Nicholas Nickleby, Week 5 ~ and a Week 4 Wrap-Up

Wherein we glance back at the fourth week of the #DickensClub reading of Nicholas Nickleby (week 25 of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club); With General Memoranda, a summary of reading and discussion, and a look ahead to week five, our final week with our theatrical friends.

Edited/compiled by Rach

“Why is it that beauty is always obdurate, even when admiration is as honourable and respectful as mine?…Is it…in consequence of the statue at Charing Cross having been lately seen, on the Stock Exchange at midnight, walking arm-in-arm with the Pump from Aldgate, in a riding-habit?”

Friends, these and other such momentous questions have been thrown out–alongside cucumbers and other vegetable marrows–for our discussion this week.

But first, here are quick links for you:

  1. General Mems
  2. Week Four Nicholas Nickleby Summary (Chapters 40-51)
  3. Discussion Wrap-Up
  4. A Look-ahead to Week Five of Nicholas Nickleby (28 June – 4 July)

General Mems

I’ve tried something a little differently this week, and have changed the screenshots so that we have each “essay”/comment more in one long thread, than split up into separate frames in a gallery. It makes the post “appear” longer. Is it more readable for everyone, or less so?

If you’re counting, today is Day 175–and Week 26–in our #DickensClub! It will be Week Five of Nicholas Nickleby, the final week of 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.

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 me here on the site, or on twitter.

Week Four Nicholas Nickleby Summary (Chapters 40-51)

Smike finds refuge with Newman after he escapes Squeers again, with the help of our faithful John Browdie…and how we’ve been singing the praises of John Browdie this week!

“Nicholas recognizes the Young Lady unknown,” by Phiz.

Nicholas is surprised to see the mysterious young woman from the General Agency Office again—this time, kneeling at the feet of the Brothers Cheeryble, in spite of their protestations. But the mystery remains unsolved as to her identity and the connection with the brothers, who do not feel that they can give him any information about her yet.

“Mystery and disappointment are not absolutely indispensable to the growth of love, but they are, very often, its powerful auxiliaries…Love…is very materially assisted by a warm and active imagination, which has a long memory, and will thrive for a considerable time on very slight and sparing food…and thus it was, that Nicholas, thinking of nothing but the unknown young lady, from day to day and from hour to hour, began, at last, to think that he was very desperately in love with her…”

Newman acts as a spy for Nicholas in the latter’s attempts to find out her identity, resulting in a comic scene—somewhat reminiscent of Pickwick’s quixotic nightly meeting to thwart Jingle, which only results in scaring a houseful of ladies—in which the wrong lady is encountered, in the wrong house, to the bewilderment of all.

“The gentleman next door declares his passion for Mrs Nickleby,” by Phiz.

Chapter 41 is one of the great comical scenes, where Mrs. Nickleby and Kate encounter the mad gentleman in small-clothes, who proceeds to toss cucumbers and other vegetable marrows over the wall which separates his property from theirs, as a token of his affection for Mrs. Nickleby, whose charms “waft mellifluousness over the neighbours’ gardens, and force the fruit and vegetables into premature existence”!

“..a fine vegetable marrow, of unusually large dimensions, was seen to whirl aloft, and come toppling down; then, several cucumbers shot up together; and, finally, the air was darkened by a shower of onions, turnip-radishes, and other small vegetables, which fell rolling and scattering, and bumping about, in all directions.”

“Won’t you sip the goblet?”

“I have estates, ma’am…jewels, light-houses, fish-ponds, a whalery of my own in the North Sea, and several oyster-beds of great profit in the Pacific Ocean…After that, love bliss and rapture; rapture love and bliss. Be mine, be mine!”

Nicholas meets up again with old friends—Tilda and John—and then encounters a new one: Frank Cheeryble, nephew to the brothers, who caused a very Nicholas-like scene in his attack on a gentleman for his talking lewdly of a lady (who turns out to be the mysterious woman Nicholas loves). Nicholas and Frank become fast friends, in spite of the former’s concern that Frank might have some interest in his own mystery woman. Frank is introduced to Mrs. Nickleby and Kate—and the meeting produces “a blush or two” from the latter.

After we learn that Hawk and Verisopht have gone to France, Ralph encounters the mysterious Mr. Brooker, who is in desperate need. Ralph and Mr. Brooker had had a connection years ago; money was leant to Brooker, and Ralph had him arrested for a debt, and Brooker had a miserable life of it. Brooker now has something to communicate to Ralph, but Ralph will not listen, and doesn’t care what the world thinks of him.

