Hard Times

Hard Times

3.8 67
by Charles Dickens

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Hard Times--Dickens's shortest novel and one of his triumphs--tells the tragic story of Louisa Gradgrind and her father and has had lasting appeal to generations of readers.  See more details below


Hard Times--Dickens's shortest novel and one of his triumphs--tells the tragic story of Louisa Gradgrind and her father and has had lasting appeal to generations of readers.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 7-12-Dickens' satire on the Victorian family and the philosophies of a society which sought to turn men into machines. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

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Everyman Paperback
Publication date:
Everyman Paperback Classics Series
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.77(h) x 0.89(d)

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The One Thing Needful

“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. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, Sir!”

The scene was a plain, bare, monotonous vault of a schoolroom, and the speaker’s square forefinger emphasized his observations by underscoring every sentence with a line on the schoolmaster’s sleeve. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s square wall of a forehead, which had his eyebrows for its base, while his eyes found commodious cellerage in two dark caves, overshadowed by the wall. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s mouth, which was wide, thin, and hard set. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s voice, which was inflexible, dry, and dictatorial. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s hair, which bristled on the skirts of his bald head, a plantation of firs to keep the wind from its shining surface, all covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie, as if the head had scarcely warehouse-room for the hard facts stored inside. The speaker’s obstinate carriage, square coat, square legs, square shoulders,—nay, his very neckcloth, trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp, like a stubborn fact, as it was,—all helped the emphasis.

“In this life, we want nothing but Facts, Sir; nothing but Facts!”

Thespeaker, and the schoolmaster, and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.

Murdering the Innocents

Thomas Gradgrind, Sir. A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over. Thomas Gradgrind, Sir—peremptorily Thomas—Thomas Gradgrind. With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, Sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to. It is a mere question of figures, a case of simple arithmetic. You might hope to get some other nonsensical belief into the head of George Gradgrind, or Augustus Gradgrind, or John Gradgrind, or Joseph Gradgrind (all supposititious, non-existent persons), but into the head of Thomas Gradgrind—no, Sir!

In such terms Mr. Gradgrind always mentally introduced himself, whether to his private circle of acquaintance, or to the public in general. In such terms, no doubt, substituting the words “boys and girls,” for “Sir,” Thomas Gradgrind now presented Thomas Gradgrind to the little pitchers before him, who were to be filled so full of facts.

Indeed, as he eagerly sparkled at them from the cellarage before mentioned, he seemed a kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts, and prepared to blow them clean out of the regions of childhood at one discharge. He seemed a galvanizing apparatus, too, charged with a grim mechanical substitute for the tender young imaginations that were to be stormed away.

“Girl number twenty,” said Mr. Gradgrind, squarely pointing with his square forefinger, “I don’t know that girl. Who is that girl?”

“Sissy Jupe, sir,” explained number twenty, blushing, standing up, and curtseying.

“Sissy is not a name,” said Mr. Gradgrind. “Don’t call yourself Sissy. Call yourself Cecilia.”

“It’s father as calls me Sissy, sir,” returned the young girl in a trembling voice, and with another curtsey.

“Then he has no business to do it,” said Mr. Gradgrind. “Tell him he mustn’t. Cecilia Jupe. Let me see. What is your father?”

“He belongs to the horse-riding, if you please, sir.”

Mr. Gradgrind frowned, and waved off the objectionable calling with his hand.

“We don’t want to know anything about that, here. You mustn’t tell us about that, here. Your father breaks horses, don’t he?”

“If you please, sir, when they can get any to break, they do break horses in the ring, sir.”

“You mustn’t tell us about the ring, here. Very well, then. Describe your father as a horsebreaker. He doctors sick horses, I dare say?”

“Oh yes, sir.”

“Very well, then. He is a veterinary surgeon, a farrier and horsebreaker. Give me your definition of a horse.”

(Sissy Jupe thrown into the greatest alarm by this demand.)

“Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!” said Mr. Gradgrind, for the general behoof of all the little pitchers. “Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals! Some boy’s definition of a horse. Bitzer, yours.”

The square finger, moving here and there, lighted suddenly on Bitzer, perhaps because he chanced to sit in the same ray of sunlight which, darting in at one of the bare windows of the intensely whitewashed room, irradiated Sissy. For, the boys and girls sat on the face of the inclined plane in two compact bodies, divided up the centre by a narrow interval; and Sissy, being at the corner of a row on the sunny side, came in for the beginning of a sunbeam, of which Bitzer, being at the corner of a row on the other side, a few rows in advance, caught the end. But, whereas the girl was so dark-eyed and dark-haired, that she seemed to receive a deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun, when it shone upon her, the boy was so light-eyed and light-haired that the self-same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed. His cold eyes would hardly have been eyes, but for the short ends of lashes which, by bringing them into immediate contrast with something paler than themselves, expressed their form. His short-cropped hair might have been a mere continuation of the sandy freckles on his forehead and face. His skin was so unwholesomely deficient in the natural tinge, that he looked as though, if he were cut, he would bleed white.

