Nicholas Nickleby: A Final Wrap-Up

Wherein we say “farewell” to our theatrical friends as we summarize the plot and discussion of the #DickensClub’s Week 5 reading of Nicholas Nickleby; with a look-ahead to our break–including a “group watch”; with a note on our upcoming reads.

“C. S. Reinhart’s 1875 woodblock engraving of Nicholas’s stealing the aged miser’s bride: And then, taking the beautiful burden in his arms, rushed out in Chapter 54 of the American Household Edition.”

Edited/compiled by Rach

“‘We were a very happy little company, Johnson,’ said poor Crummles.”

What a happy company we’ve been, eh, friends? I, for one, will miss this theatrical book very much, and am looking forward to rewatching the RSC’s filmed stage Nicholas Nickleby, if only to hang out with everyone a little longer!

Here are some quick links for our final wrap-up of Nicholas Nickleby:

  1. General Mems
  2. Week Five Nicholas Nickleby Summary (Chapters 52-65)
  3. Discussion Wrap-Up
  4. Final Thematic Wrap-Up
  5. A Look-Ahead to the Next Two Weeks…

General Mems

Another formatting experiment: Everyone seems to have preferred the long-thread format (rather than the gallery-style). I’ve gone with this, but tried to enhance readability by breaking up the longer threads so that the font size is closer to normal. Also, I’ve added color schemes, so that we have alternating colors (light purple/light green) when there is a back-and-forth dialogue between commenters, or two various shades of one color when it’s the same commenter, but separate comments. What does everyone think?

Below, we’ll be looking ahead to our two-week break between reads, with an optional group watch!

If you’re counting, today is Day 182–and Week 27–in our #DickensClub! It is the final day of Nicholas Nickleby, our fourth read of the group. Please feel free to comment below for any final/closing thoughts, 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 Five Nicholas Nickleby Summary (Chapters 52-65)

“‘Hope to the last!’ said Newman, clapping him on the back. ‘Always hope; that’s a dear boy. Never leave off hoping; it don’t answer. Do you mind me, Nick? 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!’”

Noggs’ words encourage Nicholas just as the latter is losing hope about saving his love, Madeleine Bray, from being sold off in a horror-story marriage to Arthur Gride. Nicholas resolves to make the case against this marriage to Madeleine herself.

“Great excitement of Miss Kenwigs at the hairdresser’s shop,” by Phiz.

The Kenwigs family, in their last appearance on the Nickleby stage, is reconciled to Mr. Lillyvick, whose wife has run off with a half-pay captain, driving the last nail home to Mr. Lillyvick’s increasing disillusionment about marriage. Lillyvick vows to leave his goods to the Kenwigs children in, as Mr. Kenwigs theatrically remarks, “an ewent at which Evins itself looks down!”

Nicholas visits Madeline at her home, appealing to every feeling and consideration for her future, and even to her consideration of the Cheeryble brothers, who are not in town to assist him in his appeal. She is heart-rent, but refuses to reconsider, even for a week, this disastrous marriage which she believes will save her father from poverty and illness.

Nicholas then visits Gride himself, and since he cannot appeal to any compassion in Gride’s nature which appears to possess none, asks what will buy him off—which Gride refuses, wishing to have the upper hand on the handsome young Nicholas.

“Nicholas congratulates Arthur Gride on his Wedding Morning,” by Phiz.

The next morning, the marriage morning, Bray is trying to convince himself that he is doing the best thing—a feeling that Ralph encourages. All are stupefied when, while Madeleine is in the other room with her father, two unexpected guests arrive on the scene: Nicholas and Kate, the latter to make Madeleine feel more comfortable with a woman’s presence, to offer Madeleine assistance, and “a refuge and a home.” Then, at the last moment, they hear a fall and a scream from the next room: Mr. Bray, long ailing, has fallen dead. Nicholas carries the fainting Madeleine out, not before warning Ralph that all his hopes are soon to come crumbling down, and that “this very day, ten thousand pounds of your hoarded wealth have gone in one great crash!”

