Book 1, Chapter 15 Summary

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Last Updated January 12, 2023.

Mr. Gradgrind’s Observatory is filled with books of facts and a statistical clock that ticks off every second. Louisa meets her father there the next morning, and he compliments her for being well-educated and not prone to impulse or romanticism. She looks at everything through the lens of “reason and calculation,” and he wants her to do so now, for she has been offered a proposal of marriage.

Louisa listens quietly without emotion as her father explains that Mr. Bounderby has watched her for many years with an eye toward the time when he might marry her. That time has now come. Louisa asks her father if he thinks she loves Mr. Bounderby and if he or Mr. Bounderby would ask that she love him. The uncomfortable Mr. Gradgrind responds with hesitation that her expression is misplaced. She asks how he would advise her to speak, but he cannot answer. Instead, he urges her to focus on the fact that she has received a proposal and must decide whether or not to accept it.

For an instant, it seems that the barriers between father and daughter may come down, but then the moment passes. The opportunity for a connection is lost. Louisa reflects that life is short and that she is fit for little and can do little. Then she asks herself, “What does it matter?” Louisa consents to marry Mr. Bounderby. She assures her father that she has never entertained another proposal, for she has seen and experienced nothing. She knows nothing of affections and fancies. All she has been taught are demonstrations and facts. She has never had a child’s heart or a child’s dream or a child’s belief or a child’s fear. Mr. Gradgrind thinks this is a compliment upon himself and misses his daughter’s meaning entirely.

Father and daughter go to tell Mrs. Gradgrind the news. She would like the wedding to take place soon and worries how she will address her new son-in-law. Sissy, who is present, looks at Louisa with pity and sorrow, and Louisa turns away.

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