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?