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Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens discussion thread

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Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens is one of the books we've chosen in the English Counties Challenge, and I thought it would be good to read along with some other people, a few chapters at a time.  Janet looked it up and found out that the book was originally published in 19 monthly instalments, so that seems a good basis to start the read along.  We're going to try and read one instalment per week, and we can chat about it and discuss our progress along the way.  :readingtwo:
 
Synopsis:
Around the central story of Nicholas Nickleby and the misfortunes of his family, Dickens created some of his most wonderful characters: the muddle-headed Mrs Nickleby, the gloriously theatrical Crummles, their protege Miss Petowker, the pretentious Mantalinis and the mindlessly cruel Squeers and his wife. Nicholas Nickleby's loose, haphazard progress harks back to the picaresque novels of the 18th century - particularly those of Smollett and Fielding. Yet the novel's exuberant atmosphere of romance, adventure and freedom is overshadowed by Dickens' awareness of social ills and financial and class insecurity.
 

Please feel free to join in! :)  This is the first time I've done a social read-a-long, so we may find we need to change how we do it as we go along, but will update this first post to say what instalment we're currently reading, with links to where each discussion starts, but please bear in mind, there will be spoilers!
 
 
Part I chapters 1–4: reading until Sunday 31/8/14 - spoilers for this section start in next post (#2)
Part II chapters 5–7: reading Mon 01/9 to Sun 07/9 - spoilers for this section start in this post (#9)
Part III chapters 8–10: reading Mon 08/9 to Sun 14/9 - spoilers for this section start in this post (#13)
Part IV chapters 11–14: reading Mon 15/9 to Sun 21/9 - spoilers for this section start in this post (#13)
Part V chapters 15–17: reading Mon 22/9 to Sun 28/9 - spoilers for this section start in this post (#16)
Part VI chapters 18–20: reading Mon 29/9 to Sun 05/10- spoilers for this section start in this post (#17)
Part VII chapters 21–23: reading Mon 06/10 to Sun 12/10 - spoilers for this section and the next start in this post (#25)
Part VIII chapters 24–26: reading Mon 13/10 to Sun 19/10 - see above
Part IX chapters 27–29: reading Mon 20/10 to Sun 26/10 - spoilers for this section start in this post (#30)
Part X chapters 30–33: reading Mon 27/10 to Sun 02/11 - spoilers for this section start in this post (#34)
Part XI chapters 34–36: reading Mon 03/11 to Sun 09/11 - spoilers for this section start in this post (#45)
Part XII chapters 37–39: reading Mon 10/11 to Sun 16/11 - spoilers for this section start in this post (#48)
Part XIII chapters 40–42: reading Mon 17/11 to Sun 23/11 - spoilers for this section start in this post (#51)
Part XIV chapters 43–45: reading Mon 24/11 to Sun 30/11 - spoilers for this section start in this post (#54)
Part XV chapters 46–48: reading Mon 01/12 to Sun 07/12 - spoilers for this section start in this post (#56)
Part XVI chapters 49–51: reading Mon 08/12 to Sun 14/12 - spoilers for this section start in this post (#57)
Part XVII chapters 52–54: reading Mon 15/12 to Sun 21/12 - spoilers for this section start in this post (#60)
Part XVIII chapters 55–58: reading Mon 22/12 to Sun 04/01/15 - spoilers for this section start in this post (#63)
Part XIX-XX chapters 59–65: reading Mon 05/01 to Sun 11/01 - spoilers for this section start in this post (#64)
 
All reading dates subject to change after discussion.  :)

Edited by Janet

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WARNING --- THERE MAY BE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR CHAPTERS 1-4
 
I read the first four chapters today.  I have to say, so far, the style hasn't been too overbearing for me.  I've previously started reading Oliver Twist and really struggled with the first chapter, but Nicholas Nickleby felt less florid and not quite as wordy.
 
Knowing that these four chapters made up the first instalment, I think they do a good job of setting up the story and introducing the characters, but also give you some good pointers as to what might be going to happen, and altogether, plenty to make you want to buy the next edition when it was published.  Nicholas does seem a rather naive young man so far, and Noggs is a sinister presence who sounds like he might be trouble in the future.  I do wonder if we'll get any decent female characters, as it does look like it'll be centred around men and boys, but I guess we'll find out as we go along!
 
Has anyone read the author prefaces?  I didn't, and wondered if I should?  I started reading the character listing at the beginning, but I thought I'd probably forget them all immediately, and it might be better to just wait and come across them as I read the book!  One thing I did notice was that they weren't listed in the order in which they appeared, or alphabetically, so I was just a bit curious as to the thinking behind the order they are in.
 
