Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Dickens’s gloomy depictions of such London locations as Snow Hill and the Manchester Buildings–the residence of corrupt politicians–serve to deepen the atmosphere of despair and mistrust that smothers the hapless Nicklebys. Despite his wealth, Ralph Nickleby resides in the shabby and ironically named Golden Square. In contrast, the offices of the Cheeryble Brothers and the cottage they provide for the Nicklebys underscore their warmth, compassion, and belief in the essential goodness of the human spirit. It is through this tangled web of misery and hope that Nicholas must hack a way for his family and himself, indeed to save their very souls from the darkness that threatens to engulf them.
Dotheboys Hall. Yorkshire boarding school at which Nicholas teaches under the supervision of the vicious schoolmaster, Wackford Squeers. The northern England county of Yorkshire was notorious for its unpleasant boarding schools, and Dickens depicts Squeers’s school as a hell on earth. Filthy, ruined, and desolate, it provides an apt metaphor for the psychological and physical nightmare that each boy sent to the school endures. Dickens’s satire is savage, indignant, and unsparing, but the possibility of redemption is alive in the cheer and warmth of the nearby farm of John Browdie, who helps Nicholas bring down Squeers.
*Portsmouth. Southern English port city. While on the run from Squeers and Ralph, Nicholas and Smike travel to Portsmouth with Vincent Crummles, whose acting troupe they join. Nicholas discovers in Crummles’s theater a freedom and creativity he has never before experienced. With the freewheeling seaport of Portsmouth a haven of safety and discretion, Nicholas hones his acting abilities and matures as an independent man responsible for others. The world of the theater is seductive, but Nicholas recognizes the false comfort in such illusions, and he departs this crucial training ground to return to London to unravel the knots that await him there.
*Dawlish. Coastal town in southern England’s Devonshire, where Nicholas grows up. Dawlish frames the novel, beginning with the Nicklebys’ exile in bankruptcy and ending with their triumphant return and repurchase of the family home. Dawlish symbolizes the possibility of paradise regained, of the eventual triumph of goodness over evil, but not without suffering and loss, as emblematized by Smike’s grave, tended in the years to come by innocent children who weep and mourn over his tragic tale.