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Nicholas is a wonderful character: brash and hot-headed, he often gets himself in trouble. But his courage, unerring loyalty and faultless goodness always get him out again. Like all of Dickens' books, this one contains an unforgettable array of characters, including great villains such as Ralph Nickleby (a foreshadow of Ebenezer Scrooge), Wackford Squeers and Sir Mulberry Hawk; as well as the hilarious, outrageous, flamboyant, foul-mouthed Mr. Mantalini. Simon Vance's performance was compelling; each character was rendered perfectly. I adored this audiobook and will listen again!
19 of 20 people found this review helpful
It took me a while to get into Nicholas Nickleby, but one I muddled through the extended misery that begins the book, there was reward aplenty.
It struck me that was a book of heroes and villains - and much like a fantasy adventure, the central Hero, Nicholas, must engage his band of heroes to defeat the villains that he encounters. The object of the adventure - well, nothing more than a life of happiness and being with those one loves.
The villians are dastardly. Wackford Squeers, the schoolmaster, is as cruel, greedy, and false as a character can be, and by casting himself as the great father to the poor boys pawned off to his oversight, the depth of his evil is unrestrained. His minions, Mrs. Squeers, daughter Fanny, and son Wackford, all reflect this evil core. You might recall that Squeers' "methods of teaching" were admired by Roald Dahl's headmistress Miss Trunchbull in the delightful children's book Matilda.
Sir Mulberry Hawk, the lecherous egomaniac that sets his lusty designs on Nicholas' sister Kate. His has the ability to appear gallant and charming, making Nicholas' and Kate's mother think he is a Hero, but all the while he is conniving to sordid mischief. His minions included the very efficient Misters Pluck and Pike - ready to do anything for Hawk at any time, no matter how base or vile. Lord Verisopht is another of Hawk's minions, but not due to an evil nature, but to a combination of extreme naivete and apparent innocence. Too late, he recognizes Hawk's nature and how he has been used for evil purposes.
Walter Bray, the father of Nicholas love interest, does his best to ruin his own family, playing the role of ungrateful, tyrannical father to a beautiful young lately who has won Nicholas heart just by crossing his path on two occasions in her life.
And the central villain, Nicholas' Uncle Ralph, a man of money and influence, who from the beginning seems unwilling to give Nicholas even the least morsel of respect, and instead, interprets Nicholas every act as being to embarrass and stain him, and sets as his life course the utter destruction of Nicholas and his quest for happiness and love. Ralph associates with the other villains, and a lesser villain named Arthur Gride to bring misery to Nicholas.
Contrasted with these mean villains are the clan of Heroes:
Newman Noggs actually works for Ralph, and at times, must do errands that contribute to Ralph's evil intent, but he befriends Nicholas, and eventually emerges as the hero inside the villain's camp who can help save the day. There is so much to like about Newman Noggs.
Vincent Crummles is the head of the theatre troupe where Nicholas' fortunes begin to turn. A chance meeting betweeen two is the place where Nicholas adventure turns from one of flight and exile to one where Nicholas becomes a man of talent and personality that will pay off in his future endeavors.
John Browdie is the muscle of the party of heroes in this story. There is also much to like about John Browdie; he is the guy you want on your side because of the combination of a can-do spirit and a winsome personality, but when his ire is raised, he becomes decisive and impactful.
Ned and Charles Cheeryble are angelic in their heroism, full of generosity and a willingness to intervene to make the path straighter. I found their lack of spouses and children of their own somewhat unbelievable, as they were so magnamious to a degree that seemed to beg to be shared on the most intimate level. Whereas Noggs was a hero who has some specific and very obvious skills to be used to help Nicholas achieve his quest, the Cheerybles are more transcendant in their ability to effect good.
And then there is Smike. Smike is the initial catalyst in turning this from a story of drudgery to a story of hope and adventure, and the relationship between Nicholas and Smike is a story of loyal devotion and companionship. Nicholas saves Smike's life, but that favor is returned in both tangible and intangible ways.
