John Ruskin (letter date 1870)

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SOURCE: A letter to Charles Eliot Norton on June 19, 1870, in Letters of John Ruskin to Charles Eliot Norton, Vol. II, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1904, pp. 4-6.

[Ruskin was an English critic, essayist, historian, poet, novella writer, autobiographer, and diarist. Endowed with a passion for reforming what he considered his "blind and wandering fellow-men" and convinced that he had "perfect judgment" in aesthetic matters, he was the author of over forty books and several hundred essays and lectures that expounded his theories of aesthetics, morality, history, economics, and social reform. In the following excerpt from a letter written shortly after Dickens's death, he summarizes the achievement of Dickens, citing Hard Times as the single exception to his depicting the Dickensian hero as an "iron-master. "]

My dearest Charles,—I knew you would deeply feel the death of Dickens. It is very frightful to me—among the blows struck by the fates at worthy men, while all mischievous ones have ceaseless strength. The literary loss is infinite—the political one I care less for than you do. Dickens was a pure modernist—a leader of the steam-whistle party par excellence—and he had no understanding of any power of antiquity except a sort of jackdaw sentiment for cathedral towers. He knew nothing of the nobler power of superstition—was essentially a stage manager, and used everything for effect on the pit. His Christmas meant mistletoe and pudding—neither resurrection from dead, nor rising of new stars, nor teaching of wise men, nor shepherds. His hero is essentially the iron-master; in spite of Hard Times, he has advanced by his influence every principle that makes them harder—the love of excitement, in all classes, and the fury of business competition, and the distrust both of nobility and clergy which, wide enough and fatal enough, and too justly founded, needed no apostle to the mob, but a grave teacher of priests and nobles themselves, for whom Dickens had essentially no word.


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Charles Dickens, Hard Times

The following entry presents criticism of Dickens's novel Hard Times (1854). See also Charles Dickens Short Story Criticism, A Christmas Carol Criticism, A Tale of Two Cities Criticism, Little Dorrit Criticism, and Our Mutual Friend Criticism.

Perhaps the least-known of all Dickens's novels, Hard Times is a social-protest novel which attempts to lay bare the malignant impact of nineteenth-century industrial society upon the people living in English factory towns. It was poorly received upon its publication in hard cover and has been often overlooked in critical surveys of Dickens's works; still, Hard Times has acquired a growing critical following in the mid to late twentieth century, largely because of critical remarks by three key commentators.

Biographical Information

In early 1854, Dickens sought for ideas for a long story to be run in the magazine he edited, Household Words, which faced a shrinking circulation and falling profits. After some thought, he settled upon his theme: the condition of English factory life and its effects upon the laborers who were the victims of its unfairness, squalor, danger, and exhausting boredom. The idea for his yet-unwritten novel "laid hold of me by the throat in a very violent manner," Dickens wrote, and he vowed, in writing Hard Times, "to strike the heaviest blow in my power" for the English industrial worker. Having traveled to Preston in late January to experience life in an industrial city then in the midst of a twenty-three-week textile strike and having read of labor conditions in Manchester (upon which he modelled his Coketown), Dickens began writing his novel. Hard Times appeared in weekly installments in Household...

(This entire section contains 1663 words.)

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Words between April and August, a labor which left Dickens "three parts mad, and the fourth delirious, with perpetual rushing" but which also doubled (by one estimation, quadrupled) the circulation of Household Words. Exhausted upon finishing the novel in mid July, Dickens spent several days drinking heavily, later writing, "I have been in a blaze of dissipation altogether, and have succeeded (I think) in knocking the remembrance of my work out." Shortly afterward, Hard Times appeared in hardcover, published by the house of Bradbury and Evans and dedicated to another critic of British culture, Thomas Carlyle.

Plot and Major Characters

A schoolmaster at a utilitarian private school in industrial Coketown, Thomas Gradgrind insists that his students learn empirical facts alone; humor, music, and imagination are banished from his classroom and from the lives of his children. The five Gradgrind children embody their father's philosophy, which was widely discussed and praised in early- to mid-nineteenth-century Britain. One day after school, Gradgrind is disturbed to discover his two eldest children, Tom and Louisa, attempting to peek through the walls of a circus tent; his displeasure increases when the two are unapologetic about this offense against the principles by which they have been raised. Puzzled by their behavior and determined to correct it, Gradgrind consults with a friend, Josiah Bounderby, a manufacturer and banker, who advises him that the children have been corrupted by a schoolmate, Cecilia ("Sissy") Jupe, the daughter of a circus rider. Before he can remove Sissy from his school and from his life, Gradgrind discovers that the girl's father has deserted her; moved by compassion and against the warnings of Bounderby and his own philosophy, he decides to raise Sissy in his own home and to allow her to continue attending his school. Years pass, the children grow up, and Bounderby sets his cap for Louisa, who agrees to marry this wealthy financier, thirty years her senior, to please her brother Tom, who has grown into a dissolute young man and now works at Bounderby's bank. The marriage rankles Bounderby's elderly housekeeper, Mrs. Sparsit, who mistrusts and begins spying on Louisa.

Meanwhile, Gradgrind, now in London as a member of Parliament, sends a young associate, James Harthouse, to Coketown to gather data on British economic and social life. Harthouse is directed to Bounderby's household, and while he finds Bounderby himself a self-aggrandizing blowhard, full of expansive talk about being a self-made man, he is smitten by pretty Louisa and sets about wooing her away from her husband and loveless marriage. He is successful, and soon he and Louisa are making plans to run away together—unaware that watchful Mrs. Sparsit is aware of their intent. Meanwhile, to the amazement of all, Bounderby's bank is robbed, and the authorities name one of Bounderby's employees, Stephen Blackpool, as their prime suspect. Blackpool, who had been mistreated by Bounderby, had been seen loitering in front of the bank shortly before it was robbed, in the company of an old woman known as Mrs. Pegler. The climax of the novel is reached when Louisa, having agreed to elope with Harthouse, chooses instead to return to her father's household; Mrs. Sparsit informs on Louisa and Harthouse, causing Bounderby to demand that Louisa return to him, which she does; Blackpool is cleared of all wrongdoing, Tom is found to be the real bankrobber; and Mrs. Sparsit, seeking to further ingratiate herself with Bounderby, tracks down Mrs. Pegler, who is revealed as Bounderby's own mother—who proceeds to publicly deflate Bounderby's claims of a Horatio-Algeresque career. Harthouse disappears. With the help of Sissy, Tom escapes Bounderby's vengeance, and Mrs. Sparsit is released by Bounderby for her meddle-someness. Bounderby dies a few years later, and the Gradgrinds, bereft of all that makes life meaningful and pleasant, face long lives of boredom and misery.

Major Themes

Like the novels that preceded it—notably Dombey and Son and Bleak HouseHard Times is concerned with industrial society, but, as Edgar Johnson has written, "it is not so much a picture of its ramifications as a presentation of its underlying principles. It is an analysis and a condemnation of the ethos of industrialism." Rife with symbolism, the novel focuses upon characters not as human types but as products of the industrial age. Throughout the novel there is a tight, airless atmosphere informed by the utilitarian ethic; English life is no longer organic and whole but lived according to a poisonous theory which allows the rich and powerful to exert their will upon their employees and upon nature itself. The industrial city of Coketown is itself begrimed into colorlessness, shrouded in fumes and the unending plumes of reek arising from its many chimneys. The characters, with the exception of Sissy Jupe and members of the circus troupe, act less like human beings than like automata, programmed to respond to life and to each other by standards of measurable expediency alone. Freedom, humor, and art are symbolized by the circus performers; in glimpses of them (and thus, into the lives of characteristically humorous Dickensian characters), Dickens contrasts the life of imagination with the life of utility.

