Hard Times by Charles Dickens was his tenth novel. It was published in 1854, and it’s quite different from the other five novels I have read by him. Most of his novels dance around social injustice. This novel deals with the topic directly.
It takes place in a fictitious town, called Coketown. Thomas Gradgrind loves facts. He only wants to know facts. Don’t ask him to think, unless you ask him to think of facts. He runs a school in Coketown that only teaches its pupils about facts. He believes so much in facts that he brings up his children to only know facts. They aren’t allowed to daydream like other children. Facts! That’s it!
Cecelia “Sissy” Jupe is a poor child whose father abandons her in Coketown. Gradgrind takes her in and tries to cram facts into her head. However, unlike his children, Sissy’s mind can’t handle just facts. She has feelings. Gradgrind allows her to stay in his home as a servant.
As it turns out, the schoolmaster’s oldest children, Louisa and Tom,can’t survive just on facts. Louisa marries a rich man in town. She doesn’t love her husband since she’s never been taught about love. Love is not a fact. Tom works for Louisa’s husband in Coketown. His new found freedom from his father’s house and from facts leads him astray. Tom makes a decision that will change not just his life, but the lives of all those around him.
Hard Times is a condemnation against the social inequalities that pervaded the industrial age in England during the Victorian era. Dickens exposes the greed of the capitalists who are profiting off the enslavement of thousands of factory workers who live in poverty.
This novel is unlike his other novels. Not only is it shorter but the humor is sparse. Some of the characters and the scenes are comical, but I think he did this to make the subject matter more palatable. He is not hiding behind his story in hopes that the reader will see the injustice in his world. The injustice is the story.
While I enjoyed this novel, I didn’t like it as much as his other novels. I will admit though that I had a difficult time putting it down. In fact, I think I read the entire novel, 292 pages, in two evenings. It’s worth a read. However, if you haven’t read any Dickens beforehand, I implore you not to start with this novel to get a true sense of his writing. I fear this novel may turn you off of his writing entirely.
This novel is on my 1001 list of books you must read before you die and it’s the sixth novel I’ve read by Charles Dickens this year.
Dickens dedicated this novel to Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish writer, essayist and historian during the Victorian era. Below you’ll see some photos of Carlyle’s house and neighborhood.