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Charles Dickens Theatre Collection

Nicholas Nickleby

In the twenty-first century, Nicholas Nickleby seems to be less frequently dramatised than other Dickens classics. On its arrival in serial parts between April1838 until October 1839, however, the characters from Nicholas Nickleby proved more alluring to dramatists than those from Pickwick or Oliver. Indeed, there had been at least twenty five productions of Nicholas Nickleby by the time the serialisation was complete.

The episodic nature of the novel leant itself to such adaptation, with productions such as 'The infant phenomenon; or, a rehearsal rehearsed' and 'The fortunes of Smike' playing to enthusiastic audiences. The popularity of his latest novel on stage did not please Dickens himself. He railed against the work of playwrights who imitated his work, 'vulgarised' the characters, ruined the plots and guessed endings. Angered by the liberties which other writers were taking with his work, Dickens included a scathing critique spoken by Nicholas to a 'literary gentleman', "who had dramatized in his time two hundred and forty-seven novels, as fast as they had come out – some of them faster than they had come out". This character is thought to be a particular caricature of the playwright William T. Moncrieff, whose first performance of Nicholas Nickleby had Smike turn out to be Ralph's son and incorrectly paired him off with Kate Nickleby. During Nicholas' conversation with this literary gentleman, which becomes rather heated, Dickens has his protagonist exclaim:

 

if I were a writer of books, and you a thirsty dramatist, I would rather pay your tavern score for six months, large as it might be, than have a niche in the Temple of Fame with you for the humblest corner of my pedestal through six hundred generations.

This caricature and all of Dickens' other protests had little effect; by the turn of the century there had been at least 160 dramatisations of Nicholas Nickleby. The Royal Adelphi Theatre under Benjamin Webster was celebrating its 151st performance of the play in September 1875. The popularity of this novel staged was not so great as Oliver Twist, but is remarkable for the speed with which enthusiastic playwrights took Dickens' characters from the page to the stage.

As with Oliver Twist, the character of a suffering, tragic child offered the chance for an actress to play to great acclaim. Many of the popular actresses who had played Oliver later took the part of Smike in adaptations of Nicholas Nickleby. Early nineteenth century productions also continued the practice of using tableaux vivant's in performances; in the case of Nicholas Nickleby, these often followed to illustrations by Hablot Browne which had appeared in the serials.

In the twentieth century, there were fewer than one hundred productions of Nicholas Nickleby,including films, television adaptations and radio dramas. One ambitious production by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1980 ran for eight hours over two performances.

Special Collections Holdings

Item type Item information Author Item number
Book (Parts)

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickleby: with illustrations by Phiz

(Chapman and Hall, 1838-1839)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

Hablot Knight Browne
(1815-1882)

0319263
Playscript

Nicholas Nickleby : a farce, in two acts, taken from the popular work of that name by "Boz"

(performed at the Royal Adelphi, London,
19 November, 1838)

Edward Stirling (1807-1894) 0596016 0596015
Playbill

Mary Clifford, The Foundling Apprentice Girl, Nicholas Nickleby and Popolino

(performed at the City of London Theatre,
22 March 1839)

unknown

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

0595525
Playbill

The Fairy Lake and Nicholas Nickleby

(performed at the New Strand Theatre, London, 20-25 May 1839)

Charles Selby (1802-1863)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

0596397
Book

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickleby: with illustrations by Phiz

(Chapman and Hall, 1839)

 

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

Hablot Knight Browne
(1815-1882)

0194718 
Book

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickleby: with illustrations by Phiz

(Chapman and Hall, 1839)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

Hablot Knight Browne
(1815-1882)

F197256

Playbill
(photocopy)

Nicholas Nickleby

(performed at the Theatre Royal, Bristol, Tuesday 15 January [1840])

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

0648670
Playbill

Nicholas Nickleby and Damon and Pythias and Nature and Art

(performed at the City of London Theatre,
11 November 1840)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

unknown

unknown

0595526
Playscript

The fortunes of Smike; or, A sequel to Nicholas Nickleby

(performed at the Royal Adelphi Theatre, London, 2 March 1840)

Edward Stirling
(1807-1894)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

0595775
Playbill

Richelieu and Nicholas Nickleby

(performed at the Adelphi Theatre, Edinburgh, 11 September 1851)

Edward Bulwer-Lytton
(1803-1873)

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

0595633
Playbill

Nicholas Nickleby, The Bengal Tiger and Soldier's Progress

(performed at the Theatre Royal, Brighton,
4-5 February 1858)