Critical Reception

Reviews of Hard Times marked it as a rare failure by Dickens. Critics found it variously misguided in its politics (Lord Macaulay found little but "sullen socialism" in the novel), largely humorless, hamhanded in plotting, marred by overdone caricatures, satirically off-target, divided in interest, and philosophically muddled. By the middle of 1855, less than a year after its appearance between hard covers, Hard Times lagged in sales far behind the three Dickens novels that immediately preceded it, trailing as well the author's minor Child's History of England (1852-54). The work's single critical accolade, met with widespread derision for a half century, appeared in 1860 in an article by John Ruskin, who wrote that he considered Hard Times, of all Dickens's works, "the greatest he has written." Numerous scholars, beginning with David Masson in his British Novelist and Their Styles (1859) and extending through Eleanor Graham's Story of Charles Dickens (1952) simply ignored Hard Times altogether in their discussions of Dickens, with others mentioning the novel in brief, sometimes chronologically inaccurate, asides. In the midst of its perpetual critical drubbing, Ruskin's remark was recurrently held up for curious examination, receiving no support until Bernard Shaw, in his preface to a 1913 edition, used Ruskin's comment as a springboard from which to find in Hard Times an "enormous" increase in Dickens's strength and intensity as a writer, adding that "the power that indicts a nation so terribly is much more impressive than that which ridicules individuals." Aside from this assessment, many critics during the first half of the twentieth century viewed Hard Times in a manner summarized by Stephen Leacock: that it "has no other interest in the history of letters than that of its failure." But a watershed in the critical history of Hard Times was reached in 1947 with F. R. Leavis's seminal essay "The Novel as Poem (I): Hard Times" in his periodical Scrutiny; this essay was reprinted with slight revisions as "Hard Times: An Analytic Note" the following year in Leavis's The Great Tradition, gaining wide attention. In this lengthy essay, Leavis sided with Ruskin and Shaw in writing that he considered the novel a "masterpiece" which, "of all Dickens's works . . . is the one that has all the strength of his genius, together with a strength no other of them can show—that of a completely serious work of art." By virtue of his critical stature as both a literary scholar in general and a Dickens scholar in particular, Leavis produced an essay that could not be ignored by subsequent commentators upon Hard Times. During the decades following the appearance of Leavis's "Analytic Note," scholars have scrutinized Hard Times through less jaundiced eyes, with several critics finding merit in the work (though not finding it Dickens's masterpiece, as had Leavis), while others—notably John Holloway and David H. Hirsch—attacking Leavis's position with thoroughgoing incisiveness, with Hirsch asking in conclusion, "For what, after all, can be more harmful to a genuinely great author's reputation than to insist that one of his dullest and least successful works is one of his greatest?" Critical essays of the 1970s through the 1990s have often moved beyond Leavis's essay and its critics to focus upon issues of gender, labor-capital relations, and politics in Hard Times.

Edwin P. Whipple (essay date 1877)

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SOURCE: "Dickens's Hard Times," in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. XXXIX, No. CCXXXIII, March, 1877, pp. 353-58.

[Below, Whipple suggests that some representative assessments of Hard Times fail to consider "the distinction between Dickens as a creator of character and Dickens as a humorous satirist of what he considers flagrant abuses." Whipple maintains that both Dickens's satirical and dramatic genius are evident in his portrayal of the characters and incidents of the novel.]

Dickens established a weekly periodical, called Household Words, on the 30th of March, 1850. On the 1st of April, 1854, he began in it the publication of the tale of Hard Times, which was continued in weekly installments until its completion in the number for the 12th of August. The circulation of Household Words was doubled by the appearance in its pages of this story. When published in a separate form, it was appropriately dedicated to Thomas Carlyle, who was Dickens's master in all matters relating to the "dismal science" of political economy.

During the composition of Hard Times the author was evidently in an embittered state of mind in respect to social and political questions. He must have felt that he was in some degree warring against the demonstrated laws of the production and distribution of wealth; yet he also felt that he was putting into prominence some laws of the human heart which he supposed political economists had studiously overlooked or ignored. He wrote to Charles Knight that he had no design to damage the really useful truths of political economy, but that his story was directed against those "who see figures and averages, and nothing else; who would take the average of cold in the Crimea during twelve months as a reason for clothing a soldier in nankeen on a night when he would be frozen to death in fur; and who would comfort the laborer in traveling twelve miles a day to and from his work by telling him that the average distance of one inhabited place from another, on the whole area of England, is only four miles." This is, of course, a caricatured statement of what statisticians propose to prove by their "figures and averages." Dickens would have been the first to laugh at such an economist and statistician as Michael Thomas Sadler, who mixed up figures of arithmetic and figures of rhetoric, tables of population and gushing sentiments, in one odd jumble of doubtful calculations and bombastic declamations; yet Sadler is only an extreme case of an investigator who turns aside from his special work to introduce considerations which, however important in themselves, have nothing to do with the business he has in hand. Dickens's mind was so deficient in the power of generalization, so inapt to recognize the operation of inexorable law, that whatever offended his instinctive benevolent sentiments he was inclined to assail as untrue. Now there is no law the operation of which so frequently shocks our benevolent sentiments as the law of gravitation; yet no philanthropist, however accustomed he may be to subordinate scientific truth to amiable impulses, ever presumes to doubt the certain operation of that law. The great field for the contest between the head and the heart is the domain of political economy. The demonstrated laws of this science are often particularly offensive to many good men and good women, who wish well for their fellow-creatures, and who are pained by the obstacles which economic maxims present to their diffusive benevolence. The time will come when it will be as intellectually discreditable for an educated person to engage in a crusade against the established laws of political economy as in a crusade against the established laws of the physical universe; but the fact that men like Carlyle, Ruskin, and Dickens can write economic nonsense without losing intellectual caste shows that the science of political economy, before its beneficent truths come to be generally admitted, must go through a long struggle with benevolent sophisms and benevolent passions.

In naming this book Dickens found much difficulty. He sent the following titles to John Forster, as expressive of his general idea: 1. According to Cocker. 2. Prove it. 3. Stubborn Things. 4. Mr. Gradgrind's Facts. 5. The Grindstone. 6. Hard Times. 7. Two and Two are Four. 8. Something Tangible. 9. Our Hard-Headed Friend. 10. Rust and Dust. 11. Simple Arithmetic. 12. A Matter of Calculation. 13. A Mere Question of Figures. 14. The Gradgrind Philosophy. The author was in favor of one of three of these: 6, 13, and 14. Forster was in favor of either 2, 6, or 11. As both agreed on No. 6, that title was chosen. Yet certainly No. 14, The Gradgrind Philosophy, was the best of all, for it best indicated the purpose of the story. Hard Times is an extremely vague title, and might apply to almost any story that Dickens or any other novelist has written.

It is curious to note the different opinions of two widely differing men regarding the story itself. Ruskin says that "the essential value and truth of Dickens's writings have been unwisely lost sight of by many thoughtful persons, merely because he presents his truth with some color of caricature. Unwisely, because Dickens's caricature, though often gross, is never mistaken. Allowing for the manner of his telling them, the things he tells us are always true. I wish that he could think it right to limit his brilliant exaggeration to works written only for public amusement; and when he takes up a subject of high national importance, such as that he handled in Hard Times, that he would use severer and more accurate analysis. The usefulness of that work (to my mind, in several respects, the greatest he has written) is with many persons seriously diminished because Mr. Bounderby is a dramatic monster instead of a characteristic example of a worldly master, and Stephen Blackpool a dramatic perfection instead of a characteristic example of an honest workman. But let us not lose the use of Dickens's wit and insight because he chooses to speak in a circle of stage fire. He is entirely right in his main drift and purpose in every book he has written; and all of them, but especially Hard Times, should be studied with great care by persons interested in social questions. They will find much that is partial, and, because partial, apparently unjust; but if they examine all the evidence on the other side, which Dickens seems to overlook, it will appear, after all the trouble, that his view was the finally right one, grossly and sharply told." This is the opinion of an eloquent thinker and writer who is most at variance with the principles which scientific economists consider to be scientifically established. On the opposite extreme we have the opinion of Macaulay, who records in his private diary, under the date of August 12, 1854, this disparaging criticism: "I read Dickens's Hard Times. One excessively touching, heart-breaking passage, and the rest sullen socialism. The evils he attacks he caricatures grossly and with little humor."

In judging the work, neither Ruskin nor Macaulay seems to have made any distinction between Dickens as a creator of character and Dickens as a humorous satirist of what he considers flagrant abuses. As a creator of character he is always tolerant and many-sided; as a satirist he is always intolerant and onesided; and the only difference between his satire and that of other satirists consists in the fact that he has a wonderful power in individualizing abuses in persons. Juvenal, Dryden, and Pope, though keen satirists of character, are comparatively ineffective in the art of concealing their didactic purpose under an apparently dramatic form. So strong is Dickens's individualizing faculty, and so weak his faculty of generalization, that as a satirist he simply personifies his personal opinions. These opinions are formed by quick-witted impressions intensified by philanthropic emotions; they spring neither from any deep insight of reason nor from any careful processes of reasoning; and they are therefore contemptuously discarded as fallacies by all thinkers on social problems who are devoted to the investigation of social phenomena and the establishment of economic laws; but they are so vividly impersonated, and the classes satirized are so felicitously hit in some of their external characteristics and weak points, that many readers fail to discover the essential difference between such realities of character as Tony Weiler and Mrs. Gamp, and such semblances of character as Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby. Whatever Dickens understands he humorously represents; whatever he does not understand he humorously misrepresents; but in either case, whether he conceives or misconceives, he conveys to the general reader an impression that he is as great in those characters in which he personifies his antipathies as in those in which he embodies his sympathies.