“I know the world, and the world knows me…You could tell it nothing that would surprise it…things roll on just the same, and I don’t grow poorer either.”

“Mr Mantalini poisons himself for the seventh time,” by Phiz.

This is followed by another comic Mantalini scene, where that gentleman appears to have poisoned himself–but all of his ploys come to nothing; his wife, whose business has been taken over by Miss Knag, is finally casting him off.

Newman has been a kind of spy for everyone, and observes Ralph going on some mysterious errand with Squeers and another.

Schemes of every sort abound in our reading this week—both for good and ill.

“Mr Snawley enlarges on parental instinct,” by Phiz.

For the first big moment: Ralph, Squeers and Snawley pay a visit to the Nicklebys, with the claim that Smike is the biological son of Snawley—a scheme concocted by Ralph to separate him from Nicholas. Though Nicholas is skeptical, everyone is too taken aback at first to decide what to do; John Browdie intervenes, and Smike refuses to leave his friends.

“Nicholas makes his first visit to Mr Bray,” by Phiz.

The Brothers Cheeryble have a scheme of their own, and a delightfully benevolent one, into which they enlist Nicholas: Nicholas is to make a feint of being a purchaser of some of the art and handwork made by Madeleine Bray—the very mystery woman Nicholas has set his heart on—so as to aid her and her father covertly. Mr. Bray knows them and had been chosen as marriage partner over Charles by Madeleine’s mother, and Bray will have nothing to do with the brothers. This, therefore, makes it a kind of last resort effort, for several reasons: Madeleine won’t leave her abusive father as they hoped she would; her father would obstinately not accept help if he knew the source; Mr. Bray would fritter away any larger amount of money.

Nicholas debates in his mind whether he should tell the Brothers Cheeryble that he himself has formed an attachment to her; he decides, however, to be confident in his own ability to be restrained and be of service to her as disinterestedly as possible.

Meanwhile, a third scheme is afoot: Ralph acts as a support to Arthur Gride—a miserly and disgustingly lewd old fellow who is “in lust” with Madeleine and to whom Madeleine’s father owes money—in his negotiations with Mr. Bray to allow a marriage between Gride and Madeleine. The marriage would release Mr. Bray from his debts, and give him an allowance in addition. Ralph thinks it likely that they’ve convinced Bray by the end of it.

Nicholas then meets with, and says farewell to, the Crummles family, as they are about to find new adventures in America.

As Kate and the family receive more and more attentions from Frank Cheeryble, Smike becomes more withdrawn. Worn down by the stresses of his reencounters with Squeers, his health is declining and a physician is called for, who suggests that his treatment in childhood has left him vulnerable.

“Mysterious appearance of the Gentleman in the smallclothes,” by Phiz.

Our eccentric old friend in the small-clothes (a.k.a. Mr. Cucumber) finds a unique method of calling on his beloved: coming down the chimney! The company struggles to assist the gentleman out of his increasingly trapped condition. In a fickle turn, that gentleman, once freed from the chimney, dashes towards the frightened Mrs. Nickleby with an “Avaunt! Cat!”

“The last brawl between Sir Mulberry and his pupil,” by Phiz.

Toward the end of our read this week, Hawk has made his first public appearance since returning from his trip to France, and has Lord Verisopht with him. Hearing that Hawk still intends to take vengeance on Nicholas, Verisopht says he will not allow it—and a duel is arranged between the lord and his old mentor. Verisopht, the morning of the duel, regrets that he has never noticed the natural beauty around him before, and that he has made so many decisions that he regrets.

Hawk kills Verisopht, and flees the country.

Meanwhile, Arthur Gride is picking out his wedding suit and making plans with his nearly-deaf housekeeper, Peg. They are visited by Newman Noggs with a letter from Ralph—which Newman slyly reads once Gride leaves the room for a moment—informing of Bray’s agreement to the marriage terms, and suggesting that Gride not visit her, as she doesn’t like him. Though Noggs doesn’t yet know the name of Nicholas’ love, he speaks of the plot to Nicholas, and they put two and two together; Nicholas storms out in a passion to try and rectify the situation.

