his rich clients; Mr. Mantalini uses his wife to live above his means; Sir Mulberry and the “gentlemen” commodify Kate to the most disgusting degree; Miss Knag uses Kate’s neophyte clumsiness to make herself look better–until she doesn’t; the Kenwigs family commodifies their well-off relation, Mr. Lillyvick, with the hope of enriching their offspring, and he in turn uses their homage to appease his own pride and vanity.

Even in some of our most beloved characters–the Crummles, for instance–Marnie makes the point that, while we might delight in their uniquely theatrical way of viewing the world, there is a darker side to it:

Marnie F. comments

The Stationmaster responds on the Crummles family:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Lillyvick is feeling that he is used by his relations, or commodified, as Marnie points out:

Marnie F. comments

Mrs. Nickleby, too, is speculating and using Kate to some degree, and endangering her, albeit with a kind of forgivable, quasi-willful ignorance. This, unfortunately, is used by Ralph to justify his own far more devious motives:

Marnie F. comment

Daniel responds:

Daniel M. comment

The Stationmaster wonders whether a lot of it isn’t nepotism:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Women in Dickens: On Kate, “Gentlemen,” and the Dark Side of Millinery

Marnie speaks for us all, I think, in her horror of Kate’s situation, “surrounded by predators” in her uncle’s home:

Marnie F. comment

Lenny comments on the scenario, praising her “assertiveness and strong sense of self” in the face of egregious sexism:

Lenny H. comments

This horrific dinner scene is but one of many humiliations that Kate must face, and some are a bit lost in translation, given our distance of time. Chris gives us fascinating context for what else “millinery” work meant to respectable Victorians, and it certainly adds depth to our understanding of Kate’s increasing dejection:

Chris M. comments

Lenny comments:

Lenny H. comments

Memory

Of course, we drank a toast to Boz in memory of his death day (more below), but we didn’t tackle the subject of memory at length this week. However, Marnie brought us back to it with a couple of notable moments in the text:

Marnie F. comments

Dickens’ “Writing Lab”: Narrative Techniques, Plotting, Character Arcs, and the “Episodic Novel”

Marnie comments on the real-life inspiration for the Crummles family:

Marnie F. comment

Marnie takes note of an instance where, early on, Dickens has set up characters that he intends to bring back into the story, particularly the mysterious and sad young woman. This seems to demonstrate more of the “plotting” (versus “pantsing”) style which will be particularly notable in Dickens from Dombey and Son and on:

Marnie F. comment

On another note, I made a comment on what was, for me, the most touching moment in our read this week, and the role change that is happening in it. I mention it here, mostly because of the comments it leads to after, on the picaresque tradition that Dickens is carrying on with Nicholas Nickleby:

Rach M. comment

Lenny writes that such a travelling partner as Smike is “almost a given,” considering the tradition Dickens is carrying on:

Lenny H. comment

Marnie adds:

Marnie F. comment

In Lenny’s critique of the critics (see below), he also mentions his own bewilderment at the criticism of Nickleby as an “episodic” novel:

“It could be that in order to compensate for what they [Nickleby‘s critics] see as the ‘episodic’ nature of these early novels, some of these writers need to work up new ideas that make the (episodic) novels more valuable. Sometimes, I suppose this works, other times it probably doesn’t. But in reading these assessments, we’ll still find a kernel of insight that we can find useful and apply that. And maybe go beyond the original idea that the author is inventing. That might be what is happening here with us.

“‘Episodic’ novels. Well, given the ever-existing experimentation of the novel form–to this day and beyond–I’m not even sure what ‘episodic’ means and whether that is important anymore. The criticism of ‘episodic’ I suppose, is rather old school and suggests that there is only one true form that a novel may take. But, as I mentioned to Marnie in response to her wonderful 1st Diary notes, the word ‘novel’ is just that. ‘Novel’ means NEW, and different so that novel form and content is always, to some extent, evolving. Dickens is experimenting with this ‘new’ literature that, really, is still in its infancy. In fact, he is one of the great innovators of this literary ‘form.’ NICKLEBY, I think, is a prime example of innovative experimentation–heavily naturalistic but also extremely dramatic. Whether this ‘format’ and content will evolve from NICKLEBY and beyond, we’ll be finding out.”

~Lenny H.

The Curdle Conundrum: Nicholas Nickleby’s Critics

“…and as to Mr Curdle, he had written a pamphlet of sixty-four pages, post octavo, on the character of the Nurse’s deceased husband in Romeo and Juliet, with an inquiry whether he really had been a ‘merry man’ in his lifetime, or whether it was merely his widow’s affectionate partiality that induced her so to report him. He had likewise proved, that by altering the received mode of punctuation, any one of Shakespeare’s plays could be made quite different, and the sense completely changed; it is needless to say, therefore, that he was a great critic, and a very profound and most original thinker.”