The operation of this satirical as contrasted with dramatic genius is apparent in almost every person who appears in Hard Times, except Sleary and his companions of the circus combination. Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby are personified abstractions, after the method of Ben Jonson; but the charge that Macaulay brings against them, that they have little of Dickens's humor, must be received with qualifications. Mr. Bounderby, for example, as the satirical representative of a class, and not as a person who could have had any real existence,—as a person who gathers into himself all the vices of a horde of English manufacturers, without a ray of light being shed into his internal constitution of heart and mind,—is one of the wittiest and most humorous of Dickens's embodied sarcasms. Bounderby becomes a seeming character by being looked at and individualized from the point of view of imaginative antipathy. So surveyed, he seems real to thousands who observe their employers from the outside, and judge of them, not as they are, but as they appear to their embittered minds and hearts. Still, the artistic objection holds good that when a man resembling Mr. Bounderby is brought into the domain of romance or the drama, the great masters of romance and the drama commonly insist that he shall be not only externally represented but internally known. There is no authorized, no accredited way of exhibiting character but this, that the dramatist or novelist shall enter into the soul of the personage represented, shall sympathize with him sufficiently to know him, and shall represent his passions, prejudices, and opinions as springing from some central will and individuality. This sympathy is consistent with the utmost hatred of the person described; but characterization becomes satire the moment that antipathy supersedes insight and the satirist berates the exterior manifestations of an individuality whose interior life he has not diligently explored and interpreted. Bounderby, therefore, is only a magnificent specimen of what satirical genius can do when divorced from the dramatist's idea of justice, and the dramatist's perception of those minute peculiarities of intellect, disposition, and feeling which distinguish one "bully of humility" from another.

It is ridiculous to assert, as Ruskin asserts, that Hard Times is Dickens's greatest work; for it is the one of all his works which should be distinguished from the others as specially wanting in that power of real characterization on which his reputation as a vivid delineator of human character and human life depends. The whole effect of the story, though it lacks neither amusing nor pathetic incidents, and though it contains passages of description which rank with his best efforts in combining truth of fact with truth of imagination, is ungenial and unpleasant. Indeed, in this book, he simply intensified popular discontent; he ignored or he was ignorant of those laws the violation of which is at the root of popular discontent; and proclaimed with his favorite ideal workman, Stephen Blackpool, that not only the relation between employers and employed, but the whole constitution of civilized society itself, was a hopeless "muddle," beyond the reach of human intelligence or humane feeling to explain and justify. It is to be observed here that all cheering views of the amelioration of the condition of the race come from those hard thinkers whose benevolent impulses push them to the investigation of natural and economic laws. Starting from the position of sentimental benevolence, and meeting unforeseen intellectual obstacles at every step in his progress, Dickens ends "in a muddle" by the necessity of his method. Had he been intellectually equipped with the knowledge possessed by many men to whom in respect to genius he was immensely superior, he would never have landed in a conclusion so ignominious, and one which the average intellect of well-informed persons of the present day contemptuously rejects. If Dickens had contented himself with using his great powers of observation, sympathy, humor, imagination, and characterization in their appropriate fields, his lack of scientific training in the austere domain of social, legal, and political science would have been hardly perceptible; but after his immense popularity was assured by the success of The Pickwick Papers, he was smitten with the ambition to direct the public opinion of Great Britain by embodying, in exquisitely satirical caricatures, rash and hasty judgments on the whole government of Great Britain in all its departments, legislative, executive, and judicial. He overlooked uses, in order to fasten on abuses. His power to excite, at his will, laughter, or tears, or indignation was so great, that the victims of his mirthful wrath were not at first disposed to resent his debatable fallacies while enjoying his delicious fun. His invasion of the domain of political science with the palpable design of substituting benevolent instincts for established laws was carelessly condoned by the statesmen, legists, and economists whom he denounced and amused.

Indeed, the great characteristic of Dickens's early popularity was this, that it was confined to no class, but extended to all classes, rich and poor, noble and plebeian. The queen on the throne read him, and so did Hodge at the plow; and between the sovereign and her poorest subject there was no class which did not sound his praise as a humorist. Still, every student of the real genius of Dickens must be surprised at the judgment pronounced on his various romances by what may be called the higher, the professional, the educated classes, the classes which, both in England and in the United States, hold positions of trust and honor, and are bound, by the practical necessities of their posts, to be on a level with the advancing intelligence of the age in legislative, economic, and judicial science. By these persons The Pickwick Papers are, as a general thing, preferred to any other of the works of Dickens. The Lord Chief Justice (afterwards Lord Chancellor) Campbell told Dickens that he would prefer the honor of having written that book to the honors which his professional exertions had obtained for him, that of being a peer of Parliament and the nominal head of the law. All persons who have had a sufficiently large acquaintance with the men of practical ability who have risen to power in the United States, whether as judges, statesmen, or political economists, must have been impressed with the opinion of these men as to the superiority of The Pickwick Papers over all the successive publications of Dickens. Yet it is as certain as any question coming before the literary critic can be, that a number of the works that followed The Pickwick Papers are superior to that publication, not only in force of sentiment, imagination, and characterization, but in everything which distinguishes the individual genius of Dickens,—a genius which up to the time of David Copperfield deepened and enlarged in the orderly process of its development. The secret of this preference for The Pickwick Papers is to be found in the fact that the author had, in that book, no favorite theory to push, no grand moral to enforce, no assault on principles about which educated men had made up their minds. These men could laugh heartily at Mr. Buzfuz and Mr. Justice Stareleigh; but when, as in Bleak House, there was a serious attempt to assail equity jurisprudence, they felt that the humorist had ventured on ground where he had nothing but his genius to compensate for his lack of experience and knowledge. Thus it is that a work which, with all its wealth of animal spirits, is comparatively shallow and superficial considered as a full expression of Dickens's powers of humor, pathos, narrative, description, imagination, and characterization, has obtained a preëminence above its successors, not because it contains what is best and deepest in Dickens's genius, but because it omits certain matters relating to social and economical science, with which he was imperfectly acquainted, and on which his benevolence, misleading his genius, still urged him vehemently to dogmatize. His educated readers enjoyed his humor and pathos as before, but they were more or less irritated by the intrusion of social theories which they had long dismissed from their minds as exploded fallacies, and did not see that the wit was more pointed, the humor richer, the faculty of constructing a story more developed, the sentiment of humanity more earnest and profound, than in the inartistic incidents of The Pickwick Papers, over which they had laughed until they had cried, and cried until they had laughed again. They desired amusement merely; The Pickwick Papers are the most amusing of Dickens's works; and they were correspondingly vexed with an author who deviated from the course of amusing them into that of instructing them, only to emphasize notions which were behind the knowledge of the time, and which interfered with their enjoyment without giving them any intelligent instruction.

Still, allowing for the prepossessions of Dickens in writing Hard Times, and forgetting Adam Smith, Ricardo, and John Stuart Mill,—looking at him only as a humorous satirist profoundly disgusted with some prominent evils of his day,—we may warmly praise the book as one of the most perfect of its kind. The bleakness of the whole representation of human life proceeds from the Gradgrind Philosophy of Life, which emphasizes Fact and denounces all cultivation of the sentiments and the imagination. As a result of this system, Tom, the son of Mr. Gradgrind, becomes a selfish "whelp" and sneak thief; his daughter, Louisa, marries Mr. Bounderby under circumstances which point inevitably to a separation, either on account of adultery or incompatibility of temper and disposition; and young Bitzer, the plebeian product of the system, who glories in his own emancipation from all the ties of son, brother, and husband, who is eloquent on the improvidence of those who marry and have children, and who congratulates himself that he has only one person to feed, and that's the person he most likes to feed, namely, himself, is doomed to remain what he is, to the end of his life, a soulless, heartless, calculating machine, almost too mean to merit even the spurn of contempt. The first person who stirs the family of Mr. Gradgrind to a vague sense that the human mind possesses the faculty of imagination is Mr. Sleary, the circus-manager; and, in the end, he is the person who saves Tom Gradgrind from the disgrace of being arrested and tried as a felon. Dickens shows much art in making a man like Sleary, who represents the lowest element in the lowest order of popular amusements, the beneficent genius of the Gradgrind family, inclosed as they are in seemingly impenetrable surroundings of propriety, respectability, and prosaic fact. In depicting Sleary, the author escapes from satire into characterization, and adds to the population of Dickensland one of his most humorously conceived and consistently drawn personages. While his hand is in he strikes off portraits of Master Kidderminster, Mr. E. W. B. Childers, and other members of the circus troupe with almost equal vigor and fidelity to fact. As a specimen of his humor, Sleary's description of the search which Merrylegs' dog made to find him, in order to inform him of his master's death, is incomparably good. Mr. Gradgrind, as a man of science, suggests that the dog was drawn to him by his instinct and his fine scent. Mr. Sleary shakes his head skeptically. His idea is, that the dog went to another dog that he met on his journey, and asked him if he knew of a person of the name of Sleary, in the horse-riding way,—stout man,—game eye? And the other dog said that he couldn't say he knew him himself, but knew a dog who was likely to be acquainted with him, and then introduced him to that dog. And you know, Sleary added, that being much before the public, a number of dogs must be acquainted with me that I don't know. And Sleary goes on to show that after fourteen months' journey, the dog at last came to him in a very bad condition, lame and almost blind, threw himself up behind, stood on his fore legs, weak as he was, and then he wagged his tail and died. And then Sleary knew that the dog was the dog of Merrylegs. We have not put the narrative into Sleary's expressive lisp, and can only refer the reader to the original account in the eighth chapter of Hard Times.

