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Hard Times (Vintage Classics Dickens Series)

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‘Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.’ The children at Mr Gradgrind's school are sternly ordered to stifle their imaginations and pay attention only to cold, hard reality. They live in a smoky, troubled industrial town so entertainment is hard to come by and resentments run deep. The effects of Gradgrind's teaching on his own ‘Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.’ The children at Mr Gradgrind's school are sternly ordered to stifle their imaginations and pay attention only to cold, hard reality. They live in a smoky, troubled industrial town so entertainment is hard to come by and resentments run deep. The effects of Gradgrind's teaching on his own children, Tom and Louisa, are particularly profound and leave them ill-equipped to deal with the unpredictable desires of the human heart. Luckily for them they have a friend in Sissy Jupe, the child of a circus clown, who retains her warm-hearted, compassionate nature despite the pressures around her. Also in the Vintage Classics Dickens Series: A Christmas Carol A Tale of Two Cities David Copperfield Great Expectations Oliver Twist


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‘Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.’ The children at Mr Gradgrind's school are sternly ordered to stifle their imaginations and pay attention only to cold, hard reality. They live in a smoky, troubled industrial town so entertainment is hard to come by and resentments run deep. The effects of Gradgrind's teaching on his own ‘Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.’ The children at Mr Gradgrind's school are sternly ordered to stifle their imaginations and pay attention only to cold, hard reality. They live in a smoky, troubled industrial town so entertainment is hard to come by and resentments run deep. The effects of Gradgrind's teaching on his own children, Tom and Louisa, are particularly profound and leave them ill-equipped to deal with the unpredictable desires of the human heart. Luckily for them they have a friend in Sissy Jupe, the child of a circus clown, who retains her warm-hearted, compassionate nature despite the pressures around her. Also in the Vintage Classics Dickens Series: A Christmas Carol A Tale of Two Cities David Copperfield Great Expectations Oliver Twist

30 review for Hard Times (Vintage Classics Dickens Series)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rhiannon D'Averc

    This book is, for me, Dickens' best. I loved every second of it, the darkness of Tom's steady descent into drinking and gambling were brilliant and there were several times I found myself simply rereading a few paragraphs over and over, in awe at them. (The end of Chapter XIX, The Whelp, is something I hold in very high regard as possibly one of his best pieces of writing ever.) I want to deal with the characters individually from here, since I feel they are all very important. Mr Gra This book is, for me, Dickens' best. I loved every second of it, the darkness of Tom's steady descent into drinking and gambling were brilliant and there were several times I found myself simply rereading a few paragraphs over and over, in awe at them. (The end of Chapter XIX, The Whelp, is something I hold in very high regard as possibly one of his best pieces of writing ever.) I want to deal with the characters individually from here, since I feel they are all very important. Mr Gradgrind - Facts. This man's obsession with facts and hate for fantasy is possibly one of the most genius parts of the plot, highlighting exactly what Dickens means to say. His regret at the end serves to show the inevitable outcome of living his sort of life, and is done in a very clever way. His name is also wonderful. I like to say it. Gradgrind. It's great, isn't it? Bounderby - Dickens made me hate him, and he was made to be hated. For all his bluster and superiority he is in fact worse in moral integrity than Stephen or Tom, which is why I was intensely glad as Louisa took her steps away from him. He really is a 'bounder'. Louisa/Loo - A perfect tragic heroine, but I couldn't help thinking more than once that she should really get some backbone. But I suppose that was the point, so she was well done too. Cecilia/Sissy - I didn't like her very much, but I did like the way she was used, as the embodiment of fancy and fun. She served to drive the point home and was useful in terms of story development. Tom/The Whelp - Goodness, I hated him sometimes. As I've already said, his descent was done well and some of the description around him was fantastic. Dickens' habit of referring to him as the whelp was perfect. Stephen Blackpool - The character I could emphathise with most, he was likeable and pitiable. I loved his struggle with Slackbridge and the Trade Union, and his contrasting relationships with Rachel and his wife made me feel very sorry for both of them. His ending was also very sad, and shows just how cruel people can be to each other. Mrs Sparsit - One of the most brilliant in the book. The image of her staircase, with Louisa walking to the bottom, is one that has stuck with me as being particularly genius. I also laughed at her disappointment by the train towards the end, as she was so anxious to see the downfall of others she ended up being nothing more than a jobless window. James Harthouse - Although for most of the book I wished Louisa would run away with him, the end convinced me otherwise. Still, he was a very interesting character who provided a catalyst for all the suppressed emotions of the Gradgrinds/Bounderbys. All in all, a brilliant book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Amit Mishra

    The novel depends on the opposition between fact, Dickens's name for the cold and loveless attitude to the life he associated with Utilitarianism, and fancy, which represents all the warmth of the imagination. A contrast which gives it both tension and unity.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Henry Avila

    Mr. Thomas Gradgrind , a very wealthy, former merchant, now retired, only believes in facts, and mathematics, two plus two, is four... facts are important, facts will lift you into prosperity, facts are what to live by, they are the only thing that matters, everything else is worthless ... knowing. He sets up a model school, were the terrorized students, will learn this, ( and other subjects that are unfortunately, also taught) the eminently practical man, teaches his five children at birth ... Mr. Thomas Gradgrind , a very wealthy, former merchant, now retired, only believes in facts, and mathematics, two plus two, is four... facts are important, facts will lift you into prosperity, facts are what to live by, they are the only thing that matters, everything else is worthless ... knowing. He sets up a model school, were the terrorized students, will learn this, ( and other subjects that are unfortunately, also taught) the eminently practical man, teaches his five children at birth ... facts! They fear him, a dictator, at home, his weak minded, sick wife, just looks on, wrapping herself up, to keep warm and complaining of her weariness . But fictitious Coketown , (Manchester) is a dirty, factory town, incessant noises from countless machines, powered by coal, chimneys forever spewing dark gases, polluting the air, thick smoke like a twisting snake high above the atmosphere, moving this way and that, spreading all through the surrounding areas, the filth, the sickness, and early death, to the inhabitants, but the "hands" are not relevant, money is, making lots of it, that, and only that. A foul- smelling canal, and even more, a purple river, flows by , the buildings becoming an ugly gray, quickly, the people have to escape to the countryside, to breath fresh healthy air. Travelers going by this place, can only imagine there is a city there, under the black cloud covering, yet they can't see it. Mr. Gradgrind best friend, if there is such an animal, in his circle, is the banker, and manufacturer, Mr. Josiah Bounderby, always telling anyone, within hearing distance, that he himself, rose from the gutter, to become a rich man, no help... he did it alone . Story after story, of his sleeping in the streets, hungry, soiled, without a farthing to his name. Abandoned by the evil, uncaring, widowed mother, brought up by his horrible, drunken grandmother, who beats the child repeatedly . Entertaining, heart-wrenching, you felt for this man, how he suffered greatly in youth, except it's not quite true ...in fact, lies. Louisa, Mr. Gradgrind's oldest and favorite child, is very pretty, the bachelor Bounderby, has eyes for her, when she reaches the proper age of about 20, the fifty- year -old man, asks for her hand in marriage, of course, conveying this fact first, to her father. Louisa says what does it matter, a prisoner in her own home, the girl hasn't seen anything of the world, disaster follows, the couple have nothing in common, what can they talk about? Mrs. Sparsit, her husband's meddling housekeeper, from a good family, hates her. Louisa, flirts with the restless, gentleman, Mr. James Harthouse, who proudly states that he is no good! Still Louisa, only loves her brother, "The Whelp", young Thomas, getting money from his sister, gambling, drinking, wasting it all and always coming back for more. The selfish boy, works in the bank for Mr. Bounderby, his now, brother- in- law, when the well runs dry, the drunkard "finds" some 150 pounds sterling, inside the bank, not properly being used and sees, that it will be. Implicating an innocent "hand", Stephen Blackpool, fired recently by Bounderby, for speaking too much, shunned by the trade union members, for not joining, he walks the streets a lonely man, with an alcoholic wife who deserted him, she still periodically comes back , to sober up, and a sweetheart, that he can't marry too. Mr.Blackpool, seeks work elsewhere, not knowing he's a suspect, in the puzzling crime. The industrial revolution makes some people rich and others sick, but there is no going back , the dye has been cast ...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lyn

    Hard Times is Dickens’s novel set in the fictional Coketown and centering around utilitarian and industrial influences on Victorian society. Dickens’s brilliant use of characterization can be seen in high form here and as always, his naming of his story’s populace is entertaining by itself. The best is without a doubt Mr. McChokumchild, a teacher. Louisa Gradgrind is a thinly disguised fictionalization of John Stuart Mill. One of the great things about reading literature from the 1800s or earlie Hard Times is Dickens’s novel set in the fictional Coketown and centering around utilitarian and industrial influences on Victorian society. Dickens’s brilliant use of characterization can be seen in high form here and as always, his naming of his story’s populace is entertaining by itself. The best is without a doubt Mr. McChokumchild, a teacher. Louisa Gradgrind is a thinly disguised fictionalization of John Stuart Mill. One of the great things about reading literature from the 1800s or earlier is that a reader can ascertain how contemporary works have been influenced by the older work. Wildly inspirational and influential. Elements of Hard Times and Dickens work in general can be seen in Roger Waters works, Monty Python and even The Big Lebowski. ** 2018 - Dickens' character names are the best - Gradgrind? Bounderby, Jupe, Sparsit. Harthouse, Blackpool, Slackbridge. But of course Mr. McChoakumchild is the best, maybe the best in his canon. McChoakumchild's name is an ax upon which his satire grinds, illustrating his social commentary.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bionic Jean

