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Book I, Chapter 7: Summary and Analysis

Chapter 7: Mrs. Sparsit

New Characters:
Mrs. Sparsit: Bounderby’s housekeeper

Mr. Sparsit: the lady’s late husband

Lady Scadgers: her invalid great aunt

Summary
On the morning following Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby’s eventful visit with the circus people, Mrs. Sparsit, an elderly widow who acts as Mr. Bounderby’s housekeeper, and who is regarded by him (and by herself) as having once been socially very much his superior, chats with her employer over breakfast. Bounderby tells Mrs. Sparsit about what he calls his friend Gradgrind’s “whim,” his proposal to take care of Sissy Jupe. Bounderby also mentions his own resolution to take “young Tom,” Louisa Gradgrind’s brother, under his wing by employing him in his office.

To give Gradgrind time to reconsider his decision, Bounderby has put Sissy, whom he calls the “tumbling-girl,” up for the night at his house in Coketown. He appears to be concerned that Sissy would not make a suitable companion for Louisa.

When Gradgrind and Louisa arrive at Bounderby’s, Sissy is summoned to meet her benefactor. Not aware of Mrs. Sparsit’s importance, Sissy fails to include her in her curtsies. Bounderby makes a speech about Sissy’s blunder.

Gradgrind explains to Sissy how he means to have her “strictly educated.” As a condition for receiving his care, she must never refer to her past. She must stop reading any of the fairy stories she used to read to her father. After this Gradgrind and Louisa, with Sissy, return to Gradgrind’s Stone Lodge.

Analysis
Mrs. Sparsit is a minor character, but since her tendency to overreach herself in service to her employer makes her play an important part in the action, she bears thinking about. (Because Dickens lavishes a lot of care on them, even his minor characters not important to the plot bear thinking about.) The elderly, fine-featured Mrs. Sparsit is highly ladylike in manner and appearance; her speech is elaborate and “refined.” Long ago she was what is called “well-connected,” that is, her family background gave her a good position in society, and even now she has a “titled” relative, a Lady Scadgers. But Mrs. Sparsit married badly, to a...

(The entire section is 560 words.)