Dickens, Charles Hard Times for These Times
Charles Dickens Hard Times for These Times
The following entry presents criticism of Dickens's novel Hard Times (1854). See also Charles Dickens Short Story Criticism, A Christmas Carol Criticism, A Tale of Two Cities Criticism, Little Dorrit Criticism, and Our Mutual Friend Criticism.
Perhaps the least-known of all Dickens's novels, Hard Times is a social-protest novel which attempts to lay bare the malignant impact of nineteenth-century industrial society upon the people living in English factory towns. It was poorly received upon its publication in hard cover and has been often overlooked in critical surveys of Dickens's works; still, Hard Times has acquired a growing critical following in the mid to late twentieth century, largely because of critical remarks by three key commentators.
In early 1854, Dickens sought for ideas for a long story to be run in the magazine he edited, Household Words, which faced a shrinking circulation and falling profits. After some thought, he settled upon his theme: the condition of English factory life and its effects upon the laborers who were the victims of its unfairness, squalor, danger, and exhausting boredom. The idea for his yet-unwritten novel "laid hold of me by the throat in a very violent manner," Dickens wrote, and he vowed, in writing Hard Times, "to strike the heaviest blow in my power" for the English industrial worker. Having traveled to Preston in late January to experience life in an industrial city then in the midst of a twenty-three-week textile strike and having read of labor conditions in Manchester (upon which he modelled his Coketown), Dickens began writing his novel. Hard Times appeared in weekly installments in Household Words between April and August, a labor which left Dickens "three parts mad, and the fourth delirious, with perpetual rushing" but which also doubled (by one estimation, quadrupled) the circulation of Household Words. Exhausted upon finishing the novel in mid July, Dickens spent several days drinking heavily, later writing, "I have been in a blaze of dissipation altogether, and have succeeded (I think) in knocking the remembrance of my work out." Shortly afterward, Hard Times appeared in hardcover, published by the house of Bradbury and Evans and dedicated to another critic of British culture, Thomas Carlyle.
Plot and Major CharactersA schoolmaster at a utilitarian private school in industrial Coketown, Thomas Gradgrind insists that his students learn empirical facts alone; humor, music, and imagination are banished from his classroom and from the lives of his children. The five Gradgrind children embody their father's philosophy, which was widely discussed and praised in early- to mid-nineteenth-century Britain. One day after school, Gradgrind is disturbed to discover his two eldest children, Tom and Louisa, attempting to peek through the walls of a circus tent; his displeasure increases when the two are unapologetic about this offense against the principles by which they have been raised. Puzzled by their behavior and determined to correct it, Gradgrind consults with a friend, Josiah Bounderby, a manufacturer and banker, who advises him that the children have been corrupted by a schoolmate, Cecilia ("Sissy") Jupe, the daughter of a circus rider. Before he can remove Sissy from his school and from his life, Gradgrind discovers that the girl's father has deserted her; moved by compassion and against the warnings of Bounderby and his own philosophy, he decides to raise Sissy in his own home and to allow her to continue attending his school. Years pass, the children grow up, and Bounderby sets his cap for Louisa, who agrees to marry this wealthy financier, thirty years her senior, to please her brother Tom, who has grown into a dissolute young man and now works at Bounderby's bank. The marriage rankles Bounderby's elderly housekeeper, Mrs. Sparsit, who mistrusts and begins spying on Louisa.
Meanwhile, Gradgrind, now in London as a member of Parliament, sends a young associate, James Harthouse, to Coketown to gather data on British economic and social life. Harthouse is directed to Bounderby's household, and while he finds Bounderby himself a self-aggrandizing blowhard, full of expansive talk about being a self-made man, he is smitten by pretty Louisa and sets about wooing her away from her husband and loveless marriage. He is successful, and soon he and Louisa are making plans to run away together—unaware that watchful Mrs. Sparsit is aware of their intent. Meanwhile, to the amazement of all, Bounderby's bank is robbed, and the authorities name one of Bounderby's employees, Stephen Blackpool, as their prime suspect. Blackpool, who had been mistreated by Bounderby, had been seen loitering in front of the bank shortly before it was robbed, in the company of an old woman known as Mrs. Pegler. The climax of the novel is reached when Louisa, having agreed to elope with Harthouse, chooses instead to return to her father's household; Mrs. Sparsit informs on Louisa and Harthouse, causing Bounderby to demand that Louisa return to him, which she does; Blackpool is cleared of all wrongdoing, Tom is found to be the real bankrobber; and Mrs. Sparsit, seeking to further ingratiate herself with Bounderby, tracks down Mrs. Pegler, who is revealed as Bounderby's own mother—who proceeds to publicly deflate Bounderby's claims of a Horatio-Algeresque career. Harthouse disappears. With the help of Sissy, Tom escapes Bounderby's vengeance, and Mrs. Sparsit is released by Bounderby for her meddle-someness. Bounderby dies a few years later, and the Gradgrinds, bereft of all that makes life meaningful and pleasant, face long lives of boredom and misery.
