Friday, March 25, 2005

Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

Frankly, I find it amazing that this book isn't more popular. Next to David Copperfield, this is one of my favorite Dickens novels. While Pickwick is just innocent fun and Oliver Twist is dark and foreboding, Nicholas Nickleby has a wide range of tones, from the sinister (during the Dotheboy's Hall chapters) to the amusing (with the Crummles family) to the melodramatic (Smike's scenes) to the psychologically thrilling (Ralph Nickleby's unravelling). Along the way, Dickens offers *just enough* social commentary to make his point without brow-beating the reader. And the characters! What delicious evil in Wackford Squeers and Sir Mulberry Hawk, what hilarity in Mr. John Browdie, and what nobility in Newman Noggs and the title character!

Yet, for all its good points, I'm still disappointed in Dickens's portrayal of female characters. With the exception of Nancy in Oliver Twist, I have yet to encounter a woman in Dickens who isn't, at best, a poorly developed outline of a character. Of course, this is a gripe that most scholars likewise have with his work and, as I continue to read my way through the Dickensian canon, I will hopefully find a female character worthy of praise.

My next Dickens outing: The Old Curiosity Shop.