The following are the main characters of Nicholas Nickleby related to the Yorkshire boarding school, Dotheboys Hall, run by its cruel Master, Wackford Squeers.
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- Note the descriptions contain plot spoilers!
A cruel, one-eyed, Yorkshire “schoolmaster”. He runs Dotheboys Hall, a boarding school for unwanted children. He mistreats the boys horribly, starving them and beating them regularly. He gets his comeuppance at the hands of Nicholas when he is beaten in retaliation for the whipping of Smike. He travels to London after he recovers, and partakes in more bad business, fulfilling his grudge against Nicholas by becoming a close partner in Ralph’s schemes to fake Smike’s parentage and later to obfuscate the will that would make Madeline Bray an heiress. He is arrested during the last of these tasks and sentenced to be transported to Australia.
In January 1838, Charles Dickens and the and his illustrator, Hablot Knight Browne (“Phiz”) visited some notorious Yorkshire schools, in particular Bowes Academy in Greta Bridge run by headmaster William Shaw. In 1823, Shaw had been prosecuted for criminal negligence when two of his pupils were blinded. Wackford Squeers was modelled on Shaw, and Dotheboys Hall on his school.
A pupil at Dotheboys Hall, Smike is a severely disabled child who is cruelly abused by Wackford Squeers. Smike is rescued by Nicholas Nickleby and becomes fiercely loyal to him. After Smike’s death, Nicholas discovers that he was his own cousin as the son of his scheming uncle, Ralph.
More cruel and less affectionate than her husband to the boys in their care. She dislikes Nicholas on sight and attempts to make his life at Dotheboys Hall as difficult as possible.
The Squeers’ daughter. She is 23, unattractive, ill-tempered, and eager to find a husband. She falls in love with Nicholas until he bluntly rebuffs her affections, which causes her to antagonise him passionately and openly. Tilda Price is her best friend but the relationship is strained by Fanny’s pride and spitefulness. She is haughty, self-important and is deluded about her beauty and station.
Young Wackford Squeers.
The Squeers’ loutish son. His parents dote on him and he is very fat as a result of their spoiling him. He is preoccupied with filling his belly as often as he can and bullying his father’s boys, to his father’s great pride. When the boys revolt, they dip his head several times in a bowl of the disgusting “brimstone” (sulphur) and treacle “remedy” (actually an appetite suppressant) they are regularly force-fed on pain of punishment.
A bluff Yorkshire corn merchant, with a loud, boisterous sense of humour. At the start of the novel he is engaged to Tilda Price and marries her about halfway through the book. Although he and Nicholas get off on the wrong foot, they become good friends when John helps Nicholas escape from Yorkshire. He later comes to London on his honeymoon and rescues Smike from Squeers’ captivity, proving himself a resourceful and intelligent ally.
Matilda “Tilda” Price (Browdie).
Fanny’s best friend and Browdie’s fiancée. A pretty miller’s daughter of 18, Tilda puts up with Fanny’s pettiness because of their childhood friendship but later breaks off their friendship after she realises the extent of Fanny’s selfishness. She is rather coquettish but settles down happily with John Browdie.
The Squeers’ housemaid, who is forced to endure Mrs Squeers’ foul temper and Fanny’s scorn in order to keep her job. She flatters Fanny to keep her in good humor. She is described as hungry.