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Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Hard Times (1854)

by Charles Dickens

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7,25390491 (3.51)351
  1. 01
    The Professor by Charlotte Brontë (CurrerBell)
    CurrerBell: The Professor and Hard Times don't have all that much in common — and even less so do CB and CD have that much in common — but there's an interesting conversational exchange in The Professor, in the last chapter but one, that reminds me of the "reason vs. sensibility" theme in Hard Times.… (more)

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Dickens at his didactic worst, assembling a cast of paperthin caricatures and prodding them to play out a sledgehammer moral pantomime. ( )
  yarb | Sep 23, 2016 |
This read as though Dickens had a number of points he wanted to make (the dangers of education based on fact, to the exclusion of imagination and religion; the dangers of unionization, even though clearly something ought to be done about poor working conditions; the difficulties the poor have in obtaining a divorce etc) and set out to create a novel around them.

Louisa was not a developed enough character to carry the story and (as the introduction to my edition points out) there is no hero. The scene where Mr Bounderby is confronted by his mother and revealed to be a complete fraud in his Monty Pythonesque tales of the poverty of his early years is fantastic and the bank robbery plot is mildly interesting. I also enjoyed Mrs Sparsit, and Bitzer kept me guessing.

But... Mr Slearly's lisp made the sections he appeared in almost unreadable and Stephen's accent made it hard work getting through his speeches. I did feel that poor Stephen deserved a happy ending, but sadly it was not to be. The chapter where Louisa confronts her father and he, she and Sissy get all emotional together was rather over the top for modern tastes, but presumably played well to a Victorian readership. I was outraged that the Gradgrinds thought Tom deserved to avoid justice. Why did Dickens write this? Did he think the middle class deserved to escape the consequences of their criminal actions? Was it just an excuse to reintroduce the circus again at the end? I had no sense at all of the internal workings of the Bounderby marriage during the year or so it lasted. Did they have sex? Did they ever speak together in private? What did they talk about? Did Louisa hope to have baby?

Disappointing. ( )
  pgchuis | Jun 30, 2016 |
I didn't think I would like it, but it was surprisingly enjoyable. Dickens was really unsubtle in his opinions but I think it worked well for the novel. The only thing missing from this story and the industrial Coketown is the extreme plight of the working class in the urban landscape. ( )
  captainmander | May 11, 2016 |
Hard Times Charles Dickens

This is my least favourite of the Dickens novels I have read so far, perhaps because it is a departure from his normal style of writing and is also his shortest work.

I found the characters lacked depth and I could not relate to the fictional town he created whereas with his other novels I could picture his London etc

I did enjoy the usual word play around character names and some parts of the story did capture my interest but for me the important social commentary he created was lost because I just did not enjoy the overall story or characters. ( )
  BookWormM | Jan 15, 2016 |
"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 dont 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 development of the 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 story telling duties, Hard Times is well paced, sometime funny, sometime 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 seduction of Louisa in mind. His slick patter is very amusing and brings to mind one of [a:Oscar Wilde|3565|Oscar Wilde|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1357460488p2/3565.jpg]’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, sometime sardonic sometime 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 everyday!) 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. ( )
  apatt | Dec 26, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (95 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Dickensprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chesterton, G.K.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Foot, DingleIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Greiffenhagen, MauriceIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lesser, AntonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Richardson, JoannaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schlicke, PaulEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shapiro, CharlesAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sothoron, Karen HenricksonCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tull, PatrickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walker, FIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Now, what I want is, Facts.
She was a most wonderful woman for prowling about the house. How she got from story to story was a mystery beyond solution. A lady so decorous in herself, and so highly connected, was not to be suspected of dropping over the banisters or sliding down them, yet her extraordinary facility of locomotion suggested the wild idea. Another noticeable circumstance in Mrs. Sparsit was, that she was never hurried. She would shoot with consummate velocity from the roof to the hall, yet would be in full possession of her breath and dignity on the moment of her arrival there. Neither was she ever seen by human vision to go at a great pace.
There was a library in Coketown, to which general access was easy. Mr. Gradgrind greatly tormented his mind about what the people read in this library: a point whereon little rivers of tabular statements periodically flowed into the howling ocean of tabular statements, which no diver ever got to any depth in and came up sane. It was a disheartening circumstance, but a melancholy fact, that even these readers persisted in wondering. They wondered about human nature, human passions, human hopes and fears, the struggles, triumphs and defeats, the cares and joys and sorrows, the lives and deaths of common men and women! They sometimes, after fifteen hours' work, sat down to read mere fables about men and women, more or less like themselves, and about children, more or less like their own. They took De Foe to their bosoms, instead of Euclid, and seemed to be on the whole more comforted by Goldsmith than by Cocker. Mr. Gradgrind was for ever working, in print and out of print, at this eccentric sum, and he never could make out how it yielded this unaccountable product
For the first time in her life Louisa had come into one of the dwellings of the Coketown Hands; for the first time in her life she was face to face with anything like individuality in connection with them. She knew of their existence by hundreds and by thousands. She knew what results in work a given number of them would produce in a given space of time. She knew them in crowds passing to and from their nests, like ants or beetles. But she knew from her reading infinitely more of the ways of toiling insects than of these toiling men and women.

Something to be worked so much and paid so much, and there ended; something to be infallibly settled by laws of supply and demand; something that blundered against those laws, and floundered into difficulty; something that was a little pinched when wheat was dear, and over-ate itself when wheat was cheap; something that increased at such a rate of percentage, and yielded such another percentage of crime, and such another percentage of pauperism; something wholesale, of which vast fortunes were made; something that occasionally rose like a sea, and did some harm and waste (chiefly to itself), and fell again; this she knew the Coketown Hands to be. But, she had scarcely thought more of separating them into units, than of separating the sea itself into its component drops.
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Book description
Murdering the Innocent! Facts, Facts, Facts. Teach these children facts, not fancies. Sense, not sentimentality. Conformity, not curiosity. Proof and demonstration, not poetry and drama...On this bleak tenet is run the Gradgrind model day school in Hard Times.

No other work of Dickens presents so relentless an indictment against the callous greed of the Victorian industrial society and its misapplied utilitarian philosophy as this fiercest of his novels. With savage bitterness Dickens unmasks the hellish industries that imprisoned the bodies of the helpless labor class and the equally satanic institutions that shacked the development of their minds. 271
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140430423, Paperback)

In the persons of Gradgrind and Bounderby, Dickens stigmatized the prevalent philosophy of utilitarianism which, whether in school or factory, allowed human beings to be caged in a dreary scenery of brick terraces and foul chimneys, to be enslaved to machines and reduced to numbers.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:21 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

"The 'terrible mistake' was the contemporary utilitarian philosophy, expounded in Hard Times (1854) as the Philosophy of Fact by the hard-headed disciplinarian Thomas Gradgrind. But the novel, Dickens's shortest, is more than a polemical tract for the times; the tragic story of Louisa Gradgrind and her father is one of Dickens's triumphs. When Louisa, trapped in a loveless marriage, falls prey to an idle seducer, the crisis forces her father to reconsider his cherished system" -- publisher websit (July 2007).… (more)

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16 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

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Penguin Australia

4 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 014143967X, 0141195207, 0141198346, 0141199563

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