    “Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.” So begins Hard Times, and what an opening this is! We know instantly from this, some of what the novel will be about, and the character of the man who says these words. He is plain-speaking in his “inflexible, dry, and dictatorial” voice, direct an “Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.” So begins Hard Times, and what an opening this is! We know instantly from this, some of what the novel will be about, and the character of the man who says these words. He is plain-speaking in his “inflexible, dry, and dictatorial” voice, direct and committed to his extreme view of teaching as instruction. His name is Mr. Thomas Gradgrind, “an eminently practical man”, and he has an ailing wife, and five children called Louisa, Tom, Jane - and revealingly - Adam Smith and Malthus. He has a misguided idea of Utilitarianism as a ideal in all things, only valuing facts and statistics, and ruthlessly suppressing the imaginative sides of his children's nature. Mr. Gradgrind also has a close friend, a banker and mill owner, Josiah Bounderby, who boasts that he is a self-made man, proud that he raised himself in the streets after being abandoned as a child - and in the meantime never letting anyone forget it. Whereas both men express the same hardnosed views, Josiah Bounderby is a very different sort of man, a blustering, arrogant and hypocritical man, “A man who was always proclaiming, through that brassy speaking-trumpet of a voice of his, his old ignorance and his old poverty. A man who was the Bully of humility”. “'We have never had any difficulty with you, and you have never been one of the unreasonable ones. You don't expect to be set up in a coach and six, and to be fed on turtle soup and venison, with a gold spoon, as a good many of 'em do!' Mr. Bounderby always represented this to be the sole, immediate, and direct object of any Hand who was not entirely satisfied.” Hard Times is an unusual novel for Dickens, in that it is set in a Lancashire mill town in the North of England, and deals with the working conditions of the “hands” or workers there. This is not Dickens's familiar geographical area, nor is this novel his best accomplishment by a long way. Yet the novel is now a bestseller, and often the first one people read, or study at school, because it is his shortest novel. What prompted Dickens's sudden interest, was a twenty-three week long mill workers' strike in Preston, which Dickens had gone to see in January 1854, prior to writing about it in his periodical “Household Words”. He based his invented grimy, soot-besmirched “Coketown” on Preston. There are fewer descriptive passages than usual in this short novel, but the depressed gloom of Coketown is very effectively conveyed, “It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood, it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness.” In principle Dickens was very interested in this area of workers' conditions and the resultant protests. He had touched on working class unrest in “Barnaby Rudge”, and had intended to write about factories in “Nicholas Nickleby”, although both of these are far longer and more powerful novels. The article he wrote in “Household Words” after his visit, says, “... into the relations between employers and employed ... there must enter something of feeling and sentiment ... mutual explanation, forbearance and consideration ... otherwise those relations are wrong and rotten to the core and will otherwise never bear sound fruit.” Dickens firmly believed that every individual should have dignity and be accorded respect. Unfortunately though, the part of the “Preston Workers' Bill” that he went on to quote, presents itself as a standard Marxist theory of labour value, mentioning the “gold which is now being used to crush those who created it.” This simply went too far, and alienated his readers. The novel was not then very popular; indeed all such criticisms of the upcoming Industrial Revolution were frowned on. Looking backwards was not the way. The popular belief was that rich rewards were in store, rapid progress was assured, and that mechanisation would provide a panacea for all. Only in retrospect can we put Hard Times in context, and see what the author was trying to achieve in this specific short period of history, and also appreciate the many other aspects of the story, which were somewhat overshadowed by this unpopular message. For Dickens was keen to illustrate his beliefs with this, his tenth novel, published in weekly parts between April and August 1854. He also, perhaps unwisely, widened his remit to include another issue of social reform close to his heart, that of Education. His earlier novels had become increasingly complex, dealing with multiple issues and with many intertwining plots, subplots and mysteries, culminating in the masterly “Bleak House”. However, with Hard Times, he seems to have misjudged the scope slightly. To write a searing indictment of Utilitarianism as currently practised, to damn both employment conditions and industrial action, plus condemning a theoretical Utiliarianism put into practice in schools, and to then put the whole into an entertaining framework with a dash of comedy and romance, was simply overambitious. Sales of “Household Words” had been flagging, and Dickens attempted to boost these by issuing his new serial in weekly parts, instead of monthly parts, as hitherto. This was alongside all the other activities in his life: editing, directing, acting, his social work and speaking, plus all the domestic dramas he had. Dickens worked best under pressure, but even he admitted that to write episodes of Hard Times week after week was “crushing”. Dickens was a novelist, albeit an exceptionally talented novelist, and one of the first, but he was neither a philosopher nor a political economist - and certainly not a revolutionary. He was also aware that for the large part, his readers would have no truck with unionism. He had set himself a well-nigh impossible task. Dickens rallied for the underdog, and was keen to demonstrate the continuing inhumane conditions for the poor, and the new sort of constraints that industrialisation would bring in its wake for the workers. But the way he depicts the "good" workers in this novel, Stephen Blackpool and Rachael, shows that his belief was in a sort of "noble poor". He thought they should accept their lot with dignity, and leave it to others to improve their conditions. They are docile and harmless characters, working themselves to death. When difficulties arise, they cannot be self-sufficient. They have no honourable alternative but to go cap in hand to their bosses, relying on a paternalistic system to help them. They thus come across sometimes as mere mouthpieces for ideologies; rather flat and unconvincing prototypes compared with the other characters in the book. Even if Dickens had had the time and space to develop this novel into the sort of Dickens novel which reigns supreme, it is doubtful whether it would serve the function he probably intended. What it does do, is give a snapshot of people, rather than depict a mass movement. We have individuals to represent the different types, and in Hard Times they unfortunately seem more than ever mere constructs to spout certain opinions. This is probably always going to be a danger with any persuasive novel. Dickens also provided a counterweight to these "noble poor" characters. Just as in “Barnaby Rudge” he had shown us that mob rule was not the answer, here too the organisers of the strike are shown as underhand manipulators, quick to remove themselves from any blame. Slackbridge, the trade union agitator trying to convert the workers to unionism, is described as, “not so honest ... not so manly, he was not so good-humoured; he substituted cunning for their simplicity, and passion for their safe solid sense.” Mr. Gradgrind's school, just as Josiah Bounderby's mill, is equally constrained, based on ideology, dry theory and a sort of blinkered ignorance of the emotional side of life. Thomas Gradgrind, supported by the wonderfully named schoolmaster “Mr. M'Choakumchild”, is not an evil, nor even an unkind man. He is contrasted with Josiah Bounderby right at the start, and Dickens makes it plain in his introduction that a large part of the novel will be to show the growth and development of Gradgrind's character. I certainly felt very sorry for him by the end. It has to be said, that flawed though this novel is, the characters are an absolute delight. Chief for sheer entertainment value has to be Mrs. Sparsit, Josiah Bounderby's elderly housekeeper with her “Coriolanian style of nose” (which is always poking into other people's business) and “dense black eyebrows”. She has aristocratic connections by way of her great aunt Lady Scadgers, and considers herself a cut above her employer. Her interactions with the blustering, pompous Josiah Bounderby, are a constant source of amusement. There is the pantomime villain, James Harthouse, an exaggerated version of Steerforth in “David Copperfield”. I could almost imagine him twirling his moustache, smooth-talking devil that he is; a heartless and unprincipled young politician. There is the anaemic fact-spouting machine Bitzer. And Mrs. Gradgrind, a minor character, amusingly endearing, always telling her children they should be studying their “ologies”, “A little, thin, white, pink-eyed bundle of shawls, of surpassing feebleness, mental and bodily; who was always taking physic without any effect, and who, whenever she showed a symptom of coming to life, was invariably stunned by some weighty piece of fact tumbling on her;” Most memorably, when asked if she is in pain, she remarks vaguely, “I think there's a pain somewhere in the room ... but I couldn't positively say that I have got it”. There is the lisping Mr. Sleary and his travelling circus. Dickens always has to include a theatrical troupe, or some entertainers of this type in his novels, and his personal love of the exuberance and spontaneity of the circus, and the generosity of spirit of circus folk, shines through brightly. When Sleary lisps, “people mutht be amuthed” it is really Dickens who is speaking. Dickens held passionate views on the rights of everyone to amusements; fighting against groups who advocated strict observance of the Sabbath, saying that Sunday was the only day that working people had to indulge in simple amusements, or even to attend museums and so forth. To make a circus an integral part of the serious concerns of this novel's plot is quite a tour de force, but he achieves it. Mr. Sleary's circus is essential to both the beginning, where we are introduced to Louisa and Tom peeping under the curtain of the circus tent, intrigued by all the unfamiliar lights, drama, colour and action, and to the ending ... which, naturally, I shall not divulge. Louisa and Tom, sister and brother, are central characters. Louisa would do anything for her brother, “The Whelp”, as Dickens calls him. She loves Tom dearly, sullen though he is. Louisa develops through experience, much as her father does; she is a very strong character, whose initial sulkiness changes. She has determination and obstinacy, but also a strong sense of duty and justice. Through the story she moves through both indifference to her plight, and cynicism. She undergoes trials and tribulations which might break any young spirit, but remains true to herself. For those who (unfairly) castigate Dickens for docile females, look to Louisa - or her friend Sissy Jupe, from the circus. Or to Mrs. Sparsit, of course, although she is more of a grotesque than an heroic character. No, in every single novel Dickens writes, he provides us with plenty of strong females. It is clear however, that just as he does not like the poor to be too outspoken, he admires the quieter tenaciousness of women in extremis, and views this as an admirable female trait. Interestingly, at the time of writing this novel, Dickens's own marriage was crumbling. He had included three essays on divorce in “Household Words” that month, and in Hard Times he portrays the plight of a man who is unable to divorce his burdensome wife, even though in this case she is “a drunk”, a hopeless wretched addict. It is Josiah Bounderby who explains in great detail everything that would be involved in such a procedure, “Why you'd have to go to Doctors' Commons with a suit, and you'd have to go to a Court of Common Law with a suit, and you'd have to get an Act of Parliament to enable you to marry again, and it would cost you ... I suppose from a thousand to fifteen hunded pound ... perhaps twice the money.” The character he is speaking to earns a mere few shillings a week. But it seems pertinent that Dickens inserted this detail. Dickens researched his novels quite well, reading a book on the Lancashire dialect prior to writing this, for instance, to make sure his representation of the characters' speech was accurate. Divorce was expensive, legally difficult, and socially unacceptable in the 19th century. It looks as though Dickens underwent intensive research on how to obtain a divorce, to see if it would be feasible for himself. In fact he separated from Catherine, with whom he had ten children, four years later in 1858, but never did divorce her. There are fewer characters in this novel than usual, and none of them seem to be based on real people Dickens knew, and whom his readers knew. In earlier novels there were often several of these in one novel. It must have been a guilty pleasure for many reading a new serial by Dickens, to look out for a recognisable character, such as his erstwhile friend Hans Christian Andersen, whom he had maliciously immortalised in the odious character of Uriah Heep in “David Copperfield”. So it is quite disappointing to find none included, just as it is disappointing to realise that any illustrations were drawn later on, by various artists, and only a very few within Dickens's own lifetime. Presumably the constraints of writing to a weekly deadline impinged on more than the novel's text itself. The critics' views of Hard Times lurch from one extreme to the other. One characterises it as “sullen socialism”; yet another's view is that it is his “masterpiece” and “his only serious work of art”. These views seem to be rather partisan, reflecting the political and socio-economic views of the individual, rather than impartially judging any merit in, or assessment of, the novel itself. It is undoubtedly not his best work, but it is enjoyable nevertheless. Parts of it made me laugh out loud; I felt suitably shocked, saddened and indignant at others. It has all Dickens's sarcasm, wit, expostulation, sentiment and ridiculous cameos. He can shift in a page-turn from scathing satire to heart-rending pathos. In a way Hard Times is a throwback. It is dissimilar to the majestic novels which immediately precede it, but is more reminiscent of the biting sarcasm of the early novels such as “Oliver Twist”. It does however show the maturity and skill of the later writer. There is tragedy, frailty, robbery, treachery, deceit, impersonation, violence, greed, overarching ambition, possibly an attempted murder, imprisonment and deportation; all humanity and inhumanity is here. And what lingers is the message of the vital and enduring importance of the imagination and fantasy; of a young life perilously close to being blighted by an upbringing blinkered by Utilitarian principles. There is the satisfactory ending, characteristic of Dickens's novels, where all the characters are accounted for, and in general (although not in every case) the villains get their just desserts. Hard Times is like a little taste of Dickens. Sadly you do not get the depth of character, the richness of detail in his powerful descriptions, both of place and character, nor do you get the rich tapestry of convoluted plots. Another critic wrote that it is more like “a menu card for a meal rather than one of Dickens's rich feasts,” and this I find quite apt. But it is hugely enjoyable and could not be written by anyone else. Give it a try, but if it is your first Dickens, please make sure it is not the only one. You would miss out on so much. “'How could you give me life, and take from me all the inappreciable things that raise it from the state of conscious death? Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart? What have you done, oh, Father, What have you done with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here? ' said Louisa as she touched her heart.”

