Thursday, February 04, 2016

Nicholas Nickleby

by Charles Dickens

also known as...

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby: Containing a Faithful Account of the Fortunes, Misfortunes, Uprisings, Downfallings, and Complete Career of the Nickleby Family

edited by "Boz."
with illustrations by "Phiz."

After reading and loving Bleak House, I had the idea to read a classic every year. I've been thinking about how to inject some diversity into that project, but life is short and I like Dickens. Also, I saw a bit of the 2002 film starring the adorable young Charlie Hunnam (before he got ripped), and I was tickled by his pronunciation of Dotheboys Hall (not the way people usually say Sotheby's, as in the auction house, but more like "do the boys") — not to mention cute little (also pre-ripped) Jamie Bell as the worshipful Smike.

I've also seen the 1977 TV mini-series, and I found the book to be much funnier than either of these two screen adaptations. Don't get me wrong, it's tragedy at every turn for the poor Nicklebys (though everything works out in the end), but the book has a good number of humorous (tragi-comic, if you must) episodes. The jolly John Browdie is always good for a laugh, and the Squeerses are so vile as to border on parody. (Not to say the infamous Yorkshire schools weren't a real social ill being criticized by Dickens.)

Overall, though, this book is not one I'd recommend to someone just getting started with Dickens or early Victorian novels. If you've got a taste for such things, however, you'll find much to enjoy. Some critics have disdained Nicholas Nickleby's obvious good-vs-evil plot and unrefined characterizations, but simplicity has its virtues too. I'd rather have really good strawberry ice cream instead of a so-so maple and fennel or a challenging bone marrow and peppercorn. (You know who you are, Salt & Straw!)

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