Like the novels that preceded it—notably Dombey and Son and Bleak House—Hard Times is concerned with industrial society, but, as Edgar Johnson has written, "it is not so much a picture of its ramifications as a presentation of its underlying principles. It is an analysis and a condemnation of the ethos of industrialism." Rife with symbolism, the novel focuses upon characters not as human types but as products of the industrial age. Throughout the novel there is a tight, airless atmosphere informed by the utilitarian ethic; English life is no longer organic and whole but lived according to a poisonous theory which allows the rich and powerful to exert their will upon their employees and upon nature itself. The industrial city of Coketown is itself begrimed into colorlessness, shrouded in fumes and the unending plumes of reek arising from its many chimneys. The characters, with the exception of Sissy Jupe and members of the circus troupe, act less like human beings than like automata, programmed to respond to life and to each other by standards of measurable expediency alone. Freedom, humor, and art are symbolized by the circus performers; in glimpses of them (and thus, into the lives of characteristically humorous Dickensian characters), Dickens contrasts the life of imagination with the life of utility.
Reviews of Hard Times marked it as a rare failure by Dickens. Critics found it variously misguided in its politics (Lord Macaulay found little but "sullen socialism" in the novel), largely humorless, hamhanded in plotting, marred by overdone caricatures, satirically off-target, divided in interest, and philosophically muddled. By the middle of 1855, less than a year after its appearance between hard covers, Hard Times lagged in sales far behind the three Dickens novels that immediately preceded it, trailing as well the author's minor Child's History of England (1852-54). The work's single critical accolade, met with widespread derision for a half century, appeared in 1860 in an article by John Ruskin, who wrote that he considered Hard Times, of all Dickens's works, "the greatest he has written." Numerous scholars, beginning with David Masson in his British Novelist and Their Styles (1859) and extending through Eleanor Graham's Story of Charles Dickens (1952) simply ignored Hard Times altogether in their discussions of Dickens, with others mentioning the novel in brief, sometimes chronologically inaccurate, asides. In the midst of its perpetual critical drubbing, Ruskin's remark was recurrently held up for curious examination, receiving no support until Bernard Shaw, in his preface to a 1913 edition, used Ruskin's comment as a springboard from which to find in Hard Times an "enormous" increase in Dickens's strength and intensity as a writer, adding that "the power that indicts a nation so terribly is much more impressive than that which ridicules individuals." Aside from this assessment, many critics during the first half of the twentieth century viewed Hard Times in a manner summarized by Stephen Leacock: that it "has no other interest in the history of letters than that of its failure." But a watershed in the critical history of Hard Times was reached in 1947 with F. R. Leavis's seminal essay "The Novel as Poem (I): Hard Times" in his periodical Scrutiny; this essay was reprinted with slight revisions as "Hard Times: An Analytic Note" the following year in Leavis's The Great Tradition, gaining wide attention. In this lengthy essay, Leavis sided with Ruskin and Shaw in writing that he considered the novel a "masterpiece" which, "of all Dickens's works . . . is the one that has all the strength of his genius, together with a strength no other of them can show—that of a completely serious work of art." By virtue of his critical stature as both a literary scholar in general and a Dickens scholar in particular, Leavis produced an essay that could not be ignored by subsequent commentators upon Hard Times. During the decades following the appearance of Leavis's "Analytic Note," scholars have scrutinized Hard Times through less jaundiced eyes, with several critics finding merit in the work (though not finding it Dickens's masterpiece, as had Leavis), while others—notably John Holloway and David H. Hirsch—attacking Leavis's position with thoroughgoing incisiveness, with Hirsch asking in conclusion, "For what, after all, can be more harmful to a genuinely great author's reputation than to insist that one of his dullest and least successful works is one of his greatest?" Critical essays of the 1970s through the 1990s have often moved beyond Leavis's essay and its critics to focus upon issues of gender, labor-capital relations, and politics in Hard Times.
SOURCE: A letter to Charles Eliot Norton on June 19, 1870, in Letters of John Ruskin to Charles Eliot Norton, Vol. II, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1904, pp. 4-6.
