Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The title character of Nicholas Nickleby sets off to be a schoolmaster in the north of England when the death of his father leaves the Nickleby family in bad straits—a trial his pretentiously genteel and garrulous mother (a comic portrait of Dickens’s own mother) finds hard to bear. At Dotheboys Hall in Yorkshire, Nicholas wins a test of strength with the evil headmaster Squeers, whose reign of terror has resulted in the abuse and deaths of his cringing charges, all of whom are orphans and unwanted children—a fictionalization of the real-life horrors that Dickens documented during a visit to Yorkshire with his illustrator.
Next, Nicholas becomes an actor in the hilariously inept touring company of Mr. and Mrs. Crummies, a development that allows Dickens to demonstrate both his knowledge and his affection for the theater. Meanwhile, the rather precarious main plot of the novel concerns the pathetic Smike, a handicapped boy whom Nicholas rescued from Dotheboys; its climax occurs when the boy is revealed to be the illegitimate son of Nicholas’s evil uncle, Ralph Nickleby, who has also plotted against the innocence of Nicholas’s sister, Kate. Father and son both perish, but a happy conclusion is brought about by the fairy-tale benevolence of the Cheeryble Brothers. Not surprisingly, they have long been targets of attack for critics who believe that Dickens has no practical or political solutions to offer to the abuses that he exposes.
(The entire section is 240 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
When Nicholas Nickleby was nineteen years old, his father died, bankrupt. A short time after their bereavement, Nicholas, his sister Kate, and their mother set out for London. While there, they hope that the late Mr. Nickleby’s brother, Ralph, might be willing to do something for them. Ralph Nickleby, a miserly moneylender, grudgingly allows his sister-in-law and Kate to move into empty lodgings he owns, and he secures a position for Nicholas as assistant to Wackford Squeers, who operates a boys’ boarding school in Yorkshire.
Nicholas, leaving his mother and sister in Ralph’s care, travels to the school and finds it a terrible place where the boys are starved and mistreated almost beyond human imagination. Nicholas is forced to endure the situation, for his uncle had warned him that any help given to his sister and mother depends upon his remaining where he had been placed. A crisis arises, however, when Wackford Squeers unjustly and unmercifully beats an older boy named Smike. Nicholas intervenes, wresting the whip from Squeers and beating the schoolmaster with it instead. Immediately afterward, Smike and Nicholas leave the school and start walking toward London.
In London, meanwhile, Ralph Nickleby tries to use Kate to attract young Lord Verisopht into borrowing money at high rates. He also finds work for Kate in a dressmaking establishment, where there is a great deal of labor and almost no pay. Kate does not mind the work, but she is...
(The entire section is 1175 words.)
Chapters 1-4 Summary
When Godfrey Nickleby inherited five thousand pounds from his uncle, he bought a farm in Devonshire. When he died, his eldest son, Ralph, inherited the bulk of the estate and went to London where he managed to increase his fortune by financial speculation and sharpness. His brother, Nicholas, remained in Devonshire and also speculated but lost it all. He took to bed, said good-bye to his wife and two children (his son Nicholas and his daughter Kate) and died, leaving his family with no money but with a hope that his brother Ralph would look after Mrs. Nickleby and the children, though the two brothers had not been close since they reached adulthood.
Ralph Nickleby runs a business of unknown nature, but which generates a great deal of money. His clerk, Newman Noggs, had once been a gentleman, but, having run into financial difficulties, had come to Ralph for a loan, but was instead given the lowly job of clerk. Ralph Nickleby attends a meeting of the United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery Company to commence its business by request of Parliament. It is also decided that a petition be presented to Parliament for the elimination of muffin street-sellers, out of concern for their safety, but in actuality to prevent competition.
Ralph receives a letter telling him that his brother is dead (which does not upset him that much) and that his widow and two children are in London (which does upset him). He does not want poor relatives hanging about him, so he goes to the address where Mrs. Nickleby is staying. He talks to Miss La Creevy, a miniature portrait painter and Mrs. Nickleby’s landlady, that Mrs. Nickleby is poor and it would be best if Miss La Creevy throw her out. Miss La Creevy says that she hopes, if Mrs. Nickleby cannot afford to pay her rent, that her family will help her out. Ralph tells her that, as he is the only family, he will not do this. He visits Mrs. Nickleby and her children without any expression of sympathy for their loss. He tells Mrs. Nickleby that her children must learn to support themselves and her. He proposes that Kate find a position with a dressmaker. For Nicholas, Ralph presents an advertisement for a school teacher at Dotheboys Hall in Yorkshire. Though the requirements include a Master of Arts, which Nicholas does not have, Ralph feels sure that he can arrange for Nicholas to be given the position. Nicholas agrees, fantasizing that perhaps he might make...
(The entire section is 536 words.)
Chapters 5-7 Summary
As Nicholas prepares to leave for Yorkshire, his sister and mother help and try to keep their emotions in check. Nicholas decides to leave early in the morning to avoid a tearful scene, but he runs into Miss La Creevy, who has also risen early to paint noses of pedestrians on the early morning street below. She tells Nicholas that his sister especially will miss the protection of a brother. Nicholas asks her to be kind to his family, then he walks to the inn where Mr. Squeers is giving a weak breakfast to five new students. Mrs. Nickleby and Kate, along with Ralph Nickleby, arrive just as Nicholas is boarding the stagecoach. Kate is very unnerved by Mr. Squeers, and they wish Nicholas a tearful goodbye. Newman Noggs also arrives and gives a note to Nicholas.
The coach takes off before Nicholas can ask Noggs any questions. The weather is cold and snowy during the trip, which is interrupted when the stagecoach overturns. When the horses are cut loose, Nicholas catches them before they run away. The passengers walk to the nearest public house, where they wait for the next coach. They listen to an old man tell the story of the Five Sisters, who grieve for their youngest sister who died before them. The sisters are memorialized in a stained-glass window in the cathedral at York. Another gentleman tells the story of the Baron of Grogswig and his unpleasant wife. At last the next coach arrives, and the company sets forth. Nicholas finally arrives at Greta Bridge in Yorkshire the next evening.
