Dreams, Nicholas, and Halloween

I think I dreamed that I wrote a post on here, because I did not realize that I hadn’t written in all of October. Whoops.

Anyways, I’ve been reading Nicholas Nickleby, which has taken me longer to get into than I expected.

Some background info first: Dickens began writing Nicholas Nickleby in March of 1838, while he was still working on Oliver Twist. Where Oliver Twist was mostly serious and The Pickwick Papers was mostly comical, Nicholas Nickleby combines the serious with the comical. I believe this is why it took me awhile to get into the story; I couldn’t figure out what the story was trying to tell me. The serious subject matter of the book deals with the mistreatment of children at boarding schools. Dickens and his illustrator, Hablot Knight Browne, visited boarding schools in Yorkshire to do background research for the novel, so most of what is depicted in the novel are things that they actually witnessed. The evil characters in the story are the ones who mistreat these children and deal out abuse. But there are also the comic characters and the comic scenes, like the following, for instance:

“Where does she live?” cried Nicholas. “What have you learnt of her history? Has she a father—mother—any brothers—sisters? What did she say? How came you to see her? Was she not very much surprised? Did you say how passionately I have longed to speak to her? Did you tell her where I had seen her? Did you tell her how, and when, and where, and how long, and how often, I have though of that sweet face which came upon me in my bitterest distress like a glimpse of some better world—did you, Newman—did you?”

Poor [Newman] Noggs literally gasped for breath as this flood of questions rushed upon him, and moved spasmodically in his chair at every fresh inquiry, staring at Nicholas meanwhile with a most ludicrous expression of perplexity.

“No,” said Newman, “I didn’t tell her that.”

“Didn’t tell her which?” asked Nicholas.

“About the glimpse of the better world,” said Newman. “I didn’t tell her who you were, either, or where you’d seen her. I said you loved her to distraction.” (pg. 332)

Nicholas is our hero of the story—and the namesake of the title. A man of about twenty, his father has recently died, leaving him to care for his mother and sister, Kate. They move to London from the country side to seek guidance and assistance from the brother of the deceased—Ralph Nickleby. Nicholas and Kate have never met their uncle before, and the two men immediately butt heads, owing to their differing personalities. Nicholas is young and naïve, but he’s also caring, hardworking, honest, and honorable. Ralph only cares about one thing—money. He never cared for his brother for squandering all that he earned, so when they were young, Ralph distanced himself from his brother so that he’d never have to give him money.

Ralph agrees to look out for Mrs. Nickleby and Kate if Nicholas takes a position as assistant to Mr. Squeers, who runs the school Dotheboys Hall in Yorkshire. Nicholas soon hates his job, as he discovers that Squeers is a cruel master who treats the young boys with nothing but contempt, barely giving them enough food and clothing to survive. However, he meets Smike there, who is an orphan that the Squeers “take care of”—meaning they treat Smike like a slave. The poor boy has no education and isn’t quite mentally well due to the harsh treatment he has received.

Nicholas ends up rescuing Smike from the home, and the two journey on together to make their way in the world. Newman Noggs, as the assistant to Ralph Nickleby, is another important character. He fantasizes about beating up his employer, and, unbeknownst to Ralph, goes to great lengths to assist Nicholas and Smike and, later, Kate and Mrs. Nickleby. He and Smike are the two most interesting characters, as they are covered in mystery. Noggs assists Nicholas because his father helped him once, and he, at first, wants to help pay that debt. Smike has no recollection of life before the Squeers, but I’m pretty sure that the events that led him to that house and his family history will become clear by the end of the novel.

Today is Halloween, and as such, I was wondering what good ol’ Charlie would think of the holiday. He didn’t shy away from ghosts, as he uses them in the short stories A Christmas Carol and The Signalman. But what would he think of children dressing up in costumes and going door-to-door asking for candy? He says the idea is quite silly. Children should earn the candy they eat, if they eat candy at all.

Dreams are the bright creatures of poem and legend, who sport on earth in the night season, and melt away in the first beam of the sun, which lights grim care and stern reality on their daily pilgrimage through the world. (pg. 97)

Have a suggestion for where I should take Dickens on a date? Learn something new about Dickens? Have a different opinion about this book? Let me know by leaving a comment!

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