[Ruskin was an English critic, essayist, historian, poet, novella writer, autobiographer, and diarist. Endowed with a passion for reforming what he considered his "blind and wandering fellow-men" and convinced that he had "perfect judgment" in aesthetic matters, he was the author of over forty books and several hundred essays and lectures that expounded his theories of aesthetics, morality, history, economics, and social reform. In the following excerpt from a letter written shortly after Dickens's death, he summarizes the achievement of Dickens, citing Hard Times as the single exception to his depicting the Dickensian hero as an "iron-master. "]
My dearest Charles,—I knew you would deeply feel the death of Dickens. It is very frightful to me—among the blows struck by the fates at worthy men, while all mischievous ones have ceaseless strength. The literary loss is infinite—the political one I care less for than you do. Dickens was a pure modernist—a leader of the steam-whistle party par excellence—and he had no understanding of any power of antiquity except a sort of jackdaw sentiment for cathedral towers. He knew nothing of the nobler power of superstition—was essentially a stage manager, and used everything for...
(The entire section is 326 words.)
SOURCE: "Dickens's Hard Times," in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. XXXIX, No. CCXXXIII, March, 1877, pp. 353-58.
[Below, Whipple suggests that some representative assessments of Hard Times fail to consider "the distinction between Dickens as a creator of character and Dickens as a humorous satirist of what he considers flagrant abuses." Whipple maintains that both Dickens's satirical and dramatic genius are evident in his portrayal of the characters and incidents of the novel.]
Dickens established a weekly periodical, called Household Words, on the 30th of March, 1850. On the 1st of April, 1854, he began in it the publication of the tale of Hard Times, which was continued in weekly installments until its completion in the number for the 12th of August. The circulation of Household Words was doubled by the appearance in its pages of this story. When published in a separate form, it was appropriately dedicated to Thomas Carlyle, who was Dickens's master in all matters relating to the "dismal science" of political economy.
(The entire section is 4233 words.)
SOURCE: "The Radical," in Charles Dickens: A Critical Study, Dodd, Mead and Company, 1912, pp. 255-82.
[In the following excerpt from a work originally published in 1898, Gissing writes of Hard Times as a failed labor novel..]
We do not nowadays look for a fervent Christianity in leaders of the people. In that, as in several other matters, Dickens was by choice retrospective. Still writing at a time when "infidelity"—the word then used—was becoming rife among the populace of great towns, he never makes any reference to it, and probably did not take it into account; it had no place in his English ideal. I doubt, indeed, whether he was practically acquainted with the "free-thinking" workman. A more noticeable omission from his books (if we except the one novel which I cannot but think a failure) is that of the workman at war with capital. This great struggle, going on before him all his life, found no place in the scheme of his fiction. He shows us poor men who suffer under tyranny, and who exclaim against the hardship of things; but never such a representative wage-earner as was then to be seen battling for bread and right. One reason is plain: Dickens did not know the north of England. With adequate knowledge of a manufacturing town, he would never have written so unconvincingly as in his book Hard Times—the opportunity for dealing with this subject. Stephen Blackpool...
(The entire section is 407 words.)
SOURCE: "Hard Times, " in The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton: Chesterton on Dickens, Vol. XV, Ignatius Press, 1989, pp. 357-63.
[Regarded as one of England's premier men of letters during the first half of the twentieth century, Chesterton is best known today as a colorful bon vivant, a witty essayist, Catholic apologist, and as the creator of the Father Brown mysteries. His essays are characterized by their humor, frequent use of paradox, and chatty, rambling style. He was a lifelong Dickens enthusiast and wrote many essays on Dickens's works, including the introductions to each of the novels published in J. M. Dent's Everyman's Edition of Dickens's works. In the following essay, originally published in 1908 for the Everyman's Edition of Hard Times, Chesterton discourses on this novel as Dickens's harshest, a work strident in its emphasis upon egalitarianism.]...
(The entire section is 2713 words.)
SOURCE: "Introduction to Hard Times," in Shaw on Dickens, edited by Dan H. Lawrence and Martin Quinn, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1985, pp. 27-35.
[Shaw is generally considered the greatest and best-known dramatist to write in the English language since Shakespeare. During the late nineteenth century, he was also a prominent literary, art, music, and drama critic, and his reviews were known for their biting wit and brilliance. Like his friendly rival, Chesterton, Shaw was a longtime enthusiast of Dickens's work, primarily because of its value in the literature of class struggle, an emphasis which appealed strongly to the Fabian Shaw. In the following introduction to the Waverley subscription edition (1913) of Hard Times, Shaw finds the novel to portray the realism and social criticism that emerged in mid-nineteenth-century literature.]
John Ruskin once declared Hard Times Dickens's best novel. It is worth while asking why Ruskin thought this, because he would have been the first to admit that the habit of placing works of art in competition with one another, and wrangling as to which is the best, is the habit of the sportsman, not of the enlightened judge of art. Let us take it that what Ruskin meant was that Hard Times was one of his special favorites among Dickens's books. Was this the caprice of fancy? or is there any rational explanation of the...
(The entire section is 3568 words.)
SOURCE: "Bleak House and Social Reform," in Charles Dickens: His Life and Work, 1934. Reprint by The Sun Dial Press, Inc., 1938, pp. 152-72.
