Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Hard Times by Charles Dickens
Published in the UK by Bradbury And Evans in 1854.

One of my Classics Club reads

How I got this book:
Bought an ebook edition via Amazon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hard Times – For These Times (commonly known as Hard Times) is the tenth novel by Charles Dickens, first published in 1854. The book tells the tragic story of Louisa Gradgrind and her father. When Louisa, trapped in a loveless marriage, falls prey to an idle seducer, the crisis forces her father to reconsider his cherished system. Yet even as the development of the story reflects Dickens's growing pessimism about human nature and society, Hard Times marks his return to the theme which had made his early works so popular: the amusements of the people.

Coketown is dominated by the figure of Mr Thomas Gradgrind, school owner and model of Utilitarian success. Feeding both his pupils and his family with facts, he bans fancy and wonder from young minds. As a consequence his young daughter Louisa marries the loveless businessman and “bully of humility” Mr Bounderby, and his son Tom rebels to become embroiled in gambling and robbery. And, as their fortunes cross with those of free-spirited circus girl Sissy Jupe and victimized weaver Stephen Blackpool, Gradgrind is eventually forced to recognize the value of the human heart in an age of materialism and machinery. 

I've initiated two Christmas reading traditions over the past few years. One is to immerse myself in Deborah Garner's latest Moonglow Cafe Christmas novella. The other is to blog my review of a Charles Dickens novel on Christmas Day, necessitating reading one each December. I never read proper Dickens when I was growing up, instead we had a few children's abbreviated versions of his most famous stories. I've noticed though that many of his characters and storylines are referenced in other novels leaving me somewhat at a disadvantage by not always understanding or even recognising them. Hence the annual Dickens project. I admit I am easily intimidated by the sheer length of his books which is why I only attempt one a year and am gradually working up from A Christmas Carol to David Copperfield. This December I chose Hard Times which actually turned out to be very apt considering I started reading it on Election Day!

My overriding memory of Hard Times, unfortunately, will probably be boredom. I really did want much more storyline and a lot less small talk dialogue, especially from the characters whose words were entirely written phonetically. This was seriously overdone! I understood Dickens wanted to put across an idea of their speech, but I found it frequently almost unintelligible! That said, overall, the characterisations were my favourite part of Hard Times, particularly those of the older people. Thomas Gradgrind's insistence on Facts! Joseph Bounderby with his terrible childhood,  demure Mrs Sparsit and overlooked Mrs Gradgrind. Dickens' illustrating the social injustices endured by Coketown's workers must have a brave move at the time, especially as I imagine more of his contemporary readers would have been Owners and their families rather than Hands. It's both a look at England of 160 years ago and a glimpse into the far-too-near future! I'm glad to have now read Hard Times, but I probably won't ever read it again.

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  1. I think this is such a good annual goal, and starting small and gradually getting bigger is a good way to go with his works. I am sorry that this one was so boring though :/

    1. There were good moments, but a lot of waffle too which was unfortunate!