Hard Times Book II, Chapters 1-3: Summary and Analysis
by Charles Dickens

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Book II, Chapters 1-3: Summary and Analysis

Chapter 1: Effects in the Bank
Chapter 2: Mr. James Harthouse
Chapter 3: The Whelp

New Character:
Mr. James Harthouse: a gentleman from London, newly recruited to Gradgrind’s party

It is the end of a hot summer day in Coketown, some time after Bounderby and Louisa’s wedding. Mrs. Sparsit is installed at the bank. Bitzer, Gradgrind’s diligent old pupil, now employed at the bank as a porter (and as Bounderby’s informant and spy) keeps her company while she consumes a late afternoon tea.

The conversation turns to Louisa’s brother Tom, whose presence in the bank Bitzer resents. Bitzer says Tom is a slacker with expensive habits, and that he wouldn’t be where he was if he didn’t have a “friend at court,” meaning his sister, Louisa.

A knock at the door interrupts their chat. Bitzer lets in a well-dressed man of 35 or so, well-spoken, handsome, a gentleman. He explains he is in Coketown to meet Mr. Bounderby, that he carries a letter of introduction to Bounderby from Mr. Gradgrind, and that he has been mistakenly directed to the bank by a passing mill hand. Mrs. Sparsit is only too happy to give him directions to Mr. Bounderby’s residence—and to enlighten him about the Bounderby family, especially Louisa.

The strange gentleman is Mr. James Harthouse, a man of good family who has done a little of everything in his time, and been bored by it all. Mr. Bounderby visits Harthouse at the hotel where he is staying, gives him the standard Bounderby version of Coketown, and invites Harthouse home for dinner, where he will be glad to introduce him to “Tom’s Gradgrind’s daughter.” (Bounderby habitually refers to his wife this way.)

Harthouse is duly introduced and finds himself intrigued by her combination of intelligent reserve and self-reliance, as well as the obvious embarrassment she exhibits over her husband’s boasting. When Tom enters the room, late for dinner, Harthouse is able to observe what Louisa’s face looks like when it softens toward someone she holds dear, and he likes what he sees. Suddenly Harthouse is very glad he has come to Coketown.

After dinner, Tom directs the visitor back to his hotel. When Harthouse invites him up for a smoke, Tom accepts immediately. The confidences about his sister that Harthouse has been looking for are not hard to coax out of the boy. It requires a little direct flattery here, a little indirect flattery there, and more and more drink. Before Tom passes out, he has told his new friend the whole story of Louisa’s unfortunate marriage, including his own part in the disaster.

The character James Harthouse is in part a study of an outsider, a well-born dilettante and amateur in a world dominated by professionals and parvenus like Bounderby who boast of their lack of family connections. An experienced traveler who seems to have no permanent roots, he views Coketown with the jaundiced eye of a tourist, and the Coketowners as curiosities. His “going in” for the Utilitarianism of the “hard fact men” is, for him, no more than a whim, although his new associates are distinctly pleased by the prospect of backing from a gentleman of his kind and take it seriously. Political power in England in 1854 was still...

(The entire section is 828 words.)