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Ralph asks Kate to attend a dinner he is hosting for some business associates. When she arrives she discovers she is the only woman in attendance, and it becomes clear Ralph is using her as bait to entice the foolish nobleman Lord Frederick Verisopht to do business with him. The other guests include Verisopht's mentor and friend, the disreputable nobleman Sir Mulberry Hawk, who humiliates Kate at dinner by making her the subject of an offensive bet.

She flees the table, but is later accosted by Hawk. He attempts to force himself on her but is stopped by Ralph. Ralph shows some unexpected tenderness towards Kate but insinuates that he will withdraw his financial help if she tells her mother about what happened. The next day, Nicholas discovers that his uncle has returned. He visits his mother and sister just as Ralph is reading them Fanny Squeers' letter and slandering Nicholas. He confronts his uncle, who vows to give no financial assistance to the Nicklebys as long as Nicholas stays with them. His hand forced, Nicholas agrees to leave London, but warns Ralph that a day of reckoning will one day come between them.

The next morning, Nicholas and Smike travel towards Portsmouth with the intention of becoming sailors. At an inn, they encounter the theatrical manager Vincent Crummles, who hires Nicholas still going under the name of Johnson on sight. Nicholas is the new juvenile lead, and also playwright, with the task of adapting French tragedies into English and then modifying them for the troupe's minimal dramatic abilities. Nicholas and Smike join the acting company and are warmly received by the troupe, which includes Crummles's formidable wife, their daughter, "The Infant Phenomenon", and many other eccentric and melodramatic thespians.

Nicholas and Smike make their debuts in Romeo and Juliet , as Romeo and the Apothecary respectively, and are met with great acclaim from the provincial audiences. Nicholas enjoys a flirtation with his Juliet, the lovely Miss Snevellici. Back in London, Mr Mantalini's reckless spending has bankrupted his wife.

Madame Mantalini is forced to sell her business to Miss Knag, whose first order of business is to fire Kate. She finds employment as the companion of the social-climbing Mrs Wittiterly. Meanwhile, Sir Mulberry Hawk begins a plot to humiliate Kate for refusing his advances. He uses Lord Frederick, who is infatuated with her, to discover where she lives from Ralph.

He is about to succeed in this plot when Mrs. Nickleby enters Ralph's office, and the two rakes switch their attentions from Kate's uncle to her mother, successfully worming their way into Mrs Nickleby's company and gaining access to the Wittiterly house. Wittiterly grows jealous and admonishes Kate for flirting with the noblemen. The unfairness of this accusation makes Kate so angry that she rebukes her employer, who flies into a fit of hysterics. With no other recourse, Kate goes to her uncle for assistance, but he refuses to help her, citing his business relationships with Hawk and Verisopht.

It is left to Newman Noggs to come to her aid, and he writes to Nicholas, telling him in vague terms of his sister's urgent need of him. Nicholas immediately quits the Crummles troupe and returns to London. Noggs and Miss La Creevy confer, and decide to delay telling Nicholas of Kate's plight until it is too late at night for him to seek out Hawk and take violent action. Nicholas is about to search the city for them when he accidentally overhears Hawk and Lord Frederick rudely toasting Kate in a coffeehouse. He is able to glean from their conversation what has happened, and confronts them.

Hawk refuses to give Nicholas his name or respond to his accusations. When he attempts to leave, Nicholas follows him out, and leaps onto the running board of his carriage, demanding his name.

Hawk strikes him with a riding crop, and Nicholas loses his temper, returning the blow and spooking the horses, causing the carriage to crash. Hawk is injured in the crash and vows revenge, but Lord Verisopht, remorseful for his treatment of Kate, tells him that he will attempt to stop him.

Later, after Hawk has recovered, they quarrel over Hawk's insistence on revenging himself against Nicholas. Verisopht strikes Hawk, resulting in a duel. Verisopht is killed, and Hawk flees to France. As a result, Ralph loses a large sum of money owed to him by the deceased lord. Nicholas collects Kate from the Wittiterlys, and with their mother and Smike, they move back into Miss LaCreevy's house. Nicholas pens a letter to Ralph, refusing, on behalf of his family, a penny of his uncle's money or influence. Returning to the employment office, Nicholas meets Charles Cheeryble, a wealthy and extremely benevolent merchant who runs a business with his twin brother Ned.

Hearing Nicholas's story, the brothers take him into their employ at a generous salary and provide his family with a small house in a London suburb. Ralph encounters a beggar, who recognises him and reveals himself as Brooker, Ralph's former employee. He attempts to blackmail Ralph with a piece of unknown information, but is driven off. Returning to his office, Ralph receives Nicholas's letter and begins plotting against his nephew in earnest. Wackford Squeers returns to London and joins Ralph in his plots. Smike, on a London street, has the misfortune to run into Squeers, who kidnaps him.

Luckily for Smike, John Browdie is honeymooning in London with his new wife Tilda and discovers his predicament. When they have dinner with Squeers, Browdie fakes an illness and takes the opportunity to rescue Smike and send him back to Nicholas. In gratitude, Nicholas invites the Browdies to dinner. At the party, also attended by the Cheerybles's nephew Frank and their elderly clerk Tim Linkinwater, Ralph and Squeers attempt to reclaim Smike by presenting forged documents to the effect that he is the long-lost son of a man named Snawley who, in actuality, is a friend of Squeers with children at Dotheboys Hall.

Smike refuses to go, but the threat of legal action remains. While at work, Nicholas encounters the beautiful young woman he had seen in the employment office and realises he is in love with her. The brothers tell him that her name is Madeline Bray, the penniless daughter of a debtor, Walter Bray, and enlist his help in obtaining small sums of money for her by commissioning her artwork, the only way they can help her due to her tyrannical father.

Arthur Gride, an elderly miser, offers to pay a debt Ralph is owed by Walter Bray in exchange for the moneylender's help. Gride has illegally gained possession of the will of Madeline's grandfather, and she will become an heiress upon the event of her marriage.

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The two moneylenders persuade Bray to bully his daughter into accepting the disgusting Gride as a husband, with the promise of paying off his debts. Ralph is not aware of Nicholas's involvement with the Brays, and Nicholas does not discover Ralph's scheme until the eve of the wedding. He appeals to Madeline to cancel the wedding, but despite her feelings for Nicholas, she is too devoted to her dying father to go against his wishes. On the day of the wedding, Nicholas attempts to stop it once more but his efforts prove academic when Bray, guilt-ridden at the sacrifice his daughter has made for him, dies unexpectedly.

Madeline thus has no reason to marry Gride and Nicholas and Kate take her to their house to recover. Smike has contracted tuberculosis and become dangerously ill. In a last attempt to save his friend's health, Nicholas takes him to his childhood home in Devonshire, but Smike's health rapidly deteriorates. On his deathbed, Smike is startled to see the man who brought him to Squeers's school. Nicholas dismisses it as an illusion but it is later revealed that Smike was right. After confessing his love for Kate, Smike dies peacefully in Nicholas's arms.


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When they return to Gride's home after the aborted wedding, Ralph and Gride discover that Peg Sliderskew, Gride's aged housekeeper, has robbed Gride, taking, amongst other things, the will. To get it back, Ralph enlists Wackford Squeers's services to track down Peg. Noggs discovers this plot, and with the help of Frank Cheeryble, he is able to recover the will and have Squeers arrested. The Cheeryble brothers confront Ralph, informing him that his various schemes against Nicholas have failed.

They advise him to retire from London before charges are brought up against him, as Squeers is determined to confess all and implicate Ralph. He refuses their help, but is summoned back to their offices that evening and told that Smike is dead.

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When he reacts to the news with vicious glee, the brothers reveal their final card. The beggar Brooker emerges, and tells Ralph that Smike was his own son. As a young man, Ralph had married a woman for her fortune, but kept it secret so she would not forfeit her inheritance for marrying without her brother's consent, and wait for the brother to die. She eventually left him after bearing him a son, whom he entrusted to Brooker, who was then his clerk. Brooker, taking the opportunity for vengeance, took the boy to Squeers' school and told Ralph the boy had died.

Brooker now repents his action, but a transportation sentence kept him from putting the matter right. Devastated at the thought that his only son died as the best friend of his greatest enemy, Ralph commits suicide. His ill-gotten fortune ends up in the state coffers because he died intestate and his estranged relatives decline to claim it.

Squeers is sentenced to transportation to Australia, and, upon hearing this, the boys at Dotheboys Hall rebel against the Squeers family and escape with the assistance of John Browdie. Nicholas becomes a partner in the Cheerybles' firm and marries Madeline. Brooker dies penitent. Noggs recovers his respectability.

The Nicklebys and their now extended family return to Devonshire, where they live in peace and contentment and grieve over Smike's grave. As in most of Dickens 's works, there is a sprawling number of characters in the book. The major characters in Nicholas Nickleby include:. While some consider the book to be among the finest works of 19th-century comedy, Nicholas Nickleby is occasionally criticised for its lack of character development.

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The novel has been adapted for stage, film or television at least seven times. The production received both critical and popular acclaim. All of the actors played multiple roles because of the huge number of characters, except for Roger Rees , who played Nicholas, and David Threlfall , who played Smike due to the large amount of time they were on stage.

The play moved to Broadway in In the RSC had the show recorded as three two-hour and one three-hour episode for Channel 4 , where it became the channel's first drama. In Edgar prepared a shorter version for a production at the Chichester Festival , [8] which transferred in December and January to the Gielgud Theatre in the West End.