[A respected Canadian professor of economics, Leacock is best known as one of the leading humorists of the first half of the twentieth century. He is also the author of biographies of Twain and Dickens. In the excerpt from the latter which appears below, Leacock sketches the plot and details the "failure" of Hard Times.]
The story Hard Times has no other interest in the history of letters than that of its failure. At the time, even enthusiastic lovers of Dickens found it hard to read. At present they do not even try to read it. A large part of the book is mere trash; hardly a chapter of it is worth reading today: not an incident or a character belonging to it survives or deserves to. The names of Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby are still quoted, but only because they are felicitous names for hard, limited men, not because the characters in the book are known or remembered. Not a chapter or a passage in the book is part of Dickens's legacy to the world.
This may well seem strange. If the book had been written at the outset of its author's career, its faults could have been laid to immaturity; if at the close, to the waning powers of age; if written ten years later—as was Our Mutual Friend—it could have been explained...
(The entire section is 995 words.)
SOURCE: "Dickens's Shadow Show," in The Dickensian, Vol. XXXIX, No. 268, Autumn, 1943, pp. 187-91.
[In the essay below, Harrison profiles the characters in Hard Times, each of whom is "the ghost of some greater creation," appearing in a "great book" which is "no less a piece of artistry than Copperfield."]
In the good old days of my Victorian childhood there were two forms of entertainment, forerunners of the cinema, which have dwelt in my memory.
The first was the "Penny Reading," when the Vicar read to a (more or less) enthralled audience some work of (also more or less) merit and interest. How this species of enjoyment was developed and transcended by Charles Dickens everyone knows.
The Shadow Show was the other diversion. The performers, themselves unseen, were behind a white sheet and between it and a powerful light, so that their shadows were cast upon the screen. Much skill was needed on the part of actors and producer. Well managed, an excellent and amusing performance resulted. It was possible to accomplish much on the transparent curtain that could not be done upon the actual stage itself. A swordsman could most effectively run his adversary through without in the least incommoding him, and an angry termagant could empty a basin of gluey tapioca pudding over her husband without the victim being in any way inconvenienced. As...
(The entire section is 2844 words.)
SOURCE: "Hard Times: An Analytic Note," in The Great Tradition, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1954, pp. 273-99.
[Leavis was an influential twentieth-century English critic. His methodology combines close textual criticism with predominantly moral and social concerns; however, Leavis is not interested in the individual writer per se, but rather with the usefulness of his or her art in the scheme of civilization. The essay reprinted below, which appeared in its present form in 1948, is widely considered the seminal (and most controversial) essay on Hard Times published in the twentieth century. Here, elaborating on claims made in decades past by Ruskin and Shaw, Leavis presents a case for perceiving Hard Times as Dickens's greatest novel. This essay has been answered by numerous critics during the past forty years, notably by John Holloway (1962) and David H. Hirsch (1964).]
Hard Times is not a difficult work; its intention and nature are pretty obvious. If, then, it is the masterpiece I take it for, why has it not had general recognition? To judge by the critical record, it has had none at all. If there exists anywhere an appreciation, or even an acclaiming reference, I have missed it. In the books and essays on Dickens, so far as I know them, it is passed over as a very minor thing; too slight and insignificant to distract us for more than a sentence or two from the...
(The entire section is 9568 words.)
SOURCE: "Critique of Materialism-Criticism: Hard Times," in Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph, Volume Two, Simon and Schuster, 1952, pp. 801-19.
[Johnson is one of the most prominent Dickens scholars of the mid to late twentieth century, and his two-volume Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph (1952) is considered an essential text on Dickens and his work. In the excerpt below, he provides a detailed examination of Dickens's anti-Utilitarian stance in Hard Times, noting that the novel's final scenes "hold . . . the essence of his defense of art. "]
Hard Times brings to a culmination an orderly development of social analysis that extends in Dickens's work from Dombey and Son through Bleak House. That development has its roots, indeed, far earlier, and is to be found, although fragmentarily, in the social attitudes underlying Oliver Twist and the prison scenes of Pickwick Papers. With Dombey and Son, however, Dickens achieved his first clear picture of the workings of a monetary society; and even while he was still writing that story he underlined his hostility to Mr. Dombey's world through Scrooge and the fantasy of A Christmas Carol. Although David Copperfield is mainly an exploration of personal emotion, the social comment is an organic part of its pattern. It lurks in the legal morasses of Doctors' Commons and...
(The entire section is 7847 words.)
SOURCE: "Addenda: The Sports of Plenty," in The Maturity of Dickens, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1959, 169-89.
[In the following excerpt, Engel favorably appraises Hard Times, focusing upon its economy of presentation and emphasis upon the need for imagination—not utility alone—to make life bearable and full.]