A chaise and a cart arrive to take Squeers, Nicholas, and the boys to Dotheboys Hall, though Squeers explains to Nicholas that it is not really a hall. When they arrive, Nicholas sees a one-story, run-down building. Squeers calls for Smike, a crippled boy in his late teens who does all the errands. Mr. Squeers takes a bundle of letters from his pocket and Smike looks anxiously toward the bundle, hoping that one of the letters might be for him. Squeers says no one ever has written to Smike, nor as anyone paid for him past the first six years. Nicholas meets Mrs. Squeers, who dotes on her husband but has no use for anyone else. She feeds her husband a steak dinner. Nicholas has lost his appetite by pondering Smike’s sad situation, so Mrs. Squeers sees no sense in cutting a meat pie for him; he is given only a bit of leftover meat.
Nicholas is given a place to sleep for the night while Mr. and Mrs. Squeers consider where to put him...
(The entire section is 490 words.)
Chapters 8-10 Summary
In the morning, the air is so cold that the water pump has frozen. Mrs. Squeers proclaims that it is “brimstone weather” and begins to shovel treacle and medicine down each of the schoolboys’ throats, announcing that, since it fends off illness as well as appetite, it does good to the boys and the Squeers at the same time. After the boys eat their meager breakfast, Mr. Squeers announces the mail. He reads the letters aloud to the whole school (including the bad news) and pockets whatever money is enclosed.
During lessons, Mr. Squeers reads off vocabulary and manages to find some connection to a chore, which the scholar is then sent off to do. At the end of the day, Nicholas sees Smike shivering and bids him come close to the fire. Smike cowers as if expecting to be hit, so Nicholas shows even more kindness to him to soften the poor boy’s fear. Smike tells Nicholas about a boy who died at the school recently; his friends’ faces were around him as he passed away. Smike laments that there will be no faces around him when he dies. Nicholas worries about his sister and what their uncle has done to her. He hopes Ralph Nickleby’s dislike is centered on only him and not on Kate.
Fanny Squeers, Mr. Squeers’s daughter, returns home and learns of Nicholas, whom her mother pronounces that she hates. When Fanny meets Nicholas, she decides she is in love with him if only because her best friend, Matilda Price, has recently become engaged to John Browdie. Fanny invites Matilda and John to tea, where the two “couples” play a game of cards. Fanny believes that Nicholas, by his good manners, is flirting with Matilda, and the two women begin to quarrel. Matilda and John eventually leave after Fanny declares she hates her friend.
Back in London, Kate and Miss La Creevy become better acquainted. Kate learns that all the portraits of military men that Miss La Creevy has painted are really nonmilitary gentlemen who hired uniforms for their portraits. Ralph Nickleby arrives with the news that he has found a position for Kate as an assistant with a milliner by the name of Madame Mantalini. Kate goes with her uncle to be introduced to Madame Mantalini, who is married to a flirtatious, foreign-acting man. Kate ignores his attentions to her and asks her uncle if she is to live there or with her mother. Ralph eventually agrees that Kate and Miss Nickleby may live in a house he owns near the river, which relieves Kate from...
(The entire section is 443 words.)
Chapters 11-14 Summary
Kate prepares for her new life as a milliner’s assistant. Miss La Creevy warns her of the fate of milliners she has known, but Mrs. Nickleby is sure Kate’s fortune is assured. However, Mrs. Nickleby is enthralled by any new prospect solely for its newness. Newman Noggs arrives to escort Kate and her mother to their new home, but Mrs. Nickleby insists that they have a carriage; they may not own a great deal at present, but she does not want to be seen carrying large parcels through the streets. Newman states that he thought of getting them a carriage but was not sure if they would be ready. When the carriage arrives, Kate bids farewell to Miss La Creevy, who assures her that they will continue to be friends and stay in touch with each other. At their new home, Newman escorts the ladies through the rooms. Mrs. Nickleby is touched by the few furnishings in the rooms and expresses her gratitude for Ralph’s kindness. It was, however, Newman himself who provided the few bits of furniture. He is amused by the idea of Ralph Nickleby’s being thoughtful and so says nothing.
Matilda (Tilda) arrives to make up with Fanny Squeers. She informs Fanny that she and John Browdie are to be married in six weeks and that Fanny must get herself a new dress made. Fanny is torn between joy over a new frock and anger that Fanny is getting married. Tilda assures Fanny that Nicholas is in love with her. As Nicholas passes by, Tilda calls out to him to help Fanny, who is feeling faint. Nicholas learns that the girls believe he is in love with Fanny, and he assures them both that he never could have such feelings for Fanny Squeers. Fanny’s love quickly turns to hate.
Smike follows Nicholas around everywhere, ever ready to serve him. Squeers sees that he cannot take his anger out on Nicholas, so he takes it out on Smike instead and beats him at the slightest provocation. Nicholas talks of leaving Dotheboys Hall. Smike expresses interest in going with him.
One morning, it is discovered that Smike has run away. When he is returned, Squeers beats him unmercifully. Unable to restrain himself any longer, Nicholas grabs the cane and beats Squeers. He grabs his things and runs away. John Browdie overtakes him. When John hears that Nicholas beat the schoolmaster, he lends him some money. Nicholas finds a cottage that will give him a bed for the night. When he awakens the next morning, he finds Smike at his feet. Smike begs to be allowed to...
(The entire section is 513 words.)
Chapters 15-17 Summary
Newman Noggs finds Nicholas and Smike waiting in his rooms (which are in the same building as those of the Kenwigs). He gives the two a place to get dry and to sleep for the evening. He tells Nicholas that Fanny Squeers wrote a letter to Ralph Nickleby; she said Mr. Squeers is now crippled and Mrs. Squeers narrowly escaped death or brain injury from the beatings that Nicholas gave them. Ralph has had no chance to reply to this report, Noggs says, because he has been out of town.