And most importantly, the Hero of Heroes, Nicholas Nickleby. I think Nicholas is more purely good to the core than either David Copperfield or Pip in Great Expectations, a couple of other great Dickens heroes I have recented gotten to know. And Nicholas is fighting a more intentional evil. As this is only Dickens 3rd book, Nickleby is far less complex than the later heroes. For example, his love for Madeleine is overly simplistic, especially when you compare it to David Copperfield's two great loves, both of which were fraught with complexity.
I cannot pass without commenting on Nicholas' sister Kate and his mother. Kate is a loyal and devoted sister who plays a significant role in the book by daring to resist the lewd advances of Sir Mulberry Hawk. But, I would again describe her character as simplistic.
The one character who is not simple is the mother. Given to long rambling monologues, Dickens shows a tremendous appreciation for this woman's beloved role in the family. While you know everyone around her is wishing she would shut up, you are so grateful that she is asserting her place in the middle of everything. Sometimes she is foolish, stupid, and downright embarrassing, but at others she is just humorous and pitiable. But in all, she is Mom, and she is loved.
This is the 4th Dickens book I have devoured over the past couple of years, and I continue to be amazed at his characters. I liked David Copperfield a bit more, perhaps because of the aforementioned digging into Copperfield's feelings about the women he loved. This book had some very good drama, and did a nice job of intertwining the characters.
Bottom line, don't get discouraged by the early misery of the book. Plod on through, and you will be rewarded!
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
I suppose this must be my favourite Dickens story so far in as much as I'm surprised my earphones didn't need to be surgically removed by the end of the audio book. I just found the pace of the action more intense than David Copperfield, Great Expectations and The Pickwick Papers though I certainly loved them all. I think Dickens has created some of the nastiest and most irredeemable characters in Nicholas Nickleby, which really got my outraged juices flowing. I felt the relationship between Nicholas and Madeleine seemed to develop a bit quickly and perfunctorily, but I suppose there is only so much you can fit in without making the story too long. There were some great scenes and characters and I thought Simon Vance was a great narrator, his characterisations weren't quite up to the level of some of the most distinguished on Audible, but was still brilliant and I found his voice quality excellent, that could have been another reason for my not being able to switch him off. Thoroughly recommended
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
Would you consider the audio edition of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby to be better than the print version?
Not having read a print version I can't really compare. However, I wouldn't have been able to get as much done if I'd had to hold a physical book and turn pages!
What was one of the most memorable moments of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby?
The story is still fresh in my mind so there are several parts which could hold this distinction. When Nicholas reacted violently against Squeers; when John Browdie rescued Smike; when I realised the brothers Cheeryble were really as good as they seemed; when the neighbouring (mad) gentleman show his affection of Mrs Nickleby by throwing random vegetables over the garden wall...
Which character – as performed by Simon Vance – was your favourite?
While he didn't appear in the story very much at all, I particularly liked Vance's characterisation of the vain and feckless Mantalini. Brilliantly repugnant!
As forJohn Browdie, I'm really not sure what was going on with his accent! There were definite traces of Geordie in there and who knows what else! Being married to a Yorkshireman I can say that Yorkshire accent it ain't! Hilarious though, but probably not intentionally.
If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?
Poor young gent makes enemies, makes friends and makes good.(But what a random question, and I'm not a tag line writer...)
Any additional comments?
I love the hot-headedness of Nicholas; it makes him rather more human than the rest of his saintly demeanour would suggest. His sister is an angel and his mother is seriously irritating, but as always with Dickens the characters are magnified in their traits: the brothers Cheeryble are emphatically good and kind, and Ralph Nickleby, Sir Mulberry Hawk and Wackford Squeers are emphatically bad.Another a Dickens signature present throughout are the wonderfully onomatopoeic names, and of course the 'happy ever after' ending. This one is more saccharine than most, but none the less palatable for all that.I really enjoyed this novel and will be listening to it again. I find Dickens is one of those authors whose books one can consume multiple times without them losing their charm.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful