I’ve probably mentioned before that one of my ongoing projects is to read everything written by Charles Dickens before I’m gone (age 76 now, so that could be any day).
This week I finished the astonishing novel Nicholas Nickleby. Only Dickens’ third novel (preceded by The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist), it is astonishing for the writing skills he possessed already. The almost countless characters found in its original 952 pages are fully alive, and perfectly done. Dickens’ commitment to the poorest members of society is already fully there too. The story is longer than most people now have patience for, but its readers of the nineteenth century adored every page of it and many of us still do.
The only character I’m going to discuss here is Nicholas’ uncle, Ralph Nickleby, chief villain in the book. He is perfectly done, but almost from the start I sensed that he is also someone else – another character still to come in another book – Dickens’ most famous character of all, maybe the most famous in all fiction – Ebeneezer Scrooge.
Dickens was obviously haunted by Ralph Nickleby. Read the book with that in mind and you will see Scrooge there from the start.
By the way, it isn’t just Ralph Nickleby who re-emerges in The Christmas Carol. There are others, especially the mentally crippled boy Smike who Nicholas rescues from a horrifying Yorkshire private school (kidnaps according to the owner and Ralph Nickleby), who endures hardships side by side with Nicholas while, in the middle of winter, they are on the run. Read both stories and you’ll see Smike re-emerge too, also rescued.
Though I still write ‘literary criticism’, the description of how Scrooge emerged from Nicholas Nickleby is something I’ll have to leave for someone else. If this has already been done, please tell me where to find it, for I long to read it.
Otherwise, feel free to take this idea and run with it. It should be a rewarding project for someone, maybe a whole book in itself.
2 thoughts on “Rescuing Fiction | Charles Dickens and Nicholas Nickleby and the book that was to come”
I read Great Expectations in university and loved it. Your post makes me want to read more by Dickens.
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So far, excluding Nickleby and Great Expectations, and of course Scrooge’s book, my other favorites are Our Mutual Friend, and the unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood.