Examine in detail Dickens’ portrayal of the flaws in the Victorian education system in his novel ‘Nicholas Nickleby’. What were his aims in presenting Dotheboys Hall to his readers? To extent was he successful in achieving his aims? Charles Dickens was one of the most popular writers in the history of literature. He was born on the 7th February 1812 in Portsmouth. Dickens spent most of his childhood in London and in Kent, both which appear frequently in his novels. As a young man he went on to write many famous novels such as ‘David Copperfield’, ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘Nicholas Nickleby’.
‘Nicholas Nickleby’ was written and serialised between 1838 and 1839 it was then later published as a novel in 1839 and then again in 1848. The novel is about a man called Nicholas Nickleby who went to work as a young teacher at an all boys’ boarding school in Yorkshire set in early Victorian times. All his successes were shadowed by domestic unhappiness.Dickens’ relations with a young actress called Ellen Ternan led to his separation from his wife in 1858. Unfortunately a Stroke led to his death on the 9th June 1870 and he was buried in Westminster.
The focus of the novel is about the adventures and mis-fortunes of Nicholas Nickleby. Dotheboys Hall is a boys’ boarding school set in Yorkshire. It is thought that it may be based on another school called ‘Bowes Academy’ which was also set in Yorkshire. The school is ran by a man named Mr Wackford Squeers who is mindlessly cruel to the children. His wife also helps at the school and is just as callous as he. Mr Squeers aims to have total power over the children and to become very rich by stealing their money and possessions. Having read chapter eight the conditions are frightful and very unpleasant. One of the first happening that shows appalling conditions in the school, is that there is no water because the water pump has frozen.
“Be content with giving yourself a dry polish till we break the ice on the well, and can get a bucket full out for the boys.” The boys cannot even have a wash or clean their teeth with clean water when they awoke in the morning. The main rooms are terrible; Nicholas Nickleby describes them as “A bare and dirty room, with a couple of windows, whereof a tenth part might be of glass, the remainder being stopped up with old copy book and paper.” By not even cleaning the rooms or fixing the windows shows how much he does not care for any of the children that attend his school.
“The walls were so stained an discoloured.” Although Squeers has all the money gained from the children and their parents he cannot even make the building look attractive. The dirt and greyness makes the place very unwelcoming and haunting. “Nicholas could not but observe the silence and sadness of all the boys in the school room.” The awful conditions have a depressing effect on Nicholas Nickleby and he says “That if death could have come upon him at that time, he would have been almost happy to meet it.” The circumstances are so bad that I think even the children may consider running away or even suicide at some time during their time at Dotheboys Hall.
Consequently all these monstrous conditions are down to one Mr Wackford Squeers. Mr Squeers is the headteacher of the school; he is one of the most repulsive and crafty characters in any of Dickens’ novels. For breakfast the boys are fed Brimstone and Treacle. The main reasons they are fed this is because it spoils their appetites and comes cheaper than a full breakfast and dinner. Mrs Squeers who helps serve the Brimstone and Treacle is just as cruel as her husband. The only difference is that he is very discreet and she is open and not scared to show her brutality. Mrs Squeers stands at one of the desks presiding over the immense basin of the concoction. She administers a large spoonful to each boy in succession, using for the purpose a common wooden spoon that widens everyone’s mouth considerably. If they did not take in the whole of the bowl at a gasp they were met by a beating.
Mr and Mrs Squeers do not care for the boys at all; all they are concerned about is gaining power and becoming rich. Their son who also attends Dotheboys Hall is treated very differently than the others, which is expected. When new children arrive Mr Squeers takes some of their belongings if he thinks they are useful for his own son. He himself is not well educated and pretends to himself and the pupils that he knows Latin and teachers the children the incorrect spellings. “C-l-e-a-n, clean, verb active, to make bright, to scour. W-i-n, win, d-e-r, der, winder, a casement. When a boy knows this out of book, he goes and does it.”