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    "Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them." My reading of theories of pedagogy and knowledge development usually is quite separate from my reading of fiction for the pure pleasure of being human! But now recently I have come across several references to the wonderful Dickens "Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them." My reading of theories of pedagogy and knowledge development usually is quite separate from my reading of fiction for the pure pleasure of being human! But now recently I have come across several references to the wonderful Dickensian caricature of positivism with the suggestive name of Gradgrind. There is a war going on in the world of schooling, with a clear front between those who are in favour of the measurable fact-based model that fictional Gradgrind tried on his own environment, with quite heartbreaking results, and those who have interpreted the opposite of Gradgrindianism as the way forward, and claim that inquiry, creativity and transferable skills are the pillars of education, and that facts are obsolete before they enter the heads of the suffering child vessels. Now I am quite sure that Dickens could have written a brilliant satire on the extreme opposite of Gradgrind's pedagogy if he had seen it in action. How are children to develop ideas if they have no knowledge to get inspired by? How are they going to proceed in inquiry if they have no basic understanding of the scientific concepts? How are they going to create exciting and artistic visual and textual artefacts without the literacy skills that are the tools leading towards linguistic and artistic mastery? How are they going to "research" a history topic independently that they have never heard of before, and definitely cannot put into context? As happy as I am whenever Gradgrind shows up in the educational debates, I have to say that his very presence as a negative example of old-school knowledge is an ironic symbol of the value of "knowing" the iconic history of literary or scientific reference points. If you haven't had some kind of basic schooling in literature, you won't understand what Gradgrind's evil represents: to evaluate his mentioning in the school debate, you have to know about Victorian standpoints, Dickens' position within them, Gradgrind's failure, and educational theories over the past century that have swung like a pendulum from one extreme to the other. So cheers to the fact that facts are part of life - and the devil is in the PART!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    In current political discourse I have a particular dislike of the phrase 'Hard working families' since it implies it is not good enough to be working, or in a family, or even merely both of those together. No, only if it in addition to that you are sufficiently hard working are you good enough for your needs to be taken seriously in politics, and if you should slacken in your Stakhanovite ardour by preferring maybe to take a holiday rather than like Boxer in Animal Farm to work yourself into the glu In current political discourse I have a particular dislike of the phrase 'Hard working families' since it implies it is not good enough to be working, or in a family, or even merely both of those together. No, only if it in addition to that you are sufficiently hard working are you good enough for your needs to be taken seriously in politics, and if you should slacken in your Stakhanovite ardour by preferring maybe to take a holiday rather than like Boxer in Animal Farm to work yourself into the glue factory, then presumably policy makers will think 'to Hell with you then'. I feel that it was to counter such utilitarianism and the implicit acceptance of GDP ever increasing and the positive balance sheet as the meaning and purpose of life that Dickens wrote this comic melodrama - and and to assert the burning importance of creating in law a form of affordable and accessible divorce, which was a matter of particular concern to Dickens once he decided that he was bored of his wife and preferred rushing about after a young actress instead. This is possibly my favourite Dickens novel, apart from or including all my other favourite Dickens novels, although it is a shade more melodramatic, than others - at least it does not try to jerk the tears out of you. It is short, punchy and humorous. I think you see in this one, because it is short, how Dickens suffered from an excess of ideas so at the start we are introduced to school teachers Mr & Mrs McChokemchild who appear twice in the novel before disappearing completely. Indeed they are so insignificant that Dickens needn't have bothered naming them. Although the novel is set in a Northern English industrial town - Coketown (view spoiler)[ although that suggests steel and metal working, it seems from the mentions of fluff that the business of Coketown is based around cotton and weaving rather than coke and coking (hide spoiler)] this is curiously not much relevant to the plot. Dickens published Gaskell's North and South, but he isn't interested in writing a shock novel about industrial Britain, Coketown as a setting is largely irrelevant to the story which again is not typical of Dickens for whom location is an important character generally in his books. Nice themes here are family, the bad characters commit the ultimate Victorian shibboleth and reject, deny, or pimp off their families (view spoiler)[ interestingly Dickens was pretty ruthless in managing his own wife and children (hide spoiler)] , while the good characters cling to their families and maybe can even be redeemed through family love. This is novel that is above all about education - the formation of hegemonic social values through schooling in this case a thorough fact obsessed utilitarianism against which fantasy and the right to amusement struggles to be heard, Dickens being Dickens, it is that latter voices which eventually cuts through the 'facts' and eventually we see that Bounderby, the vigorous proponent of the school of hard knocks has in fact created himself as a the richest fantasy of all in his claim to be a self made man. In a beautiful though unsubtle touch (this is not a subtle book) travelling circus performers lodge at a pub called the Pegasus Arms - as though a winged horse wasn't fantastical enough - this one has to have arms too. In this book we are shown that without being taught or indulged with fantasy and pleasure from childhood, we end up depressed and struggling to find purpose or value in life and at continual risk from rogues and bounders(view spoiler)[ all of which brings to mind John Stuart Mill and his complete breakdown following on from a utilitarian education and his eventual recovery through poetry (hide spoiler)] . This is an interesting one from the point of view of Dickens' radicalism too - which again rests on individual redemption - this stands at variance with the theme of education - if anybody was telling Dickens that he had to be coherent and congruent, that was not a voice he paid attention to.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Apatt

