Hard Times (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Hard Times (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593081560
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 09/01/2004
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 36,627
Product dimensions: 7.92(w) x 5.30(h) x 0.92(d)

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

Read an Excerpt



From Karen Odden's Introduction to Hard Times

Hard Times departs from the patterns in these novels in two important respects. First, whereas Gaskell and Disraeli focus on the rifts between poor and wealthy and worker and master, in Hard Times these rifts are mirrored by a series of other rifts-between Fancy and Fact, parents and children, husbands and wives, men and women, healthy and disabled, religion and science, literate and nonliterate. Partly because of these multiple binary oppositions, Hard Times, I believe, is less about offering a solution to a particular conflict and more about dramatizing the need for a new mode of thinking altogether.

A second important difference between Hard Times and other industrial novels is that the romance plot is notably absent from Dickens's novel. Hard Times draws on a range of genres-melodrama, pantomime, eighteenth-century novels of instruction, the industrial novel, Renaissance poetry, and the bildungsroman; but it forestalls every possible romance. The two heroines Sissy and Rachael never marry within the main action of the novel; Tom and James never marry; Stephen marries a woman who is mad or an alcoholic or both; the Gradgrind marriage is based on fear and contempt; Louisa's marriage to Bounderby is loveless and expedient. In a different novel, Louisa's love might transform Bounderby, or Tom might marry Sissy and be reformed. (Significantly, the 1854 stage adaptation of Hard Times butchered the ending: Rachael marries Stephen, and Louisa and Bounderby are reconciled.) This very absence of a successful, heartwarming romance suggests that Dickens is trying to get beyond the symbolically satisfying but ultimately false way in which literature settles differences.

Instead of a romance, Dickens offers a highly moralized theory that is articulated by three men, who, among them, represent at least two classes and four professions. Sleary is a master of ceremonies for a circus; Gradgrind is a utilitarian educator and Member of Parliament; the factory worker Stephen Blackpool is a Christ figure, who rises up from Old Hell Shaft after several days. These men all explain that rifts are bridged through the values of compassion, humor, sympathetic understanding, tenderness, and a desire to compromise and forge alliances rather than engage in power struggles that only ratchet up the sense of difference. These three offer versions of themes that Dickens had set forth previously in other works. During his brief stint as editor of the Daily News in 1845, he wrote in his Address to the Public that "it will be no part of our function to widen any breach that may unhappily subsist, or may arise, between Employer and Employed; but it will rather be our effort to show their true relations, their mutual dependence, and their mutual power of adding to the sum of general happiness and prosperity" (quoted in Ackroyd, p. 487). Nine years later, in an essay on the Preston strike for the February 11, 1854, issue of Household Words, his concerns and terms are remarkably similar: "Into the relations between employers and employed, as into all the relations of this life, there must enter something of feeling and sentiment; something of mutual explanation, forbearance, and consideration. . . . Otherwise those relations are wrong and rotten to the core and will never bear sound fruit" ("On Strike," p. 286).

Sleary, who is the representative of Fancy but who works very hard in the circus, insists on a balance among learning, working, and amusement. He delivers his advice to Gradgrind near the very end of the novel: "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 is a point that Dickens made in an early pamphlet, Sunday Under Three Heads, which defended the rights of the lower and middle classes to pleasurable activities on their day off. (He also made this point in the Address to the Reader for Household Words in 1852.) With Sleary's mention of "betht" (best) and "wurtht" (worst), we see the language of binary oppositions that has governed this novel and that anticipates the opening of A Tale of Two Cities.

The second moralizer is Gradgrind, who has had his eyes opened by Louisa's plight, and who pleads with Bounderby in terms of two men "meet[ing]" and of "better" rather than "best": "I would suggest to you, that—that if you would kindly meet me in a timely endeavour to leave her to her better nature for a while—and to encourage it to develop itself by tenderness and consideration—it—it would be the better for the happiness of all of us" (my emphases). The third spokesman is Stephen Blackpool, who at first contends, rather defensively, that he "canna think the fawt is aw wi' us." Later, Rachael speaks up for Stephen and expresses how impossible it is to be a man who refuses to participate in the binary structure.