Edward Stirling
(1807-1894)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

Charles Dance (1794-1863)

John Courtney
(1804-1865)

0592759
Playbill

Nicholas Nickleby and The Island of Silver Store

(performed at the Theatre Royal, Brighton,
6 February 1858)

Edward Stirling
(1807-1894)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

Walter Baynham

0595599
Playbill

Sarah's Young Man and Nicholas Nickleby

(performed at the Royal Adelphi Theatre, London, 20-22 March 1875)

William Suter

(1811-1882)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

Andrew Halliday
(1830-1877)

0595842
Programme

Sarah's Young Man, Nicholas Nickleby and The Goose with the Golden Eggs

(performed at the Royal Adelphi Theatre, London, 20 March 1875)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

Andrew Halliday
(1830-1877)

F173201
Programme

The Day After the Wedding, Nicholas Nickleby and The Bonnie Fishwife

(performed at the Royal Adelphi Theatre, London, c. 18 August 1875)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

Andrew Halliday
(1830-1877)


F173143 F174816
Programme

Turn Him Out, Nicholas Nickleby and The Belles of the Kitchen

(performed at the Royal Adelphi Theatre, London, c. 1875)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

Andrew Halliday
(1830-1877)

F172954
Programme

Turn Him Out, Nicholas Nickleby and The Bunch of Berries

(performed at the Royal Adelphi Theatre, London, c.1875)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

Andrew Halliday
(1830-1877)

Edward L. Blanchard
(1820-1889)

F172858
Programme

Painless Dentistry, Nicholas Nickleby and Fun in a Fog

(performed at the Royal Adelphi Theatre, London, c.1875)

Martin Becher
(fl. 1870s)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

Andrew Halliday
(1830-1877)

F172882
Programme

Painless Dentistry, Nicholas Nickleby and The Goose with the Golden Eggs

(performed at the Royal Adelphi Theatre, London, c.1875)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

Andrew Halliday
(1830-1877)

F174817
Playscript

Nicholas Nickleby

(first performed at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, 1875)

Harry Simms 0595396
0595397
Programme

Poor Pillicoddy, Nicholas Nickleby and Jessamy's Courtship

(performed at the Royal Adelphi Theatre, London, c.1879)

John Maddison Morton
(1811-1891)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

Andrew Halliday
(1830-1877)

F172894
Playscript

The infant phenomenon; or, a rehearsal rehearsed

(according to printer, first performed at the Strand Theatre, London, 8 July 1832)

H. Hardcastle

0592322
Playscript

Nicholas Nickleby and Fortunes of Smike: made into one play

(first performed at the Adelphi Theatre, London, undated)

Edward Stirling
(1807-1894)

Arthur Williams (1844-1915)

0596017
Programme

The Married Rake, Nicholas Nickleby and Cousin Johnny

(performed at the Royal Strand Theatre, London, 10 September 1885)

unknown

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

unknown

F172731
Playbill

Nicholas Nickleby, Indiana and Bardell v. Pickwick

(performed at the Avenue Theatre, London,
6 June 1887)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

unknown

0597392
Postcard

Colour postcard illustration of a scene from Nicholas Nickleby.

""Oilette" [Regd.] Postcard 6052. Art publishers to their majesties the King and Queen.

undated

unknown

F175848
Programme

Nicholas Nickleby: a recital

(performed on 31 October 1905)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

F172680
Programme

Nicholas Nickleby

(performed at the King's Hall, Covent Garden, London, 8 April 1923)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
F172552
Programme

Nicholas Nickleby

(performed at the Savoy Theatre, London,
1 February 1924)

H. Sims

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

F172710
Playscript

Vincent Crummles: his theatre and his times

(Wells Gardener, 1926)

F.J. Harvey Darton (1878-1936)

0669738
Programme

The Honest Tradesman, The Strange Gentleman, A Tale of Two Cities, Nicholas Nickleby and Sketches by Boz

(performed at St. Pancras Town Hall, London, 10 October 1952)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

F173247
Programme

Nicholas Nickleby

(performed at the Nottingham Playhouse,
23 December 1970)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

Caryl Brahms
(1901-1982)

Ned Sherrin
(1931-2007)

F173286
Programme

Nicholas Nickleby

(performed at the Aldwych Theatre, London, 27 November 1980)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

David Edgar
(1948- )

F174272
Programme

Nicholas Nickleby: Parts I and II

(performed at Milton Keynes Theatre, 27 November - 1 December 2007)

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)

David Edgar
(1948- )

F206214

 

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Last Updated: 02/06/2016