    "Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the mind of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them." Mr. Gradgrind, Hard Times "We don't need no education We don't need no thought control" Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) - Roger Waters, Pink Floyd Roger Waters' lyrics could almost be a direct response to Mr. Gradgrind's ridiculous world view. "Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the mind of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them." Mr. Gradgrind, Hard Times "We don't need no education We don't need no thought control" Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) - Roger Waters, Pink Floyd Roger Waters' lyrics could almost be a direct response to Mr. Gradgrind's ridiculous world view. The worst thing about Hard Times is the title, very off putting. You get the feeling that the book will indeed give you a hard time and should be avoided like the plague; particularly if you have never read Dickens before and assume that his books are hard to read. As it turned out Hard Times is one of the easiest Dickens books to follow, neither the plot or the prose is particularly convoluted. It is also one of his shortest and most concise, clocking in at a measly 350 or so pages instead of 1000+ like most of his novels. The major theme, as far as I can discern, is the effect of stifling upbringing and overly rigid fact-based education at the expense of allowing children to cultivate their imagination. Facts and figures are essential for the development of intellect but they need to be balanced with fanciful stories and leisurely pastime. The novel’s protagonist Louisa was raised and homeschooled by her father to only be concerned with “facts facts facts!” and tales of fantasy, circuses etc, are boycotted. This has the effect of turning an innately decent loving girl into a living refrigerator. The effect on her brother is even worse, as he grows up to be a dissipated, deceitful and generally useless individual. This being a Dickens novel the plight of the poor and the injustice society inflicts on them is depicted with a fierce passion. Both “the masters” (factory owners) and trade unionists are portrayed in very poor light. To balance the unsavory characters Dickens also introduces us to his stock “nice”, simple and honest characters and several eccentric ones. Also, even with the serious issues, Dickens wants to bring to your attention in this book, he never forgets his storytelling duties, Hard Times is well paced, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and never drags. The reason I enjoy reading about Dickens’ characters is the reason his detractors criticize him for. His supporting characters tend to be colorful in appearance, behavior and speech. However, they are also frequently cartoonish and unbelievable as real people. This is perfectly acceptable to me because I don’t think Dickens’ intention is to write ultra-real gritty fiction. The crazy characters are there to entertain and also function as caricatures of certain types of people for metaphorical purposes. For example Josiah Bounderby one of the antagonists seems like some kind of angry red balloon, all bluster and extreme arrogance. His housekeeper Mrs. Sparsit is super aristocratic and a real nasty piece of work. James Harthouse, a total cad with the seduction of Louisa in mind. His slick patter is very amusing and brings to mind one of Oscar Wilde’s more outrageous “motormouth” characters. Dickens also gets a lot of flak for his melodramatic sentimental plots and “deus ex machina”. All true but without writing a tedious defence of the great man I would simply say that I am OK with it all. I always find his fiction to be accessible, entertaining and poignant. His prose is also a work of art, sometimes sardonic sometimes lyrical. Again the haters find him verbose, and again I enjoy his verbosity. My audiobook version is superbly performed by actor Martin Jarvis, definitely not just a narration, but an actual dramatic vocal performance with tons of different voices and accents. In conclusion, this alleged review seems more like an exercise in Dickens fanboying (now that's something you don't see every day!) than a proper review. Ah well, it’s the best I can do at this time of night. Last words go to Mr. Sleary, circus manager extraordinaire (who speaks with a lisp) "People mutht be amuthed. They can’t be alwayth a learning, nor yet they can’t be alwayth a working, they an’t made for it. You mutht have uth, Thquire. Do the withe thing and the kind thing too, and make the betht of uth; not the wurtht!" This.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Piyangie

    Hard Times is my return to Charles Dickens as an adult. I have read Oliver Twist and David Copperfield as a child. I didn't have an appetite for Dickens when I was young, for his subjects were sad and depressing. But as an adult, I understand him better. He touched so many sides of the society which were rarely spoken of before. He penetrated into human minds so thoroughly and exposed both their black and white sides. Although these qualities in his writing made me sad and depress before, the sa Hard Times is my return to Charles Dickens as an adult. I have read Oliver Twist and David Copperfield as a child. I didn't have an appetite for Dickens when I was young, for his subjects were sad and depressing. But as an adult, I understand him better. He touched so many sides of the society which were rarely spoken of before. He penetrated into human minds so thoroughly and exposed both their black and white sides. Although these qualities in his writing made me sad and depress before, the same qualities have made me fall in love with his writing now. Getting back to the book, Hard Times is Dickens's shortest novel. Through a well outlined and well written story, Dickens comments on lives, living and conditions of towns in the light of industrialization. This social commentary gives a perfect picture on the lives and conditions of living of working class people and the dominating power exercised on them by their masters over every aspect of their lives, suppressing them and using them to secure their wealth and position on life. There is also a strong criticism on utilitarianism. This theory was introduced in the aftermath of industrial revolution so as to make it easy for the masters to control the working class, depriving them of any capacity to reason and making them live a submissive life according to their whims and fancies. Dickens's use of Facts against Reason throughout the book subtly mocks the theory and exposes the social downfall that it would lead to. He brings the character of Louisa Gradgring and demonstrates what tragedies one would face if they are suppressed of their capacity to feel and to reason. Although it is a little overstated, the point is clearly proved. I liked the character variety in the book. They ranged from kind, goodhearted, sweet tempered to cunning, boastful, treacherous. This wide variety added colour and contrast to the book. The story was engaging, his social views kept me well connected with it all along. I enjoyed his satire very much. Dickens is a realistic writer of the Victorian era and that is the secret of his popularity even today.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Helene Jeppesen

    This book is another evidence of Charles Dickens' brilliancy when it comes to writing. He starts with one person and her destiny, but gradually the story becomes more and more intricate and complex, and in the end you end up with a completely different story from what you started out with. I have quite an ambivalent relationship to Charles Dickens and his books. Some of them I love, some of them confuse me or end up disappointing me. "Hard Times" was a good story, but I was mildly disappointed w This book is another evidence of Charles Dickens' brilliancy when it comes to writing. He starts with one person and her destiny, but gradually the story becomes more and more intricate and complex, and in the end you end up with a completely different story from what you started out with. I have quite an ambivalent relationship to Charles Dickens and his books. Some of them I love, some of them confuse me or end up disappointing me. "Hard Times" was a good story, but I was mildly disappointed with the fact that it changes direction. I wanted to continue reading about Sissy and her destiny, but I was disappointed to realize that her story became kind of a parallel plot to the main plot. Nevertheless, the main plot was definitely full of surprises and at times kept you at the edge of your seat, and I liked that. However, I can't disregard the fact that I was quite bored during most of this novel. I felt like the story became more and more predictable, and I felt like it kept dragging on the same characters and their worries and views on life. Therefore, I ended up rating this one 3 stars, because it's definitely worth a read, but it's not my favourite of Dickens'.

  11. 5 out of 5

    ✨ jamieson ✨

    this is what victorian people had to explain utilitarianism because they didn't have the good place on netflix

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bryce Wilson

    Not Dicken's best work, but still, ya know, Dickens. It's pretty much "Lets light some straw men on fire!" day in Dickens land. Presumably Hard Times was chosen as the title because "Let's Kick Some Deserving Fuckers In The Teeth" was already taken. Still I don't know anyone I'd rather watch burn people and deliver teeth kicks then Dickens.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart? What have you done, oh, Father, What have you done with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here? My friend Levi Stahl once noted how reading Henry James utilized the higher gears of his brain. I have always relished that sentiment, though I fear Henry James is above my pay grade. It is a different kettle with Dickens, my maudlin thoughts drift to Cassavetes on Capra, a reworking of my alread Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart? What have you done, oh, Father, What have you done with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here? My friend Levi Stahl once noted how reading Henry James utilized the higher gears of his brain. I have always relished that sentiment, though I fear Henry James is above my pay grade. It is a different kettle with Dickens, my maudlin thoughts drift to Cassavetes on Capra, a reworking of my already repurposed grace. Get behind me, social realism. Hard Times is an interesting collection of set pieces collected in a smelting town with a set of characters which honestly can be seen in Turgenev. The novel doesn't afford an arc much as a series of consequences. It is here where the other (evil) Scott Walker from Wisconsin finds his nocturnal emission: organized labor chokes the life out of people. It couldn't be inhaling coal dust or toiling every day bereft of Vitamin C, no, it is collective bargaining and an improper educational system. I should note that the Governor isn't a character in this novel. Only his peculiar sentiment. Siblings are raised in a Spartan pedagogic environment, one which worships facts and retention as opposed to creativity. The daughter then marries a self made Scott Pruitt, while the wayward son fancies gambling and living above his station. There is no mention of an ostrich jacket. There is an honest worker. He can't abide by the union and, before Bob's your uncle, he is fingered for a robbery. Life can only aspire to transcend self-interest. It remains but an aspiration.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Craig Robb

    They say no-one reads a book to get to the middle. Well, for Hard Times, perhaps they should, so disappointing the end turns out to be, this is one of the examples of how literature has improved over the years. Having read Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities and enjoying them all immensely I tried Hard Times, having read here and elsewhere that the book represented Dickens at his best. It does not, and to say that it does devalues his other work. The book is filled with shal They say no-one reads a book to get to the middle. Well, for Hard Times, perhaps they should, so disappointing the end turns out to be, this is one of the examples of how literature has improved over the years. Having read Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities and enjoying them all immensely I tried Hard Times, having read here and elsewhere that the book represented Dickens at his best. It does not, and to say that it does devalues his other work. The book is filled with shallow characters where motivations are left unexplained, where the writing is long and overworked, where the reliance on local dialect is used as a substitute for characterisation, this for me is Dickens at his worst. There is, underneath all the wrought wordmanship, a worthy tale of the perils of industrialisation but it is too obtusely flanked by peripheral stories that do nothing but divert the attention away from this central tale. A scything edit and a reduction in word count to around 50,000 would have helped the story shine through but, as it is, it remains as blustery, repetitive overblown, misguided, predictable and boring as old Bounderby himself. Very disappointing.

