Hard Times. Charles Dickens. First Published 1854. 265 pages. Genre: Classic.
First Lines: "'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. Stick to Facts, sir!'"
Summary: Thomas Gradgrind, schoolmaster in Coketown, is passionate about Fact. In his opinion, nothing else is needed in life and he has brought his children up in an atmosphere full of Facts, but void of life and beauty. Tom and Louisa Gradgrind are unhappy and aimless. Louisa marries Josiah Bounderby, a vulgar banker 20 years her senior because she asks, "What does it matter?". She soon discovers she is miserable and cares nothing for her husband. Tom slithers into a life of drinking and deception. He ultimately allows an innocent man to take the blame for a crime he committed. As Thomas Gradgrind witnesses the despair and lack of morality in his children, he begins to realize that the beliefs he held so dear have led to the destruction of his children's lives.
My thoughts: Charles Dickens can really create some memorable characters. The cast of characters in this novel is wonderful. While they are not all deep, they are so well described that you find yourself recognizing them in your own life. Dickens seems to have a deep understanding of the types of human beings that exist.
Thomas Gradgrind has no room for anything but facts and forcing them down the throats of his students and his own children. No one is ever allowed to say, "I wonder..." because that would be dangerous. Mrs. Gradgrind has a small role in the story, but what we do see of her was so perfect. She seems to be a limp sort of woman who is gradually fading away.
Mr. Bounderby is a loud, pompous, vulgar man void of sentiment. He is forever reminding anyone he comes in contact with that he had a difficult upbringing being raised by his drunken grandmother. Dickens brilliantly described him as "the Bully of humility". He was a repellent man and I was sad when Louisa agreed to marry him.
Louisa Gradgrind describes herself as being tired. She is tired of nothing but facts and a life void of wonder, imagination, beauty, fun. But she is an obedient child doing what she is required to do and doing it well. She and her brother Tom are quite close and share a contempt for the life they are living. Louisa loves Tom most in all the world.
Tom Gradgrind is not a bad boy at heart. But he has no direction or encouragement towards morality. He loves his sister, but on his own terms. His descent into drinking and gambling was perfect and sad. He was often referred to by Dickens as "the whelp", which was a great description.
Sissy/Cecilia Jupe and her father belong to the circus. As such, they are looked down upon. Of all the characters she had the most imagination and, in her supposed ignorance, was not afraid to express some emotion. She loved her father most in all the world and was loved and cared for by the other people in the circus. She saw the good in people and stood up for them even when they couldn't stand up for themselves.
Mrs. Sparsit was a "highly connected" widow who kept house for Mr. Bounderby. She thought very highly of herself and Mr. Bounderby and looked down her nose at most other people, especially Louisa Gradgrind. Speaking of noses, Mrs. Sparsit's was her most prominent feature. She was manipulative, always looking for the downfall of others.
Stephen Blackpool was a "Hand" at one of the factories. He was honest, humble and kind. Many tried to make him a scapegoat.
James Harthouse becomes overly interested in Mrs. Bounderby (Louisa). He shows a real interest in her as a person and ultimately tries to get her to leave her unhappy marriage. He seemed to be the character that could bring out suppressed emotions in others.
This book was funny, but also sad. So many lives were hurt through a lack of love, kindness and beauty. Overall, this was a great read.
"'I can't talk to you so as to lighten your mind, for I never see any amusing sights or read any amusing books that it would be a pleasure or a relief to you to talk about, when you are tired.'"
"'I used to read to him to cheer his courage, and he was very fond of that. They were wrong books - I am never to speak of them here - but we didn't know there was any harm in them."
"An overcast September evening, just at nightfall, saw beneath its drooping eyelid Mrs. Sparsit glide out of her carriage, pass down the wooden steps of the little station into a stony road, cross it into a green lane, and become hidden in a summer growth of leaves and branches. One or two late birds sleepily chirping in their nests, and a bat heavily crossing and recrossing her, and the reek of her own tread in the thick dust that felt like velvet, were all Mrs. Sparsit heard or saw until she very softly closed a gate."