Downstairs, the Kenwigs and their guests speculate on what might be the news that called Noggs away from the party; they think perhaps it is a return of his property after all this time. Soon they hear the baby crying and rush upstairs. They find Nicholas holding her. He explains that the servant who was watching the child fell asleep and set her hair on fire. The others now view Nicholas as a hero, and they comment on his “aristocratic” manners.
The next morning, Nicholas finds himself in an employment office. He notices a beautiful, though sad-looking, young lady who has come for information about placement as a lady’s companion. Nicholas inquires about a place for himself as a secretary. He is sent to Mr. Gregsbury, a Member of Parliament. When he arrives at Mr. Gregsbury’s office, he finds some of the man’s constituents demanding his resignation, which Gregsbury refuses. After the constituents depart, Mr. Gregsbury describes to Nicholas the details of a very time-consuming position that does not pay at all equal to the effort. Although Nicholas is desperate, he turns down the job and returns to Newman’s lodgings. Mr. and Mrs. Kenwig decide that Nicholas would be just the person to serve as a tutor to their four daughters; they would pay him five shillings a week to teach French to their girls. Nicholas, grateful for this new opportunity in such a friendly family, begins tutoring at once.
Kate starts her first day as a milliner’s assistant by overhearing a quarrel between Madame Mantalini and her husband. He is flirtatious toward Kate, which upsets his wife but only in the manner of one who is used to it. As she begins her work, Kate is subject to humiliation from some of the customers and her fellow-workers.
At home that evening, Mrs. Nickleby dreams of the possibility that Kate will eventually be a partner in a millinery business while Nicholas becomes “Dr. Nickleby,” teaching at Westminster School.
(The entire section is 423 words.)
Chapters 18-20 Summary
Kate’s position at Madame Mantalini’s millinery shop is enhanced when the forewoman, Miss Knag, befriends her. She walks Kate to meet Mrs. Nickleby, and the three of them stop in at Miss Knag’s brother’s business. This friendship lasts for three days, much to the amazement of the other female workers. However, when a lord and his family ask specifically to see Kate, it becomes clear that the women of the shop and especially Miss Knag become jealous of the attention Kate receives from the customers. Miss Knag declares that she hates Kate and effectively ends the pseudo-friendship she had instigated. The animosity against Kate from her coworkers continues and increases each day until Kate is glad when Saturday comes.
On the way home with her mother, she encounters her uncle. Ralph invites her to dinner the next day and Mrs. Nickleby feels excited for prospects of advancement for her daughter. Kate reluctantly goes to her Uncle Ralph’s home, where she is introduced to a large group of gentleman. It becomes obvious that Ralph is pushing his niece toward Sir Frederick Verisopht and his friend Sir Mulberry Hawk. Sir Frederick Verisopht is a young man of good fortune; Sir Mulberry Hawk is older and of harsher manners.
At dinner, Sir Mulberry wagers the other gentleman that Kate cannot tell him to his face that she is not at that moment wishing he would make love to her. Kate is dumbstruck at this monstrosity—and that her uncle seems to be encouraging it. In shame and humiliation, Kate runs from the room to seek asylum in a room upstairs. Sir Mulberry eventually tracks her down and grabs hold of her, pulling her toward him. She manages to escape just as her uncle enters the room. Ralph, who had envisioned Kate as a tool to get money out of Sir Frederick Verisopht, orders Sir Mulberry from the house. Kate begs to be taken home, and Ralph accompanies her. He is shocked when, in the carriage, a light falls on Kate’s face and recognizes a similarity to his dead brother.
Nicholas arrives at Miss La Creevy’s home in search of his mother and sister. He eventually finds them just as Ralph is telling them about Nicholas’s attack on Mr. Squeers. Nicholas bursts into the room and announces that it is all a lie. Ralph swears that Nicholas will no longer have any help or financial assistance from him, even it would save his life. Nicholas tells his mother and sister that he must leave London. Nicholas promises to...
(The entire section is 452 words.)
Chapters 21-23 Summary
Three days after the dinner party, Kate can finally manage to go back to work at Madame Mantalini’s. While she is there, two “professional gentlemen” of a rough and dirty appearance come and inquire for Mr. Mantalini. He has put himself into serious debt through gambling and horse racing and now must pay up. The two gentlemen have come to take inventory of his possessions. Madame Mantalini is beside herself and Mr. Mantalini runs off. Madame Mantalini sends Kate after him; she finds Mr. Mantalini in the act of sharpening a breakfast knife in preparation to end his life. Madame Mantalini arrives and takes the knife from him.
Kate discovers in the papers that the millinery has gone bankrupt, that it has been taken over by Miss Knag, and that she is now out of a job. Mrs. Nickleby says she knew a millinery was the last place Kate should have worked (despite her earlier pleasure at the prospects that might arise in the way of a business partnership) and suggests that Kate find a position as a lady’s companion. Kate realizes that her mother has already found a likely place for her with Mrs. Witterly. Kate and Mrs. Nickleby go to the home of Mrs. Witterly, which is near but not in the fashionable neighborhood of London. Mrs. Witterly is snobbish and pretends to a delicacy that her husband supports. Mrs. Nickleby envisions Mrs. Witterly’s death so Kate can marry Mr. Witterly and assume her place in the social atmosphere. Kate is given the position and moves to the Witterly home.
Nicholas and Smike leave London on foot, heading for Portsmouth. Nicholas proposes that both of them find jobs on a ship. On the way, the two friends stop at an inn where they make the acquaintance of Mr. Vincent Crummles, who runs a theatrical troupe. When Mr. Crummles learns that Nicholas and Smike plan to become sailors, he points out that it is unlikely they will find places because ship captains usually take men who have had some experience, and Nicholas and Smike are too old to start at the beginning. Crummles proposes that they join his theater group. Besides acting, Nicholas could write some plays for them as well as compose handbills. Nicholas has no better prospects and very little money, so he agrees to become an actor.