  15. 4 out of 5

    MJ Nicholls

    Hard Times opens with the usual Dickens comic brio and sabre-toothed satire. Mr Gradgrind’s pursuit of Facts, Facts, Facts deadens his daughter Louisa’s sense of Fancy and humour, until she relents to a marriage to Mr. Bounderby—surely the progenitor of this Monty Python sketch. As the novel moves into its second half, the melodramatic and laboured Steven Blackpool narrative distracts from the more poignant story of circus orphan Sissy and the Gradgrinds. Steven’s phonetic Lancastrian dialect is unnecess Hard Times opens with the usual Dickens comic brio and sabre-toothed satire. Mr Gradgrind’s pursuit of Facts, Facts, Facts deadens his daughter Louisa’s sense of Fancy and humour, until she relents to a marriage to Mr. Bounderby—surely the progenitor of this Monty Python sketch. As the novel moves into its second half, the melodramatic and laboured Steven Blackpool narrative distracts from the more poignant story of circus orphan Sissy and the Gradgrinds. Steven’s phonetic Lancastrian dialect is unnecessarily distracting and the social commentary becomes somewhat tedious upon the arrival of the saucy politician. Too much time is devoted to Mrs Sparsit, a bland fallen lady at the mercy of Bounderby, not enough to Sissy. Let’s not forget the phonetically rendered Lisp of Mr. Sleary, or the hysterical (in the wrong way) fate of Stephen. Apart from these complaints Hard Times is fine: the story isn’t dreary, only the individual elements and plotting seemed a little subpar.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Antonomasia

    Hard Times: For These Times Penguin edition with intro & notes by Kate Flint Beyond the Brontes, there aren't many classic novels set in the North of England, and for years I'd been kind-of-meaning to read a few more, especially about workers and heavy industry, Mary Barton, Sons & Lovers, and Hard Times. (As per comment below, North and South was off the table because I'd already seen the TV series and didn't love the plot, and it's also the story of a middle-class southerner moving north, rather than t Hard Times: For These Times Penguin edition with intro & notes by Kate Flint Beyond the Brontes, there aren't many classic novels set in the North of England, and for years I'd been kind-of-meaning to read a few more, especially about workers and heavy industry, Mary Barton, Sons & Lovers, and Hard Times. (As per comment below, North and South was off the table because I'd already seen the TV series and didn't love the plot, and it's also the story of a middle-class southerner moving north, rather than the north qua north.) And - though it may be inconvenient to suggest that at least some adults are influenced by fiction - this year I have realised that I need a much higher proportion of fictional works I consume in any medium to be about people who work full time and don't have much money, as that makes me more accepting of normal life, and that I have to get things done. This autumn I noticed a big difference in feelings and effort after I had been watching Victorian Slum (a show which, yes, can be cynically seen as prompting contemporary people to think conditions now - or in coming years given expected falls in living standards due to Brexit - aren't so bad) compared with my comparative laziness when the last thing I'd read was part of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, in which most principal characters are not only rich enough they don't need to work, but can also make life even easier via magic. (Hard Times perhaps didn't contain as many scenes of actually going to work as I assumed it would, and Dickens' esteem for the millworkers is expressed in somewhat patronising ways, but the centrality of work is always there in the background.) 2016 felt like the right time to read Dickens, and especially a book with this title: the gradual reversion to pre-Second World War, or, colloquially, Victorian, degrees of inequality and state support having finally been made obvious by two key Anglo-American votes that seem very unlikely to alleviate that, especially on this side of the Atlantic. However, I hadn't expected this particular book, chosen purely for its setting, to be so complicatedly pertinent to those political campaigns. (I didn't even know it was Dickens' shortest novel, which my GR friends who know my habits could be forgiven for thinking was my motivation.) Facts in Hard Times are allied with the nouveau riche and a lack of compassion for the poor among a self-made middle and increasingly ruling class that could be described as Thatcherite. What we have been accustomed to calling the right wing. Those seeking to understand and humanise the poor and improve their living and working conditions, including Dickens, argue for greater allowance for emotion. What could traditionally be seen as the left. Apply to the UK and the US in 2016 and the polarities appear to have switched, especially as regards the much-discussed "left behind" section of the electorate. Facts, solid research and a noeliberal establishment presenting itself as the sensible choice were pipped to the post by appeals to emotion, dreams and the lived experience of fed-up people who were tired of being called stupid. (I know about the $50-100k Trump voters, the upper middle class Brexiteers, but I agree that it was the swing vote from prior supporters of Obama and Labour which made that key small percentage difference.) I think Hard Times would be good reading (and thinking) material for those on the left and particularly centre left at the moment. More so because Gradgrind also isn't as grim as his name appears. He's not actually Wackford Squeers mark II, as I assumed. (And as would be easily assumed from all the readers who hate him. Someone described him as a monster?! I'm pretty certain some of these people would also be the types who say "but he means well, he cares underneath" if he was real.) Perhaps I don't find him all that grim because he feels like an eminently plausible ancestor. He's rather like some of my own relatives. He's not actively cruel, or violent or angry or inconsistent; he means very well, but he nevertheless has deleterious effects because he just. doesn't. get. it. He's a bit of a robot; he doesn't understand how others are different, why that's okay and how to accommodate their needs, never mind provide emotional attunement. Aspects of Gradgrind family life feel to me like an exaggerated caricature of deeply familiar realities (with people I've known socially, not just some relatives). But I can understand him; I am also regularly exasperated by people not sharing views of mine which make much more sense on a large scale than common practice (and it is much harder to live with when they are not matters on which one is conventionally "allowed" to speak out and break away) and think that certain social norms ought to be changed. I daresay others have observed this before me, but Gradgrind is so Aspie. Or more precisely reads like what you get from Aspie + old-school British upbringing. Of course, the politics aren't quite as simple as they first appear, because Dickens' impoverished characters are presented as nice people whereas the 2016 rightward populist voter is often characterised as racist, or at least not placing a candidate's racism high enough up the list as the other side think they should. A more definite difference is that the Dickensian industrialist fact-propagators are the ones who believe there's almost no such thing as too much hard work, a position now established among the emotional appeals of right-wing populism in Britain and the US. The most constant difference between right and left of 1854 and 2016 appears to be on locus of control and the notion of a deserving and undeserving poor. At the time I started this book - 15th Nov - I was desperate to try and understand how humour might have a place in such a world of increased poverty, inequality and progressively more dystopian news: I knew it had to, but I couldn't see how, feeling that there must be the beginning of an answer in going back to old comic authors, like Dickens, and Shakespeare's mechanical scenes, written in worlds where life was harder for a far higher percentage of people. Or there was the very specific idea I had for a post-apocalyptic comedy in which one of the main characters in an ensemble was a witty, flamboyant gay guy based on a composite of a couple of friends and some famous people; but no-one else has made it and I haven't quite the chops to write it myself. The thing which has actually given me the greatest sense of "life goes on", even whilst the news feels strange and volatile and full of potential Archduke Ferdinand moments, has been switching for a couple of weeks to the Goodreads community newsfeed - i.e. random people, in theory everyone on the whole damn site. They're a lot more interesting and varied than some of you give them credit for. So much for all these big a/illusions about the relevance of Hard Times: it's also another of Dickens' sentimental soap operas starring cartoon characters painted in black or white, and minimal greyscale. I like the whole a bit too much to say "mawkish", but agree it's forgivable to use that word of certain scenes. I'm glad I read it when I was old and cynical enough to know that, actually, people rarely change as much as Gradgrind does here, and on the few occasions they do, never as quickly. (I reckon it would take about 18 months of therapy, as well as sheer aptitude, to acquire that amount of emotional insight and expression from cold - it puts me in mind of a case study in one of Daniel Siegel's books, in which a chap described as having a fairly high degree of avoidant attachment, but who also sounds like he has Aspie traits, became much more emotionally open after deciding to do therapy in old age in order to communicate better with his family.) The accumulation in implicit memory over many years of novels and films in which people have rapid character transformations - if someone only says the right thing - led to way too many disappointments when I was younger. Even if one or two people did seem to have observed something like that in me. As a practically middle-aged adult, Gradgrind's Damascene conversion seems as obviously fantastical, impossible fairy-tale wish fulfilment, and a product of Victorian sentimentality, as does the higly improbable and pulpy - and yes, arguably, ultimately mawkish - coincidence between other characters a few chapters later. (view spoiler)[Such as the bit where Rachael and Sissy find Stephen despite other search parties having failed. (hide spoiler)] The negative authorial view of suave cad Harthouse (view spoiler)[ - whilst it was evidently unlikely to happen, I hoped Louisa would shag him because I wanted her to have some throwaway fun with someone infinitely fitter than her husband - (hide spoiler)] could be an interesting comparison with takes on similar characters of the fin de siecle. His amorality, levity and chameleon nature appear to be used as indictments, but so used am I to seeing near-identical phrases adopted as positives by Wilde and other aesthetes (Did Oscar nick them from Charles? I would not be surprised) that these attributes have lost 90% of their power as criticism. Hard Times is a funny old thing really, part complex/relevant/political, part pulp of yesteryear - though I guess those are the essence of what Dickens is. ----- I never used to leave an academic introduction until after I'd read the book, but this time I did. The notes by Kate Flint (I really like the name “Kate Flint” – spellable, doesn’t stand out too much, yet memorable, poetically consonant and so very definite and solid ) are pretty good as notes in contemporary editions go: there aren’t too many of the explanations of things that should be common knowledge to the vast majority of readers of Eng Lit at this level, but there are still some oddities inexplicably missed out, of which I’d have liked elucidation, as they simply don’t lend themselves to encyclopaedias or search. The latter was every thus; notes never seem to be complete. The introduction is decent – I have a feeling that the reason that nearly all introductions feel somewhat insubstantial these days is only because I first got to know the Penguin / OUP Classics intro as a form whilst aged 10-14, and that is still the time at which I read the greatest concentration of them; inevitably they would have seemed that bit more difficult and more of the information novel at that age. The central premise of Flint’s commentary is that the novel intentionally defies easy categorisation and (although the term is not used) its binary oppositions are incomplete because it is setting itself up against the rigid system of Victorian Utilitarian philosophy and education. (For example it tends to favour the “natural” over the artificial (unlike the decadents of 40 years later, as I mentioned above), and the section titling headlines this, with agricultural terms in contrast to the industrial setting (how did I miss that?!) But that is not total. It is “not a programmatic book, and is the stronger for it”. Dickens shies away from being too radical politically: his working class characters are sympathetic as individuals with predicaments, and ostracised by the organised trade union (however, those who try to keep them so very downtrodden reform spontaneously, or are exposed as hypocrites). Whilst reading the first part of Hard Times, I was convinced it must have been written whilst Dickens’ marriage was breaking down, as there is not a good marriage in the book. His pedestalising of Louisa seemed transparently like someone who was becoming attracted to younger women but wrestling with this, as the author evidently thinks the marriage with an age gap of 30-odd years is a bad idea from the first – on checking the history, I saw he had not met Ellen Terry at this point. The introduction has a little but not too much on that well worn topic “the role of women”, found in every list of possible Eng Lit essays to choose between. Dickens does not overtly criticise Louisa’s being educated in the same way as a boy, which makes the book more palatable to modern readers, although there are hints of disapproval in the text that Flint points out, especially when it is seen in the context of nineteenth century advice to women. In the end it is Sissy Jupe who emerges as the most balanced character. I haven't read a lot of Dickens in recent times (my last was Bleak House in 2005), so was it me, finding this one particularly soapy, or is it the book? Flint mentions that Hard Times was the first book in thirteen years that Dickens wrote as a weekly - rather than a monthly - serial, which may explain that.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    This novel actually really surprised me. Many reviews on Goodreads liken the title to the reading experience, one of pushing through long details and descriptions. Actually, this book has done the opposite for me. My reading of Victorian books has been few and far between. Middlemarch was a great novel, one which I am glad I read, and I recently bought a 16-book Dickens Collection in an attempt to get some more of his under my belt. Having only read A Tale of Two Cities previously, I This novel actually really surprised me. Many reviews on Goodreads liken the title to the reading experience, one of pushing through long details and descriptions. Actually, this book has done the opposite for me. My reading of Victorian books has been few and far between. Middlemarch was a great novel, one which I am glad I read, and I recently bought a 16-book Dickens Collection in an attempt to get some more of his under my belt. Having only read A Tale of Two Cities previously, I was aware that Hard Times was relatively similar. I admit, I picked it because it was short, and I wanted something to kickstart my Dickens reading again. I wasn't disappointed. A social criticsm on how basing our lives on facts are numbing and remove the humanity within us, Hard Times is Dickens' critique of Utilitarianism. Mr Gradgrind teaches his children, and his students, the importance of facts and how life should be based around them. Living like that, Louisa decides to marry her fathers friend, Mr Bounderby, to aid her brother, Tom, in maintaining his job. Simulateously, you have the story of Stephen Blackpool, a working-class factory worker who is haunted by his drunken wife. Employed by Mr Bounderby, his only happiness in life is visits from his friend, Rachael. When fired, Stephen is helped by Louisa, and moves away. Tom, however, incriminates him as a thief, instead taking the money for his debts and drinking. Louisa and Tom act in very different ways to their factual upbringing. Louisa strives to maintain her strict life, ignoring all fancys and emotions until Mr Harthouse arrives. Tom, however, descends into drinking and depression, a fall that is beautifully depicted by Dickens. As my second Dickens novel, I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed Hard Times. While not as content-full as A Tale of Two Cities, the depth of Dickens' characters made the novel very enjoyable to read. It has definitely encouraged me to further my readings into Dickens.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    I taught this novel many times--oh, a dozen--because it's the shortest Dickens, fits into a college course easier than Nicholas Nickleby, my favorite, which I only taught once. Likewise with War and Peace only once because it took mostly the whole semester. Hard Times is excellent on education, only Nicholas surpassing it--and perhaps Tom Sawyer, on American and Church education. Gradgrind, the businessman who sets the tone of M'Choakumchild's school, disapproves of his daughter Louisa's r I taught this novel many times--oh, a dozen--because it's the shortest Dickens, fits into a college course easier than Nicholas Nickleby, my favorite, which I only taught once. Likewise with War and Peace only once because it took mostly the whole semester. Hard Times is excellent on education, only Nicholas surpassing it--and perhaps Tom Sawyer, on American and Church education. Gradgrind, the businessman who sets the tone of M'Choakumchild's school, disapproves of his daughter Louisa's reading*, almost as much as circus performer Sissy Jupe's, who read to her circus father about the Hunchback, and Dwarfs. Gradgrind says, "Never wonder." He disapproves of such fiction, of the workers who "sometimes sat down after fifteen hours work to read mere fables about men and women, more or less like themsleves, and about children..."(38). Dickens cites the suspicion against novels, running back to Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women, though I think in her book she says women should read what men do, not the novels they waste time on. Besides a great dog story, there's the amusement of the circus-owner's lisp, Sleary. He says, about circuses and novels, "People mutht be amuthed. They can't alwayth be a leaarning"(222, Norton critical 1966). M'Choakumchild is no Wackford Squeers; maybe Gradgrind is closer, but more narrow and limited, and after all, Hard Times involves public education, which nobody in the 19C expected much from (except possibly in the U.S.), whereas Nicholas involves private boarding schools in the North. Hard Times also sums up industrialized work such as Mancastrian loom-workers and repairmen who built (1830-1890) the factories in the city where I taught, Fall River, MA. So it provided a good 19C summary of Fall River's mills and mill-workers. One of my paper suggestions invited college students (often women in their 20's) to compare their own education, and their criticisms of it, with those here. *Louisa grows, marries, and on the last page comes to wish her children have "a childhood of the mind no less than a childhood of the body."