The tradition of literary criticism is particularly subject to what I started thinking of as the “Curdle conundrum,” getting so far down what Lenny called a “weird rabbit hole” that one loses one’s way. But first, commenting on the hilarious Mr. and Mrs. Curdle–“another theatrical couple”–here’s Marnie’s take:

Marnie F. comment

It might be said that Nickleby is both a send-up of, and a love letter to, all things literary: art, novels, theater…and literary criticism. (On the latter, perhaps more of a send-up than a love letter.)

Nonetheless, it was fascinating and fun (and occasionally perplexing) to get some different critical takes on Nickleby, on its episodic nature or “about its being excessively melodramatic.” Thank you, Chris!

Chris M. comments

Lenny, however, takes Miller to task, particularly disliking Miller’s take on the characters existing “as a kind of generalized form or abstract idea of himself,” as though, say, those in Dotheboys Hall comprised only stock figures in a melodrama:

Lenny H. comment

And Lenny adds:

“Over night, I was ruminating over my response to the Miller ‘highlights’ that Chris quoted, and suddenly remembered that she used a quote from Miller when we were reading the SKETCHES that really worked and seemed to tie up beautifully the thematic content of one (and perhaps more) of the stories. I’ve not read Miller’s criticism for well over 50 years, and I remember in the 60’s that he was pointed out as a bright light in Dickens scholarship. Along with Marcus. I’m not sure that in the mid-sixties Dickens’ criticism was as sharp as it is now. The rise of feminist critics have a lot to do with the closer readings that are becoming part of the mainstream of Dickens scholarship, so that we are now understanding the novels more clearly. New times, new perspectives.”

~Lenny H.

And several of us continued in our critique of the critics:

Rach, Chris, and Marnie comments

While thoroughly enjoying reading the critical takes, and Lenny’s jousting with Miller, I also confessed to some exasperation at times with the critics–or simply heartache at it all:

“I really find delight in the combat now–though find myself exasperated beyond pleasure at times–but I remember there was a time (when I was first getting into A Tale of Two Cities) when I was reading a lot of ‘extra material’ about it, and in my youthful ardor, actually crying at the library up in Salem, reading a critical article about it, and how (I won’t give spoilers, in case anyone doesn’t know it) the sacrifice was basically irrelevant because a certain character had an almost suicidal tendency *anyway*, and other critiques of the novel’s theme/motifs. I was crying b/c someone had SO LOST the sheer love of the story itself that they could come to such a place of disengagement, and of navel-gazing.”

~Rachel M.

“All the World’s a Stage”: Theatricality in Nicholas Nickleby

We come around again to the idea that Boze introduced us to at the beginning, that of “Life as Theater.”

Marnie comments:

Marnie F. comment

I chimed in on the many levels of theatricality in this week’s portion, which was the most theatrical portion yet:

Rach M. comments

Boze responds, and this beautiful passage he gives us from Peter Ackroyd could also shed light on Dickens’ “writing lab,” in “the delight Dickens is taking in the invention of characters”:

Boze H. comment

A Toast — to Boz!

Rach M. comment from “Prologue of a Finale” post

On the anniversary of Dickens’ death, we joined in on a toast to our “Beloved Boz”. Daniel adds:

Daniel M. comment

Gina joined in the lifting of the glass:

Gina D. comment

Marnie wrote:

“Rachel, I was going about my day, not knowing it was the anniversary of Dickens’ death until I saw your post…The whole essay and reading made me feel like shedding a tear for Dickens, and for our loss of him even after so long a time. Thanks for the remembrance – see, it relates to your wonderful essay on memory! It’s up to all us to keep the memory of Dickens alive – as we’re doing here – especially through these dark times when the classics are being sidelined, if not eliminated, in places like universities where authors like Dickens should most be remembered and taught.”

~Marnie F.

Boze reminds us of what a truly wonderful legacy he gave us:

Boze H. comment

And Boze added, on twitter:

Boze H. comment

A Look-ahead to Week Three of Nicholas Nickleby (14-20 June)

This week, we’ll be reading Chapters 27-39 which constitute the monthly numbers IX-XII, published Nov 1838 to Feb 1839.

You can read the text in full at The Circumlocution Office if you prefer the online format or don’t have a copy. There are also a number of places (including Gutenberg) where it can be downloaded for free.