Nicholas (now going by the name of Mr. Johnson), Smike, and Mr. Crummles arrive in Portsmouth, where Nicholas meets Mrs. Crummles and the rest of the troupe, including Crummles’ daughter, known as the...
(The entire section is 492 words.)
Chapters 24-26 Summary
Nicholas is working on translating the play the next morning when Mr. Folair and Mr. Lenville of the troupe come to visit him. They give him several suggestions, particularly on expanding their own parts. He is then informed by Mr. Crummles that he is to go with Miss Snevellicci (who is the lead actress of the troupe) to go on a round of calls to different patrons to subscribe to the upcoming performances. Nicholas is unwilling to do this, but he finally relents under pressure. He and Miss Snevellicci, along with the Infant Phenomenon, proceed on their visits. The Infant Phenomenon is called on to do impromptu performances, especially in households with children, to excite interest in the play.
On opening night, Nicholas takes the part of the son to Mrs. Crummles’s tyrannical mother. He earns great applause and becomes the hit of the show. The play is a great success, thanks largely to Nicholas’s performance. The show is such a success that Mr. Crummles intends to expand the company. He has hired an actress from London, Miss Harriet Petowker, whom Nicholas met at the home of the Kenwigses. When she arrives, they greet each other like long-lost friends. Nicholas is also surprised when Mr. Lillyvick, the water-rates collector, arrives and announces that he has come from London to marry Miss Petowker. He says that none of the Kenwigses know of his marriage, and he asks Nicholas to not write of it to Newman Noggs or anyone else. The wedding takes place in the lodgings of the Crummleses, but the wedding feast is upset when Mr. Folair refers to the wedding knot as a noose.
Mr. Crummles’s theatrical troupe’s next performance is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and Nicholas takes the part of Romeo with great success. Poor Smike is assigned the part of the Apothecary but is unable to learn his lines. At last, with Nicholas’s patient help, Smike has his part down and earns great praise from the audience.
In London, Sir Mulberry Hawk and Lord Frederick Verisopht laze about after a night of indulgence. Ralph Nickleby arrives, and Lord Frederick Verisopht tries to get him to tell where his niece Kate is staying. Ralph is still endeavoring to get as much money out of Verisopht as he can and tells him so he can keep the young lord on a string. Mrs. Nickleby arrives with a letter for Ralph, and the two gentlemen press her for information about her daughter. Afterward, Ralph begins to feel pity for Kate and...
(The entire section is 455 words.)
Chapters 27-29 Summary
Mrs. Nickleby is thinking about her daughter’s future as Lady Mulberry Hawk when two gentlemen, Pyke and Pluck, arrive. They are emissaries of Sir Mulberry and request that Mrs. Nickleby join them, Sir Mulberry, and her brother-in-law Ralph at the theater that evening. Mrs. Nickleby explains that she never goes out, but Pyke and Pluck insist and tell her that a carriage will arrive to pick her up. Mrs. Nickleby eventually agrees, thrilled at the thought of being in the company of aristocracy and unhappy that Kate never told her of the acquaintance. When she arrives at the theater that night, Mrs. Nickleby is met by Pyke and Pluck and escorted to the box where Sir Mulberry Hawk and Lord Verisopht are waiting. As they settle into their seats, they hear Kate’s voice; she is in the adjoining box with Mr. and Mrs. Witterly. They join her, much to Kate’s unhappiness, though Mrs. Witterly is impressed by the proximity of nobility. Afterward, she resists Sir Mulberry’s attempts to detain her, warning him that her brother will have something to say about his “unmannerly persecution” of her.
The next day, Mrs. Witterly is overwhelmed by the thought of having spent the previous evening in the company of a genuine lord, who has been invited to her home. Kate, however, is horrified when she hears a carriage rolling up and a knock on the door. It is Pyke, Pluck, Lord Verisopht, and Sir Mulberry. While the two gentlemen pay attention to Kate, Mrs. Witterly tries to include herself in the conversation. Afterward, Mrs. Witterly berates her companion for her “forwardness” toward gentlemen. Kate objects to this insinuation so strongly that Mrs. Witterly faints and the physician must be called for. Kate leaves the house and goes to see her uncle, who is sympathetic toward her rage but tells her that the attentions of these men will eventually fade away when someone else comes across the scene. Kate leaves in tears, but she is stopped by Newman Noggs, who is also crying. He bids her to be strong. After she leaves the house, he pretends to box his employer, Ralph Nickleby.
Nicholas receives a challenge by letter from Mr. Lenville, who has been displaced by Nicholas’s success. The male members of the company side with Lenville while the ladies support Nicholas. When Nicholas confronts Lenville, he hits Lenville, effectively ending the quarrel as the men congratulate him. Nicholas receives a letter from Newman Noggs, indicating...
(The entire section is 440 words.)
Chapters 30-33 Summary
Mr. Crummles convinces Nicholas to stay for a “final performance,” which lasts for three nights. He attends a dinner with some of the actors as well as Miss Snevellicci’s parents. Mr. Snevellicci expounds on his adoration of females, even married ones. To prove it, he winks and blows kisses to Mrs. Lillyvick. Mr. Lillyvick becomes irate and attacks the elderly gentleman, knocking him under the table.
Rumor has it that a London manager is to be in the audience at the final performance. This causes each actor to make the most of his own performance, only to discover that the manager is asleep. He awakens and leaves the audience, for which Nicholas is grateful, not yet having come on stage.
Nicholas receives another letter from Newman Noggs, urging him to return to London at once. Nicholas sends Smike off to pay some debts while he goes to say good-bye. After an overly dramatic farewell, Nicholas and Smike take leave of the Crummles Company and board the stage for London.