Discussion Wrap-Up

What wonderful discussions this week, friends! Between Marnie’s Nickleby Diary and the comments under both that post and under last week’s wrap-up, there’s so much to cover. Here are some highlights, but I hope you have a chance to read the diary and comments from last week fully:

What we Loved: Comedy, Redemption, and John Browdie

Cassandra is back, and catching up with Nicholas, and I think voices many of our own sentiments in delighting when “Nicholas beat the sht out of Squeers.”

A few other highlights:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

The Stationmaster comments on our having “two of the most hilarious scenes in the book this week”:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Several of us, like Lenny here, just “can’t get enough of John Browdie”:

Lenny H. comment

Marnie’s on board with the John Browdie Fan Club:

Marnie F. comment

I mentioned some of my highlights for the week–including John Browdie–in terms of description, comedy, and pathos:

Rach M. comment

Smike’s Mysterious Ailment; His PTSD and “Multi-Level Suffering”; the Smikes Among Us

Continuing with our theme of Smike and how we notice those around us who are experiencing life differently from “the norm,” Marnie had brought up the important theme of what exactly it is that “ails” Smike, as it has been mentioned in Nickleby criticism that he simply didn’t fit in with the bourgeois environment, and would have thrived remaining with the Crummles. Marnie writes:

Marnie F. comments

Daniel sums up our wrap-up of last week, and I’ll put the whole thing here so as to keep the piece intact, but with special notice of #3:

Daniel M. comment

Lenny responded with a wonderful analysis of Smike’s “multilevel suffering,” and which is surely connected to PTSD, as he outlines so well here. Lenny also points out that Smike is not only a wonderfully individual and well-drawn character, but is also symbolic of a larger group; of all those who, like him, suffered at Dotheboys Hall and in all of the places in our own world which its cruelty represents:

Lenny H. comment

Marnie adds:

Marnie F. comment


On the connection between the Crummles family and Dickens’ actor friend Macready, Marnie writes:

Marnie F. comment

Dickens’ “Writing Lab”: Doubling, Dangling Threads & Forgotten Friends?

In Marnie’s Nickleby Diary, she questions Dickens’ success–or otherwise–in the way he “has started to check off his list of characters that need to be eliminated”:

Marnie F. comment

Chris responds:

Chris M. comment

In the one “gallery” format that I’ll use in the post, I am including several mysteries that Marnie points us to–mysteries about how much certain characters know by a certain point:

Marnie F. comments

Finally, Marnie points out the way Dickens uses the technique of “doubling” again, in the ways Nicholas and Frank mirror one another in defense of the other man’s love interest:

Marnie F. comments


Marnie has beautifully continued the thread of memory in this week’s read. I also mentioned above that there is a nostalgic regret connected to it in Lord Verisopht’s final moments (above).

Here is Marnie’s passage in full:

Marnie F. comment
Marnie F. comment

Of King Lear and Cucumbers

For something delightfully and theatrically different: In what way does King Lear connect with our gentleman in small-clothes?

But first, Boze had shared with us the wonderful variety of illustrations of the most marvelous Chapter 41, where Kate and Mrs. Nickleby receive a homage in the form of vegetable marrows of all sorts:

Boze H. comment

Marnie responds:

Marnie F. comment

She had also reflected on this eccentric gentleman in her Diary of this week:

Marnie F. comment

But wait! We’re not done yet with Mr. Cucumber. Boze writes:

Boze H. comments

I’d already been thinking along the lines of Shakespeare connections, and so consider the question of King Lear & Cucumbers:

Rach M. comment

On our Bard, and our Boz, then:

“…he brought within the magic circle of his genius, traditions peculiarly adapted for his purpose, and turned familiar things into constellations which should enlighten the world for ages.”

A Look-ahead to Week Five of Nicholas Nickleby (28 June – 4 July)

This week, we’ll be reading our final installments, Chapters 52-65, which constitute the monthly numbers XVII-XX (the final month being a double number) published July to September 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.


  1. Okay, dear Dickens Club…I’m not sure that the long-strand essay format really worked, since it makes the print appear really small for a few of them (at least on my small laptop)? I had to increase the screen size to see it well. I guess it was worth a try, but I’ll probably go back to the “gallery” format for the screenshots of the comments in future? What do you think?


  2. Rach: I loved the new long-strand format. It has more of a flow than the other, though I liked the other format, also. But in retrospect, it presented a kind of fragmented “picture” (literally) and was more difficult, for me, to sort out sometimes. Here, your “essay” just moves along so beautifully without the “boxy” distractions. But this is just my humble opinion.

