More fun with Dickens! You may recall that The Pickwick Papers was a great success, and Nicholas Nickleby, which I read for the fifty classics project, is also a great book. Why was I convinced that I didn't like Dickens? I must have been too immature to appreciate him.
I took a Dickens class in college, and we read Nicholas Nickleby in that class and I disliked it. I skimmed large chunks and relied on the televised play our professor forced us to watch to fill me in. Since that time, I've seen two excellent film versions of the book, which may have helped me to appreciate the book more this time.
Speaking of the films, if you haven't seen the 2002 version of Nicholas Nickleby, you should. The cast includes Anne Hathaway, Romola Garai, Jamie Bell and Christopher Plummer, as the evil Ralph Nickleby. Especially excellent performance by Jim Broadbent as Mr. Squeers and Juliet Stevenson is superb as Mrs. Squeers. The 2001 version, with James D'Arcy as Nicholas is also good, and perhaps a bit quieter and more literary.
The book is Dickens' typical picaresque novel, following the adventures of young Nicholas, whose family is thrown into poverty after his father's death. They are dependent on their cruel Uncle Ralph, who sends Nicholas off to teach at Dotheboys Hall, a dumping ground for unwanted boys masquerading as a "school" and finds employment for Nicholas' sister Kate at a milliners.
Nicholas, considering he's a gentleman, gets into a lot of fights and generally punches his way through his troubles. Dickens is a very funny writer, something I apparently didn't notice when I was in my teens. He uses Victorian terms of praise; "worthy," "honest," "symmetrical form" to describe his unpleasant characters, to great comic effect. He touches on, but does not delve too deeply into, the very darkest characteristics of human nature: sadism, greed, sexual preying.
Nicholas Nickleby is a long, delicious story; something to savor and take your time with.