Ralph Nickleby gives Newman Noggs a package to deliver. Newman stops to visit Miss La Creevy and vents his anger toward Ralph by shadowboxing Miss La Creevy’s miniatures. He makes Miss La Creevy his ally against Ralph’s hatred for Nicholas and contempt for Mrs. Nickleby.
Nicholas and Smike return to London. Nicholas decides to visit Miss La Creevy first but she is not home. He is unable to find Newman Noggs either, so he goes into a coffee room in a hotel. As he is sitting there, he overhears some gentlemen talking about “little Kate Nickleby” in an overly familiar manner. He confronts them and learns that the main perpetrator is named Sir Mulberry Hawk. Sir Mulberry grabs his whip and begins to beat Nicholas, but Nicholas snatches the whip and applies the whip to Sir Mulberry even more viciously, giving him a cut from his eye to his lip.
Nicholas relates his experience to Newman Noggs, who is pleased to hear it. He tends Nicholas’s wounds while listening to the story. The next morning, Nicholas drives to fetch Kate from the Witterleys’ home. He tells his mother that they are through with Ralph. Mrs. Nickleby is reluctant to take such a drastic step and worries what Pyke and Pluck will say. With great difficulty, Nicholas and Kate load their mother into a carriage, along with their belongings, and leave to take lodgings in an inn. Nicholas writes a letter to Ralph, telling him that they no longer want...
(The entire section is 451 words.)
Chapters 34-36 Summary
Mr. and Mrs. Mantalini come to see Ralph Nickleby about a loan, but Mrs. Mantalini also is interested in setting up an allowance for her husband. Mr. Mantalini proclaims his wife is trying to kill him, so Mrs. Mantalini postpones further thought of this. Mr. Mantalini asks Ralph if he has heard about Sir Mulberry Hawk’s recent attack. Ralph is pleased to learn that Nicholas was the attacker because this gives him further “ammunition” against his nephew.
Ralph’s next visitor is Mr. Wackford Squeers and his son. Mr. Squeers tells him of the low state of his own health due to Nicholas’s attack upon him. He hints that he would appreciate some financial compensation from Ralph because it was he who suggested Nicholas to Mr. Squeers. Ralph is more interested in learning about Smike, whom Mr. Squeers says Nicholas kidnapped when he left Dotheboys Hall. Mr. Squeers and Ralph plan to get to Nicholas through Smike.
Kate and Mrs. Nickleby return to their lodgings with Miss La Creevy. Smike meets Kate, who overwhelms him with her kindness. Mrs. Nickleby bursts into tears when she hears his name, thinking of its similarity with the name “Pyke.” Nicholas has difficulty making his mother understand that Smike knows none of the nobility in Yorkshire.
Nicholas returns to the Register Office to search for a position. He notices an old gentleman who has such a pleasant expression that Nicholas thinks he would like to work for him. Soon the old gentleman begins a conversation with Nicholas and, in learning that Nicholas is looking for a job, invites him to the offices he shares with his brother. The Cheeryble Brothers taking an instant liking to Nicholas and decide to offer him a position. They try unsuccessfully to convince their elderly clerk to allow them to lessen his workload. They also offer a small cottage to Kate and Mrs. Nickleby as well as a loan for furniture (which they plan on turning into a gift should Nicholas prove a good fit at the office, which they are sure he will). Nicholas is now secure and happy; his uncle, Ralph, is alone and miserable.
Nicholas arrives at the home of the Kenwigs soon after Mrs. Kenwig gives birth to her sixth child, a boy. Nicholas apologizes for the interruption, but he has a message from Mr. Lillyvick—that he has married Miss Petowker. Mr. Kenwig and his daughters are overcome with emotion, feeling that Mr. Lillyvick has defrauded the family by acquiring a...
(The entire section is 423 words.)
Chapters 37-39 Summary
Nicholas begins his work at the offices of the Cheeryble Brothers under the watchful eye of Tim Linkinwater, the elderly clerk. Linkinwater had worried that the business would fall apart after he died, but he now has confidence that Nicholas will carry on with success. The Cheeryble Brothers announce that it is Linkinwater’s birthday and there will be a dinner that evening, to which Nicholas is invited. The party is lively with the humor of the Ned and Charles Cheeryble, and Nicholas feels that he has at last fallen on good times.
On arriving at home, Nicholas is surprised to find his mother and Smike still awake and evidently waiting for him. Mrs. Nickleby has been entertaining (or rather confusing) Smike with tales from her family history, but she sends him off to bed so she can have a private word with her son. She tells Nicholas that an elderly neighbor has been showing his passion for her by throwing vegetables over the wall. Nicholas knows his mother is rather vain and does not quite believe her, but that night he sees a vegetable stuck on top of the garden wall.
Miss La Creevy helped the Nicklebys move in to their new cottage at Bow, and now she prepares to return home in London. She tells Kate that she has noticed a change in Smike’s behavior caused by his increasing awareness of his mental limitations. Smike is not as happy and carefree as he used to be. Miss La Creevy asks Smike to escort her back home on the omnibus. As he returns to Bow, he is discovered by Mr. Squeers and his son. Unable to resist, Smike is loaded into a coach and taken to the home of Mr. Snawley, a gentleman who had placed his unwanted stepsons with Mr. Squeers at Dotheboys Hall. Smike is imprisoned in the Snawley home, where he returns to the condition in which Nicholas first met him.
John Browdie and his new wife arrive in London for their honeymoon, escorted by Fanny Squeers. John is amazed by the size of everything in the city. The three make their way to the Saracen’s Head Inn, where Mr. Squeers is staying. They learn that Mr. Squeers has “recaptured” Smike, though Fanny at first thinks it might be Nicholas Nickleby. John finds Smike hidden in the room in Snawley’s house and is overjoyed to find him unharmed. During the night, John Browdie sneaks into the house and frees Smike.
(The entire section is 417 words.)