The recent marked increase in the reputation of Hard Times has come at the expense of Dickens' general reputation. Satisfaction with this one sport of his genius has been used as a basis on which to denigrate that genius in its more characteristic manifestations. Hard Times satisfies the modern taste (in the arts alone) for economy—in Action, for spare writing and clearly demonstrable form. Dickens was capable of both, but they were not natural or congenial to him, and he chose to employ them only under the duress of limited space. Curiously enough, Hard Times grants a scant measure of the very quality for which it argues, imaginative pleasure. Its seriousness is so scrupulous, plain, and insistent that the reader moves along with simple, too rarely surprised consent, and it is worth noting that at one point Dickens considered calling the novel "Black and White."
Yet it is silly to prolong the arbitrary see-saw between Hard Times and the rest of Dickens' work. It is more to the point...
(The entire section is 1135 words.)
SOURCE: "Hard Times-Dickens's Masterpiece?" in The Imagination of Charles Dickens, Collins, 1961, p. 137-42.
[In the essay below, Cockshut seeks to demonstrate—contra F. R. Leavis—that Hard Times is not Dickens's masterpiece. He does, however, consider it a novel of high accomplishment. ]
Dr. Leavis has performed a valuable service by focusing attention on Hard Times, an important and neglected work. Those of us who do not quite agree with him about its quality are nevertheless grateful.
The leading idea of the book is proclaimed in the contrast between its subject, industrial society, and the titles of its three sections—Sowing, Reaping and Garnering. The intention, carried out at times with great subtlety and at times with a rather weary obviousness, was to show inherent life and growth conquering theory and calculation. This approach tends to break down the stock distinctions between town and country, between industry and agriculture, between science and intuition. From the first brilliant description of the factory world, where the elephants' heads represent the movements of machinery, the factory is treated as a living thing. Thus industrial smoke is linked with the horrors of hypocrisy and deception. "A blur of soot and smoke, now confusedly tending this way, now that way, now aspiring to the vault of Heaven, now murkily creeping...
(The entire section is 1567 words.)
SOURCE: "Hard Times: A History and a Criticism," in Dickens and the Twentieth Century, edited by John Gross and Gabriel Pearson, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962, pp. 159-74.
[The essay below, along with David H. Hirsch 's "Hard Times and F. R. Leavis" (1964), represents the most trenchant critical response to Leavis's famous 1948 essay championing Hard Times as Dickens's most accomplished novel.]
'With his unbending, utilitarian, matter-of-fact face', Dickens writes of Mr. Gradgrind. That Hard Times is a novel which embodies a moral problem, an issue between ways of living, is by now familiar knowledge; and so is it, that one side of the issue, in some sense or another, is 'Utilitarianism'. But the ideas and attitudes which that word most readily calls up today prove not to be those which were most prominent in Dickens's own mind or own time; and to trace the exact contour of significance which ran for Dickens himself, as he wrote the book, through the material he handled, will turn out to be a more than merely historical accumulation of knowledge: it determines the critical position which one must finally take with regard to the novel.
Hard Times itself provides the necessary clues plainly enough. But they do not point to Utilitarianism as an ambitious philosophical theory of enlightened and emancipated thinking...
(The entire section is 6151 words.)
SOURCE: "Hard Times and F. R. Leavis," in Criticism, Vol. 6, No. 1, Winter, 1964, pp. 1-16.
[The essay below represents one of the two most notable critical responses to F. R. Leavis's seminal 1948 essay on Hard Times, the other being John Holloway's "Hard Times: A History and a Criticism" (1962). Hirsch finds Hard Times "One of the dullest and least successful" of Dickens's works, despite the author's "most commendable" purpose.]
The inability of Dickens scholars to agree in their evaluations of particular novels has become one of the commonplaces of Dickens criticism. Hard Times, especially, has had a checkered career. On the one hand, it has been completely ignored as a novel (F. G. Kitton excluded it from his book The Novels of Dickens). On the other hand, such men as John Ruskin and George Bernard Shaw considered it Dickens's best book. In recent years, largely on the basis of the critical brilliance of F. R. Leavis, it is the latter view that has prevailed.
Dr. Leavis's close reading and perceptive analysis seem to have set the book's reputation, once and for all, on firm aesthetic ground. Hence, Edgar Johnson, the most important recent biographer of Dickens, accepts Leavis's evaluation wholeheartedly, concluding that the low evaluations of the book are not the result of aesthetic failure on Dickens's part, but are to be explained...
(The entire section is 6145 words.)
SOURCE: "The Brother-Sister Relationship in Hard Times," in The Dickensian, Vol. LX, No. 342, January, 1964, pp. 173-77.
[In the essay below, Deneau details incestuous overtones in relations between Tom and Louisa Gradgrind in Hard Times.]
