In her biography of Charles Dickens, My Father as I Recall Him, Mamie Dickens refers to a letter Dickens wrote in reply to a young reader, Master Hastings Hughes, who had written to ask him to make some changes to the story of Nicholas Nickleby:
From Dickens’s letter it is easy to deduce that, of all the episodes in the novel, those concerning the Yorkshire school interested and moved Hastings Hughes the most. This young reader was overwhelmed by the misfortunes of the characters of his own age, especially their starvation in Mr Squeers’s school. He was eager to visualize them: for example, by drawing a picture of Fanny Squeers to exaggerate her physical ugliness and externalize her moral corruption. The social problem posed by the victimization practised at Dotheboys Hall can be solved by Dickens offering abundant food to the boys and physically punishing the villains-the Squeerses.