Chapters 40-42 Summary
Smike quickly runs away from the place of his imprisonment and takes a circuitous route back to the home of Newman Noggs. Newman and Nicholas are overjoyed to see him, having imagined the worst. Nicholas suspects that his uncle had something to do with Smike’s kidnapping. He goes to the Cheeryble Brothers’ office and unwittingly interrupts a conversation between the brothers and the young lady who caught his eye long ago in the Register Office. Forgetting his intention to discover Ralph’s involvement, he has Newman Noggs follow the young woman. Noggs returns to inform Nicholas that her name is Cecelia Bobster and that she lives with her widowed father. Nicholas has Noggs lead him to the Bobster residence, but it turns out that this woman is not the girl of his fancy after all.
Mrs. Nickleby begins to pay a bit more attention to her appearance following the “gifts” from the man next door. She takes to sitting out in her garden with Kate, who is upset that her mother should take their neighbor seriously. Mrs. Nickleby tells of her past suitors, including one who was exiled to New Zealand as a convict. One day, as they are in the garden, vegetables are again hurled over the wall at Kate and Mrs. Nickleby. Soon the giver himself appears on top of the wall. He wears “small-clothes” (knee pants), which are no longer in fashion. He pledges his love to Mrs. Nickleby and asks for her hand in marriage. Another voice is then heard in the man’s garden, and the would-be suitor disappears. The owner of the voice looks over the wall and explains that the old man proposes to many women. In response to Kate’s question, he assures her that the man is quite mad. Mrs. Nickleby will not accept this but prefers to believe the man’s relatives are only trying to obtain his property.
John Browdie and Tilda are still in London on their honeymoon. Nicholas comes to visit them and stays to dinner. They talk about their first meeting, in which Fanny Squeers decided that she was in love with Nicholas and that he had expressed intentions of marriage. As they laugh about this, Fanny walks in along with her father and brother. Fanny berates Tilda, stating that they are no longer friends and would not name her child after Tilda to save it from the grave. John remarks that it will be a while before Fanny has a child to name anyway, but his wife hushes him. Mr. Squeers accuses John of helping Smike escape, and John does not deny it.
(The entire section is 439 words.)
Chapters 43-45 Summary
Nicholas, at the Saracen’s Head Inn, overhears an argument between a young gentlemen and other patrons who have made inappropriate remarks about a young woman. Nicholas steps in and helps the young man, remembering a similar instance when he had to defend his sister’s honor from the remarks of Sir Mulberry Hawk. By a great coincidence, the young gentleman is Frank Cheeryble, the expected nephew of the Cheeryble Brothers. Frank has been in Germany, at the branch of the business there, and he spent a few months in the north of England. Nicholas wonders if Frank knows the young woman from the Register Office and the Cheeryble Brothers’ office, though he reasons that, since Frank has been gone for four and a half years, it is unlikely. Still, he worries about a possible connection.
Frank and Charles Cheeryble come to dine at the Nickleby home. Mrs. Nickleby is impressed with Frank, who seems such a worldly traveler. Frank is impressed with Kate; he says good-bye to her twice at the end of the evening. All the inhabitants of the Nickleby home are happy at the prospect of this new friend except Smike, who cries in unhappiness as he says his prayers that night.
Ralph discovers that Sir Mulberry Hawk and Lord Frederick Verisopht have left England for the continent. As Ralph makes his way home from his office, a stranger who is down on his luck stops him. He identifies himself as Mr. Brooker, who used to be a clerk for Ralph. He is hungry and homeless and asks Ralph for some money because he has information about Ralph’s past dealings. Ralph refuses to give him anything and is not frightened by any bad report that the world could hear. The man watches Ralph walk away and then begins to beg from the passers-by.
Ralph decides to go to the Mantalinis’ place, which is now owned by Miss Knag. He arrives to find that Mr. Mantalini “poisoned” himself when his wife confronted him about unkind remarks he wrote about her in a letter. Mrs. Mantalini says she will no longer support his extravagant spending and demands a separation. Ralph says that, as an unmarried woman, she will have no property; Mrs. Mantalini points out that the bankruptcy has left her with no property now. As Ralph returns home, he begins to plot his revenge against Nicholas.
At a farewell dinner for John and Tilda Browdie, Ralph Nickleby arrives with Mr. Squeers and Mr. Snawley. He announces and proves that Mr. Snawley is Smike’s...
(The entire section is 501 words.)
Chapters 46-48 Summary
Nicholas goes to the Cheeryble brothers to report the events of the previous evening. He learns that Ralph has already been there and tried unsuccessfully to turn the brothers against Nicholas. They assure Nicholas that he will have their full support in keeping Smike away from his reputed father.
The Cheeryble brothers then tell Nicholas that they have a specific job for him. There is a young woman by the name of Madeline Bray who has come to them for help. She is the same woman with whom Nicholas has fallen in love, who fainted when he walked in on her meeting with the Cheerybles. Madeline is the daughter of a former love of Charles Cheeryble’s. Madeline’s mother had married Mr. Bray, who made her life miserable until her death. Ned was to marry her sister, but she also died. If Madeline’s father were also dead, they would gladly welcome her into their home as “our child or sister,” but as he lives they must support her while she lives with him.
The Cheerybles have decided to help Madeline by buying her artwork at high prices. When Nicholas first saw her in the Register’s Office, she had been trying to get a position but was unsuccessful. Mr. Bray is in debt to Ralph Nickleby but refuses anyone’s help but his daughter’s. The Cheerybles want Nicholas to go to her home and pay her for the painted items because Mr. Bray is jealous of the Cheerybles and Tim Linkinwater has no tact. Nicholas agrees, though he is worried that he will betray his feelings too soon. He arrives at the home of the Brays and meets both Madeline and her cantankerous father. As he leaves, Nicholas pledges to Madeline that he would do anything to help her.