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Hard Times 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 96 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!
john257hopper on LibraryThing 23 days ago
This started off being very funny and quite promising, but seemed to lose its way rather. Although often thought of as a critique of the harshness of capitalism during the industrial revolution, this aspect forms more of a backdrop rather than imbuing the whole course of events as is the case with, for example, Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Gradgrind, the ultimate right-brained individual who learns the value of emotional responses alongside purely rational ones, and the deferential and tragic labourer Stephen Blackpool, are the most interesting characters.
elfortunawe on LibraryThing 23 days ago
Hard Times is, first and foremost, a social satire. Though he uses a dramatic story and interesting characters to encapsulate his ideas, the narrative often takes a back seat to the point Dickens is trying to make.Though it's present in all of his work, this method is particularly apparent in Hard Times. Some find this irritating, but I didn't have any problems with it. You could say it detracts from the story, but if all you're looking for is a fun story, then you shouldn't be reading Dickens.Hard Times levels a number of critiques ate the society of the day, but the primary focus is the philosophy of Utilitarianism, embodied by Thomas Gradrind. Utilitarianism was a popular philosophy at the time, and Dickens detested it, obviously. In the book, he provides an example of the effects such a philosophy would have on society if allowed free reign.Note should be made of Louisa Gradgrind, whose upbringing under the auspices of her father, Thomas Grandgrind, was modeled after that of John Stuart Mill, who developed Utilitarianism. Mill, as a result of his education, had a nervous breakdown at the age of twenty, and Dickens uses this, in the character of Louisa, to provide the final blow to his attack on Mill's philosophy.This is a book about ideas, not characters and narrative. The characters in the book, as in all of Dickens' work, are certainly memorable, and the story does a good job carrying the reader along. But Hard Times main value is in it's defense of humanity against mindless systems.
intromit on LibraryThing 23 days ago
I loved many of Dickens' other works - "Great Expectations" and "A Tale of Two Cities" are excellent - but "Hard Times" is an awful read. I found it to be pretentious. It is currently sitting on my self with a book mark about three-quarters of the way through it. I won't finish it.
twomoredays on LibraryThing 23 days ago
've always had somewhat of a dysfunctional relationship with Charles Dickens. I remember, when I was somewhere around the age of seven, I was determined to read Oliver Twist, but being only seven the book was completely impossible. I didn't encounter Dickens again until my eighth grade language arts class where, instead of getting to read A Tale of Two Cities like I wanted to, I was forced to endure Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Maybe that's where my incessant dislike of Austen began. Finally, I read a small bit of Great Expectations for my freshman English class in high school. I never finished it, though I can't say it was completely miserable.Considering that tedious history, I was not exactly thrilled about having to face yet another Charles Dickens novel, but Hard Times turned out to be quite the surprise. While it took a few pages to get into, I ended up rather liking the novel. As books for humanities go, it was simple and straight forward and I liked the story, the implications, and the symbolism.For a class, this one gets a thumbs up.
samfsmith on LibraryThing 23 days ago
This Dickens¿ novel focuses on the hardships of the industrial movement in 19th century England. The characters are weavers, mill owners, the children of members of parliament, and an orphan girl of a troupe of traveling players. Some portions are overly melodramatic, in my humble opinion, but that¿s just Charles Dickens. It¿s still well worth a read.
ostrom on LibraryThing 24 days ago
The opening chapter is to die for.
sweetiegherkin on LibraryThing 24 days ago
One of Dickens' lesser known works, Hard Times for These Times is similar to his other works in that it touches upon societal problems of the day, such as poverty. I read this about five years ago and while I recall enjoying it, I am fuzzy on the details. I think it is well worth a re-read though and since I am recommending it to myself again, I would definitely recommend to others!
belgrade18 on LibraryThing 25 days ago
Not one of Dickens' best, though Dickens is still one of the best writers of the 19th century, even when he was writing as a hack. It was made more interesting a read in this day and age of Tea Partiers and puritanical Evangelicals who hate the thought of paying taxes for the public good, it reminded me that these things are cyclical. A quick read, though, so if you've got it in front of you, give it a shot.
read.to.live on LibraryThing 26 days ago