  19. 5 out of 5

    Pink

    Alright, so I was quite prejudiced going into this. I read and disliked A Christmas Carol and in my head I feel like I'm not a Dickens fan. Despite this being the first novel of his I've tried. It's his shortest finished book and depicts the social structures of the time, which I'm interested in reading. So it made sense to start here. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. I didn't like all of the characters and at times I was frustrated with the plot, but I enjoyed listening to it on audiobook a Alright, so I was quite prejudiced going into this. I read and disliked A Christmas Carol and in my head I feel like I'm not a Dickens fan. Despite this being the first novel of his I've tried. It's his shortest finished book and depicts the social structures of the time, which I'm interested in reading. So it made sense to start here. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. I didn't like all of the characters and at times I was frustrated with the plot, but I enjoyed listening to it on audiobook and wanted to find out what happened in the end. So it held my attention, didn't annoy me and has made me consider reading more of his work. I'd call that a win.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cori

    From my blog: NOTE: I listened to the audio version. For some reason, I could never get into Dickens. I was an English major, for goodness' sake. I tried David Copperfield. I tried the Pickwick Papers. I tried Oliver Twist. All meh, and I didn't finish any of them. I have, however, enjoyed many a film adaptation of his novels, including Bleak House (fan. tas. tic.) and Nicholas Nickleby, so I knew that it couldn't be that bad. Anyway, my friend Hillary has recommended Hard Times for a long time, From my blog: NOTE: I listened to the audio version. For some reason, I could never get into Dickens. I was an English major, for goodness' sake. I tried David Copperfield. I tried the Pickwick Papers. I tried Oliver Twist. All meh, and I didn't finish any of them. I have, however, enjoyed many a film adaptation of his novels, including Bleak House (fan. tas. tic.) and Nicholas Nickleby, so I knew that it couldn't be that bad. Anyway, my friend Hillary has recommended Hard Times for a long time, so when I saw it at the library, I picked it up. I've decided that as far as Dickens goes, I need to have someone else read it for me. Someone to do the voices and read with the right emphasis. I guess I'm lazy when it comes to Dickens. And I'm okay with that. And it was FRACKIN' AWESOME. (Can you really call Dickens FRACKIN' AWESOME? Don't you have to say he was "spot on, jolly good fellow" or something?) Anyway, Martin Jarvis was the reader and he was SO GOOD. So fantastic that I went out and requested more things read by him just so I could hear him talk some more. Apparently he's one of the audio book greats out there, if there is such a thing. Dickens was so alive when Jarvis read it. The characters, the settings, the lists and statistics, the ... everything, was amazing because of Jarvis. I'm pretty sure the book was good, but I think I would be raving had Jarvis read out of the phone book. *stops obsessing about Martin Jarvis's reading abilities* The novel centers around the Gradgrind family and some of their friends (and not-so-friends). The children are raised adhering to facts while living in a society that worships the machines their town run on. Their father dismisses anything fanciful and imaginative. As the novel progresses, relationships are made and broken, and the characters come to the realization that there is much more to life than just the facts.