Newman Noggs is waiting for the return of Ralph Nickleby so he may go to dinner. When he hears Ralph approaching with someone else, Newman hides in the closet so that he can slip away. He overhears Ralph talking with Arthur Gride, an old man in his seventies. Gride has come to Ralph with a plan to marry Madeline Bray in order to get the property that will come to her on her marriage. If Ralph helps him, Gride will pay Mr. Bray’s debt to him, thus benefiting them both. Ralph agrees, and both of them go immediately to Mr. Bray with the proposition. Madeline sees this marriage as the only way to release her father from debt, so she reluctantly agrees.
Nicholas is greatly troubled as he leaves the Brays’ home even though he does not know that Madeline is to...
(The entire section is 495 words.)
Chapters 49-51 Summary
Smike seems to sink further into ill health. Nicholas calls a physician, who determines that it might be consumption but says it is too early to tell yet. His symptoms are not serious, so there is no cause to worry. However, Smike seems to take himself early to bed on the evenings when Frank Cheeryble comes to call, which is usually three nights a week. On one of these evenings, Miss La Creevy also comes to visit. Frank maneuvers himself close to Kate. As they talk, they hear a noise coming from the chimney in the next room. When they investigate, they find a pair of legs encased in grey stockings hanging down into the fireplace. Mrs. Nickleby and Kate immediately recognize them as belonging to the mad gentleman from next door, who has crawled down the chimney in order to enter the house. Mrs. Nickleby chides Kate for her fear of the gentleman and begs the others to be careful in extracting him. When the gentleman is sitting on the hearth, covered with soot, he begins to babble outrageous things, directing them to Miss La Creevy and ignoring Mrs. Nickleby. Mrs. Nickleby finally admits that he is mad. After he is shown home, Mrs. Nickleby states that she is obviously the cause of his madness but will not take the blame.
Sir Mulberry Hawk returns to London from the Continent and meets Sir Frederick Verisopht. The two men discuss their intentions of capturing Kate Nickleby, but Sir Frederick objects to Sir Mulberry’s treatment of her. It comes to physical blows until the two men are separated. They challenge each other to a duel and square off in a nearby meadow. Sir Mulberry fires first and kills Sir Frederick Verisopht. Although the witnesses pledge to testify that all was done fairly, Sir Mulberry must leave England and return to Europe.
Newman Noggs delivers a letter from Ralph to Arthur Gride. He learns that Gride is to be married to a Madeline Bray, though he does not recognize the name. He is disgusted by the thought of a young girl’s being forced to marry an elderly man such as Gride, but he drinks Gride’s health more to drink up his wine that to wish him well. Back at the office in Golden Square, Newman is questioned about his conversations with Mr. Brooker, who is still begging in the streets. Newman then goes to see Nicholas and asks if he ever discovered the name of the young woman in whom he was interested. On learning that it is Madeline Bray, Newman is horrified and tells Nicholas that she and Gride are to...
(The entire section is 454 words.)
Chapters 52-54 Summary
Nicholas continues to run even when Newman Noggs catches up and tells him that he is unlikely to change Mr. Bray’s mind. When Nicholas speaks of going to see his uncle instead, Newman says this is also likely to be fruitless. Nicholas eventually goes home, determined to find some way to stop Madeline’s marriage.
Mrs. Kenwig is despairing that her eldest daughter, Morleena, is in need of a haircut but she has no time to take her. Newman volunteers and takes Morleena to the barbershop. The only other customer is an old man getting a shave. Morleena sits patiently, but then she cries out when she recognizes the old man as her great-uncle Lillyvick. Lillyvick asks Newman if the Kenwigs took the news of his marriage badly, and Newman relates that they did. Lillyvick goes back with Newman to the home of the Kenwigs, where he meets a cold reception. He tells them that Miss Petowker (Mrs. Lillyvick) abandoned him a few days previously and eloped with a half-pay (retired on half-salary) captain. Immediately the Kenwigs welcome him back into the family, lamenting the terrible treatment that he suffered at the hands of Miss Petowker. Mr. Lillyvick vows that he will draw up a new will, witnessed by Newman, stating that will leave his money to his niece and her family.
On the eve of Madeline’s wedding, Nicholas tries one last time to stop it. He goes to the Bray house, where Mr. Bray informs him that his daughter will take no more orders for painting from him. Nicholas manages to talk to Madeline alone and begs her at least to put off the wedding for a few days; he hopes to get the Cheerybles back from the Continent to help him. Madeline, however, is determined to sacrifice herself to save her father. Nicholas leaves, broken-hearted. Mr. Gride, in the meantime, is preparing for his wedding. He is startled when a figure enters his room—it is Nicholas Nickleby. Nicholas confronts him with the evil of his intentions, telling the old man that he knows why and with whom he has concocted this deal. Gride dismisses him, thinking afterward that he may, in the future, use this supposed former lover of Madeline’s to keep her in line.
At the wedding, Gride and Ralph meet with Mr. Bray, who tells them that his daughter has been sick and sorrowful but is now quiet. Mr. Bray feels guilt for their plan, but Ralph reassures him that their scheme is not wrong at all because it will provide Madeline with financial security. Mr. Bray...
(The entire section is 550 words.)
Chapters 55-58 Summary
Nicholas takes Madeline to his own home, where Kate watches over her recovery. Mrs. Nickleby is confused as to why her son and his friends are so intent on preventing Madeline’s marriage. Kate tries to explain but is unsuccessful. Mrs. Nickleby tells Nicholas that she is sure Frank Cheeryble is in love with Kate. Nicholas is horrified rather than pleased. He explains to his mother that he cannot repay the Cheeryble brothers for their kindness by allowing their nephew to marry a girl from so poverty-stricken a family as the Nicklebys. Mrs. Nickleby does not agree, but Nicholas vows to find some way to divert Frank from Kate. Smike, in the meantime, becomes increasingly unwell. Nicholas decides to take him to Devonshire, where he himself lived as a boy; he hopes Smike might regain his health in the fresh air. Smike bids the other Nicklebys good-bye, hoping that he will be reunited with Kate in heaven.
