I realized the other day that it has been several years since I read anything by Dickens. As a professed book lover, this slight needs to be remedied immediately. After agonizing over which of his books to read, I chose Hard Times. My reason for selecting this one you may ask? Out of all of my Dickens, this was the shortest so I thought I could finish it rather quickly. Dickens had quite the difficult upbringing. While his family spent three months in a debtors’ prison, young Charles worked several menial jobs such as pasting labels on bottles. He grew up in some of the more wretched parts of England, experiences that helped shape the majority of his works. With a title like Hard Times, I wasn’t expecting it to necessarily be an uplifting tale.
I was actually pleasantly surprised by the amount of humor Dickens used in this novel. Some parts of the book had me laughing out loud, particularly in regards to the character of Mr. Bounderby. Dickens is a master at crafting characters, such as their physical descriptions and the great dialects in the characters of Stephen Blackpool and Mr. Sleary. These characters’ lives all interweave into an awesome tapestry, making this a unique work that doesn’t just focus on one central character. Despite the bleak nature of the novel, Dickens is clearly having a lot of fun writing it with his great construction of character names, such as the fact-driven “Grindstone.”
The main plot of Hard Times is perfectly summed up in the opening quote: “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.” The character of Mr. Grindstone believes in being practical (Facts) while such pursuits as the imagination and having fun are worthless (Fancy). The consequences of this belief have their biggest downfall in his sending his oldest daughter Louisa to marry the insufferable Bounderby because it is practical. Although she is clearly unhappy and does not love Bounderby, Louisa consents to marry him. The concept of being in an unhappy marriage and not being able to divorce is another main plot point in the novel. Stephen Blackpool is married to a woman who has a mental illness and suffers from alcoholism but is unable to divorce her because of his lower social ranking. Louisa cannot leave her husband because she is a woman. I liked how Dickens didn’t resort to any quick happy ending solution at the end of this novel. Although, we get a glimpse at the end of what happened to each character, Dickens doesn’t rely on the marriage plot ending that writers like Jane Austen employed.
I’m happy I selected this as my next foray into Dickens and would recommend this novel for those who have never read any of his works before. Hard Times is a quick read that contains a lot of drama mixed with humor.
“How could you give me life, and take from me all the inappreciable things that raise it from the state of conscious death? Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart? What have you done, oh, Father, What have you done with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here? Said Louisa as she touched her heart.”