I actually got interested in Nicholas Nickleby through Les Misérables, one of my favourite musicals. Trevor Nunn and John Caird, the original directors of Les Mis, had previously directed a massive production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby for the Royal Shakespeare Company and I heard that there were some similarities between the two masterpieces. So, when I needed a good book to take with me on the Easter holidays (I never travel anywhere without a book in my luggage) I decided it was time to meet Nicholas Nickleby.
Basically, Nicholas Nickleby tells about a young man (the title character) who has to find a way to support himself and his family after his father dies. His uncle Ralph isn't much of a help and the relationship of the two men grows more and more strained in the course of the story. Nicholas' road of life leads him to a most inhumane boys' boarding school you could ever imagine, and then to a traveling theatre company full of, well, interesting personalities. He also befriends poor Smike, a young man who serves as the symbol of capital misery in the story. A subplot follows Nicholas' sister Kate back in London, with Uncle Ralph trying to make everything (especially the money) go his way.
I did notice some similarities between this and Les Misérables. In both of these there's the main character who tries to find a good way to live his life, and while this character's life is the central part of the story, the reader still gets a fairly wide view of the general society at the time, and its problems. Both of them feature a large cast of very interesting characters and use some pretty amazing coincidences as plot devices.
However, Nicholas Nickleby is by far the lighter one to read, and not only because Dickens doesn't share Hugo's habit of inserting marathon-length essays of kings and plumbing systems in the book. The way he describes his characters and settings has the kind of magic that makes me almost unable to put the book down and shows me everything as if I had a TV screen right in front of me. Also, the irony of the narrating voice is simply delicious – I think I discovered something like that already in Jane Austen's narration, but here it's even clearer.
I did find it kind of bizarre that the women in this novel tend to faint a lot – or at least feel faint. However, I think much of this can be amended by the fact that many of the characters (both male and female) are drawn quite obviously as caricatures. And still, these characters really don't take the seriousness away from the plot. Who knows, maybe the ladies in Dickens' times couldn't breathe properly in those big dresses and that's why they get swept off their feet so often.
I would definitely recommend the novel to pretty much anyone who likes to read – and I have to mention the 2001 miniseries The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby as well, which in my opinion is quite an excellent TV adaptation which keeps in all the necessary bits and does fantastically with Mr Crummles' theatre troupe especially. I might post something about it in the future – for now, I'll just say that it is the source of my obsession with top hats. You simply can't look at this picture of James D'Arcy as Nicholas Nickleby without noticing how classy he looks with his top hat on.
That's it for my first post on Music & My Mind... I can't wait to see what's going to follow!