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Dickens creates the Victorian industrial city of Coketown, in northern England, and its unforgettable citizens, such as the unwavering utilitarian Thomas Gradgrind and the factory owner Josiah Bounderby, and the result is his famous critique of capitalist philosophy, the exploitative force he believed was destroying human creativity and joy. This edition includes new notes to...
Dickens creates the Victorian industrial city of Coketown, in northern England, and its unforgettable citizens, such as the unwavering utilitarian Thomas Gradgrind and the factory owner Josiah Bounderby, and the result is his famous critique of capitalist philosophy, the exploitative force he believed was destroying human creativity and joy. This edition includes new notes to the text.
Hard Times--Dickens's shortest novel and one of his major triumphs--tells the tragic story of Louisa Gradgrind and her father.
“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!”
The speaker, 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?”
1. Did Dickens have a clear purpose in writing Hard Times? Was Hard Times primarily an exhortation to solve the problems faced by nineteenth-century England, or was his subject matter merely a vehicle that allowed him to write a humorous story using the familiar character types of his day? Do you consider Dickens primarily to be an activist? A social critic? A humor writer?
2. Describe the relationship of Mr. and Mrs. Gradgrind. Why is Mr. Gradgrind's philosophy lost on Mrs. Gradgrind? What accounts for her total lack of understanding?
3. In the first few words of Hard Times, in the title to the first book, "Sowing," there is a biblical allusion. Hard Times ends with another biblical allusion in the penultimate paragraph, where Dickens refers to the "Writing on the Wall." Biblical references are made throughout the novel, and Christian sentiment is appealed to constantly. How important are Christian underpinnings to Dickens's moral message? Do Dickens's criticisms and appeals go beyond the religious? If so, what other moral ideals are put forth in Hard Times, and what are their implications?
4. Coketown is, of course, a wholly fictitious city. However, it is a microcosm of England during the time of the Industrial Revolution and is modeled on cities that existed at the time. What are the problems of Coketown, and what are the causes of these problems? As a community, does Coketown accurately or inaccurately portray the ills of nineteenth-century English industrial cities? Does the creation of this fictitious town make Dickens's satire more effective than if he were to situate it in a real city? Why?
5. Since the conditions of life in English factory towns have changed, and many years have passed since the writing of Hard Times, what can be said to be the book's lasting value? Is it primarily historical, painting a picture of the way life was at one time? Is it moral or philosophical? Are the aspects of the novel that were important at the time of its publication still the ones that are valued today?
6. Are Rachael and Stephen realistic characters, even in the context of a satirical novel? What purpose do they serve to the novel as a whole, and which characters are they most starkly contrasted with? How does the scene of Stephen's death stand out in the novel? How is it important to the overarching themes Dickens is trying to convey?
Posted June 1, 2002
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!
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 25, 2013
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Posted May 23, 2012
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 1, 2008
When she was half-a-dozen years younger, Louisa had been overheard to begin a conversation with her brother one day, by saying, ¿Tom, I wonder¿¿upon which Mr. Gradgrind, who was the person overhearing, stepped forth into the light, and said, ¿Louisa, never wonder!¿ 'pg. 52' It is known, to the force of a single pound weight, what the engine will do. But, not all the calculators of the National Debt can tell me the capacity for good or evil, for love or hatred, for patriotism or discontent, for the decomposition of virtue into vice, or the reverse, at any single moment in the soul of one of these its quiet servants, with the composed faces and the regulated actions. There is no mystery in it. There is an unfathomable mystery in the meanest of them, forever¿ supposing we were to reserve our arithmetic for material objects, and to govern these awful unknown quantities by other means! 'pg. 71' The above excerpts perfectly exemplify the two most prominent themes in Hard Times: the importance of imagination and compassion. In the very first page, we are introduced to Mr. Gradgrind¿s morbid philosophy, which seeks to teach children nothing but facts, to live one¿s life based on reason and exact calculations, and to abstain from anything that approaches Fancy. Mr. Gradgrind¿s name implies his theory, for he veritably grinds the imagination out of his children, turning them into morose machine-like vessels full of facts. It seems Gradgrind can put anything into a tabular statement or answer any question, whether it would be wiser to answer with one¿s heart or not, mathematically. Consequently, his children are taught to do the same. Neither knowing how to navigate life with their heart, they both fall into terrible situations. They cannot feel. They are deadened, lifeless textbooks. However, Louisa¿s soul is under much more constraint than is Tom¿s. She often daydreams and is aware of what her father¿s philosophy destroyed in her infancy. She is compassionate despite her upbringing and