Hard Times – For These Times (commonly known as Hard Times) is the tenth novel by Charles Dickens, first published in 1854. The book surveys English society and satirises the social and economic conditions of the era.
Hard Times is unusual in several ways. It is by far the shortest of Dickens' novels, barely a quarter of the length of those written immediately before and after it. Also, unlike all but one of his other novels, Hard Times has neither a preface nor illustrations. Moreover, it is his only novel not to have scenes set in London. Instead the story is set in the fictitious Victorian industrial Coketown, a generic Northern English mill-town, in some ways similar to Manchester, though smaller. Coketown may be partially based on 19th-century Preston.
One of Dickens's reasons for writing Hard Times was that sales of his weekly periodical, Household Words, were low, and it was hoped the novel's publication in instalments would boost circulation – as indeed proved to be the case. Since publication it has received a mixed response from critics. Critics such as George Bernard Shaw and Thomas Macaulay have mainly focused on Dickens's treatment of trade unions and his post–Industrial Revolution pessimism regarding the divide between capitalist mill owners and undervalued workers during the Victorian era. F. R. Leavis, a great admirer of the book, included it – but not Dickens' work as a whole – as part of his Great Tradition of English novels.
The novel follows a classical tripartite structure, and the titles of each book are related to Galatians 6:7, "For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Book I is entitled "Sowing", Book II is entitled "Reaping", and the third is "Garnering."
American Notes for General Circulation is a travelogue by Charles Dickens detailing his trip to North America from January to June 1842. While there he acted as a critical observer of North American society, almost as if returning a status report on their progress. This can be compared to the style of his Pictures from Italy written four years later, where he wrote far more like a tourist. His American journey was also an inspiration for his novel Martin Chuzzlewit. Having arrived in Boston, he visited Lowell, New York, and Philadelphia, and travelled as far south as Richmond, as far west as St. Louis and as far north as Quebec. The American city he liked best was Boston – "the air was so clear, the houses were so bright and gay. [...] The city is a beautiful one, and cannot fail, I should imagine, to impress all strangers very favourably." Further, it was close to the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts Asylum for the Blind where Dickens encountered Laura Bridgman, who impressed him greatly.
In 1844, Dickens took a respite from writing novels and for several months traveled through France and Italy with his family. They visited the most famous sights: Genoa, Rome, Naples (with Vesuvius still smouldering), Florence and Venice. In his travelogue the author portrays a nation of great contrasts: grandiose buildings and urban desolation, and everyday life beside ancient monuments. But it is his encounters with Italy's colorful street life that capture the imagination. Dickens is particularly drawn to the costumes, cross-dressing, and sheer exuberance of the Roman carnival. From the book we learn that Dickens was an early riser and walker, and that he enjoyed touring the major attractions on foot.
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About the Author
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is probably the greatest novelist England has ever produced, the author of such well-known classics as A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, David Copperfield and Oliver Twist. His innate comic genius and shrewd depictions of Victorian life — along with his indelible characters — have made his books beloved by readers the world over.
Date of Birth:February 7, 1812
Date of Death:June 18, 1870
Place of Birth:Portsmouth, England
Place of Death:Gad's Hill, Kent, England
Education:Home-schooling; attended Dame School at Chatham briefly and Wellington