Nicholas Nickleby, the handsome, warm-hearted, enterprising son of a widow whose husband’s death left her and her two children impoverished as the result of unwise speculations. Through the grudging influence of his uncle, a shrewd, miserly London businessman, he secures a post as an assistant master at Dotheboys Hall, a wretched school for boys, at a salary of five pounds a year. Finding conditions at the school impossible to tolerate, he thrashes Wackford Squeers, his employer, quits the place in disgust, and returns to London in the company of Smike, a half-starved, broken-spirited drudge, now his loyal friend, whom he saved from the schoolmaster’s brutality. After being cleared of a false charge of thievery brought by his uncle and the vindictive Squeers, he sets out again in the hope of bettering his fortune. He becomes an actor in a traveling troupe but is called back to London on behalf of his sister Kate, who has become the victim of the unwelcome attentions of Sir Mulberry Hawk and Lord Frederick Verisopht, two notorious rakes. After disabling one of her pursuers, he finds work with the generous Cheeryble brothers, and his fortunes improve, so that he is able to provide a home for his mother and sister. He falls in love with Madeline Bray and rescues her from marriage to an elderly miser. After the romantic and financial complications of this situation have been unraveled, Nicholas and Madeline are married.
Kate Nickleby, his refined, pretty sister. After her arrival in London, she first finds work with a dressmaker and later becomes a companion to Mrs. Julia Witterly, a vulgar, silly middle-class woman; meanwhile, her uncle uses her as a snare to entrap two lustful noblemen. After Nicholas goes to work for the Cheeryble brothers, her future becomes secure. In love with Frank Cheeryble, the nephew of her brother’s benefactors, she marries him when she is convinced at last that the young man is truly in love with her.
Mrs. Nickleby, their mother, an ineffective but well-meaning woman. Because of her poor judgment, she becomes the dupe of several coarse, mean people.
Ralph Nickleby, the miserly, treacherous uncle who finds ignominious work for both Nicholas and Kate and then attempts to use them. After his schemes have been exposed and the unfortunate Smike has been revealed as the son whom he supposed dead, he hangs himself.
Smike, Ralph Nickleby’s lost son, who had been abandoned by a former clerk to the harsh care of Wackford Squeers. Flogged and starved until he resembles a scarecrow, he runs away from Dotheboys Hall to share the fortunes of Nicholas Nickleby. When Nicholas joins a theatrical troupe, Smike plays the apothecary in Romeo and Juliet. Recaptured by Squeers, he escapes with the aid of John Browdie, a stout-hearted Yorkshireman, and finds sanctuary with Nicholas once more. He falls in love with Kate Nickleby, despairingly because he is dying of tuberculosis. After his death it is revealed that he was the son of Ralph Nickleby.
Madeline Bray, a beautiful girl whose devotion to her selfish, dissolute father leads her to accept the proposal of Arthur Gride. Her father dying suddenly, Nicholas and Kate save her from the clutches of Gride and his friend, Ralph Nickleby. Later a lost will, concealed by Gride, is recovered, and Madeline becomes an heiress. She and Nicholas Nickleby are married after both experience reversals of fortune.
Walter Bray, Madeline’s father. For his own selfish purposes, he plans to marry his daughter to an unwelcome and much older suitor, Arthur...
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Gride. At his death, before he can complete his plan to barter off his daughter, Nicholas Nickleby and his sister Kate rescue Madeline and take her to their mother’s home.
Edwin Cheerybyle and
Charles Cheeryble, two benevolent brothers who make Nicholas Nickleby a clerk in their counting house, establish his family in a comfortable cottage, help to thwart the schemes of Ralph Nickleby, and finally bring about the marriages of Nicholas to Madeline Bray and Kate Nickleby to their nephew.
Frank Cheeryble, the gentlemanly nephew of the Cheeryble brothers. He marries Kate Nickleby after the uncles have set right her mistaken belief that Frank loves Madeline Bray.
Wackford Squeers, the brutal, predatory proprietor of Dotheboys Hall and an underling of Ralph Nickleby. Thrashed by Nicholas Nickleby for his treatment of Smike and his cruelty to the helpless boys entrusted to his care, he tries to get revenge with Ralph’s help. Arrested for stealing the will that provides for Madeline Bray’s inheritance, he is sentenced to transportation for seven years.
Mrs. Squeers, his wife, a worthy helpmeet for her cruel, rapacious husband.
Fanny Squeers, their daughter, a twenty-three-year-old shrew. She is at first attracted to Nicholas Nickleby, her father’s underpaid assistant, but later turns against him when he rebuffs her advances and declares that his only desire is to get away from detested Dotheboys Hall.
Wackford Squeers, Jr.
Wackford Squeers, Jr., a nasty boy who combines the worst traits of his parents.
Newman Noggs, Ralph Nickleby’s eccentric, kindhearted clerk and drudge. Ruined by Ralph’s knavery, he enters the miser’s employ in order to unmask his villainies. He aids Nicholas Nickleby and Smike on several occasions and is instrumental in securing Madeline Bray’s inheritance. After Ralph’s death, he is restored to respectability.
Brooker, a felon, at one time Ralph Nickleby’s clerk, later his enemy. He makes Ralph believe that his son is dead as part of a scheme for extorting money from his former employer. He reveals Smike’s true identity and thus causes Ralph’s suicide.
Arthur Gride, Madeline Bray’s miserly old suitor, who makes Ralph Nickleby his accomplice in keeping the girl’s inheritance a secret. He is later killed by robbers.
