Montreal Dickens Fellowship Study Questions: “Nicholas Nickleby”
Westmount Public Library
March 3, 2015 1:00-3:00
Chapters 25 - 48
- Discuss the theatricality of Mr. Lillyvick and Miss Petowker’s wedding.
- Much of Nicholas Nickleby is very theatrical, not just in themes and plot but in its structure. In Chapter 26, Dickens sets the stage for a discussion between Mulberry Hawk and Lord Verisopht. The scene is described in great detail. The characters seem to be following stage directions. Discuss this strategy in light of Dickens’s passion for the theatre.
- Dickens’s characters have been described as flat or one- dimensional. Discuss this in terms of Uncle Ralph. Is he all-evil? Should we sympathize with him at all because of his “soft-spot” for Kate? Does he truly have such a “soft-spot”? If so, how can this be reconciled with his “selling” her or deciding she must take her own chances?
- Mrs. Nickleby is vain, gullible, foolish and totally self-absorbed. Her speech is tangential, running off on every new tangent that arises. Have you ever met anyone like her? She is said to be based on Dickens’s own mother. Does she have any redeeming features? What are they? What do you make of her “aerial architecture” or castles in the air when it comes to Kate and Mulberry Hawk?
- Comment on Mrs. Nickleby’s “cure” for the common cold (soaking your feet in water salt and bran for months on end!)
- Mr. and Mrs. Wittiterly are very caught up in fawning to their social superiors and hob-knobbing with the aristocracy. Do you believe that similar, class or social distinctions exist in today’s society? Based on wealth? Status? Discuss.
- Mrs. Wittiterly and Mrs. Nickleby were both impressed by visiting Shakespeare’s birthplace. Charles Dickens was on the board for preserving Anne Hathaway’s cottage as a heritage site. In later chapters of Nicholas Nickleby, he defends Shakespeare against a charge of plagiarism (he based some of his work on old legends and stories) Compare and contrast these two great authors in terms of themes, popularity, agelessness, etc.
- How does Dickens’ device of switching back and forth between Nicholas’s adventures and Kate’s situation add to our enjoyment of the novel? Also comment on Dickens’s manipulation of the readers’ emotions by evoking humor, anger and pathos in rapid sequence.
- Why do you suppose Miss La Creevy’s brother waited 15 years to be reconciled with his sister? Why did Dickens add this to the story? Do you think that it was in response to his readership?
- Read aloud and comment on Dickens’s rich description of London in Chapter 32.
- Coincidence is very present in all of Dickens’s works. Comment on its use in this novel. E.g. Frank Cheeryble meeting Madeline Bray immediately upon his return to England and Nicholas eating at the very hotel where Frank defends Madeline’s honor. Even Tim Linkinwater comments on London being the home of coincidence. Does this add or detract from the novel?
- What do you think of Nicholas’s defense of his sister’s honor. Do you see him as a hero? Is chivalry dead today? Can you think of current examples of such loyalty in siblings?
- This novel has many sub plots and characters which move the story on quickly. Ralph gets Nicholas’s angry note, meets the Mantolinis, hears of Mulberry Hawk’s injuries, and meets Mr. Squeers all in rapid succession. We barely have time to digest all that is happening. The tension and action increase in parallel adding to the melodrama. Comment on the pace of the novel.
- Examine Dickens’s description of Mr. Cheeryble at the employment office. How many positive adjectives can you count? Even his clothing is depicted in a positive way.
- Dickens makes use of contrasts in his descriptions of settings. He is all about stimulating all of our senses. The cottage at Bow is described as light and airy, while all about Uncle Ralph is dark. Comment.
- Comment on Dickens’s depiction of the neighborhood’s awaiting the arrival of the Kenwig’s baby. Do you think it was realistic to his time?
- As in other novels, each chapter begins with a long description. What was the purpose of this?
- The Cheeryble brothers who had risen from rags to riches, ate with their knives, never went to school, honored their dead mother, shared their wine with their servants and warehouse employees must have been very well received by Dickens’s readers and must have added to Dickens’s popularity with the lower classes. Contrast their characterization with that of the aristocracy.
- Dickens makes heavy use of mystery and foreshadowing in these later chapters. What hold might Mr. Brooker have over Ralph Nickleby?
- Do you agree with Mr. Cheeryble’s philosophy that love for a parent or child isn’t necessarily “natural”? Must it be earned or deserved?
- What do you think of the introduction of new characters (like Arthur Gride) and new plots so late in the novel? Virginia Woolf was very critical of Dickens doing this. Comment on the following quote:“With such power at his command Dickens made his books blaze up, not by tightening the plot or sharpening the wit, but by throwing another handful of people upon the fire. The interest flags and he creates Miss Mowcher, completely alive, equipped in every detail as if she were to play a great part in the story, whereas once the full stretch of road is passed by her help, she disappears; she is needed no longer. Hence a Dickens novel is apt to become a bunch of separate characters loosely held together, often by the most arbitrary conventions, who tend to fly asunder and split our attention into so many different parts that we drop the book in despair”
- Does John Brodie’s Yorkshire drawl bother you?
- Comment on the humor in these chapters. What has been funniest for you?