When I saw this audiobook from the library I thought, "Ugh. Not this one." I have some vague recollection of reading Hard Times once -- or trying -- but remember nothing except the bitter aftertaste. Did I give up after the first few pages? Did I skim it for a test and then forget it? Are parts of it written in a dialect that is hard to read with your eyeballs? When I started listening to it in the car, it was awfully slow and dry; but the reader was so good I kept listening. By the end, I was riveted. Was Dickens meant to be read aloud? The narrator Frederick Davidson did a tremendous job with the comic character Mrs. Sparsit; but he also added realism to scenes that might have seemed overly dramatic on the page, such as Louisa's breakdown. My favorite scene to hear was the night Rachel watched over Stephen and his wife, and his tearful promise to her the next day. This audiobook was a great introduction to Dickens and makes me want to hear more.As a side note, I found some similarities between the themes of this story and Mansfield Park. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with making facts part of education; the problem is facts without principle or purpose or thoughtfulness or analysis. Mr. Gradgrind's refusal to teach morality and his regrets over the consequences reminded me of Sir Thomas, the father in Mansfield Park: "Sir Thomas, poor Sir Thomas, a parent, and conscious of errors in his own conduct as a parent, was the longest to suffer. He felt that he ought not to have allowed the marriage; that his daughter's sentiments had been sufficiently known to him to render him culpable in authorising it; that in so doing he had sacrificed the right to the expedient . . . These were reflections that required some time to soften . . . the anguish arising from the conviction of his own errors in the education of his daughters was never to be entirely done away . . . [He] clearly saw that he had but increased the evil by teaching them to repress their spirits in his presence so as to make their real disposition unknown to him . . . Here had been grievous mismanagement; but, bad as it was, he gradually grew to feel that it had not been the most direful mistake in his plan of education. Something must have been wanting within, or time would have worn away much of its ill effect. He feared that principle, active principle, had been wanting . . . Bitterly did he deplore a deficiency which now he could scarcely comprehend to have been possible. Wretchedly did he feel, that with all the cost and care of an anxious and expensive education, he had brought up his daughters without their understanding their first duties, or his being acquainted with their character and temper."Other similarities between the two stories are the theme of an ineffectual mother, providing no balance to the father's system of education; the vain, rich playboy who chases women without considering the consequences (Henry Crawford, Jem Harthouse); the poor girl taken into the family who becomes the heart of the family (Fanny, Sissy); and the father's increasing love and value for that girl who has grown up under his protection, but free from the influence of his system of education. In some ways, the father is the driving force of both stories: the consequences of his mistakes drive the narrative; his acceptance of those mistakes provide the conclusion. Of course, Louisa and Maria are very different characters, but they have both married men they can't stand -- so where does Louisa's sense of honor derive, when Maria's is absent? Either it was just innate, or her father's love and constant attention, though often misplaced, still supported some sort of moral grounding that Maria never possessed, or that Mrs. Norris strangled in the cradle.Mrs. Norris has no alter ego in Hard Times, at least not in the children's upbringing; however Mrs. Sparsit certainly exerted an similarly evil influence. Bounderby was happy with Louisa until Mrs. Sparsit per
RoseCityReader on LibraryThing 26 days ago
Hard Times by Charles Dickens is one of the many Victorian Era classics that I have never gotten around to reading. But thanks to an audio version new on the shelf of my library branch, it made it to the top of my TBR pile. In equal parts good old fashioned storytelling and outdated social criticism, Hard Times is the tale of the Gradgrind family and their struggle to reconcile the rational, fact-based side of life with the emotional and imaginative side. Thomas Gradgrind, Sr. is proud of his ¿system¿ of raising children ¿ his own and those in the school he runs ¿ to know and depend only on facts, with no ¿wondering¿ or amusement. The ultimate failure of his system leads to the final showdown and resolution of the story.Dickens packed the book (first published in installments in 1854) full of his usual over-the-top characters. These really came to life in the audio version. Along with some Victorian moralizing, he mixed in plenty of humor and even a little intrigue and adventure. None of the characters are particularly likeable, perhaps especially to a modern reader with less sympathy for the outmoded social constraints under which the characters labor, but they all get their just deserts -- for good or ill -- in the end. Despite its age, Hard Times remains thoroughly entertaining.
Sandydog1 on LibraryThing 27 days ago
A good story about a phony English gentleman in an industrial town. However, no where near as good as Great Expectations.
Kaydence on LibraryThing 27 days ago