cares much for her brother. But the attention and consideration she gives her brother is unrequited. The Gradgrind household is regulated by facts. Coketown is regulated by facts. The workers, called ¿Hands¿, are as apathetic and gloomy as the incessant trails of smoke that emanate from the factory chimneys. Their imaginations have also been stifled. The Coketown magnates are only concerned with monetary gains, and so measure all things with their avarice. The Hands are nearly indistinguishable from the machinery. They are machinery! Each passage pertaining to Coketown adequately and beautifully illustrates how suffocating this industrialized town is, where the inhabitants are only to work and who have no creative outlet or moment of respite. Hard Times states that we cannot govern people with numbers alone. They cannot be regulated by Gradgrind¿s facts, nor are the lower class lazy, ungrateful scum as the self-made man Bounderby would have us believe. People need imaginative stimuli to escape the dreary, monotonous reality of everyday life and their ¿owners¿ need be as concerned about their workers¿ well-being as they are their profits. Yes, Dickens¿ plotting is exact and his characters are exaggerated, but that¿s what I love about his novels. Yes, the villains receive their comeuppance in the end and the heroes and heroines shine as brightly as halos, but this is also something I love about Dickens. I would also like to bring attention to another aspect of Hard Times, and all other Dickens novels, and that is the language. I love the language in this book. It took me twice as long to read this book as it should have and that¿s because I couldn¿t persuade myself to move on from certain passages. I actually read every chapter twice and some paragraphs I cannot count the number of times I read. I loved this book. If you have the faintest interest in classical literature, you¿ll love this book. I could do nothing after reading this book but sigWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 7, 2006
being longwinded is what makes dickens great, but even he has outdone himself once more with this novel. throughout the novel dickens writes without much thought onto how much he is giving away, and later on tries to 'suprise' the reader by confirming those 'hints' on the characters. there are many childrens books that just say see jane run, run jane run, and ettcettra that still have a greater flow than that which may be called hard times... 'they were the best of times, for they were the worst of times' there are countless similarities when comparing this statement to the monotonous ordeal of reading hard times. the only way i have found to stay awake while reading it was to have a pitcher of tea next to me at all times. i would recomend 'the life of Dr. Bejimin Franklin as writen by himself' 'Across the nightinggale floor', and the rest of the 'tales of the otori' series they have alot more action and drop you into the action from the beginingWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 26, 2004
Posted August 16, 2004
Dicken's Hard Times is one of the easiest books that I have ever read; I myself suffered the depression of the factories for years before becoming a writer. Although some of his characters are a little larger than life, most of the soul stealing torture in the factory is also large to the point of mystical. I do not reccomend this to anyone who has never enjoyed true defeat. As with any great writing, Hard Times is as true as life.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 26, 2004
Posted November 29, 2003
If you read this book you will be glad that you were not part of the time then. Although there were lots of changes, still there was much control in what people could or could not do in their lives and work was limited to class, and education was also. Thie era was good to read about, but I just would not want to live in the way that most people lived then. The book was three books in one. The first was on 'Sowing* It was shown how the seeds were sown here. The the next one was *Reaping* which showed the outcome of actions that had come before, and then the third was *Garnering*, where all the pieces came together that were left, and put in order. I enjoyed the progression of the books in one. Was bored sometimes, because I did not see that there was a strong enough plot.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 8, 2003
Charles Dickens was a challenge for me. Four months I have been reading books and none of my other books were as difficult as this one. In the begining of the book, the author threw me off by the Old English writing. The story was okay but it probably would have been better if it did a little less detailing and more getting to the point. My problem was that I could read on in the book and not hardly comprehend anything. To tell the truth, I had to go to sparknotes.com just for better understanding of the book. The story was good, but the way the book was written just threw me off a little. So if your a reader out there looking for a challenge in your reading, I suggest that you read this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 16, 2003
This book is an interesting book and very detailed. Some parts in this book get complicated, but I would read it again. The begging of it starts out slow but by the time you get to the end you wish it wasn't over. Just when you think everything is going smoothly there is someone there to cause conflict rather it be Tom, Louisa, Stephen or Sissy. If you like books that explain almost every detail this is a great book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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