“Bitzer,” said Thomas Gradgrind. “Your definition of a horse.”

“Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.” Thus (and much more) Bitzer.

“Now girl number twenty,” said Mr. Gradgrind. “You know what a horse is.”

She curtseyed again, and would have blushed deeper, if she could have blushed deeper than she had blushed all this time. Bitzer, after rapidly blinking at Thomas Gradgrind with both eyes at once, and so catching the light upon his quivering ends of lashes that they looked like the antennæ of busy insects, put his knuckles to his freckled forehead, and sat down again.

The third gentleman now stepped forth. A mighty man at cutting and drying, he was; a government officer; in his way (and in most other people’s too), a professed pugilist; always in training, always with a system to force down the general throat like a bolus, always to be heard of at the bar of his little Public-office, ready to fight all England. To continue in fistic phraseology, he had a genius for coming up to the scratch,2 wherever and whatever it was, and proving himself an ugly customer. He would go in and damage any subject whatever with his right, follow up with his left, stop, exchange, counter, bore his opponent (he always fought All England)3 to the ropes, and fall upon him neatly. He was certain to knock the wind out of common sense, and render that unlucky adversary deaf to the call of time. And he had it in charge from high authority to bring about the great public- office Millennium, when Commissioners should reign upon earth.

“Very well,” said this gentleman, briskly smiling, and folding his arms. “That’s a horse. Now, let me ask you girls and boys, Would you paper a room with representations of horses?”

After a pause, one half of the children cried in chorus, “Yes, Sir!” Upon which the other half, seeing in the gentleman’s face that Yes was wrong, cried out in chorus, “No, Sir!”—as the custom is, in these examinations.

“Of course, No. Why wouldn’t you?”

A pause. One corpulent slow boy, with a wheezy manner of breathing, ventured the answer, Because he wouldn’t paper a room at all, but would paint it.

“You must paper it,” said the gentleman, rather warmly.

“You must paper it,” said Thomas Gradgrind, “whether you like it or not. Don’t tell us you wouldn’t paper it. What do you mean, boy?”

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Hard Times 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 67 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Thank you to the nimrod who, in a very self-aggrandizing sort of way, just gave away the entire PLOT to Hard Times. First of all, I've already read the book so your forsoothly monologue didn't tell me anything I didn't already know (and I have written a few papers on the book) and second of all, who's actually going to want to go out and buy the book now? THINK next time before you post! Okay? If people want the Cliffs Notes version, they can purchase it at Barnes & Noble!
DrRob72 More than 1 year ago
This truly one of dickens most overlooked works. It is classic in its depiction of the effects, good and bad, of industrialization on the people of Victorian England. From a teacher's perspective, this book could be used in just about any course as a across curriculum reading. A good read; classic Dickens!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love all of Dickens's novels, and while this falls a bit short when compared to Great Expectations or David Copperfield, it is well worth reading. Character development leaves a bit to be desired in that, in order to explore his ideas about human development and politics, some of his characters are a bit caricaturish. Nonetheless, this is a great book.
Berto More than 1 year ago
Hard Times is probably Dickens' most underrated novel. It is a good protest against conditions and attitudes during the Victorian period however its main focus is not on the working class, although it seems to be with the first chapters. It is a book everyone interested in Victorian literature - and British literature in general - should read. It has an unbelievable writing style.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Absolutely Wonderful! This book is so fascinating and remarkable! I thought it extremely educational and interesting at the same time. I would read it again and I am not one to read books more than once! Bravo Dickens!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If l disappear randomly, my power went out. The lightning is getting close to my house now...like outside my window close...))
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Blueberry then." She grinned.
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Davidg2 More than 1 year ago
Character development is weaker than in some other Dickens' novels, apparently in the interest of expressing points and ideas. The story itself earns 3+ stars. I found the inclusion of different British accents to be interesting and worthwhile. I do not like to read reviews or analysis as part of an introduction. Some of the footnote explanations were more fitting to a more novice audience. The story itself is worthy of 3+ stars but the give away introduction and elementary footnotes takes away from the read. Thank you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
C'mon. Back to camp.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't care, Pat. First off, that's on the verge of godmodding. Second of all, I've stared the devil in the eye. I think I can survive a case of light poisoning.
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fosdick More than 1 year ago
Not Dickens' best. Lots of loose ends, especially in modern editions. Also not quite the harangue on England's unjust social conditions it's often said to be. Nonetheless, Dickens is a great story teller and this fits that mold. Plus it's short by his standards.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I felt it would be unfair to give this book only one star, since it is a classic. But, considering how painful it was to get through with the endless narration, incomprehensible accents of certain people, and run-on sentences, I've decided to shy away from the opinions of literary scholars and voice my own opinion. And the fact that it was terribly boring leaves me with no guilt in giving Hard Times a poor rating.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago