Imagine if a select minority of people, for no particular reason, were telepathic. Not because of radioactivity or an alien ring or anything seen in comics, but just by birth. They wouldn't look or necessarily act any differently then you or I, but they’d read everyone around them, know their motives and navigate accordingly. Some people would undoubtedly use this power for good, others for evil, and others probably wouldn't know what to do with it. But they’d all see the world very differently from those around them.
Well, that is the world of Nicholas Nickleby. Save that instead of telepathy, our heroes and villains have what was once mistakenly described as common sense. They see the world around them for what it really is, they can judge people by their actions rather than their appearances and they use these judgments to attempt to navigate the world. At this point, there’s only a select few who clearly have this power- the book’s namesake, of course, his sister, their uncle and an associate of his who is somehow simultaneously more real and more mysterious than any of the other characters thus far.
Let’s begin with the book’s namesake, since he’s obviously our hero. While shrewd, Mr. Nickleby is a very young man and therefore his powers of observation and sound judgment are tempered by his inexperience. While quick on the pick-up he misses a lot when it comes to new situations, women and the business world. However, he’s proving to be a quick wit so far and seems increasingly capable of changing his appearance depending on the context of the situations in which he finds himself (a talent aided by his time in the theater); so I assume we can expect a very interesting arc from him as the story progresses.
Next up is Mr. Ralph Nickleby, our primary antagonist and uncle to our hero. While portrayed as a somewhat heartless man there’s a fierce practicality to him that actually has me preferring him to some of the other supposed heroes of the tale. This comes from a difficult upbringing, not unlike what our hero experienced, which imparted Ralph with an unshakable belief that money is the only thing in the world that maters. This belief has led him to lead a rather solitary life (since relationships are the one sure-fire way to lose money) and to avoid interactions which don’t directly serve a business-related purpose. Although he often causes great injury to those around him I appreciate the logic with which he does it: it’s calculated, thought out and concluded best based on his belief system and this automatically puts him worlds ahead of those who injure for the sake of injury. I’m looking forward to seeing how his arc progresses.
Nicholas has a sister, Kate, who is shockingly similar to him in disposition. She is naturally sweet, terribly naive but also very aware of the people around her. Like her brother, she is able to mimic the appearance expected of her, to a certain extent. But unlike him, she is boxed in by the limitations of her sex in that time period and therefore must rely on the assistance of men to get what she needs in life. Being true of heart she never purposefully manipulates, but speaks honestly (if a little dramatically) to those she encounters. A characteristic which, needless to say, gets her into a lot of trouble. I have to say that despite her true-of-heart nature I find her rather dull and am not terribly interested in what she’ll end up doing; especially because I imagine it’ll just be to marry a nice guy eventually.
Last but certainly not least is Mr. Newman Noggs. Newman is Mr. Ralph Nickleby’s assistant and therefore ends up bearing a lot of bad news to his associates. But he never hesitates to intervene when he deems such bad news reckless, deliberately hurtful, or extreme (which is often the case when it comes to Ralph's family). Thankfully his employer seems to be oblivious to all of this meddling so he’s able to do a lot of good without consequence to his station; but he is greatly limited by that station and therefore confined to meddling rather than grand heroic acts. He’s had the least on-screen time of any main character so far but these glimpses of him have only served to make the mystery that much more intriguing and I’d have to say I’m most interested in seeing how his story ends.
Although this is just a tiny portion of the many characters in the story it does represent a rather complete view of those with the power of discernment. Everyone else I’ve seen to this point is rather clueless or one-dimensional. They’re either lower class individuals foolishly worshiping, mimicking and discussing the upper class; upper class individuals defined by their possessions, mannerisms and money; ruthless villains that play like caricatures rather than people; whimsical actors defined by their craft or clueless followers with very little going on upstairs. Yes, they serve up the majority of the humor, action and mechanisms of plot- but I doubt I’m going to remember any of them when the story is done.
I suspect I’ll meet one or two more individuals with this power as the plot progresses and they’ll have their own part to play in the overall arc. But for now, those are the major players. And I’ll have more to say on the writing (verbose!), the style (satire) and the settings in later posts. In the meantime, I hope you’re all having fun with your own reads.