In Hard Times by Charles Dickens, what does James Harthouse symbolize?
Every single character in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times represents a trope or facet of Victorian society. Mr. James Harthouse is no exception. He represents the archetypal “rake,” or a wealthy, handsome man who takes advantage of women. Like all of Dickens’ characters, Harthouse is a gross exaggeration of these tropes, as he is also manipulative and uncaring. Moreover, he is an embodiment of a bored, listless member of the upper class. Harthouse acknowledges his constant boredom:
“I have not so much as the slightest predilection left. I assure you I attach not the least importance to any opinions. The result of the varieties of boredom I have undergone, is a conviction (unless conviction is to industrious a word for the lazy sentiment I entertain on the subject), that any set of ideas will do just as much good as any other set, and just as much harm as any other set. There's an English family with a charming Italian motto. What will be, will be. It's the only truth going!” (100).
He personifies the major tenets of the rake by pursuing Louisa, at this point in the novel an unhappily married woman. He does this not because he is passionate about her, but instead because he wants something to do. He pushes this relationship to the point that he could ruin Louisa’s name forever; he, of course, will be unaffected, but if they are caught, she will shoulder the majority of the blame. Sissy essentially runs the rakish Harthouse off, and he learns nothing from his experiences:
“The moral sort of fellows might suppose that Mr. James Harthouse derived some comfortable reflections afterward, from this prompt retreat, as one of his few actions that made any amends for anything, and as a token to himself that he had escaped the climax of a very bad business. But it was not so, at all. A secret sense of having failed and been ridiculous-- a dread of what other fellows who went in for similar sorts of things, would say at his expense if they knew it-- so oppressed him, that what was about the very best passage in his life was the one of all others he would not have owned to on any account, and the only one that made him ashamed of himself” (177).
Thus, Harthouse represents the unrepentant rake. He passes through his comfortable life with a sense of ennui and makes no effort to better himself.
My textual evidence is pulled from the 3rd Edition Norton Critical Edition.
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