March is Charles Dickens month for 1book140, and it's time to vote on which of the acclaimed British novelist's titles we're going to tackle. Matthew Kaiser, a Victorian literature professor at Harvard, will be leading our discussion throughout the month, and he selected the following five books for our shortlist. Read the summaries below and then VOTE. The polls are open until Wednesday at 5 pm Eastern. Reading begins on Monday.
Nicholas Nickleby and his mother and sister are left penniless after his father dies broke. They travel to London to throw themselves at the mercy of Nicholas's uncle, who, in true Dickensian fashion, is a miser who immediately develops a dislike for our hero. Uncle Ralph sends Nicholas off to a dreadful boarding school, where Nicholas must plot to reunite his family.
This is another story about a boy whose father dies, only this time, his mother remarries, and her new husband becomes the story's villain. David Copperfield is much broader in scope than Nickleby however; the novel follows its protagonist all the way to adulthood. And Dickens called David the favorite character he ever wrote—a remarkable endorsement from such a prolific author.
Great Expectations combines a love story with the typical Dickensian rags-to-riches plot. Pip, a young boy whose father, mother, and brothers have all died, falls in love with a wealthy girl with a sad family history of her own. The novel follows Pip as he tries to make a life for himself, and as he uncovers surprising truths about himself and the woman he loves.
On the surface, Bleak House sounds much less interesting than Dickens's other books: It's about a really long lawsuit. But Dickens manages to make the intricacies of the law and the personal drama behind the suit fascinating; it also employs and unusual narrative structure, alternating between a detached, third-person narrator and a first-person narrator, the (female!) protagonist, Esther Summerson.
Our Mutual Friend
Dickens's last novel, Our Mutual Friend is about a man, John Harmon, whose father dies—and in this case, rather than leave him penniless, the father leaves him with a sizable inheritance. The inevitable catch, though, is that in order to get the money, he must marry a woman he's never met. Harmon soon goes missing, and his father's money goes to a working-class couple. But that's just the beginning of the story.
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