Mrs. Nickleby, meanwhile, has been speculating on the likelihood of Frank Cheeryble’s interest in Kate, and communicates her observations to Nicholas. He tries to dissuade her from encouraging it, feeling that it would be considered inappropriate in view of the great generosity of their benefactors (Frank’s uncles).

Meanwhile, Smike has fallen gravely ill, and his only remaining possibility of hope is to be immediately removed to the country—to, for example, Devonshire, where Nicholas and Kate grew up—to rest.

Ralph is haunted by Nicholas’ foretelling at their last meeting, as he had just been on a mortgage scheme for such a sum. But more is yet to come: Gride is beside himself that Peg Sliderskew has made off with some important documents, including a will fraudulently withheld from the Brays. Ralph also finds out that his investment of ten thousand pounds has indeed come to ruin, as Nicholas had warned.

“Mr. Squeers and Mrs. Sliderskew unconscious of Visitors,” by Phiz.

Ralph enlists Squeers again, to find Peg and manipulate her into retrieving the stolen documents. A grotesquely comical scene follows as Squeers, after weeks of searching, flatters Peg, who finds him an amiable companion. He convinces her to let him see these stolen documents.

But Frank and Newman have been observing them secretly. Just as Squeers is about to make off with the document, he’s given a hit over the head by Newman, and knocked out.

Nicholas and Smike make their final journey together, and this time the circle is complete, and they spend Smike’s final days together in Nicholas’ childhood home in Devonshire, filled with the memories and associations of old days which Nicholas shares with his dying friend.

The only significant moment of distress comes when Smike believes he has seen the man Brooker watching them; but the moment passes like a strange vision; almost dreamlike, as was, in our previous read, Oliver’s view of Fagin and Monks at the window. Smike, while acknowledging complete happiness and peace at last, also confesses his love for Kate which he has been so ashamed to share with his friend.

“He fell into a light slumber, and waking smiled as before; then, spoke of beautiful gardens, which he said stretched out before him, and were filled with figures of men, women, and many children, all with light upon their faces; then, whispered that it was Eden—and so died.”

After Ralph has dodged attempts to have certain items of interest communicated to him by the Brothers Cheeryble, he finally, as his situation grows more desperate, condescends to listen. Newman Noggs, who has been uncharacteristically gone from his usual place of business, enters the scene, finally speaking his mind to Ralph; he had not done so previously only because he hoped he could be more useful to Ralph’s mistreated relations by overhearing Ralph’s plots against them. Newman acknowledges that he has heard all: Ralph’s conspiracy with Arthur Gride and Mr. Bray to sell off Madeleine; his conspiracy with Squeers to wound Nicholas and his loved ones; the plot overheard between Squeers and Peg, and Ralph’s involvement in it, etc. Charles Cheeryble also relates to Ralph that Snawley confessed to the whole conspiracy regarding Smike’s parentage, and that it was all a sham. The brothers had tried at first to come to Ralph in mercy, and now give him another opportunity to live in retirement “and to become a better man.”

But Ralph will have none of it, taunting them to “do to me the very worst you can!”

Ralph tries to smooth-talk Squeers, who is in custody for his part in the stolen documents, into silence, hoping to save face himself; Squeers, however, who is finally at the end of his rope, is not going to be following anyone’s advice any longer, but will look out for himself. Meanwhile, Tim Linkinwater has come to Ralph to beg him to accompany him to speak to the Cheeryble brothers, who have something of urgency to relate to him.

