Hard Times by Charles Dickens
Published by Penguin Classics
Published 27 February 2003 (first published 1854)
WHAT’S IT’S ABOUT
A damning indictment of Utilitarianism and the dehumanising influence of the Industrial Revolution, Charles Dickens’s Hard Times is edited with an introduction and notes by Kate Flint in Penguin Classics.
In Hard Times, the Northern mill-town of Coketown is dominated by the figure of Mr Thomas Gradgrind, school headmaster and model of Utilitarian success. Feeding both his pupils and family with facts, he bans fancy and wonder from any young minds. As a consequence his obedient daughter Louisa marries the loveless businessman and ‘bully of humanity’ Mr Bounderby, and his son Tom rebels to become embroiled in gambling and robbery. And, as their fortunes cross with those of free-spirited circus girl Sissy Jupe and victimized weaver Stephen Blackpool, Gradgrind is eventually forced to recognize the value of the human heart in an age of materialism and machinery.
This edition of Hard Times is based on the text of the first volume publication of 1854. Kate Flint’s introduction sheds light on the frequently overlooked character interplay in Dickens’s great critique of Victorian industrial society.
Charles Dickens is one of the best-loved novelists in the English language, whose 200th anniversary was celebrated in 2012. His most famous books, including Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield and The Pickwick Papers, have been adapted for stage and screen and read by millions.
‘Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!’.
WHAT I THOUGHT
I read this because it’s a set text for the English Literature degree I’m starting in October with the Open University. I listened to the audio version at the same time with my Audible free trial because the book is quite hard going. For me, anyway. I tried and failed to read it about a year ago.
I enjoyed Hard Times. For Dickens fans, this is not his typical work so you better brace yourself. There is no Jacob Marley in this one. I need to be perfectly honest – I only enjoyed the book because I listened to the audio book as well. At times, I didn’t even pick up the book to read along and just listened to the audio. I found Hard Times slow at first but good things start to happen. Tom’s decent into drinking and gambling is dark and brilliant. The characters are fantastic, brilliant drawn and so real they leapt off the pages and walked around my house. Bounderby is my favourite character. He’s awful. I hated him and his bluster and his constantly repeating how tragic his upbringing was and how his mother abandoned him to be raised by his alcoholic grandmother. The moment in Hard Times when his lies collapse around him is brilliant. I didn’t know what to make of Louisa, Gradgrind’s daughter, forced into a loveless marriage with Bounderby whose thirty years her senior. She’s the perfect tragic heroine but has no backbone and irritated me at times. The tragic end to the novel made me cry a little. I enjoyed Hard Times thanks to listening to the audio book at the same time.