Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
When Nicholas Nickleby is left penniless after his father's death, he appeals to his wealthy uncle to help him find work and to protect his mother and sister. But Ralph Nickleby proves both hard-hearted and unscrupulous, and Nicholas finds himself forced to make his own way in the world.
Well, fan my brow. I’ve been wandering around this world for years, telling anyone who will listen that my favourite Dickens novel is David Copperfield, with conviction which cannot be rivalled. I’m all a-flutter now Nickleby has come along and knocked Copperfield from the top spot.
What an absolute triumph this novel is. All of my favourite Dickens staples are firmly present - Victorian social customs, comedy, villains, tragedy, debtors, and drunks. There’s plenty of heartbreak and injustice, peppered with Dickens' own brand of humour to lighten the mood to the perfect degree.
There is a lot of plot; I repeat - there is a lot of plot. Dickens goes into tiny detail on setting, atmosphere, and behaviour, creating a beautifully vivid and engaging picture of Victorian London. It feels very deep, and heavy at times; this only added to my enjoyment, but I spent much longer on this book than I have on any other for a while, savouring, relishing, loving.
His technique in presenting the reader with social injustices is gorgeous. Laced with satire, we see our misers and villains gaining the upper hand at every turn; we are scandalised, devastated, incensed. But we remember it’s Dickens, and each and every dastardly character will have his day in the end. Real life doesn’t serve justice quite so perfectly, but anything else here would be an injury.
Despite this, Dickens characters here were nothing but simple. Such a throng of a cast, each of them described to completeness, every flaw and scar exposed. Dickens often characterises his characters as entirely good or bad, placing them into their relevant camps as appropriate. Here, he recognises the range of emotion and temper in his characters, and we even see the squeaky-clean ones make poor decisions, and display emotion not usually attributed to the characters in the more angelic of the two camps.
It gave my joy, it broke my heart. The characters are masterpieces within themselves, the plot divine, everything else just gorgeous gorgeous. Nicholas Nickleby is an absolute wonder.