After hearing with sadness and shame of Ralph’s cruel hopes that either Nicholas or Smike have died, they share with him—assisted by Brooker, who is on the scene to explain and verify the claim: that Smike, who has just died, was Ralph’s only son. A son conceived of Ralph’s secret marriage to a young woman whose inheritance would have been forfeited had she married. Beset by unhappiness in the prolonged secrecy of the marriage, and being kept at a distance from her son as he was put out to nurse, the mother had run away with another man. Brooker was to bring the child, already in ill-health, back to Ralph’s residence, where he was kept cruelly in the garret, haunted by the passage door and the hook in the ceiling, until Brooker, who had long been ill-treated by Ralph, told Ralph that the son died in Ralph’s absence—when, in reality, Brooker had taken him to Dotheboys Hall, in hopes of using this ploy to get more money from Ralph in the long run. Brooker himself made the payments for Smike’s residence at Dotheboys until he was sent into exile.

Ralph leaves the scene in a frantic rush.

Nicholas, having returned from his poignant journey to Yorkshire, confides in Kate, as she does him, as they reveal that each has a love they must renounce: Kate, who has been nursing Madeleine through her illness after the death of Mr. Bray—and the two of them have become close friends—has refused Frank’s offer of marriage because of her family’s indebtedness to the Cheerybles; Nicholas intends never act on his love for Madeleine, for the same reason.

Nicholas and Kate decide to be content growing old together, happy and single. Nicholas finally confesses to the brothers his love for Madeleine, but his determination never to allow himself to act on his feelings, and begs them to find Madeleine another place to live, so that he would not give way to temptation.

Meanwhile, Ralph has finally hit his breaking point…

“They had all turned from [Ralph] and deserted him in his very first need. Even money could not buy them now; everything must come out, and everybody must know all. Here was the young lord dead, his companion abroad and beyond his reach, ten thousand pounds gone at one blow, his plot with Gride overset at the moment of triumph, after his schemes discovered, himself in danger, the object of his persecution and Nicholas’s love, his own wretched boy; everything crumbled and fallen upon him, and he beaten down beneath the ruins and groveling in the dust.”

Ralph, after a short soliloquy on the futility and baseness of existence, commits suicide, hanging himself from the very hook that had once so frightened his young son, Smike.

The Brothers Cheeryble, at a dinner including all our old friends, acknowledge that they were both aware of Nicholas and Kate’s noble resolutions to sacrifice their own loves in their feeling of debt to the brothers. The brothers will not allow this; but encourage them in their love, and that nothing could make them happier than the union of their nephew with Kate, and their unofficial ward (Madeleine) with Nicholas, whom she loves. The two couples are joyful in the prospects before them.

Another lovely couple, dear old Tim Linkinwater and Miss La Creevy, have decided to be inspired by the happiness around them, and agree to marry and become “a comfortable couple” forevermore.

“Let’s be a comfortable couple, and take care of each other! And if we should get deaf, or lame, or blind, or bed-ridden, how glad we shall be that we have somebody we are fond of, always to talk to and sit with! Let’s be a comfortable couple. Now, do, my dear!”

“Reduced circumstances of Mr. Mantalini,” by Phiz.

Newman Noggs has changed too; he has been helping the brothers out, and, now attired almost unrecognizably in a new suit of clothes, he is too moved to say more than a few words. Nicholas gently reprimands his friend for being so standoffish of late.

In the happiness of the prospect of his own upcoming marriage, Nicholas makes a journey to Yorkshire, to visit John Browdie. (Not, however, before he and Kate witness the newly dejected circumstances of Mr. Mantalini, now wooing a woman who is not his wife, as he works a mangle.)

“The breaking up at Dotheboys Hall,” by Phiz.

Browdie goes to witness the rebellion at Dotheboys Hall—as Squeers is to be transported—and its imminent collapse. The kindhearted John offers help to Mrs. Squeers and Fanny, little as they have deserved it of him.

Our concluding chapter wraps up the fates of all our friends (and foes): the happiness of the brothers, the marriage of Tim and Miss La Creevy and their residence at Tim’s home of forty-four years; Arthur Gride’s escape from justice, but which pursued him in the form of a murder by robbers in his bed at long last; the exile/transportation of Peg and Squeers; the penitent death of Brooker; Hawk’s imprisonment for debt.