One of Dickens's major concerns in Hard Times is to display the disastrous results of an educational system which is exclusively factual, rational, utilitarian. As all readers of the novel immediately recall, Bitzer, a product of Mr. Gradgrind's school, dramatically reveals how well he has learned the utilitarian principle of self-interest and how little he knows of gratitude and human sympathy. More to the point, Tom Gradgrind, after being carefully educated according to his father's system, becomes a thief and attempts to escape the consequences of his crime by casting suspicion on an innocent man; and Louisa, his sister, painfully discovers that her education has ill-equipped her to cope with a loveless marriage and a beckoning lover. But this is not all. Isolated and schooled as they are, Tom and Louisa experience an abnormal brother-sister relationship. To my knowledge, F. R. Leavis has come the closest to identifying the nature of this relationship; in his well-known "Analytic Note" in The Great Tradition, he explains: "The psychology of Louisa's development and of her brother Tom's is sound. Having no outlet for her emotional life...
(The entire section is 2187 words.)
SOURCE: "The Rhetoric of Hard Times," in Language of Fiction: Essays in Criticism and Verbal Analysis of the English Novel, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966, pp. 144-63.
[Lodge is an English novelist and dramatist who is also highly regarded for his work as a literary critic and as the editor of several works on nineteenth- and twentieth-century British authors. In the following essay, he evaluates Dickens's rhetorical strategies, which he believes form the polemical basis of Hard Times.]
'It is the least read of all the novels and probably also the least enjoyed by those who read it,' said Humphrey House of Hard Times in The Dickens World (1941). The first part of this statement, at least, has probably not been true since The Great Tradition was published (1948). Of Hard Times, it will be remembered, Dr Leavis said, '. . . of all Dickens's works, it is the one that has all the strength of his genius, together with a strength no other of them can show—that of a completely serious work of art'.
There are of course two propositions here: one, that Hard Times is a complete and satisfactory work of art; and two, that this novel is the crown of Dickens's achievement. The latter proposition has had the greater notoriety, yet it is essentially an aside which Leavis does not attempt to argue through. The first proposition is far...
(The entire section is 7564 words.)
SOURCE: "Fettered Fancy in Hard Times," in PMLA, Vol. 84, No. 3, May, 1969, pp. 520-29.
[In the following essay, Sonstroem identifies conflict between Fact—dry statistics and empirical definitions—and Fancy—variously identified with imagination, romance, wonder, and nonsense—as central to the structure of Hard Times.]
(The entire section is 8081 words.)
SOURCE: "Hard Times: A Note on the Descriptive Titles of Its Books," in The Indian Journal of English Studies, Vol. XIII, 1972, pp. 22-28.
[In the following excerpt, Banerjee explores the relation between the tripartite structure of Hard Times—"Sowing," "Reaping," and "Garnering"—and Dickens's development of the novel's themes.]
'Sowing', 'Reaping', and 'Garnering' are three descriptive words which appear at the head of each of the three books of Hard Times. These words are connected with an activity which is universal and eternal. They are all the more curious in the context they are used. Being a novel set in an industrial area, Coketown, and about people connected with it, Dickens's application of the expressions is deliberate and figurative. The division of the novel in terms of the three clear-cut phases of agricultural activity has the effect of drawing pointed attention to three distinctive stages of the linear progression and of providing a commentary upon each of them. Moreover, by stressing the organic unity of the process, it invites us to view the development as a whole. If mere is any treatment of this feature of the novel in any critique of Hard Times it has escaped me. This [essay] attempts to find out if the imaginative division made by Dickens has any bearing upon the structure and overall vision of the novelist.
(The entire section is 2269 words.)
SOURCE: "Hard Times, " in Imagery and Theme in the Novels of Dickens, Humanities Press, 1974, pp. 77-90.
[In the following excerpt, Barnard discusses Dickens's treatment of industrial unrest and his characterizations of Gradgrind and Bounderby in Hard Times.]
"I am afraid I shall not be able to get much here."
Dickens's disappointment in the Preston power-loom strike was obvious: the town was quiet, the people mostly sat at home, and there were no hints whatsoever from which he could work up one of his big set-pieces. He would have been much happier, artistically, with something of a more French-revolutionary nature:
I am in the Bull Hotel, before which some time ago the people assembled supposing the masters to be here, and on demanding to have them out were remonstrated with by the landlady in person. I saw the account in an Italian paper, in which it was stated that 'the populace then environed the Palazzo Bull, until the padrona of the Palazzo heroically appeared at one of the upper windows and addressed them!' One can hardly conceive anything less likely to be represented to an Italian mind by this description, than the old, grubby, smoky, mean, intensely formal red brick house with a narrow gateway and a dingy yard, to which it applies.
One suspects Dickens would...
(The entire section is 5605 words.)
