Places: Nicholas Nickleby

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1838-1839

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Early nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*London

*London. Nicholas NicklebyCapital and leading city of Great Britain. After his father dies, Nicholas takes his mother and sister to London to seek assistance from his uncle Ralph. A misanthropic miser, Ralph arranges for the Nicklebys to leave their pleasant lodgings and take up squalid ones, while Nicholas goes to Yorkshire to teach at Dotheboys Hall. The novel presents London initially as a heartless place of illusion and deprivation, which underscores Ralph’s deceptions and machinations.

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

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

*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

*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.

BibliographyAdrian, Arthur A. Dickens and the Parent-Child Relationship. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1984. Discusses the status of children in working-class Victorian England and Dickens’ own experience as a son and a father. Includes drawings of children at work in a variety of occupations.Bloom, Harold, ed. Charles Dickens. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. A collection of essays on various aspects of Dickens’ art. Raymond Williams’ contribution is especially illuminating with regard to Dickens’ portrayal of urban life in Nicholas Nickleby.Flint, Kate. Dickens. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press International, 1986. Discusses Dickens’ works in the context of a newly industrialized society. Flint also calls attention to Dickens’ portrayal of women and actors.Giddings, Robert, ed. The Changing World of Charles Dickens. London: Vision Press Limited, 1983. A collection of essays on Dickens’ style, generally and in specific works. Loralee MacPike discusses Dickens’ influence on Fyodor Dostoevski. David Edgar and Mike Poole discuss stage and film productions of particular novels, including Nicholas Nickleby.Nelson, Harland. Charles Dickens. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Explores Dickens’ philosophy of writing and his serial publications. Also discusses the structure and narrative of seven of his novels.
Categories: Places