Hard Times gives both sides of the story and shows how neither side is actually as happy as they would hope to be, however, I¿d like to just talk about the poor.The lower class is represented by a factory worker that happens to be married to a woman he doesn¿t want to come home to. She has taken to drinking because of her poor life. In this case, she is gone much of the time. He has attempted to help her, but he would rather be rid of her. He asks for help, but is told that he should just live with his decisions because only the rich can get a divorce. At work, he eventually becomes an outcaste because he does not want to join the union. Then he loses his job because he refuses to be a spy. To make matters worse, he is offered help only to find out that he is being set up as a suspect for a future bank robbery. He ends up dying after falling in a well when coming back to clear his good name. This basically states that everything possible can go wrong with the lower class. He cannot be with the one he loves, he can¿t fix any of his situations, and then he dies when he is attempting to at least save his reputation.In Hard Times, Louisa does not go to the working class neighborhoods until she goes to see Stephen after he is fired. At the same time, the working class seemed to feel like they were meant for their position. Stephen is worn out, but he states that he understands his place and accepts it. The critical readings also seem to state that people accept their positions in life because of a social commitment to one another.Dickens describes Coketown as if it is a place made out of brick. Everything is square and nondescript. The school house at the beginning of the book is a square building, the Grandagrind house is a square building, and the bank is as well. There are descriptions of the smoke billowing up from the factories, but the majority of the descriptions are related to fire. Flames are used throughout the story when Louisa and Stephen are mentioned. These flames are throughout each household, but also in relation to the factories. Louisa states something about the factories becoming flames at night.Dickens' focuses more on how the environment represents emotions within the characters and Engel focuses on the social disparities between the rich and the poor. I think that they are basically describing the same thing, but they have different motivations and that effects how everything is discussed. Engel wanted to directly point out a factual portrait to change politics and economics. So, he focused directly upon the conditions of the working class. Dickens¿ was not giving a factual representation, but hoping to evoke sentimentality and awareness through his story. This was more blatant than his other stories, but he still is very interested in the development of his characters, and not just a description of the scene.
gbill on LibraryThing 27 days ago
Hard Times might be said to be Dickens' reaction to:- Utilitarianism, the concept pushed by John Stuart Mill and others for "the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people." While the statement ostensibly sounds reasonable, Dickens was concerned that those not in the "greatest number" would suffer great pain, as he and so many others had in the Industrial Revolution.- Education of children focused on hard facts and dry pragmatism, stifling imagination and higher pursuits, such that they could become better workers in a society geared too much towards capitalism.- Man's inhumanity to man in materialistic Victorian England. These social criticisms are all intertwined, and of course are themes in many of Dickens' other works. Hard Times is concentrated; severe space limitations cut the book to about 1/3 his previous four novels, and the result is a focus that some enjoy and others don't. It's not his best but worth a read.
kambrogi on LibraryThing 28 days ago
The story begins with Thomas Gradgrind, an educator raising his children on ¿facts, facts, facts,¿ to the exclusion of creativity and imagination. The book follows his children as they grow and enter the world, and all the diverse individuals who feel the touch of his philosophy: those who embrace it and those who chafe at the bit. It is clear that Dickens condemns this point of view, although not Mr. Gradgrind himself, who exhibits the three-dimensional complexity of Dickens¿ best characters. The book is part melodrama, part satire, and especially an indictment of the worst aspects of 19th century England¿s industrial practices and social mores. The sense of moral outrage is powerful, and inspirational in the reading. But what rises above it all is his characters ¿ still living and breathing more than 150 years after they were created.
lafincoff on LibraryThing 28 days ago
I like Charles Dickens, I must admit. I've read similar authors such as Jean Austin. I grabbed this book super cheap at the thrift store, and was doubtful about what kind of a read it would be. I was surprised. This one was quite the surprise.The book goes on at length about differing philosophies of the time, though never pedanticly. This is Dickens, so it is all done through character. I found it to be very modern in thought.The themes struck me as the seeds of the socialist thought of authors such as Marx, though one of the main characters, the put upon morally upright poor man rejects revolution in favor of faith.The read was stimulating, and a taste of thought in a different time. I didn't read this particular edition.
MeditationesMartini on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Aw, guys, don't pick on Dickens. (And you BEST not be dickin on Pickens.) This is a great-hearted novel, that reminds us just to be kind to one another first of all, and fight the injustice we can see. And sure, Dickens is a bleeding-heart liberal, and sure, it's unforgivable the way he represents the union movement, via Slackbridge, as venal and exploitative. But the accomplishments of the unions in the 19th and 20th centuries (I miss solidarity), much as they wouldn't have come about without that good strong ethic of martial socialism, also wouldn't have come about if they hadn't endeavoured in a world made ready for them by debatechangers like Boz. You need both sides. And sure, yes, there's also the argument that that kind of liberalism undermines the potential for real change; but tell that to all the people who suffered a little bit less after the Poor Laws were repealed. You need both sides.

