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 "The novel has everything: an absorbing melodrama, with a supporting cast of heroes, villains and eccentrics, set in a London where vast wealth and desperate poverty live cheek-by-jow."
 - Jasper Rees, "The Times"

 "Nicholas Nickleby was a revelation. Here was a school - Dotheboy's Hall, with its grotesque headmaster, Wackford Squeers - which was even worse than the prison camp to which my poor innocent parents had confined me!

The story of Dotheboy's Hall seemed horribly familiar - the beatings, the bad food. But here was something to which even a child could respond, As well as being sympathetic to the plight of the children, the author was hilarious."
 - A.N. Wilson

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens Nicholas Nickleby (fiction)
Charles Dickens (Author)
customer reviews (Yes)
Print List Price: £12.95  
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Reviews from Amazon:  

What can you say? Dickens writes brilliantly. This entertaining saga follows the handsome eponymous hero through the slings and arrows that follow him into adulthood. All I had heard about before was Wackford Squeers and Dotheboys Hall, but that is mostly over by the end of the first quarter. 

As usual, the plot is a bit pointless but the characters are fantastic, and I thought the cameo role for the villain Mulberry Hawk led to some of the best bits of writing in the book, in particular the description of a drunken argument that leads to a duel. Dickens is such a good writer that he can toss off sensational bits of writing like this on bits of the plot that are far from crucial. His talent just can't be contained. 

This, though, is the ignore the main part of the drama as Nickleby fights to overcome the injustices that assail his family. The book certainly has some powerful moments, as well as genuinely funny comic interludes. Of the characters, Smike is the most tragically drawn and perhaps the most famous: I am not sure that authors today would treat mental impairment the same way, but that is perhaps a failure of today's readers and writers. 

I suppose I don't think this novel has the depth of later work like "David Copperfield", which covers similar material, but it is still leagues ahead of most things you will read. Thoroughly enjoyable and full of humanity.
A handsome young man who finds himself the sole support of his mother and sister after his father's death, Nicholas Nickleby is hopeful that his uncle, Ralph Nickleby, a weathy speculator in London, will assist the unfortunate family in its hour of need. Ralph's cruel response, however, is to make Nicholas the assistant headmaster at a notoriously abusive school in northern England and to make his beautiful sister a seamstress and part-time hostess at his own parties. 

There she is subjected to innuendo and to the drunken intentions of men whose accounts help keep Ralph a wealthy man. This early novel is pure melodrama, with the good characters being unbelievably good, and the evil being unbelievably bad. 

The multiple adventures of Nicholas through a variety of settings, both in the city and in the countryside, create a broad picture of life in England in the 1830s. Nicholas's job as assistant headmaster exposes him to the horrors of so-called boarding schools for young boys, which were essentially warehouses for young children where they were forced into physical labour, kept malnourished, and beaten regularly. 

These abuses, based on Dickens's personal observations, so horrified his readers that major reforms of these schools eventually resulted. When Nicholas, in frustration, finally beats headmaster Wackford Squeers for his abuse of the children, Nicholas and Smike, a crippled boy who has been the headmaster's slave, escape together. 

Their interlude with a traveling theatrical company, led by friendly Vincent Crummles, gives Nicholas much needed emotional support and provides Smike with a temporary home--until Nicholas is called to return to England to rescue his sister from unwanted attentions fostered by her uncle. Eventually Nicholas works in London for the saintly Cheeryble brothers and meets Madeline Bray, the love of his life. 

Long recognized as one of Dickens's best novels for its wide assortment of characters, the novel mixes delightful humour with the pathos. 

The complex plot employs coincidence and miraculous interventions to save the day for the good characters while well-deserved disasters befall the evil ones. Dickens's vibrant descriptions bring people, places, and scenes fully to life, and the realistically described social conditions provide a clear vision of life's travails. 

 Despite its great length, the novel is a fast and fun read but it is soap opera-like in its ups and downs, and the main characters are not fully developed. One knows little about Nicholas except what one "sees"--that he has a kind heart and acts on it - but we know little about his inner life. 

(David Copperfield and Pip in Great Expectations are still ten and twenty years away.) Sentimental and occasionally bathetic, the novel involves the reader in the social abuses, some of which were improved as a direct result of this book's publication. Mary Whipple
In terms of characters there were some wonderful villains such as Wackford Squeers, the owner of the Yorkshire school, and Ralph Nickleby, Nicholas' uncle who takes an immediate dislike to his nephew.

Both were so deliciously villainous that I felt myself wanting to boo or hiss at them in pantomime style every time they entered the story. There are also many ridiculous characters to laugh at such as Nicholas' mother who never fails to wander from the point in the most amusing fashion and the deceitful yet entertainingly flattering Mr Mantalini. 

To me Nicholas Nickleby seems to lie somewhere in between Dickens' first two novels in terms of style, or rather, it seems to be combine aspects of both and so overall, I didn't think it worked quite as well as either. 

However, I still enjoyed it a lot, especially once I was past the slower first quarter of the book. 
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