Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens (published serially from 1838-1839) meets the Dickensian stereotype of a very long book. I began reading it when my daughter was newborn and I finally finished it, now that she’s three and half.

Nicholas Nickleby is definitely not my favorite Dickens novel. In some respects it’s obvious that its a early novel by the master of complex plots. It has many different plots and subplots and an abundance of clever characters, and yet there’s something that seems to be missing to tie the whole novel together. It simply was not an enjoyable read for me after the first few hundred pages.

That’s not to say I regret reading it. I’m always glad to read another Dickens novel, I really do enjoy both the complex and the superficial and stereotypical characters that are presented in a Dickens’ novel.

Nicholas Nickleby is about the once wealthy Nickleby family, which upon the death of the father of the family is left impoverished due to his unwise investments. Mrs. Nickleby is a ridiculous woman. Nicholas is of course the eldest, and since he is college educated and the new “man of the family”, he must find a way to support his mother and sister. Nicholas’s beautiful and innocent sister, named Kate, also needs taking care of. Upon the reversal of their fortunes, the Nicklebys first turns to their estranged uncle, Ralph Nickleby, in London, who is wealthy, in hopes that he will help them become established in some way with their new, less stable, future.Continue Reading

Alice Have I Been by Melanie Benjamin

Alice Have I Been by Melanie Benjamin (Random House, December 2010) is a fictionalized historical biography of Alice Liddell Hargreaves, the woman who was as a child friends of Charles L. Dodgson (the man who later wrote under the pen name Lewis Carroll). It was young Alice Liddell who begged Mr. Dodgson to write down his improvised story of a girl chasing a white rabbit to a fantastic wonderland. And it was a middle-aged Mr. Dodgson who took dozens of photographs of young girls, including Alice Liddell, during the late 1800s.

Was Mr. Dodgson a perverted man? Was Alice his fantasy? Or was it a part of Victorian custom to photograph children in costume as he appeared to have done? Did Alice’s family know of the photograph of Alice as a beggar girl?

Due to destroyed correspondence and our own possible misunderstandings of the era, we may never know for sure. Yet, the mysteries in Alice Liddell Hargreaves’ life seem real in this novel. Her story here is both interesting and emotional.

A fictionalized biography is always a difficult situation. Given the lack of documented evidence, the situation could have been quite different from what Ms Benjamin portrayed. Nevertheless, regardless of what one thinks of Mr. Dodgson, Alice Have I Been is still a fascinating fictionalization.

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Missed Connections by Sophie Blackall

Way back in August and September, Jenny from Reading the End suggested I read Sophie Blackall’s illustrated book based on the personal “missed connections” posts found on Craig’s List.

I love her illustration style, as I mentioned when I reviewed her picture book. Missed Connections captures the personal ads just perfectly with Ms Blackall’s style. The pictures are sassy, amusing, and friendly. And there is something about the entire concept of a “missed connection” that gives the illustrations a sense of seriousness and contemplation. Continue Reading

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (published 1897) is another fascinating science fiction look at the implications of a changing world of acceptance. The titular character in this story, Griffin, is an albino who had once studied medicine. Tired of being marginalized for his strange appearance, he undergoes medical experiments, ultimately succeeding in creating a formula for invisibility. He hopes that by being invisible, he can blend in with his environment, get back at those who have marginalized him, and seek power and glory by gaining access previously denied him.Continue Reading