26 Comments

  1. Rachel,

    Each of these summaries, recapitulations is like experiencing a graduate seminar in Dickens! Many thanks!

    The depth and breadth of the contributions is staggeringly beautiful and rich.

    All of the insights weave an exquisite tapestry of this “ministering angel’s” incomparable imagination and genius.

    A couple of thoughts.

    1. Critics and creative genius: Hasn’t this kind of “dueling” happened for decades? The critics, often (not always) like lampreys feeding off their hosts?

    2. Horrors of the human condition: Is it possible to exaggerate the world’s horrors such as sex trafficking, mass murders, genocidal assaults? Can Dotheboys School really be “melodramatic,” when we know the evils perpetrated of children in many of the boarding schools there, in Canada, elsewhere?

    3. Self-possession in the face of brutal use: Dickens created two marvelous characters–Nicholas and Kate–who have the capacity to suffer and yet, as several of you pointed out, hold their ground on their intrinsic worth and dignity. The bleak hearts of darkness around them only cause their lights to shine more brightly.

    4. Dickensian names as revelation: Often, we find that Dickens imparts something essential about a person (or a place) in the name he assigns. “Sir Mulberry Hawk” is one of those great Dickensian names. A hawk circling over its prey, indeed!

    5. A question: Rach, what is the title and depiction in the masthead image–a heavy-set man being served a notice of some kind by a Musketeer-looking person with a stern affect?

    Blessings, Inimitables!

    Daniel

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Wonderful thoughts/comments!!!

      As to the image: the Victorian Web puts it this way: “Fred Barnard’s Household Edition handling of the same scene [Nicholas’ early encounter w/the Crummles, and the Savage and the Maiden scene]: Was presently conducted by a robber, with a very large belt and buckle round his waist, and very large leather gauntlets on his hands, into the presence of the former manager (1875).” https://victorianweb.org/authors/dickens/nickleby/crummles.html

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I hope you also grasped Lord Frederick Verisopht = Very Soft as in a very soft touch.

      Ditto to all the praise for these weekly round-ups! They are fabulous and SO helpful! I usually find at least 3 things I missed during the week. Thanks, Rach!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. My gosh, Rach, what a week, eh? Talk about various deep dives into diverse subjects–our club did it, many times over. With the help of your thorough and inspired summary, I can see how different themes are beginning to surface and spread. Through your various summary quotes , I can tell that many in the group have read and studied the novel in great depth and their remarks really help me to get at the various ideas that they have already discovered; in this regard, your commentary is immensely helpful. On the other hand, Rachel, this is my first reading of NICKLEBY, so your astute and wonderfully collated “end of the week” discussions are also incredibly MOTIVATIONAL. So, a huge thank you, again, for your Herculean effort! I’m SO ready to begin another 14 or so chapters!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Aw, thank you so much, Lenny!!! YES what an amazing week! It’s an embarrassment of riches, trying to compile all the wonderful thoughts. I realized later: although I thought we’d really divided up the 5 weeks well enough by installments, some of the installments must have been more substantial than others, because at the end of week 2, we’re almost halfway through the book, with 3 weeks left! So, though I’m not quite sure how this week will compare, I think we’ve frontloaded a lot of reading. I hope it’s not “too much”! But gosh, this club could ***easily*** be twice as long in terms of calendar time, and still have far more to say than we’d have time for! 🙂

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  3. Hi inimitable reading group: I wrote the following paragraph at the end of Marnie’s very cogent 2nd NN Diary, and it just occurred to me, that since we are TOGETHER “reading” in depth and busily drawing out meanings from the wonders of each novel and, at times, actually talking about the processes of our reading, I would include my short bibliographic note:

    “Marnie: Your diary is simply first-rate, and a wonderful recording of your thoughts about each chapter. My question is–have you done this kind of record-keeping before of your reading experience, because if you have, it really shows–this experience! But if you haven’t–either way your thoughts about your reading and the EXPERIENCE OF READING are quite the thing and has been, since the mid-sixties, a standard topic in literary criticism. It’s not without it’s controversary, but is still useful and a lot of reading/psychological theory has been built around it. I’m certainly not as up to date on it as I used to be many years ago (50+), but I will give you some early proponents of this kind of critical approach to literature and the reading of literature. One of my favorites was a useful book titled, “WITH RESPECT TO READERS” (by Walter Slatoff), another that was very controversial and hugely popular is called THE DYNAMICS OF LITERARY RESPONSE by Normand Holland, and the third would be THE IMPLIED READER by Wolfgang Iser. I feel Slatoff’s is the easiest to read, Holland more difficult because he’s using Freudian theory as I recall, but Iser I found really fun and a more complicated practitioner than Slatoff with his commentary about the “gaps” and “pauses” in the reading experience. I think you’d find some kinship with these authors as they talk about the reading process….”

