The final segment of Nicholas Nickleby, part of the Readalong with Fanda from Fanda ClasscicLit over February and March 2021. (This post does have some spoilers).
While I did finish the book a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t get a chance to write either this post on the last segment or my overall review of the book. This final segment, in typical Dickens style sees a ‘perfect’ storybook ending. Every thread is neatly wrapped up and all our characters—central and minor—get their just desserts. Of course we have drama, tragedy, secrets revealed—all the elements for an entertaining serial.
As this last segment opens, we finding Nicholas has rushed off upon learning his uncle Ralph and Arthur Gride’s plans for Madeline—to force her into a marriage with the latter but realizes that he can’t simply go bursting in. But he does go and speak to Madeline who refuses to leave her father or be rescued from her fate. On the other side, Arthur is preparing for his wedding and we get hints of some other mischief he may have been upto regarding Madeline. Ralph and Arthur arrive for the wedding and Mr Bray tries to seek some respite for his daughter but to no avail. Meanwhile Nicholas arrives, this time with Kate to make a last ditch attempt to make Madeline see sense. But luckily for Madeline, her father dies and Nicholas and Kate take her with them, foiling Ralph’s plans. The situation is dramatic certainly, but perhaps not the dramatic rescue that we might have been expecting. But with the way Madeline is as a character, this is perhaps the only solution since she is entirely bent on sacrificing herself for her good-for-nothing father, and would most likely have refused to leave even if Kate had spoken to her.
Meanwhile Nicholas runs into Mr Lillyvick, the water tax collector, and we find that his wife, the former Miss Petowker has run away with another man, leaving him heartbroken. This however, bodes well for the Kenwigses who are now reconciled with their uncle and indeed, their prospects.
Ralph and Arthur have more nasty surprises in store as they return home to find that Arthur Gride’s housekeeper has made off with certain important papers. Among these is a will from Madeline’s grandfather leaving her all his wealth (again, he was willing to give her everything provided she left her father, but this our saintly heroine was not willing to do). Ralph employs the slimy Squeers to recover the papers, but Frank Cheeryble manages to secure the will before it is destroyed.
Smike we know has been ill, and things take a turn for the worse. While Nicholas escorts him to the country to recover, he does not and dies, confessing his love for Kate before he does. Also he spots the man he remembered from his childhood as having left him at Squeers’ school. Later, the Cheerybles discover the secret of Smike’s birth and family.
Ralph has a heavy price to pay for his sins—not only have his plans been foiled, he learns of a secret from his own past which breaks his heart (it seems he does have one after all), and he does the only thing he feels he can.
Squeers too must pay for his crimes, and we finally see his establishment shut down, and his poor ‘prisoners’ at last free.
Despite all this drama and tragedy, things end on a happy note with not one but three weddings (two of course we know, but I’ll leave you to guess the third—but no it isn’t Mrs Nickleby and her admirer), and good-hearted Newman Noggs once again a gentleman.
Thoughts: This was a really enjoyable revisit for me. Nicholas Nickleby is a comic novel (somewhat on the lines of the picaresque books Dickens read) but I think like a soap, has elements of everything—humour, drama, tragedy and romance. We have a wonderful assortment of characters, good and bad—from the theatrical Crummles to John Browdie from Yorkshire who helps rescue Smike on more than one occasion, the sadistic Wackford Squeers to the cold and money-minded Ralph, to the kind-hearted Cheeryble brothers and Newman Noggs. Among the women too, we have the rather silly (and credulous) Mrs Nickleby, the level-headed and sensible Kate, and the rather too saintly (for my liking) Madeline Bray. Even the more minor characters, from Mr Lillyvick and the Kenwigses to Miss La Creevy and the Mantalinis are wonderful creations. I liked most of the characters, but the heroine Madeline and Mrs Nickleby were my least favourite while Kate, John Browdie and Newman Noggs among those I liked the most. (I will write more about the characters in my review which I will post separately).
Dickens endings are as I already wrote fairly storybook rather than say Trollope who can be more realistic (and harsh), but I still enjoy seeing all the storylines wrapped up and all the villains in particular, get their just desserts.
I could have probably done without the soppiness surrounding Smike, though I did feel for him but it was essential to the plot and how things ended.
Overall an entertaining and enjoyable read. I was happy to have been able to join the Readalong.
Full review to appear shortly.
Find Fanda’s post on Week 6 here.