This is one of the best of Dickens’ works, in my opinion.
True, it starts off heavy and bleak, but Mr. Squeers and Dotheboys Hall do play a significant rôle throughout the book. If anything, the digression involving Mr. Crummles and his performing troupe could have been omitted without loss to the story.
All in all, the many characters – as usual somewhat exaggerated in their various idiosyncrasies – are very well developed and clearly identifiable. We love Nicholas himself and his virtuous little sister Kate. Mrs. Nickleby is rather bothersome in her confused and distracted meddling. Uncle Ralph and Mr. Gride and their cronies are suitably obnoxious, and the Cheeryble brothers, on the contrary, delightful in their warm altruism.
We are again introduced to the miserable living conditions of the majority of the population in Victorian England and the shameful schools, to which many impoverished or unwanted boys were subjected. In contrast, unscrupulous money lenders thrived – for a time, at least.
The plot is complex and not at all transparent until, towards the end, the many pieces fall into place, and everyone – or most of them – lives happily ever after. As is the norm with novels of that era, very little violence and no explicit sex scenes are portrayed, which offers refreshing respite from most contemporary publications.
Where are today’s Dickens’s, I wonder?