    And I must say, as always, your presentation is first rate, and enumerates so beautifully the various ideas the group has put forth this week. Geez, what an active, exceptional, dynamic and progressive bunch of readers and writers! Your summary catches their wit and acumen so fully. So, on to the final week with bells on our toes….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw, wonderful! Thanks Lenny ~ I’m so glad you & Chris like the new format…I certainly loved the *idea* of it (and frankly, it is easier to put together…those multiple-frame screenshot galleries take longer than one would imagine 😂) So I’m really glad. I’ll also try and incorporate more of direct quotes within the text body itself, as I know those are pretty easy to read.

      Thanks for your kind words, Lenny! ☺️🙏 What an amazing group we have, I totally agree!!!!


  3. Rach – I like the long format, too. If the small print is too small, I just zoom in until I can read it. And again, I picked up a lot of comments I missed during the week – thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Since we were talking about structural issues with the book last week, I’d kind of like to give some further thoughts on them and why they don’t bother me. But I’d like to make it clear first that if anyone is bugged by them, that’s perfectly valid. You have the right to your opinion.

    It’s true that the book feels like Dickens was, to an extent, making it up as he went along. The chapter about Crummles in last week’s reading was obviously dropped where it was because fans wanted a bigger send off to the character. And the same could be said about Mantalini’s appearance in Chapter 64. But, if anything, I kind of enjoy this aspect of the book. I mean I appreciate it when a story has been carefully planned out in advance but there’s something appealing to me about Nicholas Nickleby’s slightly random quality.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I feel as though I’ve just experienced a delightful roller-coaster ride! Such twists, bends, thrills!

    I find the depth of insight among my fellow readers amazing.

    Thanks so all for enriching my experience of Dickens one hundredfold.

    And, Lenny, you took the words right out of my mouth about Rachel’s excellent and most coherent presentation of the rich contributions. Only, you said it so much better!

    Blessings, as we venture forward in the never-to-be-repeated world of Dickens’ mind and imagination!


    P.S. I’m wondering if Nicholas (Junior) might be a somewhat autobiographical portrait. Any merit to this?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Certainly, Phiz seems to draw Nicholas very much like Dickens at this age. I think also the painting of Maclise (of Dickens) around this time is called “the Nickleby portrait”–or something similar! 🙂


  6. Daniel: That’s very sweet of you to say, but I’ve ALWAYS thought your comments about Rachels Wrap-up to be hugely thoughtful and provoking and which have forced me to rethink some of the ideas you set forth. Consequently, I doubt that what I said would have been “better” than yours. Your commentary is more complete and is just filled with little nuggets which I enjoy reading and considering!

    Yeah, I’ve been wondering about the autobiographical possibilities in Nicholas. The Dickens’ aficionados in the club will have insights about this, I’m sure.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. If anyone’s being paying attention to my comments on Nicholas Nickleby, they’ll have noticed that I’ve been comparing the book to its adaptations a lot. Well, I’m going to do it again.
    All of them that I can remember combine Ralph’s two meetings with the Cheeryble brothers into one. This is very understandable on a practical level, but I don’t feel like it plays very well. The tones of the two scenes are just so different. It doesn’t make sense to have Newman Noggs gloat over Ralph in a scene where we’re supposed to be feeling sorry for him. I feel like the Cheerybles, if they know about Smike at that point, wouldn’t let him do that.
    I hope no one minds my promoting my own work because I’d like to share a couple of blog posts of mine about my favorite Nicholas Nickleby adaptations. Warning: one of them is about an adaptation that’s not readily available to watch and, if I did my job right, which admittedly is questionable, reading the post should make you curious about it.
    Recently, I also did a post about which I’ve blogged about had the best adapted screenplays and one of the Nicholas Nickleby movies made the cut!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Stationmaster, I enjoyed your reviews of the Nicholas Nickleby adaptations for the Cavalcanti, RSC and McGrath versions, even though, as you can guess, my own preference lies with the RSC. I love all the RSC actors in their roles over the other depictions but I appreciate your point of view. I’ve only watched the Cavalcanti and McGrath versions once each and that was last year, as opposed to the RSC which I’ve watched many times. Your overview and analysis make me want to go back and watch those other two again.