  21. 4 out of 5

    midnightfaerie

    Click here for Charles Dickens Disclaimer I'm not even sure where to start with this book. First of all, Hard Times is one of the shorter, and lesser known of the Dickens novels. At only around four hundred pages, it almost seems like a novella compared to his other tomes of one thousand pages or more. The book has some interesting characters. We have Thomas Gradgrind, the obstinate disciplinarian, who raises his children to use their head and facts in all things and to never "wonder" because th Click here for Charles Dickens Disclaimer I'm not even sure where to start with this book. First of all, Hard Times is one of the shorter, and lesser known of the Dickens novels. At only around four hundred pages, it almost seems like a novella compared to his other tomes of one thousand pages or more. The book has some interesting characters. We have Thomas Gradgrind, the obstinate disciplinarian, who raises his children to use their head and facts in all things and to never "wonder" because that will lead to flights of fancy which can only lead you astray. He is to be taken down a piece at a time, so that his contrition at the end of the novel allows us to forgive him and admire him in his role of one of our lead characters. We have a Mr. Bounderby, a friend of Gradgrind, who also adheres to the Philosophy is Fact principle, but more out of slogans than anything else. A detestable man, he is self-made and self-serving, raising himself to a social status that is hypocritical and not altogether of pure fact. Whereas Thomas Gradgrind believes what he is preaching, Mr. Bounderby uses it only a means to an end or for a statement of self. And we have Stephen Blackpool, Dickens typical representation of the lower classes, sporting integrity and morals, enduring the everyday toil of working poverty, while he is victimized by his fellow workers and employer. The lowly servant brought down by the system. Damn the man. Then we have some female characters such as Sissy, the young woman Gradgrind takes in when her father abandons her, and Mrs. Sparsit, who is ever wiping the brown from her nose where Bounderby is concerned, or contrarily, calling his portrait a "Noodle", when he's not around. I've mentioned before some criticism about Dicken's novels that I've read dealing with the insipid nature of Dickens female characters. While this is often true, in this novel I found the opposite in our female lead, Louisa, Thomas's beloved daughter. While raised in the same way as her brother, Tom "the Whelp", instead of masking indifference to their families rule and wallowing in self-pity and gambling like Tom does, Louisa's intelligence is displayed in the fact (pun intended), that she realizes from the beginning that something essential is missing from her life. She is drawn to the circus as a child, although severely reprimanded by her father, and recognizes an integrity and warmth in Sissy which she herself doesn't have. She gives into a loveless marriage with Mr. Bounderby, hoping that in some way it might help her brother get out of his careless ways, or at the very least, help pay for them. She shows strength, courage, and amenability when none other exist during times of duress. There are many more characters as there often are, as lovely and as detailed as these, however, these were some of the main ones. And once again, we see how Dickens' writing serves to develop the ramifications of public issues for individual lives. He shows us that the consequences for individual men and women matter most in a social system. He also reiterates his main theme over and over again in showing us that a simple life, adhering to the Philosophy of Fact, strips us of our sympathy, leaves us empty, and is a basic misconception of human nature. Like I mentioned earlier, Gradgrind is brought to his knees at the end of the novel in realization of what he's done to his children, showing us the irony of his ideas. Louisa is finally brought light in Gradgrind's eyes, when another man, other than her husband proposes a love-filled affair, something her husband could never fathom. She breaks down in despair and runs to her father, finally telling him everything she's really felt all these years, and this is only the beginning of Gradgrind's downfall. Her brother, Tom, falls too, but he has learned nothing but selfishness from his upbringing and tries to find satisfaction in pursuing his own selfish interests to no avail. When he resorts to desperate means to fill the gap, everything falls apart and Gradgrind finally realizes what he's done to his children. Blackpool, our somewhat hero, or at least stable character of the story, is hurrying home from another town to clear his name of something he's been wrongly accused of when he falls into Old Hell Shaft, a big hole. An appropriate allegory, he is destroyed by this big black hole in nature and left by the uncaring industrialists that have plagued him from the beginning. Besides the underlying themes, I also found this novel suspenseful and highly entertaining. Although Mr. Sleary's lisp was difficult to understand at times (I found myself reading some of his lines out loud, much to my detriment, but to the merriment of my husband), it still was one of my favorite Dicken's novel thus far. Even though Dickens can be sometimes predictable, I still wasn't sure how the tale would end. And I'm in awe of just how many books he's written and how all of them are so different and enjoyable. While Dickens writing never ceases to transport me into his world, he's also an expert on relaying his ideologies and political and social beliefs through his stories. On top of this, his characters come to life in new and dramatic ways, differently in each and every novel he writes. He's one of my favorite classical authors and this is another brilliant piece of work in a long line of books. I highly recommend it. ClassicsDefined.com

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mohammed Arabey

    I study it At my last High School year... It was seriously Hard Times :) I loved the story and lived in my head the places,the characters ... I even create a cast for the novel to live it :)

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rashaan

    A slim and compact tale whose characters and story packs a powerful punch, Dickens’ Hard Times is as vitriolic an indictment against the institutionalized teaching model Paolo Friere scathingly criticized as the “banking concept” in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Josiah Bounderby is delectably drawn, as is the crooked and colorful characters of James Harthouse, Mrs. Sparsit, and our cold and calculated heroine, Louisa Gradgrind. Dickens, at first, seems to forgo his typical habit of idealizing women and turns A slim and compact tale whose characters and story packs a powerful punch, Dickens’ Hard Times is as vitriolic an indictment against the institutionalized teaching model Paolo Friere scathingly criticized as the “banking concept” in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Josiah Bounderby is delectably drawn, as is the crooked and colorful characters of James Harthouse, Mrs. Sparsit, and our cold and calculated heroine, Louisa Gradgrind. Dickens, at first, seems to forgo his typical habit of idealizing women and turns to poor, noble Stephen Blackpool, our vessel of compassion and relative to Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit, who all share the soppy and saccharine blood of all that is good and pure. In the same vein, Tom Gradgrind is a more evil and broken version of his predecessor, Richard Carnstone. Dickens makes his downfall so wickedly delightful that we can’t help but take pleasure in the fact that sometimes it feels so good to be so bad. The book, like Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South, also raises a harsh and scrutinizing brow towards Industry, dismissing the stoic heartlessness of businessmen who only have minds and spend time on cold, hard facts. Our saving hope eventually swoops in and typical to the great Chuck D. only Sissy Jupe’s kind, warm heart can melt the icy stubbornness of an otherwise frigid cast. Sissy Jupe, a truly fascinating woman, is sadly left unexploited as a character. The abandoned daughter of a circus performer turned savior to Coketown, so much potential is lost in a conclusion that is sadly rushed and seems slapdash at most. With a transparent plot that rockets each character into a fiery trajectory, their destinations dissipate into deflated summary at the end of the novel. Dickens strength is utilizing the environment and surroundings of his story to open up his characters and give depth to his themes. This is a wonderfully condensed example of how to use Place to shade characters and direct action.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    At the outset of this novel, we know that Dickens is going to pit reason against emotion, fact against feeling, and that reason and fact are going to come up short. In a world without sympathy, compassion or warmth, Louisa and Tom Gradgrind are raised. They have everything they might want in terms of money and position, but nothing else; their contrast is Sissy Jupe, a circus child who has the love of both her father and the circus family, but is steeped in poverty. In true Dickens style, there At the outset of this novel, we know that Dickens is going to pit reason against emotion, fact against feeling, and that reason and fact are going to come up short. In a world without sympathy, compassion or warmth, Louisa and Tom Gradgrind are raised. They have everything they might want in terms of money and position, but nothing else; their contrast is Sissy Jupe, a circus child who has the love of both her father and the circus family, but is steeped in poverty. In true Dickens style, there are several side stories, one of which is the star-crossed love story of Rachael and Stephen, a sweet and dedicated pair, who bear their misfortunes with grace and acceptance. Theirs is unselfish love, which contrasts sharply with the love of Louisa for her brother, Tom, and his selfish abuse of her love for his own gain, and the loveless and unnatural marriage of Louisa with her father’s friend, Bounderby. As always, Dickens tackles the evils of the day with some humor, in the person of Mr. Sleary, and a taste of villainy, in the form of Mrs. Sparsit. He addresses the rise of unions, and in a world where such ideas were radical, he paints them in a more favorable light than might be expected. But, most effectively, he tackles the educational system that puts everything above the individual child. While Gradgrind is not a cruel man, like Mr. Squeers who runs the school in Nicholas Nickleby, he is just as misguided and damaging to his charges. Bitzer, a minor character who serves an important part in the plot, emerges as a perfect example of the kind of empty shell that can be made of a child who is given nothing to draw on but self-interest. I did not enjoy Hard Times as much as I have enjoyed other Dickens novels, but I did find it a worthwhile read and as always, there are characters here that will be long remembered. My next Dickens will be Little Dorrit, and I have heard that it is among his best efforts.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sophie

    this book took me aaaages to finish. some chapters i liked, though some bored me to death. likewise, i absolutely hated some of the characters, for instance, Bounderby was despicable, whereas i could sympathize with Stephen. all in all, it was not an awful book, i found it quite enjoyable, however i didn't love it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    Dickens becomes a very hard author to read once you move past his childhood-centered works. Suddenly, everything is about morality or politics. I enjoy his writing, but you do need both patience and an ability to change the register in which you're reading his work. "Hard Times" was first published in 1854 - few readers of contemporary or modern literature can truly adjust to the sort of language used in his books. Dickens is truly timeless, timeless through his themes and approach, as well as t Dickens becomes a very hard author to read once you move past his childhood-centered works. Suddenly, everything is about morality or politics. I enjoy his writing, but you do need both patience and an ability to change the register in which you're reading his work. "Hard Times" was first published in 1854 - few readers of contemporary or modern literature can truly adjust to the sort of language used in his books. Dickens is truly timeless, timeless through his themes and approach, as well as through his penmanship. Much like Dostoyevsky, his reign is absolute because he was a pioneer of in-depth, character-focused literature, where human beings are portrayed in so much detail and their minds are split open for the reader to look inside them, that by the end of the book the reader is as much a part of their world as they are. "Hard Times" is actually the author's shortest book and it is a commentary on utilitarianism (as proposed by Jeremy Bentham), a notion that I'm very familiar with, having studied it as part of my degree. I was pleasantly surprised to find the subtle hints and jokes played on contemporary figures or their theories (such as Adam Smith or Thomas Malthus).

