We were giddy with excitement this month talking about Nicholas Nickleby in our Dickens readathon gang – in fact if I were a Victorian heroine I might have had to lie down with some smelling salts. The reason: we have two new recruits! Our slightly augmented group was unanimous in agreeing that, contrary to our slightly low expectations, and perhaps compared to last month, this is an action-packed romp of a read. Nicholas is a slightly two-dimensional but incredibly dashing and spirited hero; his mother is hilariously annoying, taking rambling to a sort of stream-of-consciousness art form; and the book brims over with a host of deliciously theatrical extras, hideous grotesques and dastardly villains. The whole thing felt to me like a very jolly outing to a pantomime, hissing at the baddies and cheering on the goodies – apart from the desperately sad descriptions of the dreadful school Dotheboys Hall (I was glad to discover that, partly because of this novel, many horrific Victorian institutions such as this were closed down. Good old Dickens).

Without further ado, here are the thoughts of our readers:

‘This was my first foray into the Dickens read-a-thon and I quickly discovered that there’s an INTENSE amount of love for Dickens amongst the diehard core of book clubbers. And with good reason: Nicholas Nickleby is an absolute hoot, the sort of book the word ‘rollicking’ was coined to describe. Nicholas himself is a bit, well, beige – but it’s a minor quibble when the supporting cast is this brilliant. Personal favourites: the Crummles family’s theatre troop; the hideously lecherous usurer Arthur Gride; and the profligate Mr Mantalini, who repeatedly wins back his long-suffering wife through his seductive power of his moustache. Best of all is Mrs Nickleby –the most amusingly irritating mother since Mrs Bennet wittered her way through Pride and Prejudice.’  Jess Harrison, Classics

‘For me there is not a dud character in Dicken's Nicholas Nickleby, and a wealth of heroes and villains to choose from, all aptly named. For example, the tight fisted, Wackford Squeers, head of Dotheboys Hall, a school for boys, which bears more resemblance to a POW camp than an educational establishment, whose finest moment, I feel, was when, while watching his son eat, he ' hugged himself to think that his son and heir
should be fattening at the enemy's expense'. Or equally, the detestable Sir Mulberry Hawk, who like a bird of prey encircles and finally launches himself upon innocent Kate (Nicholas's
sister). There was just the right amount of humour (mostly provided by Nicholas's babbling mother, going off on another irrelevant tangent) to keep me from despairing at the overwhelming villainy and greed of the various monstrous characters. Even in a world seemingly teeming with evil, this book still creates a strong urge to be transported back to a Dickensian London street scene and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it…Bring on 'A Christmas Carol'!’  Rowan Powell, Art

‘I'm constantly delighted by how easy Dickens is to read and how bloody enjoyable it is. The names (Vincent Crummles, the Cheeryble twins, Peg Sliderskew – Wackford Squeers, for goodness' sake), characters (Kate and Nicholas Nickleby's spirit, Mrs Nickleby's inane ramblings that are all too recognisable for anyone with a mother over fifty, the utter villainy of Uncle Ralph and Sir Mulberry Hawk, and the wonderful kindness of Tim Linkinwater and the whole Cheeryble family) and plot (Lord Verisopht's duel! John Browdie's appearances! BROOKER!) made this a joy to read. Although it's a lot more shallow than my much-loved David Copperfield and a bit of a Victorian fairy story, it still tweaks the nose of just about every other book I've read this year, so I award it a solid 8.1. ‘  Sam Binnie

‘Nicholas Nickleby is an action hero who saves babies from conflagrations, turns the whip on violent headmasters, and spoils for fights with anyone who threatens the honour of a lady. He's so winningly flirtatious and handsome that I felt sorry for his enemy: evil Uncle Ralph, the usurer, who is essentially Ebenezer Scrooge but nastier and without the ghosts. A hugely enjoyable read with endless brilliant characters, it left me feeling claustrophobic on behalf of Nicholas's sister. Her own good looks and honour bring her not adventure but peril. She can only wait around dutifully for most of the book, hoping that the benign gentlemen will rescue her from the preying lechers. I can't decide if this storyline is social comment or if Dickens quite liked things this way.’  Becky Stocks

Next time – a quick read of A Christmas Carol, before we head into the new year, and Barnaby Rudge

Join the conversation! 8 Comments

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  2. Reading Dickens is a bit like watching Eastenders in parts, but you don’t really want to hit anyone! It is no wonder his stories make excellent cinema and TV.

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  3. Love is a lamp to illuminate the darkness ahead of the distance; love is a poem, warm and cold in the desire of the heart; love is the summer wind, the winter sun, the spring rain, the autumn fruit

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  6. Though it may seem very awkward for me, but reading some of the stories of Dickens is extraordinary. He just portrays the reality of life, unlike some other’s view that it hits anyone else.

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