      Regarding the RSC, I too wish they had left out a couple of the audience shots. I do very much enjoy those that the actors appear in – the title sequence when the audience is filling in and we get to see the actors, in costume, mingling and talking with the audience; then the Muffin company scene with the muffin boys and other characters in the audience; and then also a couple of times later when actors have to run across the balcony or come down the aisle to the stage. All great fun, but there are a couple of others I could do without – particularly in the thrashing scene. Nicholas is beating on Squeers and there’s a cut to the audience clapping – an awful directing choice, especially since it’s one of the tensest scenes in the play. Goddard should never have broken the mood there.

      You’re right about the “shoring up”, so to speak, of the female characters, especially Kate and Fanny. David Edgar worked to strengthen the Kate character and to make Fanny more sympathetic. I do think it undermines Nicholas a bit, but not to a damaging extent – for instance, Fanny may arouse some sympathy, which causes Nicholas to come off as a bit of a brute, but these are comic scenes and are too enjoyable to take very seriously. Madeline is nicely treated too, I think.

      Being a “real fan”, I do love the narrations. They don’t take me out of the play at all. In fact, everything – the old-fashioned look and speech and music, the bare stage/set, constantly changing scenes, the narrations, the actors playing multiples roles – central roles as well as supporting roles as wells as narrators and just appearing in the periphery of the scenes – it is all one enclosed little world, out of time and space. When I watch it, I feel that I’ve stepped into another world that I never want to leave. The movie adaptations, for me, are just – well, movies, like any other I’d watch, nothing special or enchanted. But everyone is going to have their own reactions and views of these adaptations, as with the books themselves.

      Some elements – Roger Rees’s Nicholas, Threlfall’s Smike, the ending – would take too long for me to dive into here. I’ve been too long as it is. I have to mention one more thing. I had to laugh when I read your footnote regarding David Edgar. Too true. We’re lucky that his worst radical political instincts were reined in for this play. I think it was done by Trevor Nunn and the actors themselves, who had a huge influence on Edgar as the play was being developed and rehearsed over many months, And during its different runs in 1980 and 1981, Edgar was still making changes, apparently in response to what the actors were doing. Even though Nunn and most of the actors were probably on the same political end of the spectrum as Edgar, I think their instincts as to what would “work” with the audience – what the audience wanted to see and their own actors’ motivation to want to please the audience – overrode Edgar’s own tendency to politically lecture and scold the audience. And that’s why I avoid modernistic “updating” of the classics too, like the 2012 movie. It seems the aim is to push a political agenda, in which case they should write their own original piece and not trade off on the popularity of the original. I used to attend Shakespeare plays up in Canada’s Stratford every summer – until Canada shut down in 2020 – and we would always look for the straightforward, classic productions over the warped distortions they also offered. Of course, the RSC pioneered that kind of modernistic distortion of Shakespeare plays from the 1960s onward, but they too always offered the classic productions alongside of them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I actually don’t necessarily think it’s a problem if Nicholas’s treatment of Fanny comes across as mean. While the novel’s morality is very black and white (I don’t mean that as a criticism), Dickens did write that he meant for Nicholas to be a somewhat immature and imperfect character, at least at the beginning. And his handling of Fanny’s attentions is definitely one of his less wise decisions.

        An interesting trivia bit about the RSC’s Nicholas Nickleby, which I didn’t get in my blog post (it was super long already) is that one of the goals of the creative team was to treat Dickens’s comic characters as real people, not caricatures. I think that sounds awesome in theory! But I feel like, in practice, it led to them losing some of the joy of the book. Maybe that’s another reason I don’t love it as much as I feel like I’m supposed to love it as a Dickens fan.

        I read that trivia bit, unless my memory is totally crazy, in the book, The Nicholas Nickleby by Leon Rubin, which also discusses how behind the scenes some of the actors in the company were upset that they were cast in such minor roles and felt they deserved bigger ones. I find that hilariously appropriate since it sounds just like the Crummles company. LOL.

        Sorry to nitpick, just thought I’d say the 2012 adaptation, set in modern day, is actually a miniseries, not a movie. I guess I’m stressing that because I liked that my blog series had two miniseries (sort of) and two movies. Gave it a nice balance, I felt.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Stationmaster – I was going to mention in my last post about your comment on the two Cheeryble meetings being combined in adaptations. I’m sure it was felt – by all the productions – as well as myself, that it could easily be done, but I hadn’t really taken into consideration that they are different, really, as you suggest, in tone. And how that affects Newman, in particular. It does seem to undercut his great speech a bit. When he makes that speech in the book in the first Cheeryble scene, he and the Cheerybles don’t know that Smike is dead. When he’s making the speech for the one and only Cheeryble scene in the adaptations, the audiences don’t know that Smike is dead, but he and the Cheerybles do. I’m not really comfortable with that either. And I wonder if I’m missing other “tone” issues from that conflation. It’s something I want to consider more. Thanks.

