The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby
by Charles Dickens
Public Domain edition read on a Kindle
Charles Dickens placed 10 books onto the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die (2006 ed.) list. In chronological order they are: Oliver Twist, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, A Christmas Carol, Martin Chuzzlewit, David Copperfield, Bleak House, Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations. At this point I can say that my opinion about these works is grouped into three different categories:
The Life And Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby
A Christmas Carol
A Tale of Two Cities
This list excludes all of Charles Dickens "minor" works: The journalism, editorials, letters. These minor works are very important to understanding Charles Dickens as an actual person, i.e. he was a working writer in early 19th century. His output quite obviously transcended the place and time of it's original publication and became "classic" as well as being "hits" at the time of initial publication. Therefore, he is an important Artist to understand, regardless of one's personal preference about the books themselves.
In my recent review of Oliver Twist- the only list-worthy major work to be published before The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, but only in the sense that the serialization began in 1837 instead of 1838. The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby is what you would call a "second record" in the music businesss.
This means that Oliver Twist had been a "hit" upon initial publication, and the Publisher and Author were both eager to capitalize on the break through by commissioning another work. An interesting difference in this regard is that Oliver Twist was a some-what improvised improvement on Charles Dickens based on a loose agreement to write a monthly "column" for a literary magazine he was in charge of editing.
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby began in January 1838, when Charles Dickens went to Yorkshire to look at the deplorable schools for young children, Oliver Twist was still in the process of being serialized, with a completion date projected in 1839, so Dickens essentially wrote Oliver Twist and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby side-by-side, for over a year. Out of all of Dicken's output, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby most resembles the 18th century picaresque novel ("Life and Times") of Henry Fielding and Tobias Smollett.
I think you can actually imagine the reception that these works must have been receiving, considering their enduring popularity. Specifically, the September and October chapters involving the adventures of Nicholas Nickleby with the theater company of Vincent Crummles being published as Oliver Twist was drawing to a close in late 1839 must have been a spectacular one-two punch for the Audience.
It's also easy to see the imperfections of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby that were brought about by the serial nature of publication: A proliferation of character dialogue and "red herring" episodes that were obviously inserted to extend the length of whatever portion he was writing at the time. In Kindle format, with smaller then average type, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby clocks in at 1500 pages. It's a testament to the enduring Artistic value of the work that people still read it- that a free edition exists, etc.