“The children at their cousin’s grave,” by Phiz.

Nicholas purchases the old home of his childhood, and lives there with Madeleine and their children; Kate and her family live nearby.

Noggs lives on the same property, and takes care of affairs for Nicholas in his absence, becoming the beloved honorary uncle of the Nickleby children, all of whom keep the flowers fresh at the nearby grave of their cousin, Smike.

Discussion Wrap-Up

What We Loved and Questioned: Kenwigs; “The Most Romantic Moment in the Book”; Dickensian Autobiography?

Marnie shared with us her wonderful Nickleby Diary for Week Five.

The Stationmaster reflects on the Kenwigs family and Mr. Lillyvick, and how Dickens views them. We are also asked a question: Will a diary-style thread continue beyond Nickleby?

He also reflects on what may be “the most romantic moment”: Tim Linkinwater’s proposal to Miss La Creevy! What does everyone think?

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Marnie replies that she herself will not be continuing the diaries, as she has long had notes on Nickleby because of her own reading/research, but she will continue reading with us and commenting.

The door is left open for other “diary” posts, however…

Daniel appreciates the “roller-coaster ride” of Nickleby, and “the depth of insight” in our group, and asking the question whether Nicholas himself might be an autobiographical portrait of Dickens?

Daniel M. comment

Lenny and Chris respond:

Lenny H. comment
Chris M. comment

Theatricality and Adaptations

It is only appropriate that the “Adaptation Stationmaster” should lead the way on the discussions of the various adaptations of Nickleby! Here’s his comment, and the links will be added below:

Adaptation Stationmaster comments

Link to the Stationmaster’s post on his “Top 4 Nicholas Nicklebys,” Part One.

Link to the Stationmaster’s post on his “Top 4 Nicholas Nicklebys,” Part Two.

The Stationmaster’s “Top 5 Screenplays Covered by the Adaptation Station and some Honorable Mentions”–among which is a Nickleby!

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Marnie responds in the following threads:

Marnie F. comments
Marnie F. comments

On the theatricality of Nickleby in general, I reflected my love of its sheer melodrama in these final segments:

Boze is encouraging us to watch the RSC Nickleby that Marnie and I love, especially after the brilliantly wacky, happy-ending play-within-a-play of Romeo and Juliet, which certainly must rank among the funniest sequences of anything filmed:

Boze H. comment

Dickens’ “Writing Lab”: Partings, Payoffs, Loose Ends; What we Missed; Dickens’ Longest Sentence?; “Repurposing” Oliver Twist

I’m adding here several separate notes from Marnie’s Nickleby Diary, regarding questions left unanswered–and one that might easily have been forgotten, but which Dickens brought round again–as well as things she would have liked to read in the novel:

Marnie F. comments

Chris answers, questioning Dickens’ planning of Nicholas Nickleby; later, as Dickens “becomes a more practiced technician, if you will, his drafting of story outlines and number plans give him a better framework within which to tell his stories.” Chris then outlines some areas where Dickens seems to have “repurposed” elements from Oliver Twist during these final segments of Nickleby:

Chris M. comments

Marnie responds:

On another note: Marnie asks us whether Nickleby perhaps contains Dickens’ longest sentence?

Marnie F. comment

Finally, Lenny considers what was, for him, the biggest missing element in our final reading portion, and I confess I agree: Smike.

Lenny H. comment

City vs. Country; Smike; Dickens’ Romanticism; Memory

I wrote on the theme of Memory:

Rach M. comment

Lenny has brought us beautifully around again to Dickens’ Romanticism, especially during the chapter in Smike and Nicholas’ final journey together to Devonshire in hope of respite or even remission from Smike’s consumption:

Lenny H. comment

I respond:

Rach M. comment

In answer to another comment, Lenny reflects on the “City vs. Country” theme that has continued from Pickwick and Oliver, with its connectedness to healing and rest–and the light of the country contrasting with the shadows and confinement of the city, and how we might have been grateful for more of it here:

Lenny H. comment

“Hope, hope, to the Last!”

