Nicholas falls in love with Madeline Bray after seeing her at an employment agency. Not knowing her name, Nicholas despairs of ever meeting her until he discovers she is having secret evening meetings with the Brothers Cheeryble. Like Nicholas, she is from the gentler classes but has fallen on hard times and must now support herself and her family. Much drama ensues, including Nicholas’s ingenious and heroic plot to save her from a forced marriage to elderly miser Arthur Gride, yet another association brokered by Ralph for his own financial gain. Unbeknownst to Madeline, she will get an inheritance upon marrying, which will then become Gride’s, as a wife’s property becomes her husband’s. Ralph plans to force Gride to give it to him to pay Ralph back for Madeline’s father’s debts.
Walter Bray is Madeline’s father. Once a dashing man who swept Madeline’s mother off her feet, he is now a selfish invalid who forces his daughter to support him financially. He agrees to Ralph’s plan to force Madeline to marry Gride. Dickens’s portrayal of this narcissistic, self-deluded man is one of the most subtle depictions of evil in all of his works.
John Browdie is a jovial giant of a man who lives in the vicinity of Dotheboys Hall. He is the only kind inhabitant of the area, it seems, and he helps Nicholas and Smike get free of Squeers’s clutches on two separate occasions. As the book progresses Nicholas come to regard him as a good friend.
The Brothers Cheeryble
The jolly and rotund Brothers Cheeryble, Charles and Ned, are mirror images of one another. They represent the first example of unselfish kindness Nicholas has seen. The two brothers, twins made wealthy after years of honest hard work, adopt Nicholas after hearing of his troubles, installing his entire family in a lovely cottage and giving Nicholas a full-time job at their happy place of business. Their primary work, however, seems to be giving away money, and Nicholas is soon drawn into that as well. The obese brothers are as freakish in their own way as any of the evil characters, and Dickens has been faulted by critics for making them caricatures as he did with so many of his ‘‘good’’ characters.
Frank Cheeryble is the nephew of the Brothers Cheeryble, recently returned to London from representing the interests of their firm abroad. Frank soon falls in love with Kate, and in doing so he presents a dilemma for the Nicklebys. Although Kate loves him too, she realizes that she cannot marry him both because she is poor and because it would represent a conflict of interest with Nicholas’s employers, the Brothers Cheeryble.
Mr. Vincent Crummles
Mr. Vincent Crummles runs the theatrical company Nicholas and Smike join while escaping from Squeers. Crummles and his troupe embody exactly the type of melodramatic posturing expected from actors in the era. Dickens is often faulted for creating unnaturally dramatic characters, but with the Crummles’ theater family he has license to go all out.