SOURCE: "Hard Times and the Condition of England," in The Real Foundations: Literature and Social Change, Oxford University Press, Inc. 1974, pp. 109-31.
[In the following essay, Craig details Dickens's use of cultural and popular elements in Hard Times.]
Dickens's flair for expressing matters of common concern in their own style shows in the very title of the novel in which, for once, he dealt with the average life of his time. Most of the twenty-five possible titles for Hard Times and the fourteen he short-listed suggest, usually by a cliché or a pun, the theme of human life ground down by calculation and routine: for example, 'According to Cocker', 'Prove It', 'Hard Times', 'Hard Heads and Soft Hearts', 'A Mere Question of Figures'. 'Hard Times' stands out in that it was the phrase which came most naturally, when weariness or hardship had to be voiced, to the people with whom the novel is concerned: the men, women and children whose lives were being transformed by the industrial revolution. It is very much a vernacular phrase, common in folk songs especially between 1820 and 1865 but not in pamphlets, speeches, or the papers, however popular or radical. 'Hard times' (or 'tickle times', 'weary times', 'bad times') usually meant a period, often a slump, when scanty food and low wages or unemployment bore particularly hard. Much less often it could mean the more pervasive...
(The entire section is 8649 words.)
SOURCE: "Hard Times: The News and the Novel," in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 32, No. 1, June, 1977, pp. 166-87.
[In the following essay, Butwin examines Hard Times as a novel of social reform and compares it with social-reform journalism of the period.]
Modern criticism tends to judge the novel that aims at social reform by standards that are appropriate to another kind of novel. This tendency is typified by Virginia Woolf s rejection of the novels of Arnold Bennett, H. G. Wells, and John Galsworthy according to standards that she derives from the novels of Laurence Sterne and Jane Austen:
What odd books they are! Sometimes I wonder if we are right to call them books at all. For they leave One with so strange a feeling of incompleteness and dissatisfaction. In order to complete them it seems necessary to do something—to join a society, or, more desperately, to write a cheque. That done, the restlessness is laid, the book finished; it can be put upon the shelf, and need never be read again. But with the work of other novelists it is different. Tristram Shandy or Pride and Prejudice is complete in itself; it is self-contained; it leaves one with no desire to do anything, except indeed to read the book again, and to understand it better. . . . But the Edwardians were never interested in character in itself; or in the book in itself....
(The entire section is 7507 words.)
SOURCE: "The Late Novels," in Charles Dickens: The Later Novels, edited by Ian Scott-Kilvert, Longman Group Limited, 1977, pp. 13-34.
[In the excerpt below, Hardy examines Hard Times as one among several novels in which Dickens chose not to affirm a sure solution to the social problems he addressed.]
Hard Times, Little Dorrit, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations limit their concluding demands on the reader and do not expect us to settle down and see everything and everyone as now prospering after all that pain. The sense of reality begins in Hard Times (1854), with a toughening of moral humours in the two chief women characters. Sissy Jupe is a more subdued type of womanly virtue than Esther [in Bleak House] and we are asked to concentrate not on Sissy but on Louisa, a close study in moral psychology who also does not task our credulity or our faith. Like Edith Dombey, to whom she is related, Louisa is a case of repressed passion and vision. She sees the highest, but pride, self-contempt and doubt drive her into following the lowest. She perversely represses her capacity for virtue, and tries to act out the utilitarian disregard for feeling which her education has held up as a model. She is also moved by her love for her brother, and does not follow Edith's earlier course of punishing herself and her male aggressors, and is indeed moved by...
(The entire section is 866 words.)
SOURCE: "The Meaning of Dickens," in Charles Dickens, Twayne Publishers, 1981, pp. 190-209.
[In the following excerpt, Nelson cites Hard Times and incidents in its plot in the course of illustrating the importance of life's mystery and diversity as presented in Dicken's works.]
Though there is little of nature in Dickens, . . . mere is a significant touch in that description of Bleak House: the "still older cottage-rooms in unexpected places, with lattice windows and green growth pressing through them" imply an original and intimate connection with nature, and the irregularity of the house makes it seem a living organism which has developed a form answering to the setting and the needs of the people of the house. Human order, when it is wrong, is quite unlike this. Thomas Gradgrind's house in Hard Times is "a very regular feature on the face of the country":
Not the least disguise toned down or shaded off that uncompromising fact in the landscape. A great square house, with a heavy portico darkening the principal windows, as its master's heavy brows overshadowed his eyes. A calculated, cast up, balanced, and proved house. Six windows on this side of the door, six on that side; a total of twelve in this wing, a total of twelve in the other wing; four-and-twenty carried over to the back wings. A lawn and garden and an infant avenue, all ruled...
(The entire section is 1847 words.)
