In keeping with my current trend of reading the classics, I have undertaken and finally completed the reading of Charles Dickens' "Nicholas Nickleby". Originally published in 1838 - 1839 as a serial, it is a long and arduous read. I was taken in by the story in the early chapters and even though it is wordy and tends to wander at times, the plot and characters are worth the endurance that is required to complete the book.
Without spoiling the plot, which gets more intricate as the book moves along, here is the general thrust of the novel.
Mr. Nickleby Sr. dies and leaves each of his two sons a handsome inheritance. One son, Ralph, becomes a businessman, a money lender, and in the process becomes unscrupulous and greedy, caring for wealth above all else. The other is a gentleman farmer, married with two children, Nicholas and Kate. Egged on by his wife, who sees Ralph's wealth, he speculates with his inheritance and loses it all. He dies of those things that are closely associated with defeat, poverty, and depression and leaves a widow and her two almost grown children.
The widow Nickleby approaches Ralph and kindly asks if he can help them out. Being very stingy and never having cared for his brother or his family, he reluctantly and very niggardly gives them some assistance. The help to young Nicholas comes in the form of a job at a boy's boarding school where we meet the first villain of the story, Wackford Squeers, the stingy, cruel, and scheming schoolmaster. Once you have come this far in the story, you will have developed a visceral hatred of Master Squeers, and you will be hooked.
The adventure moves on from there and gradually the 37 characters of the novel are introduced and developed. There are plots and sub plots, some very funny scenes, and enough irony and poignancy to have your emotions played with liberally.
Dickens is a master writer. Even his 'rabbit trails' are good reading, but I found myself often wishing for the story to come back to the main plot. In the end, there was little that happened in the book that did not contribute in some way to the outcome which is full of surprises and revelations.
I have never been a big fan of condensed books, such as Reader's Digest has published over the years, but I think this book needs some downsizing. No doubt its heftiness is a result of it being published as a serial over two years.
I might suggest that Dickens is an acquired taste, however, the themes in his books are universal. In Nicholas Nickleby, it is apparent what a life of avarice and selfishness results in, and what a life of loyalty, generosity, and moral fiber leads to. The contrast is very apparent and there is a lesson for all to learn from this story, no matter the degree to which we can identify with either side of this coin.
3 1/2 stars