    As I thought about it further, our ENTIRE group–collectively–is, with our different WAYS of going about reading Dickens’ words and texts and, finally, holistically (getting at the entirety of each novel) is practicing what Holland terms “The Dynamics of Literary Response.” Holland in another text–READERS READING–sort of uses the kind of group read that we are doing and would be thrilled to see the literary disclosures we are making to each other as we involve ourselves in this kind of “meaning making.” As such, we are EACH employing our own and ,collectively as a group,very unique ways of seeing and understanding Dickens’ texts!! CONGRATS to all of us for our hard work, fun comments, and great results!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The second major confrontation between Sir Mulberry Hawk and Kate takes place at the theater takes place at the theater. As with the first, it’s another marvelous “set piece” that is virtually a short story unto itself–with three parts (beginning, middle and end). The beginning segment leadsoff with the variouscontrivances by Pluck andPyke to fist manuever Mrs. Nickleby into the theater

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry, group–I lost about 95% of this “essay” when I hit the “post comment” button. I’ve not ben able to retrieve it. When I hit “post comment” I received a message indicating my writing cannot be posted. And then I was left with just the five lines you see above. Any ideas? –Lenny

      Like

      1. Lenny -I don’t know about retrieving what you’ve lost, but the best thing I can offer is to suggest that you draft your comments off site – in a google document or word document for example – and then copy & paste it to the blog. That way if something happens while postings you still have your comments on your other document.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Lenny, I wish you could retrieve or reconstruct your post on the theater “set piece” – I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. It’s wonderful how Dickens moves all the characters like chess pieces from one theatre box to another, one grouping to another. And of course, Hawk is the puppetmaster who has plotted out all the moves ahead of time.

      Even though it’s appalling that Mrs. Nickleby is enjoying herself with Mr. Pluck while her daughter is suffering, I always enjoy her rambling story of visiting Shakespeare’s birthplace. And I have to laugh at Mr. Wititterly circulating throughout the theater, pointing out to everyone the Important People with his wife. So much to see in this “set piece”.
      Marnie

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  5. None of the adaptations I’ve seen includes the Cheerybles’ grief over their mother. I understand why it’d be hard to work in without ruining the pacing, but I wish they would. I feel like it’s important to their characters

    Most adaptations when choosing which of Kate’s employers to cut, choose the Wititterlies. (Maybe because “Wititterly” is a pain to spell.) If it were me, I’d probably choose to cut the Mantalinis since the Wititterlies are more connected to the storyline of Sir Mulberry Hawk, both from a plot perspective and thematically. Of course, both are great and including both is the ideal.

    I love the irony of Chapter 33. “Ralph Nickleby is relieved, by a very expeditious Process, from all Commerce with his Relations.” LOL. Given the major role money plays in the role, I wonder if the choice of the word, commerce, wasn’t random.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stationmaster, I’d like to know more about the Cheerybles’ background too. We get a few little mentions here and there that are like little teases that hang out there: coming so poor to London, their love of their mother (who definitely must have been among the good parents), and their relationships to Madeline’s mother (Charles) and her sister (Ned). Lots of good story material that it would have been nice to read – I’d have been fine with another oh 100 pages or more to find out more about all these wonderful characters, not just the Cheeryble brothers. I doubt Dickens could have survived any longer though, since he said on 20 Sep 1839 when he finished it: ‘Finished Nickleby…Thank God I have lived to get through it happily.’ It sounds as if he was exhausted at that point, understandably, after writing it for almost two years.

      “Maybe because ‘Wititterly’ is a pain to spell” LOL! I hate typing that name – though I’m fond of the characters and would hate to lose them.
      Marnie

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There are so many backstories in Dickens that never get filled in – I often find myself imagining what they would be. There are some attempts to fill in or expand upon these stories. Some examples are: “Jack Maggs” by Peter Carey about Magwitch from “Great Expectations”; “Mr. Timothy” by Louis Bayard about Tiny Tim from “A Christmas Carol”; “Drood” by Dan Simmons and “The Last Dickens” by Matthew Pearl both about “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”, but these last two are more about Dickens during the writing of “Drood”. I’m sure there are many others.

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  6. Chris, it does tempt us, doesn’t it, to write our own stories to “fill in”. I would guess that only characters from his most well-known novels and stories – like Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol and especially the mysterious Mystery of Edwin Drood – or David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities – would be of interest to enough people to be published. I doubt the backstory of Nathaniel Winkle would be a big seller 😊 – though I’d read it.