      I can’t resist adding another trivia bit myself about the RSC production that I thought of as I reread your review. This may only interest you as you know the play well. In another footnote, you described a section that was in the film but not the script. That was something I had missed so another thanks for pointing it out. I assume you have the same published edition of Edgar’s script that I have (and I have the Leon Rubin book as well which is indispensable if you love the adaptation). As I mentioned previously, Edgar made constant changes throughout the 1980-81 runs. In his “Author’s Introduction” in the published script, he says “Each revival and transfer saw cast changes, the production developed, and the script was rewritten and (I hope) improved.” This published script was the final version of the play – as it was performed for the Broadway run, its final run in the fall of 1981. I had read that Edgar had inserted a few lines in that same scene with the Curdles expressly for the Broadway run so I was familiar with that insertion. Mrs. Curdle balks: 4 shillings for one box? Mr. Curdle: 4 shillings for one play? Nicholas: “Well. With a lot of people in it. (slight pause). And it is very long.” These lines would have gotten a big laugh from the Broadway audience who had had to pay the unheard of price of $100 a ticket – it was famously known for that – so Nicholas tries to abashedly explain – as the RSC itself must have had to do – that the cast was a large one (39 actors) and was very long (8 ½ hours). You’ll notice those lines aren’t in the film because they were only done for the Broadway run in fall 1981, which was after the play was filmed in the summer 1981. So the production must have removed that section you pointed out to make room for the new one they had inserted. There’s only a few lines between the inserted section and the removed section. I would assume that the section they removed – the one you referred to – would have been in all of the earlier London runs, as well as the filmed summer 1981 version that we see.


      1. The added part I was referring to in the canvassing scene was after they leave the Curdles, there’s this description from the book of the other people they asked.

        “Some wanted tragedies, and others comedies; some objected to dancing; some wanted scarcely anything else. Some thought the comic singer decidedly low, and others hoped he would have more to do than he usually had. Some people wouldn’t promise to go, because other people wouldn’t promise to go; and other people wouldn’t go at all, because other people went.”

        This isn’t in the published script.

        That certainly is a fun bit about the extra dimension that funny moment would have had for the original audiences in the theater. I think it’s interesting to look at jokes in their historical context sometimes.

        I just remembered something odd about the 1982 filming. (I’m sorry if it seems like nitpicking that one to death. I’m not really criticizing the play itself this time, just the way it was filmed for television.) In the scene of Gride’s “wedding,” the minister starts to read the full ceremony but Ralph, according to the script, gets impatient and signals him to skip to the end. They focus the camera on the minister’s face the whole time, so we don’t see what he’s reacting to and it’s confusing why he suddenly decides to skip ahead. I don’t why they couldn’t have just cut to Ralph looking impatient for a second.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Dickens can’t help but be autobiographical – his ego alone would dictate this. Yet his varied and vast experience at a young age, enhanced by his extraordinary imagination, yielded such a quantity of story fodder that he couldn’t help but mine it.

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    1. Daniel, Lenny and Chris – I see lots of autobiographical elements in “Nicholas Nickleby”. I think Dickens was channeling his own brand new role as a new parent in Nicholas, as the good parent, the heroic defender of the innocent and abused (Smike), protector of his family (Kate). And we have it from Dickens himself that Mrs. Nickleby was based on his own mother. The fact that she thoughtlessly harms Kate by allowing herself to be swept into the flattering nets of the dissolute vultures who are pursuing her daughter, highlights her bad parent side. Mrs. Nickleby is “selling” her daughter as Ralph draws our attention to when he says “selling a girl…match-making mothers do the same every day.” And this reminds us that Dickens had seen this in his own Mrs. Nickleby when his own mother “sold” him to the blacking factory to support the family – something he never forgot.

      He also never forgot Mary Hogarth, whose memory, as several of the Inimitables here have mentioned, haunt the pages of not just this book but others as well.

      There’s one other autobiographical feature that occurs to me – the theatrical presence of the Crummles company especially, but other characters throughout the book, such as Mantalini. We know how much Dickens knew and loved the theater, and he infused that love, and his experiences of it, throughout “Nicholas Nickleby”.