Lord Frederick Verisopht
Lord Frederick Verisopht, a gullible young rake, the ruined dupe of Sir Mulberry Hawk. Enamored of Kate Nickleby, he tries to seduce her. Later, he quarrels with Sir Mulberry and is killed in a duel by his mentor in vice.
Sir Mulberry Hawk
Sir Mulberry Hawk, a man of fashion, a gambler, and a knave, severely punished by Nicholas Nickleby for his attempt to ruin the young man’s sister. Sir Mulberry quarrels with his foolish dupe, Lord Frederick Verisopht, and kills him in a duel.
Tom Linkinwater, the Cheerybles’ chief clerk, a man as amiable and cheerful as his employers. He marries Miss La Creevy.
Miss Linkinwater, his sister.
Miss La Creevy
Miss La Creevy, a fifty-year-old spinster, a miniature painter, and the landlady of the Nicklebys when they first come to London. She marries Tom Linkinwater.
Peg Sliderskew, Arthur Gride’s wizened, deaf, ugly old housekeeper. She steals her master’s papers, including the will bequeathing money to Madeline Bray. Squeers, hired by Ralph Nickleby to secure the document, is apprehended by Newman Noggs and Frank Cheeryble while in the act of pocketing it.
Mr. Snawley, a smooth-spoken hypocrite who sends his two stepsons to Dotheboys Hall. Ralph Nickleby’s tool, he commits perjury by swearing that Smike is his son, abducted by Nicholas Nickleby. Later, when his guilt is revealed, he confesses, implicating Ralph and Squeers as his confederates.
Mrs. Snawley, his wife.
Madame Mantalini, the owner of a fashionable dressmaking establishment in which Kate Nickleby works for a time. She goes bankrupt because of her husband’s extravagance.
Alfred Mantalini, born Muntle, a spendthrift. When cajolery and flattery fail to get him the money he wants, he resorts to threats of suicide in order to obtain funds from his wife. Eventually his wasteful, foppish habits bring her to bankruptcy, and she secures a separation. Imprisoned, he is befriended by a sympathetic washerwoman who secures his release. Before long she tires of his idleness and airy manners, and she puts him to work turning a mangle “like a demd old horse in a demnition mill.”
Mr. Kenwigs, a turner in ivory who lives with his family in the same boardinghouse with Newman Noggs.
Mrs. Kenwigs, his wife, a woman genteely born.
Morleena Kenwigs, their older daughter. Her attendance at a dancing school helps to establish her mother’s pretensions to gentility.
Mr. Lillyvick, Mrs. Kenwigs’ uncle and a collector of water rates. At a party, he meets Henrietta Petowker, an actress from the Theatre Royal, follows her to Portsmouth, and marries her. His marriage brings dismay to his niece and her husband, who had regarded themselves as his heirs. After his fickle wife deserts him, he makes a will in favor of the Kenwigs’ children.
Henrietta Petowker, an actress who marries Mr. Lillyvick and then elopes with a captain on half-pay.
Matilda Price, a Yorkshire lass and Fanny Squeers’ friend, engaged to John Browdie. The two women quarrel when Matilda flirts with Nicholas Nickelby, whom Fanny has marked as her own.
John Browdie, a hearty, openhanded young Yorkshireman who becomes jealous of Nicholas Nickleby when Matilda Price, his betrothed, flirts with the young man. Later, realizing that Nicholas was completely innocent, John lends him money to return to London. He releases Smike from the custody of Wackford Squeers.
Miss Knag, the forewoman in Madame Mantalini’s dressmaking establishment. She is kind to Kate Nickleby at first but later turns against her. She takes over the business when Madame Mantalini goes bankrupt.
Celia Bobster, the girl whom Newman Noggs mistakes for Madeline Bray and at whose house Nicholas Nickleby calls before the error is discovered.
Mr. Bobster, her hot-tempered father.
Mrs. Julia Witterly
Mrs. Julia Witterly, a woman of middle-class background and aristocratic pretense, who hires Kate Nickleby as her companion.
Henry Witterly, her husband. He believes that his wife is “of a very excitable nature, very delicate, very fragile, a hot-house plant, an exotic.”
Mr. Bonney, Ralph Nickleby’s friend and a promoter of the United Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery Company, of which Ralph is a director.
Mr. Gregsby, a member of Parliament, a pompous politician to whom Nicholas Nickleby applies for a position as a private secretary. Nicholas declines the situation after Mr. Gregsby explains fully the duties and responsibilities he expects a secretary to assume.
Vincent Crummles, the manager of a traveling theatrical company that Nicholas Nickleby and Smike join for a time; Nicholas adapts plays and acts in them, and Smike plays the part of the apothecary in Romeo and Juliet. Nicholas and his employer become close friends.
Mrs. Crummles, his wife.
Ninetta Crummles, their daughter, billed as the “Infant Phenomenon.”
Mr. and Mrs. Snevellicci
Mr. and Mrs. Snevellicci, her parents,
Miss Ledbrook, and
The African Knife Swallower
The African Knife Swallower, members of the Crummles theatrical troupe.
Brooks, pupils at Dotheboys Hall.
Mr. Curdle, an amateur critic of the drama and the author of a sixty-four-page pamphlet on the deceased husband of the nurse in Romeo and Juliet.
Pyke, a servant of Sir Mulberry Hawk.
Captain Adams and
Mr. Westwood, seconds in the duel between Sir Mulberry Hawk and Lord Frederick Verisopht.