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Nicholas Nickleby (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Nicholas Nickleby (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

4.1 30
by Charles Dickens, Jill Muller (Introduction), Phiz (Illustrator)

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Nicholas Nickleby, by Charles Dickens, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:


Nicholas Nickleby, by Charles Dickens, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

Left penniless by the death of his improvident father, young Nicholas Nickleby assumes responsibility for his mother and sister and seeks help from his Scrooge-like Uncle Ralph. Instantly disliking Nicholas, Ralph sends him to teach in a school run by the stupidly sadistic Wackford Squeers. Nicholas decides to escape, taking with him the orphan Smike, one of Squeers’s most abused young charges, and the two embark on a series of adventurous encounters with an array of humanity’s worst and best—greedy fools, corrupt lechers, cheery innocents, and selfless benefactors.

Though one of Dickens’s earliest works, Nicholas Nickleby features many of his familiar trademarks: a long, complex plot full of surprising twists, unexpected revelations, and jaw-dropping coincidences; a crowded cast of colorful (and memorably named) characters, among them Vincent Crummles, Newman Noggs, and Sir Mulberry Hawk; and an emotionally potent mix of wildly exuberant comedy, deeply moving melodrama, and passionate social criticism fueled by Dickens’s own childhood experiences of poverty and injustice.

Jill Muller was born in England and educated at Mercy College and Columbia University. She currently teaches at Mercy College and Columbia University and is working on a book about the Victorian poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, to be published by Routledge.

Product Details

Barnes & Noble
Publication date:
Barnes & Noble Classics Series
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Product dimensions:
5.19(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

From Jill Muller’s Introduction to Nicholas Nickleby

Appropriately dedicated to actor-manager William Macready, Nicholas Nickleby is the most theatrical of Dickens’s novels. The members of the Crummles troupe of provincial players are only the most honest actors in a huge cast of performers: comedians, tragedians, villains and heroes of melodrama, monologists and mimes. Yet the show business exuberance of the novel is shadowed by a constant awareness of the injustice and cruelty of the world offstage. Dickens knew very well that the clown’s tomfoolery is sometimes a brittle defense against despair. Indeed while working on the early episodes of Nicholas Nickleby, he was also engaged in editing the memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi, the most celebrated clown in early Victorian England. Dickens and Grimaldi had much in common: Both men were driven and insecure, obsessively punctual and neat, and haunted by childhood misery. In Nicholas Nickleby, the writer’s two sides, comedian and social reformer, coexist in an exhilarating but sometimes uneasy partnership. Scenes of shocking abuse slide into slapstick and farce. Acts of violence and exploitation are performed by hilarious grotesques. Victims and villains are dogged by their comic doubles.

Dickens derives the central plot of Nicholas Nickleby from his own primal scene of childhood abandonment. As in Oliver Twist, the victim-hero is less interesting than many of the characters he encounters, and the sum of incidents and episodes far more entertaining and memorable than the underlying plot. However, the author has plainly learned from the main fault of Oliver Twist, the passivity and colorlessness of the hero, because this time he divides his experience of childhood suffering between two characters, Nicholas and Smike. Oliver’s passivity is bestowed upon Smike, freeing Dickens to place the more dynamic figure of Nicholas at the center of his narrative. Smike, the pitiful, mentally retarded son of Nicholas Nickleby’s chief villain, Ralph Nickleby, is abandoned in infancy to the tender mercies of the Squeers family at their Yorkshire boarding school, Dotheboys Hall. Although eventually rescued by Nicholas, he is too damaged to survive. He dies of a combination of tuberculosis and unrequited love. The novel’s closing scenes of marriages and pastoral contentment yield to a final contemplation of Smike’s grave. The dead boy represents the child victim that Dickens always carried within him, and to whom he would return with still more self-indulgent pathos in the figure of Little Nell in his next novel, The Old Curiosity Shop. Smike’s fate is the fate Dickens believed could have been his if he had lacked the energy and talent that propelled him out of poverty to early fame.

