Montreal Dickens Fellowship Study Questions: “Nicholas Nickleby”
Westmount Public Library
September 2, 2014 1:00-3:00
- In the preface to “Nicholas Nickleby”, Dickens claims that Mr. Squeers is not based on any real person but is a combination of characters. Do your own detective work about how Dickens researched the terrible conditions of the Yorkshire schools.
- The novel begins with the back-story of the Nickleby family. In a short space, Dickens provides us with a great deal of information. Were you hooked immediately? Why? Why not? Comment on the language, humor and character descriptions of the first chapter.
- Dickens, having been a parliamentary reporter, pokes fun at the process of introducing legislation. Through his “United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery Company”, he revealed both Ralph Nickleby’s dishonest business practices and the public’s gullibility and foolishness at the hands of unscrupulous businessmen. Compare with today’s lobby groups, political rhetoric and corruption.
- Why does Ralph Nickleby hate Nicholas so quickly and so intensely?
- What is your first impression of Miss La Creevy? How does Dickens create this impression? Discuss.
- Dickens often uses “foreshadowing” to give us the “heads up” about what is to come. In Chapter 3 he stresses the fact that the students have no “extras” and no vacations. (Indeed these are mentioned as an enticement for parents!) Comment on how we know to expect trouble. The very name of “Dotheboys” Hall is a warning. Comment on his use of names to both elicit emotions and entertain us.
- Dickens has us disliking Uncle Ralph immediately. Find seven reasons to hate him within these chapters.
- A master of description and characterization, Dickens brings Wackford Squeers to life in just a few short paragraphs. Describe how his physical appearance and his brief interaction with the boys and Mr. Snawley at the Saracen’s Head tell us volumes about his character.
- Dickens mixes pathos and humor as he describes the horrific conditions at Dotheboys Hall. Comment on the balance he achieves in opening the eyes of his readers to a very serious social problem and keeping his readers entertained and not turned away in disgust.
- In these first chapters, Dickens “sets the stage” by introducing many characters who will play important roles in the novel. Readers often complain of “information overload”. Has this been your experience? How does it compare to other Dickens works you may have read?
- Comment on the pace of the novel thus far. Does the plot move swiftly along? Does it hold your interest?
- Dickens work as an election reporter had him experiencing many harrowing stagecoach rides in all kinds of weather. Comment on how he often used observations from his own life as inspiration for his writing.
- Why do you think Dickens added the two stories, “The Five Sisters of York” and “The Baron of Grogzwig” to the novel? They both have a gothic feel to them. The first historic and tragic bringing us to tears and the second, humorous and eerie (ghosts were a real crowd-pleaser in his day) had us laughing and in goose bumps at the same time. Was he trying to ensure that his readers were getting a little bit of everything in order to encourage sales? Were they inserted as “filler”?
- It was early days in Dickens’s marriage when he wrote “Nicholas Nickleby”. Comment on his tongue in cheek comments on marriage, first as a risky card game when describing the Nickleby grandparents and then when describing Baron Grogswigs’ overbearing wife, many unwanted children and difficult mother-in law. Knowing what we know about his future marriage problems and large family, what do you think of the baron’s resolve to take firm control of his affairs and communicate firmly with his wife and in-laws?