SOURCE: "Polyphony and Problematic in Hard Times, " in The Changing World of Charles Dickens, edited by Robert Giddings, Vision and Barnes & Noble, 1983, pp. 91-108.
[Here, Fowler discusses Dickens's use of language and dialect in Hard Times as a tool for characterization and "unresolved ideological complexity. "]
The polarization of critical response to Hard Times is familiar enough to make detailed reporting unnecessary, but since this polarization is a fact relevant to my argument, I will recapitulate it briefly.
Popular reception of the novel has been largely antagonistic or uninterested. The character of the earlier novels has led to the formation of a cheerful and sentimental 'Dickensian' response which finds Hard Times, like the other later novels, cold and uncomfortable, lacking in the innocent jollity, sentimentality and grotesquery of the earlier writings. When Dickens's anniversary was mentioned in a T.V. spot on 7 February 1983, the novelist was identified through a list of his works which totally excluded the later 'social' novels.
In other circles, there has been a keenly appreciative response to Hard Times: in some quarters more academic, and in some quarters more socialist. Committedly positive evaluation is found as early as 1860 in Ruskin and then in this century in Shaw, whose...
(The entire section is 6064 words.)
SOURCE: "Hard Times: 'Black and White'," in Dickens the Designer, The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1987, pp. 177-92.
[In the following essay, McMaster examines how Dickens uses color imagery in Hard Times to reinforce its characterizations and themes.]
In Hard Times Dickens made colour a major feature of design. One of the titles he considered for it was 'Black and white.' The novel is patterned on a progression between the two most powerful scenes: the first in the 'intensely whitewashed' schoolroom at the beginning, with its albino star pupil, Bitzer, so pale that he looks as though he would 'bleed white,' and the second set in Sleary's darkened circus ring at the end, with Tom Gradgrind disguised as a blackamoor clown, his face 'daubed all over' with a 'greasy composition' of black make-up.
But the world of Hard Times is not all just black and white, and that tentative title, like 'Two and two are four,' 'Stubborn things,' and 'Fact,' which appear in the same working list, was intended to indicate what was wrong with the world according to Gradgrind, and how much was missing in it. As it is a novel that treats of imagination, grace, instinct, and feeling, as well as of the utilitarian system that tries to reject them, so it is concerned with the modulation between black and white, the various tones of grey, and with brighter colours....
(The entire section is 6436 words.)
SOURCE: "Writing as a Woman: Dickens, Hard Times, and Feminine Discourses," in Dickens Studies Annual, Vol. 18, 1989, pp. 161-78.
[In the essay below, Carr assesses Dickens's "sympathetic identification with feminine discourses in the 1850s" as exemplified in Hard Times.]
In his 1872 retrospective essay on Dickens, George Henry Lewes presents Dickens as an exemplary figure whose career has upset the balance between popular taste and critical judgment. The essay depends on what seems initially an aesthetic opposition between show and Art, between "fanciful flight" and Literature, but these critical terms also demark class and gender boundaries that preserve the dominant literary culture. Dickens becomes "the showman beating on the drum," who appeals to the "savage" not the "educated eye," to "readers to whom all the refinements of Art and Literature are as meaningless hieroglyphs." He works in "delft, not in porcelain," mass producing inexpensive pleasure for the undiscerning reader, but is found wanting by the "cultivated" reader of "fastidious" taste. The essay attempts to contain Dickens' impact by identifying him as lower-class, uneducated, and aligned with feminine discourses, but it also suggests the difficulty of accounting for Dickens' influence and the importance of investigating the "sources of that power." Despite Lewes's isolation of Dickens as a "novelty" or as a madman, he concedes...
(The entire section is 6068 words.)
Butt, John, and Tillotson, Kathleen. "Hard Times: The Problems of a Weekly Serial." In their Dickens at Work, pp. 201-21. London: Methuen & Co., 1963.
Systematic examination of Hard Times in the light of the conditions under which Dickens wrote it. Butt and Tillotson draw upon Dickens's working notes and week-by-week record of the novel's serialization.
Cowles, David L. "Having It Both Ways: Gender and Paradox in Hard Times" Dickens Quarterly VIII, No. 2 (June 1991): 79-84.
Illustrates how Dickens undermines many of his own thematic assertions regarding gender issues by "playing both sides of irreconcilable contradictions." "Yet he does so in ways harmonious with his time, sex, and class (and therefore largely invisible to his contemporary readers) through conceptual languages he could not escape any more than we can escape our own linguistic and interpretive limitations."
Dyson, A. E. "Hard Times: The Robber Fancy." In his The Inimitable Dickens: A Reading of the Novels, pp. 183-202. London: Macmillan, 1970.
Appraises Hard Times as "a powerful fiction" which "triumphantly survives," despite its unrelenting grimness and purposefulness.
(The entire section is 934 words.)