Dear Mr. Dickens,
So that they don’t feel left out, you have continued with your efforts to reach into the past and bring out earlier characters, as we open this section at the Kenwigs household, where the Missus is having a baby.
Mr. Kenwigs, we learn, is taking a pinch of snuff. I have never understood this, but every male in your era seems to be practically addicted to the stuff. Can’t they just sneeze when the natural inclination comes like normal people? Heaven knows they had enough handkerchiefs.
Anyway, Nicholas shows up (as Mr. Johnson) and informs Mr. Kenwigs that Uncle Lillyvick has married and that their inheritance now won’t even be a pair of matching teaspoons. Mr. Kenwigs doesn’t react well and exhibits questionable parental affection by wishing that his children were dead or in an orphanage.
Next we whiz back to Nicholas’s job with the Cheerybles, where a fellow employee named Tim Linkinwater is having a birthday party. I have a feeling Linkinwater will play a role in the second half of the book.
Apparently unable to stand still for very long, Nicholas is once again on the move—this time to his home, where he finds his mother droning on to Smike about her family tree. You have:
Smike sat wondering what it was all about….
He’s not the only one, Charles.
Smike runs for the exit (with La Creevy, who just happens to be there, of course), leaving Nicholas alone to listen to his mother discussing his errant method of wearing a nightcap and a story about a neighboring suitor who is wooing her by throwing cucumbers over their shared fence.
This woman needs some professional help, Charles.
We leave Nicholas to catch his breath and there is a brief scene at the home of Hawk, who is recovering from the horsewhipping episode of the previous section. Ralph shows up to let the man know that he has disowned the three Nicklebys, and tells Hawk that he, Ralph, would pay to:
…have (Nicholas) stabbed in the heart and rolled into the kennel for the dogs to tear.
which seriously strains the meaning of the phrase “family estrangement.”
Meanwhile, Smike is on his way home and, via a Dickensian Coincidence, runs into Squeers and his fat son. They force Smike into a coach where the schoolmaster beats the poor young man with an umbrella.
You used a very similar ploy in Oliver Twist, where Oliver just happens upon Nancy and Sikes on the streets of London. You’re repeating yourself, Charles.
Additionally, as it happens, Miss Fanny Squeers is accompanying her friend and her friend’s new husband, the Yorkshire man, on their honeymoon in London. Clearly bringing a third person on a honeymoon is a bit unusual for our times, but maybe it was normal in the 19th century. Although it would seem a bit late for a chaperone at this point. Anyway, Fanny and her friend are fine, but the Yorkshire man still talks like he has a mitten sewed to his tongue:
…thot’un owor the wa’?
But the Yorkshire man is a grand fellow and frees Smike, who hoofs it to the home of Noggs, instead of just going to his own home with the Nicklebys. I don’t know why.
At work, Nicholas sees a young woman whom he briefly glimpsed at an employment agency earlier in the novel. He falls madly in love with this woman he has barely (if ever) spoken to and tells Noggs (who, like La Creevy, just does errands for chance acquaintances for no other reason than he has nothing else to do, although you would think Ralph would notice he is never around) to find out where she lives and her name and to set up a meeting.
Noggs does find out that the young lady is named Cecilia Bobster and Noggs manages to set up a secret meeting between Cecilia and Nicholas. Nicholas shows his elation at the prospect of meeting his beloved in a bizarre manner that borders on psychosis:
He was angry with the young lady for being so easily won….
which just proves that his mother’s mental problems are clearly genetic.
The meeting goes off without a hitch, except for the fact that Noggs has led Nicholas to the wrong house, and, presumably, the wrong woman.
The section ends and I am left wondering: what about Kate? Shouldn’t she be out there earning some money for the family’s coffers? Does she just sit around all day as an earpiece for her mother’s semi-lucid ramblings? I wonder if she hasn’t been gone for days but nobody has noticed. She would be better off trying to swim the Channel and starting life anew in Toulouse.
I hope she turns up soon.