The relation between Mr. James Harthouse and Louisa is one of the best "situations" in Dickens's novels. Harthouse represents a type of character which was the object of Dickens's special aversion, the younger son of a younger son of family,—"born bored," as St. Simon says of the Duke of Orleans, and passing listlessly through life in a constant dread of boredom, but seeking distractions and stimulants through new experiences,—"a thorough gentleman, made to the model of the time, weary of everything, and putting no more faith in anything than Lucifer." Contrasted with this jaded man of fashion is Louisa Gradgrind, the wife of Mr. Bounderby. Far from being morally and mentally wearied by too large an experience of life, she has had no experience of life at all. Her instincts, feelings, and imagination, as a woman, have been forced back into the interior recesses of her mind by the method of her education, and are therefore ever ready to burst forth, with an impetuosity corresponding to the force used in their repression and restraint. Now Dickens, as an English novelist, was prevented, by his English sense of decorum, from describing in detail those sensuous and passionate elements in her nature which brought her to the point of agreeing to an elopement with her lover. A French novelist would have had no difficulty in this respect. Leaving out of view such romancers as Alexandre Dumas and Frédéric Soulié, with what pleasure would story-tellers of a higher order, like Théophile Gautier, Prosper Mérimée, George Sand, and Charles de Bernard, have recorded their minute analysis of every phase of passion in the breasts of the would-be adulterer and the would-be adulteress! As it is, the reader finds it difficult to understand the frenzy of soul, the terrible tumult of feeling, which rends the heart of Louisa as she flies to her father on the evening she has agreed to elope with her lover. Such madness as she displays in the culmination of passion might have been explained by exhibiting, step by step, the growth of her passion. Instead of this, we are overwhelmed by the sudden passage of ice into fire without any warning of the perilous transformation.

The method of the French novelists is doubtless corrupting in just the degree in which it is interpretative. Whatever may be said of it, it at least accounts, on the logic of passion, for those crimes against the sanctity of the marriage relation which all good people deplore, but which few good people seem to understand.

It is needless to add, in this connection, any remarks on the singular purity of the relation existing between Rachel and Stephen Blackpool. Any reader who can contemplate it without feeling the tears gather in his eyes is hopelessly insensible to the pathos of Dickens in its most touching manifestations.

George Gissing (essay date 1898)

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SOURCE: "The Radical," in Charles Dickens: A Critical Study, Dodd, Mead and Company, 1912, pp. 255-82.

[In the following excerpt from a work originally published in 1898, Gissing writes of Hard Times as a failed labor novel..]

We do not nowadays look for a fervent Christianity in leaders of the people. In that, as in several other matters, Dickens was by choice retrospective. Still writing at a time when "infidelity"—the word then used—was becoming rife among the populace of great towns, he never makes any reference to it, and probably did not take it into account; it had no place in his English ideal. I doubt, indeed, whether he was practically acquainted with the "free-thinking" workman. A more noticeable omission from his books (if we except the one novel which I cannot but think a failure) is that of the workman at war with capital. This great struggle, going on before him all his life, found no place in the scheme of his fiction. He shows us poor men who suffer under tyranny, and who exclaim against the hardship of things; but never such a representative wage-earner as was then to be seen battling for bread and right. One reason is plain: Dickens did not know the north of England. With adequate knowledge of a manufacturing town, he would never have written so unconvincingly as in his book Hard Times—the opportunity for dealing with this subject. Stephen Blackpool represents nothing at all; he is a mere model of meekness, and his great misfortune is such as might befall any man anywhere, the curse of a drunken wife. The book is a crude attack on materialism, a theme which might, of course, have entered very well into a study of the combatant working-class. But, as I have already pointed out, the working-class is not Dickens's field, even in London. For the purposes of fiction, it is a class still waiting its portrayer; much has been written about it in novels, but we have no work of the first order dealing primarily with that form of life. Mrs. Gaskell essayed the theme very faithfully, and with some success; but it was not her best work. I can recall no working-class figures in English novels so truly representative as those in Charlotte Brontë's second book. Given a little wider experience, the author of Shirley might have exhibited this class in a masterpiece such as we vainly look for.

Further Reading

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Butt, John, and Tillotson, Kathleen. "Hard Times: The Problems of a Weekly Serial." In their Dickens at Work, pp. 201-21. London: Methuen & Co., 1963.

Systematic examination of Hard Times in the light of the conditions under which Dickens wrote it. Butt and Tillotson draw upon Dickens's working notes and week-by-week record of the novel's serialization.

Cowles, David L. "Having It Both Ways: Gender and Paradox in Hard Times" Dickens Quarterly VIII, No. 2 (June 1991): 79-84.

Illustrates how Dickens undermines many of his own thematic assertions regarding gender issues by "playing both sides of irreconcilable contradictions." "Yet he does so in ways harmonious with his time, sex, and class (and therefore largely invisible to his contemporary readers) through conceptual languages he could not escape any more than we can escape our own linguistic and interpretive limitations."

Dyson, A. E. "Hard Times: The Robber Fancy." In his The Inimitable Dickens: A Reading of the Novels, pp. 183-202. London: Macmillan, 1970.

Appraises Hard Times as "a powerful fiction" which "triumphantly survives," despite its unrelenting grimness and purposefulness.

Ford, George, and Monod, Sylvère, eds. Hard Times, by Charles Dickens. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1966, 378 p.

The Norton Critical Edition, containing an authoritative text, backgrounds, sources, and criticism on the novel from Ruskin through Daniel P. Deneau.

Friedman, Stanley. "Sad Stephen and Troubled Louisa: Paired Protagonists in Hard Times." Dickens Quarterly VII, No. 2 (June 1990): 254-62.

On the way in which Dickens shows, through the lives of Stephen Blackpool and Louisa Gradgrind, how "men and women in diverse social strata may suffer greatly in a nation marked by an insensitivity to basic emotional needs."

Green, Robert. "Hard Times: The Style of a Sermon." TexasStudies in Literature and Language 11, No. 1 (Spring 1969): 1375-96.

Seeks "to show the existence of a close relationship between the details of Dickens' style and his overall purpose in writing Hard Times, and then to draw a few parallels between the language of this novel and the stylistic devices of a piece of nonliterary English that was contemporary with Dickens' novel," that being the sermons of John Cardinal Newman.

Hornback, Bert G. "Hard Times and A Tale of Two Cities: Two Late Fables." In his "Noah's Arkitecture ": A Study ofDickens's Mythology, pp. 111-24. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1972.

Reads Hard Times as a moral fable told through a sermon, the text for which being the "mad world" and the lesson of which being "that love is the only thing that can save us, and that art and the works of the imagination, however strange and impractical and useless they may seem, are intimately connected with the life of love."

Howells, W. D. "Dickens's Later Heroines." In his Heroines of Fiction, Vol. I, pp. 148-60. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1901.

Cites Hard Times as having "more affinity with the actual world than most other novels of Dickens," though "the means of any effect to be accomplished are so far beyond the requisite that one is inclined to ask with the Irishman challenged to astonishment at the prodigious fall of water at Niagara, "What's to hinder it?"

Kearns, Katherine. "A Tropology of Realism in Hard Times" ELH 59, No. 4 (Winter 1994): 857-81.

Suggests that the language and plot in Dickens's novel function as an examination of two kinds of realism: fictional realism and the industrial-based realism that eliminates fanciful elements from the lives of the workers portrayed in the novel.

Lodge, David. "How Successful Is Hard Times?" In his Working with Structuralism: Essays and Reviews on Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Literature, pp. 37-45. Boston, Mass.: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981.