And like how we forgive Atticus Finch for not challenging Jim Crow, a current reading can easily enough put its hand over its heart and salute the good in Dickens for making a stand, without buying in completely--certainly we'll ignore his "let them eat Christianity" for the poor at every opportunity, his failure to really challenge class privilege--we'll read against him, and recognize with a righteous anger the way that class influences the fates, respectively, of Harthouse, Tom Gradgrind, and Stephen Blackpool. And acknowledge the truth of the representation.

My sister says that university students pick on Dickens because of that thing where you hate what you are--and what do they do but talk about the oppressed from a position of privilege? Dickens is of course guilty as charged on that score, Marx himself also gave him credit for making caring respectable for the self-interested middle classes. And Hard Times was his major salvo.

He fought the injustice he could see. Better champagne socialism than no socialism at all.

Eyejaybee on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Not one of Dickens's better known novels but seething with his customary descriptive powers, and even more social comment than usual.The novel is set in Coketown, a fictional city in the North of England renowned for its mills and factories. The novel opens with headmaster Thomas Gradgrind introducing prospective new clients to his school with a speech reminiscent of current Minister of State for Schools Nick Gibb, and stressing the importance of facts over sentiment or imagination. Even his own children are subjected to an education in which curiosity is suppressed and learning facts by rote is the only permissible approach.Gradgrind's closest companion is the odious Josiah Bounderby, a self-made man who is never happier than when extolling the poverty of his childhood and traducing the mother who abandoned him in a ditch when merely an infant. He revels in the poverty of his upbringing and the absence of his own education, and champion's Gradgrind's factual crusade. He also dotes in the most gruesome manner over Louisa, eldest daughter of Gradgrind, and subsequently, following discussions with Mr Gradgrind that more closely resembled a business negotiation than a lover's suit, marries her. Her brother, also called Thomas, comes to work for Bounderby, taking on a role in the bank, though he succumbs to a dangerous addiction to gambling and drinking.Bounderby is owner of a bank and a mill in Coketown, and his employees are almost shackled, dependent upon the pittance he pays them. However, while most of the workers seem anonymous, one of them is Stephen Blackpool, who loves Rachael, but is married to an unnamed and itinerant alcoholic woman Blackpool refuses to join a trade union, and as a consequence he is sent to Coventry by his colleagues. However, rather than being supported by Bounderby he finds himself given notice to quit. Pledging always to stay true to Rachael he makes his arrangements to leave.And then someone robs the bank ...Like all of his more famous novels there is a heavy dose of almost cliched sentiment about this novel, but Dickens does bring his incisive social commentary into play. He attacks every aspect of the workers' thraldom - the paucity of their wages, the conditions in which they have to work, the rampant pollution of the mills, the desperate poverty of available accommodation. Yet despite all this, it is not just a political diatribe but remains enjoyable.
AdonisGuilfoyle on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Dear me, two Dickens novels in as many weeks - I must be getting old! His stories are still a little too simplistic for my liking - the good are rewarded, the 'wicked' punished - but I do love his narrative style and wry humour. For Victorian social commentary, particularly about the industrial north, Dickens' friend Mrs Gaskell has the edge, but I can still appreciate this moralistic tale about the sacrifice of humanity as the cost of progress. Mr Bounderby is my favourite character, inventing a heroic struggle to raise himself out of the gutter where most people would 'improve' their social heritage for effect: 'I passed the day in a ditch and the night in a pigsty. That's the way I spent my tenth birthday. Not that a ditch was new to me, for I was born in a ditch.' He reminds me of the Monty Python 