Nicholas Nickleby

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

When his father dies, Nicholas Nickleby travels to London with his mother and sister, Kate, to seek help from his uncle, Ralph Nickleby. Uncle Nickleby, a hardened and unscrupulous moneylender, grudgingly secures Nicholas a position at Dotheboys Hall, run by Wackford Squeers, a dishonest, cruel, and greedy schoolmaster.

Exploited by Squeers and his wife and pursued by their unattractive daughter Fanny, Nicholas berates Squeers for his abuse of Smike, a retarded boy, and leaves, taking Smike with him.

Nicholas and Smike are protected by Newman Noggs, Ralph’s secretary. Nicholas confronts his uncle, who denounces him and refuses to support any who have anything to do with him. To shield his mother and Kate, Nicholas takes Smike, leaves London, and joins a theatrical company.

Forced to attend a dinner party give by her uncle, Kate is subject to the unwelcome advances of Sir Mulberry Hawk and attracts the admiration of Lord Frederick Verisopht. Ralph refuses to discourage Hawk. Noggs, in desperation, sends for Nicholas, who confronts Hawk. Verisopht, realizing Kate’s integrity, fights a duel with Hawk. Verisopht is killed, but Hawk is forced to flee England.

Nicholas is employed by the Brothers Cheeryble, philanthropic twins, and falls in love with Madeline Bray, befriended by the Cheerybles when her father is in debt. Nicholas is horrified to discover that his uncle, scheming to defraud Madeline of her inheritance, has...

(The entire section is 531 words.)