Finally, whether or not we were content with how much Newman Noggs we got in our final reading portion–and can there ever be “too much Noggs”?–Chris reflects on Newman’s “Hope, hope, to the last,” which seems a lovely way to let the curtain fall on our theatrical friends:

Chris M. comment

Final Thematic Wrap-Up

It seems that everyone appreciates the final thematic wrap-up that we started with Pickwick and Oliver. Here, I’ll try to capture the overall thematic patterns, from Boze’s introduction, to our discussion, including overlap with themes carried over from Dickens’ earlier works:

  1. Light and Shadow, Comedy and Tragedy (A return to Pickwickian light, but with the shadows of Oliver? Boze remarked on this in his Intro; Lenny remarked on this as connected to City vs. Country.)
  2. Crime and Violence (Nickleby is sometimes criticized for its violence, as Marnie has pointed out, even in our heroes; as a whole, we’ve loved the just retribution of Nicholas on Squeers.)
  3. “Life as Theatre”: Theatricality and the Crummles; Nickleby as “Love Letter to Victorian Stage Melodrama”; Shakespearean Motifs (Florid forebodings; grand, heroic speeches; big convergences and final character/relationship reveals; poetic justice coming to the villains and a neat wrap-up for the heroes. We’ve all been talking about this; the Stationmaster has been especially discussing theatrical/film adaptations; Marnie has been discussing the RSC adaptation which Rach also loves; Boze noted “Life as Theatre” as a reigning theme in his Intro; Boze and Rach have discussed “King Lear and Cucumbers.”)
  4. “Money and the Lack of It”; Speculation; Dickens’ Social Conscience (Boze first brought out “Money” as a huge theme in Nickleby; Marnie has really tackled & continued the theme of “Speculation.” Dotheboys Hall, as representative of Yorkshire schools, is a prime example of horrid practices accepted by, or unknown to, society at large, which we’ve all commented on, notably Daniel, Chris, Lenny.)
  5. Dickens’ Women (All of us have commented one way or another; we all tend to think Kate is given too little credit, and that Dickens has made her a strong character; Madeleine is somewhat less interesting, as Marnie has discussed.)
  6. City vs. Country (Rach brought this up in her essay on Memory, related to Oliver and Nicholas; Marnie, Lenny, and Rach have continued this.)
  7. Voice/Language in Creating Character (Ongoing; John Browdie, Kenwigs, Noggs, Squeers, etc. The Stationmaster has been discussing the various adaptations.)
  8. Mutability and Mortality (Though we’ve not addressed this theme by name, I continue it here, as it saturates many of our discussions, especially surrounding Smike.)
  9. Memory (Rach’s essay on “Memory” in Dickens’ early novels; Marnie has kept this theme up beautifully, and Lenny has been alluding to related subjects–e.g. Rest, Romanticism, Childhood.)
  10. Benevolence as Reconciling Influence (Daniel has been keeping this theme up; we’ve all been discussing it in relation to the Cheerybles, those benevolent patrons in the Pickwickian tradition.)
  11. Dickens’ Romanticism (Lenny has brought us back ’round to this, particularly in the Devonshire chapter.)
  12. Dickens’ “Writing Lab”: Plotting–or Lack Thereof; Character; Craftsmanship (We’ve all talked about this; but Boze, the Stationmaster, Chris, Marnie have been keeping us on target in consideration of this.)
  13. Doubling (Marnie has made wonderful notes on this especially.)
  14. Rest (Rach brought this up in her essay on Memory; Lenny and Rach have continued this toward the end.)
  15. Mr. Curdle and the Critics (Chris has really helped keep us aware of past and present criticism of Nickleby.)
  16. Dickensian Children; Trauma; PTSD (Daniel and Lenny have especially been noting this, though we’ve all been contributing.)
By Fred Barnard. “The little people could do nothing without dear Newman Noggs.”

