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,


3 comments on “Nicholas Nickleby – Vol. I

  1. Blair says:

    It’s an interesting contrast that the Victorian era saw a flowering of women writers (the Brontes, Rossetti, George Eliot, Austen, etc) and yet it was not exactly a banner era for women’s lib, to put it mildly! Beside the creepy spinster in ‘Great Expectations’ I can’t think of any memorable female characters in Dickens’ work. (Am I forgetting someone obvious?) This is probably not surprising given the kind of masculine circles in which Dickens likely moved and the gender segregation of his day. However, he is lauded for having a universal humanity…

    As an informed reader with pseudo-feministic sensibilities, how do you feel about the treatment (or lack thereof) of women in the works that you’ve encountered thus far?

    • melissa says:

      Well, “Little Dorrit” gets her own two volume novel, so I’ll have to let you know how she stacks up against Oliver and Nicholas as a heroine. I’ve been thinking about the women in the books I’ve read so far, though. As much as I want Nancy to renounce her past and get the hell away from Sikes, and as much as I want Kate to punch Sir Hawk in the…nose, it ain’t gonna happen. I have to take a pseudo-feministic breath and appreciate how active they are within the confines of their proscribed environments. Nancy *does* help Oliver and Kate *does* go to work for herself and takes the initiative to appeal to her Uncle to help stop her harassment. I can’t judge them by twenty-first century standards, however tempting. But I will keep a sharp eye out for further evidence of girl power. 😉

  2. Blair says:

    Good stuff. I had forgotten – or rather, never knew anything about – ‘Little Dorrit’.

    (Also, I see my misuse of the term ‘pseudo’ caught your attention. It was a misuse – I meant ‘somewhat’ rather than ‘false’ or ‘pretended’. That is, I feel you have a non-reductive feminist slant to some of your literary opinions, not that you are a feminist wanna-be or impostor!)

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