Reads Hard Times as an artificial, "moralized theatricality," in which Dickens seeks, through techniques borrowed from the theater and fairy tales, to "defamiliarise not merely the subject-matter of the story, so that we perceive it freshly, but also the method of presentation itself, so that instead of lapsing into a passive story, we are compelled to recognize its artificiality and to consider its ideological implications."

Michie, Elsie B. "'Those That Will Not Work': Prostitutes, Property, Gaskell, and Dickens." In her Outside the Pale:Cultural Exclusion, Gender Difference, and the VictorianWoman Writer, pp. 113-41. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993.

Feminist examination of the connection between economics and sexuality in mid-Victorian discussions of prostitution and in Elizabeth Gaskell's and Dickens's novels of the mid-1850s, with recurrent reference to Hard Times.

Rounds, Stephen R. "Naming People: Dickens's Technique in Hard Times." Dickens Studies Newsletter VIII, No. 2 (June 1977): 36-40.

Demonstrates how, in Hard Times, "names are more than just keys to the characters of their holders; but here they are sources of power and dominance."

Stevenson, Lionel. "Dickens's Dark Novels, 1851-1857." The Sewanee Review LI, No. 3 (July-September 1943): 398-409.

Surveys the three "least read" of Dickens's novels (BleakHouse, Hard Times, and Little Dorrit), finding that in Hard Times "the essential conflict of capital and labor is presented so baldly, the complacency of the laissez-faire industrialists and the utilitarian cant that masks their rapacity, are contrasted so persistently with the nobility of the honest working man, that the story has a machine-made effect, totally devoid of those inconistent human traits that give verisimilitude to even the most exaggerated characters and episodes in all [Dickens's] other books."

Additional coverage of Dickens's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vols. 8, 18, 26; Short Story Criticism, Vol. 17; World Literature Criticism, Concise Dictionary of Literary Biography, 1832-1890; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 21, Victorian Novelists Before 1885; Vol. 55, Victorian Prose Writers Before 1867; Vol. 70, British Mystery Writers, 1860-1919; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults; and Something About the Author, Vol. 15.

G. K. Chesterton (essay date 1908)

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SOURCE: "Hard Times, " in The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton: Chesterton on Dickens, Vol. XV, Ignatius Press, 1989, pp. 357-63.

[Regarded as one of England's premier men of letters during the first half of the twentieth century, Chesterton is best known today as a colorful bon vivant, a witty essayist, Catholic apologist, and as the creator of the Father Brown mysteries. His essays are characterized by their humor, frequent use of paradox, and chatty, rambling style. He was a lifelong Dickens enthusiast and wrote many essays on Dickens's works, including the introductions to each of the novels published in J. M. Dent's Everyman's Edition of Dickens's works. In the following essay, originally published in 1908 for the Everyman's Edition of Hard Times, Chesterton discourses on this novel as Dickens's harshest, a work strident in its emphasis upon egalitarianism.]

I have heard that in some debating clubs there is a rule that the members may discuss anything except religion and politics. I cannot imagine what they do discuss; but it is quite evident that they have ruled out the only two subjects which are either important or amusing. The thing is a part of a certain modern tendency to avoid things because they lead to warmth; whereas, obviously, we ought, even in a social sense, to seek those things specially. The warmth of the discussion is as much a part of hospitality as the warmth of the fire. And it is singularly suggestive that in English literature the two things have died together. The very people who would blame Dickens for his sentimental hospitality are the very people who would also blame him for his narrow political conviction. The very people who would mock him for his narrow radicalism are those who would mock him for his broad fireside. Real conviction and real charity are much nearer than people suppose. Dickens was capable of loving all men; but he refused to love all opinions. The modern humanitarian can love all opinions, but he cannot love all men; he seems, sometimes, in the ecstasy of his humanitarianism, even to hate them all. He can love all opinions, including the opinion that men are unlovable.

In feeling Dickens as a lover we must never forget him as a fighter, and a fighter for a creed; but indeed there is no other kind of fighter. The geniality which he spread over all his creations was geniality spread from one centre, from one flaming peak. He was willing to excuse Mr. Micawber for being extravagant; but Dickens and Dickens's doctrine were strictly to decide how far he was to be excused. He was willing to like Mr. Twemlow in spite of his snobbishness, but Dickens and Dickens's doctrine were alone to be judges of how far he was snobbish. There was never a more didactic writer: hence there was never one more amusing. He had no mean modern notion of keeping the moral doubtful. He would have regarded this as a mere piece of slovenliness, like leaving the last page illegible.

Everywhere in Dickens's work these angles of his absolute opinion stood up out of the confusion of his general kindness, just as sharp and splintered peaks stand up out of the soft confusion of the forests. Dickens is always generous, he is generally kind-hearted, he is often sentimental, he is sometimes intolerably maudlin; but you never know when you will not come upon one of the convictions of Dickens; and when you do come upon it you do know it. It is as hard and as high as any precipice or peak of the mountains. The highest and hardest of these peaks is Hard Times.

It is here more than anywhere else that the sternness of Dickens emerges as separate from his softness; it is here, most obviously, so to speak, that his bones stick out. There are indeed many other books of his which are written better and written in a sadder tone. Great Expectations is melancholy in a sense; but it is doubtful of everything, even of its own melancholy. The Tale of Two Cities is a great tragedy, but it is still a sentimental tragedy. It is a great drama, but it is still a melodrama. But this tale of Hard Times is in some way harsher than all these. For it is the expression of a righteous indignation which cannot condescend to humour and which cannot even condescend to pathos. Twenty times we have taken Dickens's hand and it has been sometimes hot with revelry and sometimes weak with weariness; but this time we start a little, for it is inhumanly cold; and then we realise that we have touched his gauntlet of steel.

One cannot express the real value of this book without being irrelevant. It is true that one cannot express the real value of anything without being irrelevant. If we take a thing frivolously we can take it separately, but the moment we take a thing seriously, if it were only an old umbrella, it is obvious that that umbrella opens above us into the immensity of the whole universe. But there are rather particular reasons why the value of the book called Hard Times should be referred back to great historic and theoretic matters with which it may appear superficially to have little or nothing to do. The chief reason can perhaps be stated thus—that English politics had for more than a hundred years been getting into more and more of a hopeless tangle (a tangle which, of course, has since become even worse) and that Dickens did in some extraordinary way see what was wrong, even if he did not see what was right.

The Liberalism which Dickens and nearly all of his contemporaries professed had begun in the American and the French Revolutions. Almost all modern English criticism upon those revolutions has been vitiated by the assumption that those revolutions burst upon a world which was unprepared for their ideas—a world ignorant of the possibility of such ideas. Somewhat the same mistake is made by those who suggest that Christianity was adopted by a world incapable of criticising it; whereas obviously it was adopted by a world that was tired of criticising everything. The vital mistake that is made about the French Revolution is merely this—that everyone talks about it as the introduction of a new idea. It was not the introduction of a new idea; there are no new ideas. Or if there are new ideas, they would not cause the least irritation if they were introduced into political society; because the world having never got used to them there would be no mass of men ready to fight for them at a moment's notice. That which was irritating about the French Revolution was this—that it was not the introduction of a new ideal, but the practical fulfilment of an old one. From the time of the first fairy tales men had always believed ideally in equality; they had always thought that something ought to be done, if anything could be done, to redress the balance between Cinderella and the ugly sisters. The irritating thing about the French was not that they said this ought to be done; everybody said that. The irritating thing about the French was that they did it. They proposed to carry out into a positive scheme what had been the vision of humanity; and humanity was naturally annoyed. The kings of Europe did not make war upon the Revolution because it was a blasphemy, but because it was a copy-book maxim which had been just too accurately copied. It was a platitude which they had always held in theory unexpectedly put into practice. The tyrants did not hate democracy because it was a paradox; they hated it because it was a truism which seemed in some danger of coming true.

Now it happens to be hugely important to have this right view of the Revolution in considering its political effects upon England. For the English, being a deeply and indeed excessively romantic people, could never be quite content with this quality of cold and bald obviousness about the republican formula. The republican formula was merely this—that the State must consist of its citizens ruling equally, however unequally they may do anything else. In their capacity of members of the State they are all equally interested in its preservation. But the English soon began to be romantically restless about this eternal truism; they were perpetually trying to turn it into something else, into something more picturesque—progress perhaps, or anarchy. At last they turned it into the highly exciting and highly unsound system of politics, which was known as the Manchester School, and which was expressed with a sort of logical flightiness, more excusable in literature, by Mr. Herbert Spencer. Of course Danton or Washington or any of the original republicans would have thought these people were mad. They would never have admitted for a moment that the State must not interfere with commerce or competition; they would merely have insisted that if the State did interfere, it must really be the State—that is, the whole people. But the distance between the common sense of Danton and the mere ecstasy of Herbert Spencer marks the English way of colouring and altering the revolutionary idea. The English people as a body went blind, as the saying is, for interpreting democracy entirely in terms of liberty. They said in substance that if they had more and more liberty it did not matter whether they had any equality or any fraternity. But this was violating the sacred trinity of true politics; they confounded the persons and they divided the substance.

