Book III, Chapters 1-2: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 583

Chapter 1: Another Thing Needful
Chapter 2: Very Ridiculous

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Louisa wakens from a deep sleep. She is in her old room, on her own bed. She feels weak and her head hurts. Her little sister Jane is present. Jane tells Louisa that it was Sissy who had prepared the room and brought her there. Louisa turns her head away; just at this moment, she doesn’t want to hear about Sissy’s kindness and thoughtfulness.

Louisa’s father enters the room and sits down beside her. He speaks to her awhile in uncharacteristically subdued tones, holds her hand, gently rearranges her disordered hair, and then when Louisa no longer replies to his questions quietly leaves the room. His place is soon taken by Sissy Jupe, whose steadfast love and loyalty so overwhelm Louisa that she kneels before the girl and asks for her pity and her compassion.

The evening of the day following Louisa’s flight to her father’s finds Harthouse at his hotel, baffled as to why he has received no word from her. After leaving her on horseback, he had waited up for her all the night, searched for her the whole of the following day, and is now in a state of painful suspense, just settling in to try to read the newspapers when a waiter comes to tell him that a young lady wishes to see him. It is Sissy Jupe, a young woman he has never seen before, come to tell him that he must never see Louisa again as long as he lives, that he must leave Coketown immediately, and that he must never return.

Quietly but implacably, Sissy answers all of Mr. Harthouse’s objections, convincing him that to leave and not ever come back is the only honorable course he can take. Saying that he supposed never was a man “placed in a more ridiculous position,” Mr. Harthouse agrees to abide by Sissy’s wishes. He writes his brother a brief note telling him that he has decided to go to Egypt to explore the Nile, writes letters to Bounderby and Gradgrind to tell them of his departure and where he may be found for the next 10 days, and, almost as soon as the ink is dry on the addresses, leaves Coketown by the next train.

Since hearing Louisa’s revelations, Thomas Gradgrind seems greatly altered. The first chapter of the third book shows Gradgrind entering into his redemption, a man full of remorse and self-
reproach, slow and hesitating in his speech, thoughtful, uncertain, but capable of love and concern.

Mr. Harthouse’s surrender to Sissy, who addresses him with speeches that are among the most unrealistic and contrived in the novel, is less surprising than it might be because Dickens has previously placed so much emphasis on the absence in Harthouse of “any earnest wickedness of purpose.” (This phrase is found at the beginning of Chapter 8 of the second book.) His only show of resistance comes when, astonished and taken aback by Sissy’s declarations, he demands to know whether she has any commission from Louisa. Sissy’s reply, that her only commission is her love and trust in Louisa and Louisa’s love and trust in her, is said with such persuasiveness and with such a shaming application to Harthouse’s abuse of that trust and love, as to be unanswerable. (A Victorian readership would have no difficulty in seeing Harthouse’s attempted elopement as an instance of very grave betrayal.)

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