09 November 2008

Nicholas Nickleby

I finished Nicholas Nickleby. I'm so glad Jenny told me to read it more as a fairy tale than as realistic fiction or I don't think I would have gotten through.

I love Dickens' way with words! Here are just a couple of quotes:
He was a tall man of middle-age with goggle eyes whereof one was a fixture, a rubicund nose, a cadaverous face, and a suit of clothes (if the term be allowable when they suited him not at all) much the worse for wear, very much too small, and placed upon such a short allowance of buttons that it was quite marvelous how he contrived to keep them on.
[L]et it be remembered that most men live in a world of their own, and that in that limited circle alone are they ambitious for distinction and applause. … Thus, cases of injustice, and oppression, and tyranny, and the most extravagant bigotry, are in constant occurrence among us every day. It is the custom to trumpet forth much wonder and astonishment at the chief actors therein setting at defiance so completely the opinion of the world; but there is no greater fallacy; it is precisely because they do consult the opinion of their own little world that such things take place at all, and strike the great world dumb with amazement.
Dickens is fun to read (for the most part), but I don't think I could stand a steady diet of him.  I wonder what it says about his view of the world that no one is redeemed?  The main characters are all purity or all evil.  The secondary characters are usually strange looking but have hearts of gold.



  1. Oh, Lynne, there's a beautiful redemption in *A Tale of Two Cities.* So try again! ;-)

    The first passage you just quoted is similar to descriptions in *Hard Times* and in an exercise using Dickens that Gregory Roper uses in his *The Writer's Workshop,* the text I'm using for a new writing workshop. In this exercise a student reworks a description of a person to make it fit into Dickens' style. It's a good exercise, but I don't necessarily recommend it for contemporary fiction. :-)

  2. Cindy,

    I'm leading the discussion on Tale of Two Cities right now, and know how it ends, but I don't know that Sidney Carton is on the same level as Ralph Nickleby, Wackford Squeers, or Sir Mulberry Hawk. He seems to me to be more like Smike or Newman Noggs, who only need a bit of love to bring out the good that's hidden away.

  3. Arrgh! I wrote a long (and I hope reasonably thoughtful and gracious) response to this, and it doesn't seem to have posted! I may try to recreate it later, but I probably won't have time, so here's the short version:

    1. Glad the fairy tale lens was helpful.
    2. I think the fairy tale genre may explain the "black and whiteness" of the characters too.
    3. I don't think it's necessary that only main characters experience redemption in order for that to be important to an author. (see JKR, for instance)
    4. I think Sydney Carton is a main character who does repent and is redeemed.

  4. I love Dickens' way with words too. I try to read one a year. There are enough Dickens for me to keep it up a very long time.

  5. Oh, I love the way Dickens describes his characters! My children often have to listen to me read one of his wonderful sentences aloud when I'm in the midst of one of his novels. It's too bad that modern authors are discouraged from this type of description. Everything must be "shown, not told."

    I have a friend who is trying to write novels for the Christian market. She was told that if you begin a your book with a sentence that uses any form of the verb "to be" the editor will automatically reject the book. Poor Dickens. A Christmas Carol would stand no chance with modern publishers, since we are told that "Marley was dead" in the first line.

  6. Any editor so foolish as to actually follow that rule would be losing a lot of good books, Patricia, and possibly a lot of money, too. The first sentence of one of my favourite Diana Wynne Jones books, published 2005:

    "When I was small, I always thought Stallery Mansion was some kind of fairy-tale castle."

    And the first sentence of a first book by a then-unknown author, published 1997:

    "Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."

    In that paragraph and the next (seven sentences altogether) there's not a single sentence in which either "was" or "were" is not the main verb of an independent clause. And I do not for one minute think Bloomsbury regrets publishing that book!