Now the really odd thing about England in the nineteenth century is this—that there was one Englishman who happened to keep his head. The men who lost their heads lost highly scientific and philosophical heads; they were great cosmic systematisers like Spencer, great social philosophers like Bentham, great practical politicians like Bright, great political economists like Mill. The man who kept his head kept a head full of fantastic nonsense; he was a writer of rowdy farces, a demagogue of fiction, a man without education in any serious sense whatever, a man whose whole business was to turn ordinary cockneys into extraordinary caricatures. Yet when all these other children of the revolution went wrong he, by a mystical something in his bones, went right. He knew nothing of the Revolution; yet he struck the note of it. He returned to the original sentimental commonplace upon which it is forever founded, as the Church is founded on a rock. In an England gone mad about a minor theory he reasserted the original idea—the idea that no one in the State must be too weak to influence the State.

This man was Dickens. He did this work much more genuinely than it was done by Carlyle or Ruskin; for they were simply Tories making out a romantic case for the return of Toryism. But Dickens was a real Liberal demanding the return of real Liberalism. Dickens was there to remind people that England had rubbed out two words of the revolutionary motto, had left only Liberty and destroyed Equality and Fraternity. In this book, Hard Times, he specially champions equality. In all his books he champions fraternity.

The atmosphere of this book and what it stands for can be very adequately conveyed in the note on the book by Lord Macaulay, who may stand as a very good example of the spirit of England in those years of eager emancipation and expanding wealth—the years in which Liberalism was turned from an omnipotent truth to a weak scientific system. Macaulay's private comment on Hard Times runs, "One or two passages of exquisite pathos and the rest sullen Socialism." That is not an unfair and certainly not a specially hostile criticism, but it exactly shows how the book struck those people who were mad on political liberty and dead about everything else. Macaulay mistook for a new formula called Socialism what was, in truth, only the old formula called political democracy. He and his Whigs had so thoroughly mauled and modified the original idea of Rousseau or Jefferson that when they saw it again they positively thought that it was something quite new and eccentric. But the truth was that Dickens was not a Socialist, but an unspoilt Liberal; he was not sullen; nay, rather, he had remained strangely hopeful. They called him a sullen Socialist only to disguise their astonishment at finding still loose about the London streets a happy republican.

Dickens is the one living link between the old kindness and the new, between the good will of the past and the good works of the future. He links May Day with Bank Holiday, and he does it almost alone. All the men around him, great and good as they were, were in comparison puritanical, and never so puritanical as when they were also atheistic. He is a sort of solitary pipe down which pours to the twentieth century the original river of Merry England. And although this Hard Times is, as its name implies, the hardest of his works, although there is less in it perhaps than in any of the others of the abandon and the buffoonery of Dickens, this only emphasises the more clearly the fact that he stood almost alone for a more humane and hilarious view of democracy. None of his great and much more highly-educated contemporaries could help him in this. Carlyle was as gloomy on the one side as Herbert Spencer on the other. He protested against the commercial oppression simply and solely because it was not only an oppression but a depression. And this protest of his was made specially in the case of the book before us. It may be bitter, but it was a protest against bitterness. It may be dark, but it is the darkness of the subject and not of the author. He is by his own account dealing with hard times, but not with a hard eternity, not with a hard philosophy of the universe. Nevertheless, this is the one place in his work where he does not make us remember human happiness by example as well as by precept. This is, as I have said, not the saddest, but certainly the harshest of his stories. It is perhaps the only place where Dickens, in defending happiness, for a moment forgets to be happy.

He describes Bounderby and Gradgrind with a degree of grimness and sombre hatred very different from the half affectionate derision which he directed against the old tyrants or humbugs of the earlier nineteenth century—the pompous Dedlock or the fatuous Nupkins, the grotesque Bumble or the inane Tigg. In those old books his very abuse was benignant; in Hard Times even his sympathy is hard. And the reason is again to be found in the political facts of the century. Dickens could be half genial with the older generation of oppressors because it was a dying generation. It was evident, or at least it seemed evident then, that Nupkins could not go on much longer making up the law of England to suit himself; that Sir Leicester Dedlock could not go on much longer being kind to his tenants as if they were dogs and cats. And some of these evils the nineteenth century did really eliminate or improve. For the first half of the century Dickens and all his friends were justified in feeling that the chains were falling from mankind. At any rate, the chains did fall from Mr. Rouncewell the Iron-master. And when they fell from him he picked mem up and put them upon the poor.

Bernard Shaw (essay date 1913)

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SOURCE: "Introduction to Hard Times," in Shaw on Dickens, edited by Dan H. Lawrence and Martin Quinn, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1985, pp. 27-35.

[Shaw is generally considered the greatest and best-known dramatist to write in the English language since Shakespeare. During the late nineteenth century, he was also a prominent literary, art, music, and drama critic, and his reviews were known for their biting wit and brilliance. Like his friendly rival, Chesterton, Shaw was a longtime enthusiast of Dickens's work, primarily because of its value in the literature of class struggle, an emphasis which appealed strongly to the Fabian Shaw. In the following introduction to the Waverley subscription edition (1913) of Hard Times, Shaw finds the novel to portray the realism and social criticism that emerged in mid-nineteenth-century literature.]

John Ruskin once declared Hard Times Dickens's best novel. It is worth while asking why Ruskin thought this, because he would have been the first to admit that the habit of placing works of art in competition with one another, and wrangling as to which is the best, is the habit of the sportsman, not of the enlightened judge of art. Let us take it that what Ruskin meant was that Hard Times was one of his special favorites among Dickens's books. Was this the caprice of fancy? or is there any rational explanation of the preference? I think there is.

Hard Times is the first fruit of that very interesting occurrence which our religious sects call, sometimes conversion, sometimes being saved, sometimes attaining to conviction of sin. Now the great conversions of the XIX century were not convictions of individual, but of social sin. The first half of the XIX century considered itself the greatest of all the centuries. The second discovered that it was the wickedest of all the centuries. The first half despised and pitied the Middle Ages as barbarous, cruel, superstitious, ignorant. The second half saw no hope for mankind except in the recovery of the faith, the art, the humanity of the Middle Ages. In Macaulay's History of England, the world is so happy, so progressive, so firmly set in the right path, that the author cannot mention even the National Debt without proclaiming that the deeper the country goes into debt, the more it prospers. In Morris's News from Nowhere mere is nothing left of all the institutions that Macaulay glorified except an old building, so ugly that it is used only as a manure market, that was once the British House of Parliament. Hard Times was written in 1854, just at the turn of the half century; and in it we see Dickens with his eyes newly open and his conscience newly stricken by the discovery of the real state of England. In the book that went immediately before, Bleak House, he was still denouncing evils and ridiculing absurdities that were mere symptoms of the anarchy that followed the industrial revolution of the XVIII and XIX centuries, and the conquest of political power by Commercialism in 1832. In Bleak House Dickens knows nothing of the industrial revolution: he imagines that what is wrong is that when a dispute arises over the division of the plunder of the nation, the Court of Chancery, instead of settling the dispute cheaply and promptly, beggars the disputants and pockets both their shares. His description of our party system, with its Coodle, Doodle, Foodie, etc., has never been surpassed for accuracy and for penetration of superficial pretence. But he had not dug down to the bed rock of the imposture. His portrait of the iron-master who visits Sir Leicester Dedlock, and who is so solidly superior to him, might have been drawn by Macaulay: there is not a touch of Bounderby in it. His horrible and not untruthful portraits of the brickmakers whose abject and battered wives call them "master," and his picture of the now vanished slum between Drury Lane and Catherine Street which he calls Tom All Alone's, suggest (save in the one case of the outcast Jo, who is, like Oliver Twist, a child, and therefore outside the old self-help panacea of Dickens's time) nothing but individual delinquencies, local plague-spots, negligent authorities.

In Hard Times you will find all this changed. Coketown, which you can see to-day for yourself in all its grime in the Potteries (the real name of it is Hanley in Staffordshire on the London and North Western Railway), is not, like Tom All Alone's, a patch of slum in a fine city, easily cleared away, as Tom's actually was about fifty years after Dickens called attention to it. Coketown is the whole place; and its rich manufacturers are proud of its dirt, and declare that they like to see the sun blacked out with smoke, because it means mat the furnaces are busy and money is being made; whilst its poor factory hands have never known any other sort of town, and are as content with it as a rat is with a hole. Mr. Rouncewell, the pillar of society who snubs Sir Leicester with such dignity, has become Mr. Bounderby, the self-made humbug. The Chancery suitors who are driving themselves mad by hanging about the Courts in the hope of getting a judgment in their favor instead of trying to earn an honest living, are replaced by factory operatives who toil miserably and incessantly only to see the streams of gold they set flowing slip through their fingers into the pockets of men who revile and oppress them.