'Four Yorkshiremen' sketch - 'I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, drink a cup of sulphuric acid, and work twenty nine hours a day down t'mill ..' - and his exaggerations are made all the funnier because he is making it all up!The story is one of Dickens' standard social metaphors, about the family of Mr Gradgrind, presumably a member of the Statistical Society, who raises his children on 'facts alone', and denies them any imagination or amusement; Gradgrind of course representing the industrial north ('Coketown' is based on Preston, Lancashire) and his children the working classes. Bounderby, the 'self-made man' more or less buys Gradgrind's disillusioned daughter, Louisa, as his wife, and she agrees, to benefit her wayward brother, but her heart rebels when she thinks she might have fallen in love with the cynical Jem Harthouse. There's also Old Stephen Blackpool, replete with thick Lancastrian accent, who falls prey to both the greed of the masters and the strength of the unions, and Sissy Jupe, the freespirited circus girl, who is adopted by Gradgrind and helps to become a better man. Characters are where Dickens really triumphs, and I wasn't disappointed here.Not quite the industrial novel I was expecting, but an amusing read!
gypsysmom on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Charles Dickens was born 200 years ago this month. To celebrate many BookCrossers decided to read one of his works in February. I decided to listen to this book. I had never heard of it before but I figured I couldn't go too far wrong with anything by Dickens. I especially like listening to his work as the descriptive language really builds a picture in my mind.This book is unusual in comparison to most of Dickens' work. For one thing, it is set in the north of England and, other than one of the characters being a member of Parliament, no-one bothers with London. It is also quite a bit shorter than most of his novels but you shouldn't think it doesn't have depths. The setting is an industrial town that sounds frankly awful. Smoke stacks spew into the air all day and all night so there is never an unobscured view of the sky. All the houses and buildings are red brick with no decoration. To go with the surroundings the local school teaches only the facts and discourages children from "wondering" about anything. One of the eminent families is the Gradgrinds and Mr. Gradgrind is a trustee of the school. The book opens with the children being quizzed. Sissy, daughter of a man employed in the circus, is asked to describe a horse but she can't do it to the satisfaction of the questioners. She can't give just the facts. Bitzer, one of the star pupils, is able to give a complete description sticking only to the facts and Sissy is recommended to follow his example.The Gradgrind children, Louisa and Tom, are also pupils of the school and their father is very proud of their learning. Louisa ends up married to one of her father's friends, Mr. Bounderby, mainly because she is unable to think of any other possibilty. She also is prodded into the marriage by Tom who is working in Mr. Bounderby's bank and thinks his life will be much easier if Louisa is married to Bounderby. Tom is a wastrel, given to gambling and drinking. Dickens brings the working class into the story through the introduction of Stephen Blackpool. Stephen is in love with Rachel but is married to a woman who is a drunkard. Stephen tries to find out from Bounderby if he can dissolve his marriage but is told that he couldn't afford to get an annulment.These main characters interact and Dickens shows how unsatisfactory utilitarianism is for most humans. The book is more tragic than other Dickens that I have read but I suspect that was his aim. There are some wonderful characterizations and Louisa, Rachel and Sissy are strong characters.
hansel714 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Thomas Gradgrind brings up his children with the motto of "Facts! Facts! Facts! Nothing but facts!" As a result, Gradgrind's daughter ends up in a loveless marriage to a much older and disgusting man and his son turns out to be a dissipated fop. The narrative is easily going, and I teared many a times while reading although my minor gripe is that it's too didactic and heavy-handed. Ok, Dickens, we get it already, Facts are important but so are emotions. Stop badgering us already.