      Maybe one more – the random picaresque format which came from all the earlier picaresque novels Dickens had read as a child. There might be others but those are the autobiographical elements that I can think of.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I wrote in another comment that Miss Knag was the only negative character in the book who gets a happy ending, but, on reflection, Dickens does (sort of) leave the door open for a relatively happy ending for the members of the Squeers who aren’t in jail. If any of them are willing to accept the Browdies help, that is.

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  10. Newman Noggs’s plea of encouragement to Nicholas – “Hope to the last . . . Always hope . . . Never leave off hoping, it don’t answer. . . . Don’t leave a stone unturned. It’s always something to know you’ve done the most you could. But don’t leave off hoping, or it’s of no use doing anything. Hope, hope, to the last!” (Ch 52)

    I think this is, in large part, one of Dickens’s messages through his works. (Another message is the “Mankind is my business” of “A Christmas Carol”.) Hope, not just for better but that better can actually be achieved, should inform our actions – that is, we must believe that our efforts, and effort is key here, can effect change, can get us through our trials, can help others, can make things better. Hope then is a form of speculation – a topic we’ve talked a lot about already. Speculation is hoping that a risk will result in one’s favor. While Newman’s speech to Nicholas relates to hoping to achieve a good, we should not lose sight of the flip side illustrated by Ralph’s hopes for bad things like profit via swindle and Nicholas’s downfall and death. Dickens’s constantly shows us both sides of his message, I think to set in relief the positive message and to show how easy it is to slip from good to bad if one looses sight of the bigger picture.

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    1. Hope as speculation. Perfectly expressed, Chris. And Ralph represents the ultimate loss of hope as he takes his own life rather than turning to the good, to redemption.

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  11. I’m not quite finished, but wanted to put in a few thoughts before it is too late in the week…


    I love the melodrama of this final portion.

    As we’ve discussed before, Nicholas Nickleby is clearly a love letter to Victorian romantic stage melodrama, but here at the end, as we’re coming to its theatrical climax, it’s most evident in its homage to melodrama’s tropes and construction.

    Elsewhere, we’ve seen it lovingly spoofed, especially during Nicholas’ time with the Crummles; here, we see it in earnest, in every long, delightfully florid speech that Nicholas makes; in Newman’s sidekick “Hope, hope, to the last!”; in the outright, gross villainy of Arthur Gride; of Madeleine’s misplaced but noble-hearted self-sacrifice; in Nicholas’ dramatic curses and “Beware!”-style foretelling of the doom to come; in Smike’s heartbreaking, consumptive conclusion; in Squeers’ soliloquy at Peg Sliderskew’s residence, where he “tells” us, the audience, what has passed in the interim, during his search for Peg and her stolen documents, before drinking a toast to himself and Mrs. Squeers.


    To echo the theme that Marnie has been keeping up the thread on since my earlier piece on Memory, I loved the nostalgic recollections in Ch 58 (“they were all summer mornings then”) as Nicholas and Smike make the last of their journeys together, to Nicholas’ childhood home so filled with the memory of the past.

    “There was not a lane, or brook, or sopse, or cottage near, with which some childish event was not entwined, and back it came upon the mind—as events of childhood do—nothing in itself: perhaps a word, a laugh, a look, some slight distress, a passing thought or fear: and yet more strongly and distinctly marked, and better remembered, than the hardest trials or severest sorrows of a year ago.”

    I was so moved by the conclusion of this chapter, and also, bringing to mind again the RSC Nickleby, and how it’s alterations to this scene bring the pathos and theatricality to a perfect apex here, somehow making it more perfectly *Dickensian* than the original. But I won’t say more, for those who haven’t seen it.

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  12. Now that the book is ending, I’d like to encourage everyone to watch the Royal Shakespeare Company’s nine-hour stage adaptation, which was recently uploaded to youtube. There’s a brilliant sequence at the end of part four in which the Crummles theatrical troupe puts on a version of Romeo & Juliet with a happy ending, in which almost every character who died in the course of the play is somehow miraculously recalled to life. “Why come, sweet wife! Half an hour ago, we thought half a dozen kin were slain!”