One thing I have noticed so far is that I do struggle with some of the names.  There seem to be a lot of names that are just slightly out of the ordinary and I do struggle with pronouncing them in my head.  For example, Dotheboys school - is that Doth-e-boys, Do-the-boys or Doth-boys?  I guess it doesn't really matter, but none of them feel right, and it does make me stumble a bit in my head.  Browsing through the character list, I can spot a few character names that I think I'll have similar issue with.
 
Generally though, a good start, and I already feel less daunted.  I think reading in instalments is going to work well for me, and I think if I was just reading this book, I'd be a bit frustrated by how little of the book I'd read, so knowing I've read my weekly allowance, I can go and read something else, and come back to it again next week.

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I didn’t realise we were discussing this before 31st August so I haven’t put any thoughts down on paper. 

 

I did Google the pronunciation of Dotheboys Hall, because like you I wasn't 100% sure, and it seems to be pronounced Do-the-Boys which is how I was saying it in my head.

 

I didn't read the preface or the introduction because I have found in the past that they contain spoilers, and as I know nothing about Nicholas Nickleby I didn't want to inadvertently end up finding out anything coming up. 

 

In terms of reading it, I did find the section about the "United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery Company" rather waffly and I think I might go back and reread it.   Apart from that, I found it to be a much easier read than I expected.  I accidentally read up to the end of chapter 5!

 

So far, so good. :)

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Sorry, I hadn't really thought about when we would discuss, I was just thinking of putting down thoughts while I remembered them :blush:  Maybe we should do that next time, so that we can all be at the same place when we discuss it?  Shall we leave it until Sunday to carry on the discussion to let Alexi (and anyone else who might join in) time to read the first?

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Sorry, I didn't mean to sound like I was criticising you.  :)

 

I guess it doesn't matter as long as the first post is edited to show which page the discussion for each section starts from (or a link to the first post for each section might be a better idea?).  

 

I guess we can't wait anyway because someone might decide to join in a few months down the line and read in sections and they'll need to know where each discussion starts.  :) 

 

(Does that make any sense?  :lol:  ) 

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I did Google the pronunciation of Dotheboys Hall, because like you I wasn't 100% sure, and it seems to be pronounced Do-the-Boys which is how I was saying it in my head.

Definitely Do-the-boys. Dickens's names are often chosen to reflect character or situation, and this is a prime example.

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Sorry, I didn't mean to sound like I was criticising you.  :)

 

I guess it doesn't matter as long as the first post is edited to show which page the discussion for each section starts from (or a link to the first post for each section might be a better idea?).  

 

I guess we can't wait anyway because someone might decide to join in a few months down the line and read in sections and they'll need to know where each discussion starts.  :)

 

(Does that make any sense?  :lol:  ) 

 

Don't worry, I didn't think you were criticising me, just me being a dunderhead and not really thinking about how we should discuss the book! :D

 

I was going to put a link on the first post of the thread to the first post on each section discussion.

 

 

Definitely Do-the-boys. Dickens's names are often chosen to reflect character or situation, and this is a prime example.

 

Thanks willoyd.  I still think I will struggle saying that in my head along with some of the other names, and they'll end up being a pronunciation my brain can cope with, otherwise it'll be a stumbling block throughout my reading.

 

I'm actually looking forward to reading the next part, and not knowing much about the book, I've been contemplating whether on the basis of the first part, whether I think it will end up being a very bleak and dour book, or if there will be some lighter characters and elements in there.  I'm hoping for the second, as I did think there was some elements of the slightly comedic in the first part, but I fear it my veer more towards the former!  I guess I'll find out shortly … :D

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I guess I'll find out shortly … :D

Methinks you are about to find out what makes Dickens one of the greatest writers in the English language (IM oh so 'UO)!

Edited by willoyd

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WARNING --- THERE MAY BE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR CHAPTERS 5-8

I read part two yesterday (chapters 5-8).  For the most part, it was good, and I enjoyed how the story moved along, but the two tales regaled by the travellers - The Five Sisters of York and The Baron of Grogzwig - were rather tough going, and felt I had to plough on through them, just hoping they will have a relevance later on in the book!

 

Other than that, I enjoyed reading it, and Nicholas is likeable character, while Mr, Mrs and Master Squeers are shaping up to be nasty pieces of work!  I'm finding it difficult to picture the conditions of the boys in my head in too much detail - not because of Dickens writing, but because it's hard to have to imagine that parents or guardians would allow that to happen to their children.  It's certainly a powerful enough image that you can understand why Dickens felt the need to bring this type of thing to public attention.

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I've just finished chapter VII.   I, like you, wonder what the stories have to do with the rest of the tale? (I suspect nothing, but may be proved wrong in due course!).  The future certainly doesn't seem as though it's going to be rosy for Nicholas, does it?