Ralph and Gride argue over the blame of their situation, though Ralph blames mostly Nicholas. Ralph learns that, due to revelation of his conduct, he has lost ten thousand pounds in two mortgages he holds. The two men return to Gride’s home to find that Gride’s housekeeper, Peg Sliderskew, has gone and taken with her some documents that will give testimony to the unethical and illegal dealings of both Gride and Ralph concerning Madeline Bray and her considerable property. Ralph returns home and sends for Mr. Squeers, whom he charges to find the missing documents taking from Gride. In the meantime, he plans revenge against Nicholas.
Mr. Squeers tracks down Peg Sliderskew and pretends to be sympathetic with her plans against Arthur Gride. After plying her with alcohol, he convinces her that it would tell against her if she had so much evidence of her theft and that it would be better to burn what is not necessary. As they are in the act of burning, Newman Noggs and Frank Cheeryble sneak into the room, hit Squeers over the head, and take the papers.
Nicholas and Smike rent a cottage near the Nicklebys’ former home. One day, as the two of them are napping in the garden, Nicholas is awakened by Smike’s screaming. He says he saw the man who took him to Dotheboys Hall hiding behind a tree. Nicholas tries to convince him that it was just a figment of his imagination. Nicholas stays by Smike’s bedside as the end draws near. Smike tells Nicholas the reason he had begun to draw away from the family: He was in love...
(The entire section is 471 words.)
Chapters 59-62 Summary
When Newman Noggs does not appear at work by noon, Ralph sends for him. He learns that Newman is not at home and has not been at home all night. Ralph finds this suspicious, but he is interrupted when Charles Cheeryble arrives, offering him mercy. Ralph rejects this, so Charles leaves with the warning that he will soon come to him when he is forced to do so. Ralph goes to the home of Mr. Snawley. Mrs. Snawley, however, refuses to let him in. Ralph next goes to the inn where Mr. Squeers has been staying, but he is told that Squeers left with two men, and after him an old woman was taken away. He does not find Arthur Gride at home either. He realizes that he must go to the Cheeryble Brothers office, where he finds both brothers and Tim Linkinwater. They confront him with what they know about his dishonest dealings: telling Mr. Snawley that Smike was his son when it has been proved that he was not as well as his involvement in the forced marriage of Madeline Bray. Ralph dismisses them all, but the Cheerybles warn him that he had better leave the country while he still can. Ralph leaves, but it is hinted that there is worse yet to come.
Ralph goes to the police station where Squeers is being held for possessing stolen property (Gride’s documents). He is then summoned to the Cheeryble Brothers office, where Mr. Brooker confronts him with the news that Smike was Ralph’s son. Ralph had been secretly married to a woman who bore him a son. The son was sent away to keep the marriage secret. After seven years, Ralph’s wife eloped with a younger man and eventually died. Ralph sent Brooker to retrieve his son, but Brooker hid Smike in a garret while telling Ralph that his son had died. When confronted by the fact that he hounded his own son to his death, Ralph knocks out the light and escapes in the darkness.
The Nickleby family grieves for Smike. Nicholas privately confesses to his sister that he is in love with Madeline. Kate in turn tells Nicholas that Frank Cheeryble proposed to her but she refused him. They agree that they should not marry people who are so above them financially and socially. Nicholas goes to see Mr. Charles Cheeryble to request that Madeline be placed in another home. Mr. Charles agrees and tells Nicholas that they are to meet with Ralph that evening.
Ralph Nickleby wanders the street, thinking about the son he lost and his own part in his son’s death. He returns home and sends a message that...
(The entire section is 488 words.)
Chapters 63-65 Summary
Nicholas and Kate try not to regret their decisions while Mrs. Nickleby grieves over the loss of the excitement in her life, especially after Madeline is placed in another home. Frank no longer comes to visit. One day the Nicklebys receive an invitation to dinner from the Cheerybles. Mrs. Nickleby is suspicious, sensing that there is something more than just a dinner in this. When they arrive, they are surprised to find that Frank Cheeryble has returned. The Cheeryble brothers draw Nicholas and Frank aside. They explain that the will Gride had stolen shows that a considerable sum was left to Madeline by an uncle, who changed his mind from leaving it to charity out of spite for Madeline’s refusal to do what he wanted. Frank is told that he should have in no way assumed that the brothers would disagree with their nephew’s decision to marry for love. They urge both Nicholas and Frank to marry Madeline and Kate with their wholehearted blessings. The young men are sent off to meet their lovers, leaving the older people alone. Tim Linkinwater draws Miss La Creevy aside and proposes to her. Miss La Creevy objects that they are too old, but Tim states that they should grow old together. Miss La Creevy accepts his proposal.
Nicholas decides that he must share the news of his happiness with John Browdie. He cannot bring himself to tell it by letter, so he decides to go to Yorkshire in person. As Kate is walking with him to the coach station, they overhear Mr. Mantalini’s voice in company with a washerwoman, who is berating him fiercely. The Nicklebys leave him there.
In Yorkshire, the Browdies warmly greet Nicholas. John is overjoyed to hear of Squeers’s downfall and predicts a revolution at Dotheboys Hall. He decides to visit the school and finds the revolution already in progress. He stops the boys from harming Mrs. and Miss Squeers but encourages them to run away from the school. He announces that he is glad the old schoolmaster is finally being punished. Fanny Squeers is indignant, but John tells her that, should she ever need help to go away, he and Tilda would willingly help her. The boys scatter and eventually find their ways back to their homes.
Frank and Kate are married on the same day as are Nicholas and Madeline. Tim and Miss La Creevy are quietly married a few weeks later and live out their lives in ever greater happiness. Nicholas invests Madeline’s money in the Cheeryble Brothers, and he and Frank...
(The entire section is 509 words.)