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    1. That is, quite literally, the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life and I adore it…just wait til you see how they bring it round later, too 🥺💙

      Alun Armstrong as the drunken Prince!!!!! 😂😂😂😂😂😂


  13. Rach et al, I thought I’d include this paragraph referring to Smike’s worsening “condition” that precedes his and Nicholas’ journey to the latter’s “childhood home.” Here, the novel deals directly with Smike’s condition and names it as “consumption”– the term that at the time signified that tuberculosis literally consumes one’s life, slowly and inevitably:

    “Smike became alarmingly ill; so reduced and exhausted that he could scarcely move from room to room without assistance; and so worn and emaciated, that it was painful to look upon him. Nicholas was warned, by the same medical authority to whom he had at first appealed, that the last chance and hope of his life depended on his being instantly removed from London. That part of Devonshire in which Nicholas had been himself bred was named as the most favourable spot; but this advice was cautiously coupled with the information, that whoever accompanied him thither must be prepared for the worst; for every token of rapid consumption had appeared, and he might never return alive.”

    This horrible diagnostic report portends what we knew would probably be Smike’s fate, an illness that may have been furthered by his unrequited love for Kate. Nevertheless, the novel’s description of Smike’s failing health is so detailed that the reader can’t help but be totally alarmed by the possibility of Smikes’s dying; but there is, also, the doctor’s recommendation that Smike be taken to a region where the climate and circumstance might make possible a remission from this terrible disease. This recommendation would be typical of the medical practice of the age. Consumptive patients were constantly being removed to an environment more congenial to the healing of their Malady.

    In this instance, the journey itself to Devonshire is really quite moving–as well as the various scenes that take place in Nicholas’ former childhood residence. The passages are pastoral, idyllic–and might well have been inspired by Words-worth’s PRELUDE. The countryside, the beauty and solace of nature, the clear and invigorating air all contain the balm that might begin to heal Smike. But, of course, his disease is too far advanced for any of this natural beauty and Nicholas’ wonderful boyhood reminiscences to work. Yet, the retreat to Devonshire does provide Smike with a psychological and spiritual calming, a nurturing effect which is movingly depicted by the novel! Moreover, Nicholas has demonstrated his true caring self, here, and has also gained a new perspective on life which he and Kate lost after the death of their father.

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    1. Dear Lenny, what an exquisite reflection!! And as I was just starting to pull together our thematic wrap-up for Nickleby, I was hoping to continue the theme of Dickens’ Romanticism which we haven’t really touched on yet this round; this perfectly, beautifully continues it: “the passages are pastoral, idyllic–and might well have been inspired by Wordsworth’s PRELUDE. The countryside, the beauty and solace of nature…” YES. And even as you say that harkening back to childhood, and the nostalgic restfulness that accompanies that journey. I love that this was such a perfect final journey for our two sojourners to undertake together. 💔

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  14. Yeah Rach, it’s difficult not to reflect on this part of the novel, and the “personality” of Smike who just fades from the novel, and the Devonshire countryside which is shown with such rich splendor and discussed with such awe by Nicholas. And it all makes me wonder about why we, as readers, were never allowed to get “closer” to Smike other than when he was characterized as “beaten down” psychologically or physically suffering from TB. That is, why didn’t we get to see more of him in action, more as he related to others in the Nickleby society, more as he might have reflected on the events of the novel that he knew about as they unfolded. It’s only in these final chapters that we really experience his character first-hand…. It seems he deserved more of a “portrait” in the context of a novel that spends SO much time on the peculiarities of Mrs. Nickleby, the saying of goodbyes to the Crummles, etc. I think, in retrospect, that I just missed not “knowing” Smike better.

    Now to Devonshire. It’s almost as though Dickens suddenly “finds” the Country vs City theme–at the very end of the novel. Devonshire is the place of healing, the place of great memories, the place of respite and renewal, yet it “happens” only at the novel’s end? I do feel this is, indirectly, an important theme at the very close of NICKLEBY– but it comes SO late. But with more work, it would have offered the novel a wonderful contrast between the dark, evil, sinister dealings in the City (as symbol) and the Country and it’s positives (as symbol). The Dingley Dell episodes in PICKWICK gave that novel a well deserved sense of fresh air, of freedom, a big relief from the horrible situations that Pickwick encounters in London. Thus, in London, the characters in NICKLEBY are squeezed relentlessly by its enclosure, by its closed-in feeling of claustrophobia–something that matches the content and movement of the plot, of course. Yet, the novel deserves (and, so too, the reader) a useful contrast that would allow the story’s intensity to abate a bit– some kind of movement out of the city and into the gorgeous and refreshing countryside of 19th century England.

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