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Summary Chapter 1

Mr. Godfrey Nickleby decided late in life to marry. Being neither rich nor young, he married an old girlfriend out of attachment. She married him for the same reasons.

Mr. Nickleby’s income fluctuated between 60-80 pounds per year, and both looked for any opportunity to improve their earning capacity. He becomes more morose, for he is unsuccessful in finding a friend who might help him.

Five years past, and the couple have two sons. Mr. Nickleby considers insuring his life and committing suicide. However, he receives news that his uncle has died and left him some property that is worth 5,000 pounds. Mr. Godfrey Nickleby cannot believe his uncle left him this inheritance, for he never fraternized with him much in life. All he ever did was send Godfrey’s eldest boy, which was named after the uncle, a silver spoon. However, this seemed done more out of spite, to rub it in that the boy wasn’t born with one.
Initially, Ralph Nickleby, Sr. (the uncle), had planned to leave his property to the Royal Humane Society. He changed his will when this society, much to his outrage, saved the life of a poor relation.

Godfrey Nickleby purchases a farm. The family lives well on their inheritance and what they make from their produce. Ten years later, Godfrey’s wife dies. He follows her five years later. He leaves his eldest son Ralph 3,000 pounds in money and his other son Nicholas 1,000 pounds and the farm.

The sons had often heard the stories about how hard life had been when the family had been poor, and how affluent and important their father’s uncle had been. The two boys came away with different lessons from these stories. Nicholas learned that one should retire from the world and prefer the simple life of the country. Ralph learned that money was necessary for happiness and power, and it should be pursued at all costs.

Ralph eventually becomes a moneylender, using a simple formula to calculate interest owed to him. He establishes a day where all loans have to be repaid. Everyone pays the same interest rate regardless of when they took out the loan. Ralph justifies this by saying they wouldn’t have taken out a loan later if they hadn’t of needed the money. Ralph and Nicholas lose contact with one another as they part ways, and Ralph pursues money.

Nicholas marries a neighbor’s daughter who has a dowry of 1,000 pounds. They have a son and daughter. When the children are in their teens, the family falls on hard times. Nicholas’ wife wants to put their remaining money in stocks, which Nicholas is reluctant to do. If they lose it, they will be destitute. His wife finally convinces him to do it for the sake of the children, pointing out that is how his brother made his fortune.

Nicholas invests poorly and winds up ruining his family. He becomes ill afterwards. He tells his family that his brother is generous and good-hearted. He believes his brother will help them out. He dies. 

Charles Dickens