 

I feel very sorry for those boys.  It must be awful to be so far from your family at such a young age. I suppose at least some of them have families who thought they were doing good by sending their boys to Dotheboys Hall!  :(

 

Claire - I hope you don't mind, but I've edited the first post to show the dates we're aiming to read each section, although of course these are subject to change. :)

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Thanks Janet, that's a great idea to add the dates.

 

I now realise I should have only read up to chapter 7, not 8! :doh:

 

I'm definitely finding the writing easier to read than I was expecting, and it's much easier to approach knowing I'm only reading a few chapters a week, rather than having the thought of such a long novel to finish in one go. :)

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I read up to the end of Chapter 8 too!  :giggle2:  I got it wrong last week as well.  Hopefully I'll get it right from now on!  We're off on holiday on Thursday so I'm going to try to read this week's section today or tomorrow, although I have Book Club tomorrow night and I haven't finished that book yet. Ooops!  :blush:

 

I'm really enjoying this too.  :)

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Hi guys! Sorry I'm late to the party but I've been away with limited reading time. I have now read up to the end of chapter 14, which is up to date I think and planning to read the next installment later this week.

 

One of my favourite things about Dickens is his works aren't classics because they're "worthy", he tells a great story and this is shaping up to be no different. I'm getting on quite well with the language this time around - maybe having read Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol I'm used to it now?

 

What awful people the Squeers family are! Now Nicholas and Smike are on their way/have reached London, will we meet them agin? I hope so, they are quite dreadful villains!

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Hi Alexi! Sorry, I'd completely forgotten to update this the last couple of weeks.  I think we're all up to chapter 14 now, and reading chapters 15-17 for discussion at the end of this week. :)
 
You've done better than me if you've managed to read Oliver Twist, Alexi!  I read the first two chapters when it was a book for my reading group, but I found it too wordy, and couldn't read any more.  I'm finding Nicholas Nickleby much more accessible and feels more contemporary in its style, and as I've mentioned before, knowing I only have to read a few chapters each week suits me perfectly.
 
You're also right about the Squeers - they're a very mean and nasty bunch!  I had an inkling, as soon as a daughter was mentioned, that she would set her cap at Nicholas, and that was never going to end well, was it?  I'm glad that Nicholas has decided to leave the school and head back to London, but it does leave me worried for the poor boys that have to remain at that awful place.  I have no idea where the story is going to go next, but I loved the cliffhanger at the end of chapter 14, not knowing which pair had turned up on Noggs' doorstep - will it be the male or female Nicklebys? :D

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I typed this out earlier today but forgot to hit 'add reply'. 

 

Gosh, I'm enjoying this book so much!  In a way I wish I didn't have to wait to read it because it's a bit frustrating!  :lol:  However I do like the idea of us reading together so I shall carry on.   I didn't read much on holiday (in fact, this book was all I did read) but I had read up to the end of Chapter 17 by the time I was on the train home on Monday!  :lol:

 

The writing is just sublime.  I thought I'd highlighted a bit on my Kindle but I can't have done it correctly (I bought a Paperwhite for my holiday and the highlighting is different) which is annoying as I wanted to quote it. 

 

The characterisation is great, isn't it.  How horrible are the Squeers?!  Like Alex, I hope it's not the last we've seen of them.  

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WARNING --- THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR CHAPTERS 15-17

 

I read chapter 15 at the start of the week, and have just read chapters 16 and 17, and if I'm honest, I don't feel as though the story has moved along much. If felt very much like scene setting for the next part of the story. After a good chapter 15, with Newman Noggs developing well, and we find him to be Nicholas's saviour in his hour of need at his arrival in London, and his introduction to the Kenwig family and knowing that the Squeers are out for revenge, chapter 16 felt a bit like a filler, with the interview with the MP seemingly leading nowhere, and then chapter 17 with Kate's first day at the Mantalini's seemingly just setting the scene. I think after previous instalments, I'd have been a (very tiny) bit disappointed with this one, BUT, I still enjoyed reading it and I still have no idea how the story will develop further.

 

There looks like there will be some repercussions for Nicholas with his uncle after the Squeers incident, and I can't see Kate lasting long at Mantalini's, but I wonder how long before the family will be reunited, and what will happen in the long term for them. I can't wait to read the next few chapters this week!

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WARNING --- THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR CHAPTERS 18-20
 
:doh: I knew there was something I'd forgotten to do … update this thread at the beginning of the week!!!
 
I really enjoyed last weeks chapters, especially as I'd been a teeny weeny bit disappointed the week before.  Poor Kate, having to sit through that dreadful dinner at her uncle's house … awful.  Thankfully, Nicholas has returned to them, but I still have no idea where the story is going next.  I'm saving this week's chapters for the weekend, then I'm going to sit myself down with a cuppa and a biccie, and immerse myself in Dickens' London.
 