  27. 5 out of 5

    Suzy

    This is my first Dickens outside of A Christmas Carol. I really enjoyed it, although I have nothing to compare it to in terms of his writing. Published in 1854, it is set in Coketown, a fictitious factory town in England. The central premise of this book is established early on (p. 11) when Thomas Gradgrind is alarmed to find two of his children peeking in on a circus. This after he has delivered his philosophy on the main point of life to the local teacher, Mr. M'Choakumchild: "Now what I/>"Now This is my first Dickens outside of A Christmas Carol. I really enjoyed it, although I have nothing to compare it to in terms of his writing. Published in 1854, it is set in Coketown, a fictitious factory town in England. The central premise of this book is established early on (p. 11) when Thomas Gradgrind is alarmed to find two of his children peeking in on a circus. This after he has delivered his philosophy on the main point of life to the local teacher, Mr. M'Choakumchild: "Now what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else . . . nothing else will ever be of service to them." Thus the struggle is illuminated of trying stamp out fancy in hearts and minds in order to keep people focused on the straight and narrow, the religion of facts, facts, facts. Heaven forbid they would have an imagination or some fun! All hell might break loose. As I read Hard Times, I kept thinking that the world has changed dramatically since 1854, but human nature has not. This tale plays out every day in the 21st Century; we can easily connect the dots between Dickens' characters and the players in modern society. The hardhearted factory owner who tells lies and boasts of his generosity while oppressing and criticizing the workers, or "hands". The downtrodden "hands" just trying to eek out a living. The "bad influence" slackers and sycophants angling to get their share with no effort. The circus entertainers, just trying to spread a little joy before being run out of town. The union organizer, trying to incite the hands to revolt. To name a few. I loved Dickens' writing. While critical of the industrialization of society, it was written with his trademark energy and humor. The names he gave people particularly tickled me. Mr. M'Choakumchild! And of course, this being Dickens (I have seen the movies, after all!) the story resolves to his more balanced and upbeat philosophy on life, expressed by Mr. Sleary, the circus owner, speaking in his characteristic lisp to Mr. Gradgrind: People mutht be amuthed. They can't be alwayth a learning, nor yet they can't be alwayth a working, they an't made for it. . . . Do the withe thing and the kind thing too, and make the betht of uth, not the wurtht!" I listened to Hard Times, wonderfully brought to life by Simon Prebble. There were so many passages I wanted to reflect on so I checked out The Everyman's Library edition from my local library. I have fallen in love with these classics editions which have so much helpful information which put a particular book in context and which help me relate to and enjoy a classic book even more than I might otherwise.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    The Good Samaritan was indeed a bad economist. Without becoming overly didactical, Dickens was able to explore in 'Hard Times' the contest between the oppositional conversations of Christian altruism (Louisa and Sissy) and market-driven, utilitarian self-interest (Bounderby and Bitzer). The novel takes its ethical position from the famous parable's narrative of redemptive love. You probably don't need to guess which side of this argument Dickens favors. The story was simple but deep. The charact The Good Samaritan was indeed a bad economist. Without becoming overly didactical, Dickens was able to explore in 'Hard Times' the contest between the oppositional conversations of Christian altruism (Louisa and Sissy) and market-driven, utilitarian self-interest (Bounderby and Bitzer). The novel takes its ethical position from the famous parable's narrative of redemptive love. You probably don't need to guess which side of this argument Dickens favors. The story was simple but deep. The characters were rich and dynamic. I was a tad let down by the soft ending, but still carried away by the full measure of Dickens' message of redemption, love and fancy.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Chris Gager

    I looked through 10+ pages of cover images and gave up. I'm reading a paperback from Dolphin Books. No idea how old it is, but it's in pretty good shape. $0.95 new. I also have a hardbound edition that's part of a complete set of Dickens, but is not in such good shape. Anyway, it's time I got back to the 19th century and Mr. D. in particular. Pretty good so far ... Moving on as CD sets up his plot and characters deliberately. The whole lithping thing'th kind of nnoying, ithn't it??? T I looked through 10+ pages of cover images and gave up. I'm reading a paperback from Dolphin Books. No idea how old it is, but it's in pretty good shape. $0.95 new. I also have a hardbound edition that's part of a complete set of Dickens, but is not in such good shape. Anyway, it's time I got back to the 19th century and Mr. D. in particular. Pretty good so far ... Moving on as CD sets up his plot and characters deliberately. The whole lithping thing'th kind of nnoying, ithn't it??? Then there's the steady flow of alliteration ... curious. Thus far the usual CD pack of fools is limited in number, but I suspect more that just Bounderby, Gradgrind and M'Choakumchild will be trotted out as we get along. The scope of the tale seems limited compared to my previous Dickens reads(David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations). Not so many characters(though the names are cherce) or locations. So far we're pretty much stuck inside Cokeville, a man-created early industrial hell of a place. As usual, CD lays on the suffering. One wonders if the author's personal life is reflected to a degree in the character of Louisa. Dickens was said to have been in love with his wife's younger sister and his own marriage wasn't a happy one I do believe. - Once again Dickens annoys the reader with the excessively idiosyncratic speech of Stephen Blackpool. I'm reminded of "Wuthering Heights." So ... I've got about 70 pages to go, not 20, or whatever the progress thingee says. This story began within the world of Gradgrind and M'Choakumchild as CD attacked the Utilitarian/Joe Friday mode of looking at and living in the world. In doing this he seemed to be siding with Matthew Arnold in "Dover Beach." But then he leaves that milieu behind to establish a sort of cardboard Victorian drama within the foul anti-paradise of Coketown. The characters ... Bounderby = the wealthy, narrow-minded self-adoring, up-by-the-bootstraps guy - perhaps about to be cuckolded but the foul snake-in-the-grass narcissist/hedonist Harthouse and Bounderby's much younger wife Louisa, emotionally hamstrung by her fathers attachment to a Utilitarian education. Her brother = Tom, a creep. Mrs. Sparsit, a nasty, mincing, hypocritical, Heep-like onlooker and score-keeper. Steven Blackpool, proletarian saint and his equally saintly pal Rachael. The mysterious Mrs. Pegler, whose mystery was stumbled upon by me in a trivia question - OOPS! Whatever ... I find that I'm less than enthralled by the whole thing and at this point find myself judging it to be Dickens of inferior(relatively speaking) quality. Still, one wants to know the outcome. Forward! - I'm not exactly clear what is at the heart of Stephen's estrangement from his co-workers. He won't go on strike? Is that it? It's hard to tell from his mangled way of speaking. - The ages old arguments about capitalism. Haves vs. have-nots and all the attendant mythology. - Hard to be sympathetic to the foolish, narrow-minded Bounderby. We'll see if there's some redemption for him. - Another complaint - I'm finding that the prose doesn't flow so smoothly in this one. Another G'reads reviewer says the words are over-wrought and over-worked. Seems that way to me too. Finished last night as no one but St. Stephen has to suffer too awfully much. According to Wiki this book is by far the shortest of CD's novels(although ... "A Christmas Carol" was pretty short too), and was written for "business" reasons. I put it in the same general category as "Oliver Twist": it's okay ... it's nowhere near CD's best work, but it still provides an adequate diversion. Notes ... - Bounderby the striver ... the capitalist ... the liar who fabricates a back story out of whole cloth to bolster his own mythology. - Why the hate for the labor agitator? - This book is somewhat padded. One G'reads reviewer correctly calls for stricter editor. Could've been up to 50 pagers shorter. Too much word-wind from the famous Mr. D. - All that impenetrable Lancastrian yak from Stephen and lithping from Sleary get old fast(though the sad tale of Merrylegs[shades of Argos] is moving[especially if you're a dog lover] despite the lithping). - Why so hard on the whelp? Is he made out to be a villain in service of CD's attack on the lad's "factual" upbringing? - Tom hides out in the horse circus = shades of Frank Troy in "Far from the Madding Crowd." - 3.25* rounds down to 3*.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Zulfiya

    This is the second novel written by Dickens that I meanly give only three stars. The Dickens chemistry, his verve, and his charisma are not here. Don't get me wrong - all the characters are typically his, as well as his pathos, his satire, and his WORDSMITHERY. Despite his typical Dickens features, it was one of the most unlikable novel - the characters were all detached from the me, and their inner world eluded me all the time. Their heartbeats, their desires, and their hopes that his character This is the second novel written by Dickens that I meanly give only three stars. The Dickens chemistry, his verve, and his charisma are not here. Don't get me wrong - all the characters are typically his, as well as his pathos, his satire, and his WORDSMITHERY. Despite his typical Dickens features, it was one of the most unlikable novel - the characters were all detached from the me, and their inner world eluded me all the time. Their heartbeats, their desires, and their hopes that his characters usually wear on their sleeves were mysteriously and unfavorably missing. The novel was cold - some of his characters were unreachable and unrelatable even on the level of rejection. Sometimes one relates to characters by simply hating their guts, and in this novel, I felt absolutely nothing. I can not even pinpoint the reason of this emotional failure - the language was inventive and the imagery is highly original, the zeitgeist of the small industrial town is perfectly captured, the social issues are burning and their exploration is truly visionary, but the chemistry between this novel and me is nonexistent. Sorry, Maestro. Up to a point, it was an expected slack after the powerful and masterful gem of Bleak House. It happens to the best of us :-)

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