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 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...
(The entire section is 1952 words.)