A Look-Ahead to the Next Two Weeks…

Friends, this is our second two-week break between reads. We’ll be posting a little “Group Watch” placeholder for those interested in a self-paced viewing of the RSC Nicholas Nickleby, so that we have a “home” for our comment thread.

Our next read is The Old Curiosity Shop (with the optional Master Humphrey’s Clock to start out with), and Boze will be posting an intro to both for us on July 19th. It’ll be a fairly tight reading schedule, so–especially for those who are reading Master Humphrey, the break might also be a good opportunity to get a head start. For those only reading The Old Curiosity Shop, you have a three-week break! But it also might be a good opportunity to get a start.


  1. Is the image in your banner also by Fred Barnard? I’ve never seen his illustrations before.

    I’m probably not going to be commenting so much on the next handful of Dickens books because, frankly, I don’t like them that much. I don’t hate them either. You can tell they were written by a great author. I just don’t find them as consistently engaging or memorable as Oliver Twist or Nicholas Nickleby. I’ll definitely be reading everyone’s comments with interest though and if I can get my hands on a copy (I don’t really like reading novels online), I’ll try to read along with The Old Curiosity Shop.

    So glad I could participate in this discussion of Nicholas Nickleby, one of my favorite Dickens books-maybe even my number one favorite!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We’ll miss your illuminating comments! Just fyi – inexpensive used copies of Dickens can be found at and generally with free shipping. I see copies of Old Curiosity Shop for under $5. (Amazon also has used copies.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear NN Company,

    Well, Rach, you have hit new high notes in this summary and recapitulation of the rich, layered discussion and key themes.

    What a gift you have for summary, for distillation, for integration. This master-work of closure is so satisfying.

    It’s hard to add anything to this!

    Anyway, I’ll share three things that occur to me at this bitter-sweet ending of the journey of “NN and Company.”

    1. Hope: It is a fine insight that Noggs’ ode to hope, encouraging Nicholas, speaks to the higher angel of our nature. Ralph, too, hopes: for harm, downfall, destruction of Nicholas.

    It’s all, as my Jewish friends would observe, in the kavanah, which is Hebrew for “direction, intention, or purpose.” What guides the heart? What hope is one cherishing . . . for good, for ill?

    2. Dotheboys Hall expatriates: I am struck by the sad plight of the boys released–undernourished, totally ill-equipped to navigate life.

    What happens to these so much more sinned-against-than-sinning boys?

    3. Memory, like hope, is double-edged: Memories seem to be a cohering force in our lives and personalities. Much of what we conceive ourselves to be is entwined with our memories. Of course, memories can be warm and sweet–such as the home in Devonshire; they can also be harsh, cruel, and debilitating–such as Smike’s remembrance of the bleak and frightening garret.

    Contemporary cognitive psychology has found that conjuring up positive memories is wellness-inducing; conversely, recalling negative experiences can induce despondency and depression.

    Such a chiaroscuro reality: hope, memory, life itself!

    I’m looking forward to re-newing my delight in the RSC production and learning more about other adaptations and productions, thanks to the Stationmaster.

    Blessings and many thanks for your rich sharing, NN Company!


    Liked by 3 people

  3. Rachel, you’ve brought us to a wonderful, satisfying ending for our reading of Nickleby with your final wrap-up. It’s been a joy to share thoughts on the book with all the wise, kind Inimitables here, so knowledgeable in all things Dickens, and from whom I’ve learned so much. Your ability to sum up all the themes in the book in your Final Thematic Wrap-up is particularly appreciated. I think you covered them all – what a great list!

    Liked by 1 person

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