How's everyone else getting on? :)

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I haven't started this week's instalments yet.   Unusually for me I now have three books on the go!  I started one to read alongside this but now have to read my Book Club book before next Thursday!  I'm not going to have a great deal of reading time before Sunday so I might have to read two weeks' worth of NN in one go!

 

I should really make notes of what I've read so far.   I'm really enjoying it though.  It's a pity Kate has made a bit of an enemy at work!   The meal was just dreadful - I felt so sorry for her.   :( 

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I also found this week's installment a return to form - it's definitely interesting to discuss it like this as it was originally serialised. Otherwise I would have just ploughed on and not thought of the book as separate sections people read every week/month!

 

Poor Kate - what an awful experience, her uncle is horrible :( good to see Nicholas back, but only temporarily it seems. I haven't read this week's yet, so will probably do it on Sunday when I have a day off. I like the idea of tea and a roaring fire!

 

(no biccy as have started my pre-Christmas healthy eating plan!)

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We all mentioned we were a bit behind in the Book Activity thread, so I thought we might want to adjust our dates so that we can all catch up with each other!

 

I'm just about to start chapter 25, which should have been the middle of last weeks chapters - where are you both up to?

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I've just started Chapter 27, so I'm where I should be I think but only because I've just caught up on the last three weeks' worth in one go!

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I've just finished chapter 28 (I had time to read today when my Christmas cakes were in the oven   :grinhat:  :xmassmile:   ) so I've only got one chapter left of this week's instalments.    I'm keen to stick to the schedule if possible and if you guys are still up for it.  :)

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Ok, it sounds like you too are both ok to stick to the schedule, so I'll make sure I catch up this week, and we'll keep the to the original dates. :)

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WARNING --- THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR CHAPTERS 21-26 (two sessions) - (originally read between 6th and 19th October)

 

As nobody has posted for a while I’ve cobbled together a very brief summary of chapters 21 to 26 and then put a few, vague, thoughts below. 

 

 

 

Kate loses her job when the Mantalinis go bankrupt.  She gets a job as a companion to an elderly woman called Mrs Witterly

 

After checking up on Kate and his mother and deciding not to unsettle them by making his presence known, Nicholas takes Smike and they head to Portsmouth. On the way they meet a man called Mr Crummles who is head of a theatre group – he offers Nicholas a job and Nicholas accepts

 

On arrival in Portsmouth Nicholas is introduced to the cast.  Nicholas (still under the assumed name of Johnson) is given the job of translating a French play that the group will then perform.  Nicholas and Smike find rooms to rent.

 

Nicholas, actress Miss Snevellicci and Mr Crummless' daughter call on people in order to raise donations towards their play.  Nicholas finishes the play and, after it is advertised by a town crier, the performance goes ahead to a full house.  Nicholas, who has also had a part in the play, becomes an overnight success.

 

The play is so successful that more performances are added.  Nicholas earns 30 shillings.  A new actress joins the troop – she is someone Nicholas met at the Kenwigs’ party.  She and Mr Lillyvick (the water rate collector from the same party that took place in chapter… 14… I think?) resolve to marry – but will keep it secret from the Kenwigses until after the nuptials have taken place.  Nicholas rehearses for his role as Romeo and Smike (with Nicholas’s help) as the apothecary. They both performed well and to critical acclaim. 

 

Back in London, Lord Frederick Verisopht and Sir Mulberry Hawk visit Ralph Nickleby to see if they can discover where Kate lives now.  As they are leaving they bump into Kate’s mother and enquire after Kate. She thinks that both of them may be husband material for Kate.


Poor Kate – it was horrible for her to return to her job after her illness to find the other girls blanking her due to Miss Kagg’s jealousy.  I can’t see her new position with Mrs Witterly being any happier for her, but time will tell...

 

It was a spot of luck for Nicholas and Smike that will see their fortunes rise due to the fortuitous introduction to Mr Crummles in the pub on the journey to Portsmouth.  Nicholas is a great character, isn’t he! 

 

Verisopht and Hawk do not seem to have any redeeming qualities at all.  I still fear for Kate.  Hopefully Nicholas will come to her rescue.  :)

 

I’m really enjoying this book.  I have to say that in one respect it’s nice to be reading it in sections in the same way that people would have read it when it first appeared in the magazine, but in another it’s frustrating not to be able to carry on (when I’ve got time!) because I’m a bit vague about some of the plot.  That’s why I thought the summary was a good idea.

 

Have either of you (or anyone who has read the book but isn’t participating) seen a good TV adaptation of this?  I might have asked that before but I may also just have thought I ought to and not actually asked!  :giggle2:

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