Clearly this is not the Dickens who burlesqued the old song of the "Fine Old English Gentleman" [anti-Tory lampoon published in The Examiner, August 7, 1841], and saw in the evils he attacked only the sins and wickednesses and follies of a great civilization. This is Karl Marx, Carlyle, Ruskin, Morris, Carpenter, rising up against civilization itself as against a disease, and declaring that it is not our disorder but our order that is horrible; that it is not our criminals but our magnates that are robbing and murdering us; and that it is not merely Tom All Alone's that must be demolished and abolished, pulled down, rooted up, and made for ever impossible so that nothing shall remain of it but History's record of its infamy, but our entire social system. For that was how men felt, and how some of them spoke, in the early days of the Great Conversion which produced, first, such books as the Latter Day Pamphlets of Carlyle, Dickens's Hard Times, and the tracts and sociological novels of the Christian Socialists, and later on the Socialist movement which has now spread all over the world, and which has succeeded in convincing even those who most abhor the name of Socialism that the condition of the civilized world is deplorable, and that the remedy is far beyond the means of individual righteousness. In short, whereas formerly men said to the victim of society who ventured to complain, "Go and reform yourself before you pretend to reform Society," it now has to admit that until Society is reformed, no man can reform himself except in the most insignificantly small ways. He may cease picking your pocket of half crowns; but he cannot cease taking a quarter of a million a year from the community for nothing at one end of the scale, or living under conditions in which health, decency, and gentleness are impossible at the other, if he happens to be born to such a lot.

You must therefore resign yourself, if you are reading Dickens's books in the order in which they were written, to bid adieu now to the light-hearted and only occasionally indignant Dickens of the earlier books, and get such entertainment as you can from him now that the occasional indignation has spread and deepened into a passionate revolt against the whole industrial order of the modern world. Here you will find no more villains and heroes, but only oppressors and victims, oppressing and suffering in spite of themselves, driven by a huge machinery which grinds to pieces the people it should nourish and ennoble, and having for its directors the basest and most foolish of us instead of the noblest and most farsighted.

Many readers find the change disappointing. Others find Dickens worth reading almost for the first time. The increase in strength and intensity is enormous: the power that indicts a nation so terribly is much more impressive than that which ridicules individuals. But it cannot be said that mere is an increase of simple pleasure for the reader, though the books are not therefore less attractive. One cannot say that it is pleasanter to look at a battle than at a merry-go-round; but there can be no question which draws the larger crowd.

To describe the change in the readers' feelings more precisely, one may say that it is impossible to enjoy Gradgrind or Bounderby as one enjoys Pecksniff or the Artful Dodger or Mrs. Gamp or Micawber or Dick Swiveller, because mese earlier characters have nothing to do with us except to amuse us. We neither hate nor fear them. We do not expect ever to meet them, and should not be in the least afraid of them if we did. England is not full of Micawbers and Swivellers. They are not our fathers, our schoolmasters, our employers, our tyrants. We do not read novels to escape from them and forget them: quite the contrary. But England is full of Bounderbys and Podsnaps and Gradgrinds; and we are all to a quite appalling extent in their power. We either hate and fear them or else we are them, and resent being held up to odium by a novelist. We have only to turn to the article on Dickens in the current edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica to find how desperately our able critics still exalt all Dickens's early stories about individuals whilst ignoring or belittling such masterpieces as Hard Times,Little Dorrit, Our Mutual Friend, and even Bleak House (because of Sir Leicester Dedlock), for their mercilessly faithful and penetrating exposures of English social, industrial, and political life; to see how hard Dickens hits the conscience of the governing class; and how loth we still are to confess, not that we are so wicked (for of that we are rather proud), but so ridiculous, so futile, so incapable of making our country really prosperous. The Old Curiosity Shop was written to amuse you, entertain you, touch you; and it succeeded. Hard Times was written to make you uncomfortable; and it will make you uncomfortable (and serve you right) though it will perhaps interest you more, and certainly leave a deeper scar on you, than any two of its forerunners.

At the same time you need not fear to find Dickens losing his good humor and sense of fun and becoming serious in Mr. Gradgrind's way. On the contrary, Dickens in this book casts off, and casts off for ever, all restraint on his wild sense of humor. He had always been inclined to break loose: there are passages in the speeches of Mrs. Nickleby and Pecksniff which are impossible as well as funny. But now it is no longer a question of passages: here he begins at last to exercise quite recklessly his power of presenting a character to you in the most fantastic and outrageous terms, putting into its mouth from one end of the book to the other hardly one word which could conceivably be uttered by any sane human being, and yet leaving you with an unmistakable and exactly truthful portrait of a character that you recognize at once as not only real but typical. Nobody ever talked, or ever will talk, as Silas Wegg talks to Boffin and Mr. Venus, or as Mr. Venus reports Pleasant Riderhood to have talked, or as Rogue Riderhood talks, or as John Chivery talks. They utter rhapsodies of nonsense conceived in an ecstasy of mirth. And this begins in Hard Times. Jack Bunsby in Dombey and Son is absurd: the oracles he delivers are very nearly impossible, and yet not quite impossible. But Mrs. Sparsit in this book, though Rembrandt could not have drawn a certain type of real woman more precisely to the life, is grotesque from beginning to end in her way of expressing herself. Her nature, her tricks of manner, her way of taking Mr. Bounderby's marriage, her instinct for hunting down Louisa and Mrs. Pegler, are drawn with an unerring hand; and she says nothing that is out of character. But no clown gone suddenly mad in a very mad harlequinade could express all these truths in more extravagantly ridiculous speeches. Dickens's business in life has become too serious for troubling over the small change of verisimilitude, and denying himself and his readers the indulgence of his humor in inessentials. He even calls the schoolmaster M'Choakumchild, which is almost an insult to the serious reader. And it was so afterwards to the end of his life. There are moments when he imperils the whole effect of his character drawing by some overpoweringly comic sally. For instance, happening in Hard Times to describe Mr. Bounderby as drumming on his hat as if it were a tambourine, which is quite correct and natural, he presently says that "Mr. Bounderby put his tambourine on his head, like an oriental dancer." Which similitude is so unexpectedly and excruciatingly funny that it is almost impossible to feel duly angry with the odious Bounderby afterwards.

This disregard of naturalness in speech is extraordinarily entertaining in the comic method; but it must be admitted that it is not only not entertaining, but sometimes hardly bearable when it does not make us laugh. There are two persons in Hard Times, Louisa Gradgrind and Cissy Jupe, who are serious throughout. Louisa is a figure of poetic tragedy; and there is no question of naturalness in her case: she speaks from beginning to end as an inspired prophetess, conscious of her own doom and finally bearing to her father the judgment of Providence on his blind conceit. If you once consent to overlook her marriage, which is none the less an act of prostitution because she does it to obtain advantages for her brother and not for herself, there is nothing in the solemn poetry of her deadly speech that jars. But Cissy is nothing if not natural; and though Cissy is as true to nature in her character as Mrs. Sparsit, she "speaks like a book" in the most intolerable sense of the words. In her interview with Mr. James Harthouse, her unconscious courage and simplicity, and his hopeless defeat by them, are quite natural and right; and the contrast between the humble girl of the people and the smart sarcastic man of the world whom she so completely vanquishes is excellently dramatic; but Dickens has allowed himself to be carried away by the scene into a ridiculous substitution of his own most literary and least colloquial style for any language that could conceivably be credited to Cissy.

"Mr. Harthouse: the only reparation that remains with you is to leave her immediately and finally. I am quite sure that you can mitigate in no other way the wrong and harm you have done. I am quite sure that it is the only compensation you have left it in your power to make. I do not say that it is much, or that it is enough; but it is something, and it is necessary. Therefore, though without any other authority than I have given you, and even without the knowledge of any other person than yourself and myself, I ask you to depart from this place to-night, under an obligation never to return to it."

This is the language of a Lord Chief Justice, not of the dunce of an elementary school in the Potteries.