In Nicholas, Smike’s cousin and doppelganger, Dickens presents a more robust victim-hero who succeeds, like his creator, in triumphing over humiliation and misfortune. The eponymous protagonist of Nicholas Nickleby is a genteel Victorian version of Tom Jones or Roderick Random, the picaresque heroes of Fielding and Smollett, whose stories were Dickens’s favorite childhood reading. Young, handsome, and brave, forced by his parents’ financial mismanagement to fend for himself in a hostile world, he is also a rather flattering portrait of the artist as a young man. Like Dickens himself, and unlike Smike, Nicholas plays an active role in improving his fortunes; he is clever, resourceful, and quick to defend himself and those he loves from insult or injury. Yet, for all his intelligence and vigor, Nicholas is unable to win back his lost birthright, his identity as a gentleman, without the help of an unconvincing pair of fairy godfathers, the merchant-philanthropists Ned and Charles Cheeryble.

Although Dickens himself knew all too well that worldly success is seldom achieved without the exercise of aggressive and competitive instincts, he was at first reluctant to bestow any but noble and generous impulses on his protagonists. Hence his early heroes are no match for the relentless and gleeful malevolence of his villains. For one thing, they are inevitably associated with the values of a romanticized pre-industrial society. In the pre-history of Nicholas Nickleby, the hero’s grandfather, Godfrey Nickleby, marries imprudently for love and is saved from poverty only by a well-timed legacy. His fiscally naive younger son, Nicholas Senior, who chooses to “shun the great world and attach himself to the quiet routine of a country life,” loses his inheritance through risky speculation undertaken on the advice of his wife. The family estate is sold to strangers, Nickleby dies of grief, and his wife and children are left to struggle for subsistence in early Victorian London. When this man’s son, our Nicholas Nickleby, finally becomes “a rich and prosperous merchant,” he turns his back on the thriving city in which his fortune was made in order to “buy his father’s old house” in which “nothing with which there was any association of bygone days was ever removed or changed.” His deepest longings are melancholy and nostalgic; his future is an idealized past. In contrast, Nicholas’s wicked uncle, Ralph Nickleby, throws himself wholeheartedly into capitalism from an early age, progressing from making small-scale loans to his schoolfellows to becoming a director of the blatantly crooked United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery Company, and a usurer with half of fashionable London in his debt. It is Ralph Nickleby, and not his nephew Nicholas, who embodies the raw, driven energy of the Victorian age, an energy that found voice and expression in Dickens himself. Nicholas Nickleby may represent Dickens’s ideals, but the restless and unscrupulous Ralph, who attributes his avarice to the early shock of his parents’ financial imprudence, also contains more than a trace of his creator.

Meet the Author

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is probably the greatest novelist England has ever produced, the author of such well-known classics as A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, David Copperfield and Oliver Twist. His innate comic genius and shrewd depictions of Victorian life — along with his indelible characters — have made his books beloved by readers the world over.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
February 7, 1812
Date of Death:
June 18, 1870
Place of Birth:
Portsmouth, England
Place of Death:
Gad's Hill, Kent, England
Home-schooling; attended Dame School at Chatham briefly and Wellington

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Nicholas Nickleby (Everyman's Library Series) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Being written early in his career and started before "Oliver Twist" was completed, "Nicholas Nickleby" contains all of the classic Dickens qualities of richly detailed characters and numerous intertwing subplots, yet it seems somewhat rushed in conclusion. Dickens fans will surely recall "Nickleby" with fondness, but it is certainly not the first full length Dickens novel one should read. "David Copperfield" or "Bleak House" are better representations of Dickens at his best.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Some critics complain that Nicholas Nickleby is unsophisticated and melodramatic compared to Dickens' later works. In my opinion they are missing the point - it is melodramatic to be sure, but that is all part of the tounge-in-cheek tone of the work. This is an extremely entertaining novel. Highly recommended!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was fantastic. It was the second book by Dickens that I read, and I thought that it was even better than Oliver Twist. I loved the characters, the plot, and even the ending. However, Nicholas is certainly a flawed hero, but that just makes the story more intriguing. It has a perfect amount of political satire, humor, and tragedy. Wonderful book!!
NellyDT More than 1 year ago
can interest people who don't like to read  
LibraryLadyMB More than 1 year ago
I've noticed in most e-books that there are a lot of typos. I am assuming that the books are scanned and not re-typed, so the scanners must be fallible. The story of Nicholas Nickleby is wonderful, and I am reading it again in order to encounter the man in smalls once more.
NPhillygirlPA More than 1 year ago
I've read it before but I can't seem to get my NOOK to cooperate and let me read it again. :-(
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