Nicholas Nickleby II
Now that we have completed reading two thirds of Nicholas Nickleby some of Dickens' main themes are emerging. Dickens was passionate about the theater and that passion is quite evident in this novel. Once Nicholas has left the "boys' school" run by the Squeers he soon takes up with a theater troupe. He is successful translating plays from French into English and doing some acting.
This leads me to the theme of illusion and reality which we discussed in our last class. Once you start looking for examples of this you can find it in almost every chapter. In the first scenes of the novel we see Nicholas' family lose their modest wealth when his father's investments are more illusory than real. Nicholas' mother turns to her brother-in-law for help upon the death of her husband only to find any notion of family bonds is also an illusion. Of course the "school" where Nicholas is posted by his uncle Ralph is an utter illusion, much to the detriment of the boys confined therein. As we read further in the novel we find that characters are more likely to not be what they first seem to be; finally, it is somewhat ironic that Nicholas would find himself in a theater troupe learning the profession of creating illusions for a paying audience.
The number of characters seems to be growing geometrically as is typical in most of Dicken's novels, but most of the characters introduced so far are interesting enough to keep the reader's attention. Nicholas' growth and education (this novel is a bildungsroman of sorts) is the most interesting aspect of the novel for this reader. But I wonder what it would be like to have the story told from the point of view of his sister Kate?
Two last comments on the novel so far: 1) The city of London is very much a character in the novel with Dickens sharing his love for this city more than once probably drawing on the experiences he had on the long walks that he often took (cf. pp. 390 & 446, and 2) the narrator includes brief comments on the state of novel-writing itself (p. 345). The chapters comprising the final third of this novel will share with us of the fate of Nicholas and Kate.
Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. Penguin Classics, New York. 2003 (1839).