Farewell, Nicklebys

Dear Charles,

I turned the last page on the Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby over the weekend and, while it isn’t all sunshine and unicorns (I’m thinking of poor Smike and the nefarious Uncle Ralph), I admit that I closed the book with both a deep sense of satisfaction, and a pang genuine regret that I must say farewell to Nick, his family, their staunch supporters and their enemies.

I still have some niggling complaints (why introduce Arthur Gride when you had such an awesome bastard as Mulberry Hawk to work with? Why dispense with him and Lord Verisopht so abruptly? What happened to the first Mrs. Mantalini? Did we have any hints earlier in the novel about Smike’s parentage?), but they’re minor when set against how satisfactorily all the other loose threads came together and everyone finds their appropriate marital partner. Ralph’s ignominious end was shockingly grim, but entirely fitting, I think, and I felt an entirely sadistic thrill watching him running around like a trapped animal when all of his carefully laid plots crumble around him and he realizes that he has no one to turn to. I almost get the feeling you found him the more interesting character to write about, seeing as how he almost eclipses Nicholas in the last chapters of the novel.

It was surprisingly easy to become attached to the Nicklebys, and I imagine that its original format as a serialized publication would have made it that much harder for your readers to say goodbye to them. Rather than spending a few weeks with this amazing cast of characters, as I have, your original reading public would have had a year and a half to anticipate each installment. I like to think that after reading about poor Smike’s demise the streets were full of tearful people condoling each other for their collective loss, or sending you sympathy cards, but that’s probably wishful thinking. The closest thing nowadays would probably be any weekly tv drama (we can’t wait a month any more for anything) – I remember being bereft when Deep Space Nine ended and I was in a depressed funk for days after the final episode.

I was keeping The Pickwick Papers in reserve in case Nicholas proved heavy-going, but now that it comes time to read it, I’m almost sorry to return to this earlier, less narrative you, as light and witty as I’ve discovered it is from the first few chapters I’ve already read.

So after the hearty and filling dinner of Nicholas Nickleby, The Pickwick Papers shall be my dessert – something tart and fluffy, I think. Did you have lemon meringue pie in your day?

Yours affectionately,

Melissa

Love is in the air…

Dear Charles,

I was doing a bit of nosing through your biography, and I read that Nicholas Nickleby was your first ‘romance,’ and I had to pause for a second. A romance? Really? I’m almost half way through volume two, and we’ve only just learned Nick’s love interest’s name (but ha! I knew the lady from the agency would return! You never introduce an interesting character just for the fun of it). But he’s only actually seen her three times! Generally, though, there’s just so much going on, not only with Nicholas, but with your cornucopia of secondary characters, that classifying this gorgeously meandering novel as a ‘romance’ seems rather… restrictive.

That’s not to say that you don’t examine relationships extensively (and humorously). Thinking back on it, this book is bursting at the seams with all the couples Nicholas encounters. The Squeerses, the Mantalinis, the Browdies, the Crummleses, the Kenwigses, the Lillyvicks, are all held up for inspection as examples of wedded bliss… or agony, not unlike the examples of various couples in your Sketches. Even Mrs. Nickleby gets to be wooed by her mad neighbor (he’s an odd fish, and I wager he’ll be back, if my note above holds). It’s interesting that they’re all so very different, and none of them are perfect. You certainly do have an uncanny knack for capturing humanity and all its foibles.

And then we’ve got Kate’s rather more sinister suitors, although they seem to have faded into the background, at least for the time being (I hope Mulberry Hawk returns, however, because he’s such a wonderfully selfish character). And now even the lovely Miss Bray is threatened with a terrible marriage. Is this all one big object lesson for our hero?

Maybe then, this is less of a boy-meets-girl story as it is one epic examination of love, the choices people make, and how those partnerships play out. Having seen all these examples, it’s now finally up to Nicholas to chart his own course on these treacherous waters. Will he rescue Miss Bray from her dire fate? I suspect so, but I also suspect the journey will not be an easy one. And so on that note I shall bid you a fond farewell and find out how this romance ends.

Yours affectionately,

Melissa

 

Nicholas Nickleby – Vol. I

Dear Charles,

I’m approaching the end of the first volume of Nicholas Nickleby. I don’t know if it’s because we’ve spent a month together now, or if it’s the older protagonist here, but I find myself far more engaged with Nicholas’ story than I was with Oliver’s.

I’ve left Nicholas becoming acquainted with his new theatrical cohorts – quite a surprising development for someone who was looking for a secretarial position, but such are the vicissitudes of life, and I’m looking forward to seeing how long he remains gainfully employed translating plays and learning how to act. But to compare him to Oliver, I’m so glad that he isn’t a pushover in spite of his sheltered upbringing, and that he can seriously kick some ass when confronted with cruelty (not that Oliver didn’t show his temper once, but Nicholas did some serious damage). I also really like that he’s the master of his own fate. Oliver just sort of fell into other people’s laps, but Nicholas is off beating people, saving other people from beatings, striking off to interviews, meeting MPs (I would have turned down that job too), and in the midst of thinking he’s going to become a sailor suddenly accepts the offer to become a thespian! What’s in store for our hero next? And what of the mysterious and lovely woman in the employment office? Surely we haven’t seen the last of her?

Apart from Nicholas’ grand adventures, there are two aspects of the book so far that have made it particularly enjoyable. The first is that, even through Nicholas bade a fond farewell to his mother and sister, Kate is not relegated to the footnotes and we get to see the flip side of Nicholas’ terrible experiences in the rural school in Kate’s unfortunate (but fortunately brief) employment as a milliner. I only wish she would show some of the spunk of her brother when being accosted by strange gentlemen – it makes me very happy that a woman in my day can do more than blush and stammer and avoid eye contact with a lecherous asshole. Yes, I know it’s your Uncle’s house and your Uncle’s guests, but kick the bastard in the groin, for the love of god!

And speaking of bastards, and Uncles, the second thing I find so interesting is Ralph Nickelby. At first he was rather your stock evil character, and I had written him off as such. But there’s a moment, when he hands the flustered Kate into the coach, where we get to see that he does have a glimmer of humanity in there somewhere. Ah ha! Maybe he’s not as one-dimensional as I thought. Maybe he’s redeemable. Part of me hopes so, but part of me doesn’t. Whatever happens, I hope that we get to see more of Ralph, and that he becomes more complicated rather than less.

Well, I would write more but I would really like to continue the story, so I will remain,

 Yours faithfully,

 Melissa