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  7. I am so struck by the insight about the parallels between Smike and the Infant Phenomenon. I can’t believe I never noticed them before. Goodness knows, after years of seeing what some figure skating coaches do their young students (it all started WAY before that awful scene at this year’s Winter Olympics), the part about stunting her growth hits much harder. 😦

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    1. To be honest, I don’t think the Infant Phenomena is really suffering, though, realistically speaking, she should be. In the book and in most adaptations, she seems like she loves her life in the spotlight. The RSC memorably portrays her as very enthusiastic about canvassing for Miss Snevellici’s benefit. There is a shot though in the 2002 movie of her looking cynical and world weary as she drinks gin, which is odd, come to think of it, as that adaptation portrays Crummles more positively than the book and other versions

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      1. I like to think of the Phenomenon as I see her in the RSC’s NN too – so happy and bubbly. Yet she can still be suffering harm as is the Young Wackford in chapter 34. He’s also happy as he’s stuffing himself with pastries and tarts at his father’s encouragement and pressure. The bodies of the Phenomenon and Young Wackford are still being harmed even though they may be perfectly happy. The abuse that Squeers inflicts on Smike and the Dotheboys boys are on an entirely different level to the harm that he does to his son by pressuring him to fatten himself. That’s one of the fascinating things about the book – Dickens shows us so many different ways and levels that adults can harm children.

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    2. Yes, and think of the girls in those children’s beauty pageants. These modern day parallels remind us that that kind of abuse or exploitation that we see in the Phenomenon is not just a relic of the 19th century. It’s still going on around us.

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  8. A few of my favorite moments from this week’s reading:

    “Thus Mr. Snevellicci … smiled upon all present in happy forgetfulness of having exhibited symptoms of pugnacity, and proposed ‘The ladies! Bless their hearts!’ in a most vivacious manner.
    ‘I love ‘em,’ said Mr. Snevellicci, looking round the table, ‘I love ‘em, every one.’
    ‘Not every one,’ reasoned Mr. Lillyvick, mildly.
    ‘Yes, every one,’ repeated Mr. Snevellicci.
    ‘That would include the married ladies, you know,’ said Mr. Lillyvick.
    ‘I love them too, sir,’ said Mr. Snevellicci.”

    “‘It’s a weakness in our family,’ said Mrs. Nickleby, ‘so, of course, I can’t be blamed for it. Your grandmama, Kate, was exactly the same—precisely. The least excitement, the slightest surprise—she fainted away directly. I have heard her say, often and often, that when she was a young lady, and before she was married, she was turning a corner into Oxford Street one day, when she ran against her own hairdresser, who, it seems, was escaping from a bear;—the mere suddenness of the encounter made her faint away directly. Wait, though,’ added Mrs. Nickleby, pausing to consider. ‘Let me be sure I’m right. Was it her hairdresser who had escaped from a bear, or was it a bear who had escaped from her hairdresser’s? I declare I can’t remember just now, but the hairdresser was a very handsome man, I know, and quite a gentleman in his manners; so that it has nothing to do with the point of the story.’”

    “Having put down Nicholas in this triumphant manner, Mrs. Nickleby was suddenly seized with a forgetfulness of Smike’s real name, and an irresistible tendency to call him Mr. Slammons; which circumstance she attributed to the remarkable similarity of the two names in point of sound both beginning with an S, and moreover being spelt with an M. But whatever doubt there might be on this point, there was none as to his being a most excellent listener; which circumstance had considerable influence in placing them on the very best terms, and inducing Mrs. Nickleby to express the highest opinion of his general deportment and disposition.”

    Comedy is a hard thing to do well in a story, and tends to age badly; but the comedy in Nicholas Nickleby holds up, I suspect because the humor is firmly rooted in character. Reading it I’m impressed by Dickens’s inventiveness, which seems to be endless; the absurd characters and the jokes seem to pour from him naturally, the way those intricate lines pour from a seismograph. And yet, reading the books in chronological order, I’m curious to see how he transitions from the comedy of the early books to the darkness and drama of the post-Dombey books. It’s a bit like the Beatles, the way his talents evolved, acquiring an ever-greater maturity and complexity.

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      1. “Nickleby” is, I agree, a contender for the funniest, but we’re not quite done with fun. Not to be a spoiler, but just to create some anticipation, “Martin Chuzzlewit” is a also in the running for the “funniest” title, and before we get to that one we have “Barnaby Rudge” which has some funny bits (though these are more in the “so horrible it’s funny” category).

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