But this is only a surface failure, just as the extravagances of Mrs. Sparsit are only surface extravagances. There is, however, one real failure in the book. Slackbridge, the trade union organizer, is a mere figment of the middle-class imagination. No such man would be listened to by a meeting of English factory hands. Not that such meetings are less susceptible to humbug than meetings of any other class. Not that trade union organizers, worn out by the terribly wearisome and trying work of going from place to place repeating the same commonplaces and trying to "stoke up" meetings to enthusiasm with them, are less apt than other politicians to end as windbags, and sometimes to depend on stimulants to pull them through their work. Not, in short, that the trade union platform is any less humbug-ridden than the platforms of our more highly placed political parties. But even at their worst trade union organizers are not a bit like Slackbridge. Note, too, that Dickens mentions that there was a chairman at the meeting (as if that were rather surprising), and that this chairman makes no attempt to preserve the usual order of public meeting, but allows speakers to address the assembly and interrupt one another in an entirely disorderly way. All this is pure middle-class ignorance. It is much as if a tramp were to write a description of millionaires smoking large cigars in church, with their wives in low-necked dresses and diamonds. We cannot say that Dickens did not know the working classes, because he knew humanity too well to be ignorant of any class. But this sort of knowledge is as compatible with ignorance of class manners and customs as with ignorance of foreign languages. Dickens knew certain classes of working folk very well: domestic servants, village artisans, and employees of petty tradesmen, for example. But of the segregated factory populations of our purely industrial towns he knew no more than an observant professional man can pick up on a flying visit to Manchester.

It is especially important to notice that Dickens expressly says in this book that the workers were wrong to organize themselves in trade unions, thereby endorsing what was perhaps the only practical mistake of the Gradgrind school that really mattered much. And having thus thoughtlessly adopted, or at least repeated, this error, long since exploded, of the philosophic Radical school from which he started, he turns his back frankly on Democracy, and adopts the idealized Toryism of Carlyle and Ruskin, in which the aristocracy are the masters and superiors of the people, and also the servants of the people and of God. Here is a significant passage.

"Now perhaps," said Mr. Bounderby, "you will let the gentleman know how you would set this muddle (as you are so fond of calling it) to rights."

"I donno, sir. I canna be expecten to't. Tis not me as should be looken to for that, sir. Tis they as is put ower me, and ower aw the rest of us. What do they tak upon themseln, sir, if not to do it?"

And to this Dickens sticks for the rest of his life. In OurMutual Friend he appeals again and again to the governing classes, asking them with every device of reproach, invective, sarcasm, and ridicule of which he is master, what they have to say to this or that evil which it is their professed business to amend or avoid. Nowhere does he appeal to the working classes to take their fate into their own hands and try the democratic plan.

Another phrase used by Stephen Blackpool in this remarkable fifth chapter is important. "Nor yet lettin alone will never do it." It is Dickens's express repudiation of laissez-faire.

There is nothing more in the book that needs any glossary, except, perhaps, the strange figure of the Victorian "swell," Mr. James Harthouse. His pose has gone out of fashion. Here and there you may still see a man—even a youth—with a single eyeglass, an elaborately bored and weary air, and a little stock of cynicisms and indifferentisms contrasting oddly with a mortal anxiety about his clothes. All he needs is a pair of Dundreary whiskers, like the officers in Desanges' military pictures, to be a fair imitation of Mr. James Harthouse. But he is not in the fashion: he is an eccentric, as Whistler was an eccentric, as Max Beerbohm and the neo-dandies of the fin de siècle were eccentrics. It is now the fashion to be strenuous, to be energetic, to hustle as American millionaires are supposed (rather erroneously) to hustle. But the soul of the swell is still unchanged. He has changed his name again and again, become a Masher, a Toff, a Johnny and what not; but fundamentally he remains what he always was, an Idler, and therefore a man bound to find some trick of thought and speech that reduces the world to a thing as empty and purposeless and hopeless as himself. Mr. Harthouse reappears, more seriously and kindly taken, as Eugene Wrayburn and Mortimer Lightwood in Our Mutual Friend. He reappears as a club in The Finches of the Grove in Great Expectations. He will reappear in all his essentials in fact and in fiction until he is at last shamed or coerced into honest industry and becomes not only unintelligible but inconceivable.

Note, finally, that in this book Dickens proclaims that marriages are not made in heaven, and that those which are not confirmed there, should be dissolved.

Stephen Leacock (essay date 1934)

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SOURCE: "Bleak House and Social Reform," in Charles Dickens: His Life and Work, 1934. Reprint by The Sun Dial Press, Inc., 1938, pp. 152-72.

[A respected Canadian professor of economics, Leacock is best known as one of the leading humorists of the first half of the twentieth century. He is also the author of biographies of Twain and Dickens. In the excerpt from the latter which appears below, Leacock sketches the plot and details the "failure" of Hard Times.]

The story Hard Times has no other interest in the history of letters than that of its failure. At the time, even enthusiastic lovers of Dickens found it hard to read. At present they do not even try to read it. A large part of the book is mere trash; hardly a chapter of it is worth reading today: not an incident or a character belonging to it survives or deserves to. The names of Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby are still quoted, but only because they are felicitous names for hard, limited men, not because the characters in the book are known or remembered. Not a chapter or a passage in the book is part of Dickens's legacy to the world.

This may well seem strange. If the book had been written at the outset of its author's career, its faults could have been laid to immaturity; if at the close, to the waning powers of age; if written ten years later—as was Our Mutual Friend—it could have been explained away as the product of a wearied body and an over-taxed mind. But this book was written at the height of Dickens's power, with David Copperfield and Bleak House just in front of it, and A Tale of Two Cities and Little Dorrit still to follow.

It may be, of course, that the added exertion involved in assuming the editorship of Household Words had already overstrained the abounding energy of Charles Dickens. There are complaints at this time of uncertain health, passed off as "hypochondria." But there was as yet no so such cruel strain of either mind or body as could involve such a literary collapse as this. It may be also that the form of publication week by week in Household Words was unfortunate, that it unduly "breaks" the story. But there is really very little to break.

The scene of the book is laid in a factory town (Coketown) intended as typical of the new industry and the new tyranny that went with it. Its leading characters represent the soulless employers of the age, applying the ruthless philosophy of laissez faire and the survival of the fittest; and against this, the angelic suffering of the working class. The book is thus an amalgam of Jack the Giant Killer, Ricardo's Political Economy, and the Sermon on the Mount; the whole of it intermingled with a comic strain which fails to come off.

The book can be explained only in terms of the old adage that even Homer nods at times. It is the result, perhaps, of oversuccess and overencouragement. You encourage a comic man too much and he gets silly; a pathetic man and he gets maudlin; a long-winded man and he grows interminable. Thus praise and appreciation itself, the very soil in which art best flourishes, may prompt too rank a growth.

In the case of Dickens, failure was likely to be as conspicuous as success. He thought in extreme terms and wrote in capital letters. There are no halfway effects in the death of Little Nell and the fun of Mr. Pickwick. Hence, any of his characteristic methods—comic, pathetic, impressive, or rhetorical—could be strained to the breaking point. This book strains them all: the humour is forced, the rhetoric is rodomontade, and the pathos verges on the maudlin.

But the principal fault of the book is that the theme is wrong. Dickens confused the faults of men with the faults of things; hardness of heart with hardness of events. In attacking the new industrial age of factories and machinery that was transforming England, Dickens directed his attack against the wickedness and hardness of his Gradgrinds and his Bounderbys, his brutal employers of labour. Did he really think that they were any wickeder than other people? Mankind at that period had been caught in the wheels of its own machinery and was struggling vainly for salvation; just as it has been caught again and struggles at the present moment. But Dickens insists on regarding the poor and the working class as caught in the cruel grasp of the rich, which was not so, or only in a collective sense, impossible for the individual employer to remedy on the spot. It was the grasp of circumstance and not the hand of tyranny.

At the time the tremendous prestige of Dickens was sufficient to float the book along, and at least to guarantee its sale. But Lord Macaulay, in a well-known phrase, damned it as "sullen socialism." Even John Ruskin, whose ideas it is supposed to reflect, sees the weakness of it as art. In a note to his first essay in Unto This Last he says, "I wish he could think it right to limit his brilliant exaggeration to works written only for public amusement. The usefulness of the work, Hard Times, is with many persons seriously diminished because Mr. Bounderby is a dramatic monster, instead of a characteristic example of a worldly master: and Stephen Blackpool a dramatic perfection, instead of a characteristic example of an honest workman."

These are the judgments of the moment, of contemporaries among whom Dickens towered as a living reality. With the lapse of time the book has found the place it deserves.

But the inferiority of this book does not in any way detract from a proper estimate of Dickens's genius. In art one must judge a man by his best, never by his worst; by his highest reach, not by his lowest fall.

Lewis Harrison (essay date 1943)

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SOURCE: "Dickens's Shadow Show," in The Dickensian, Vol. XXXIX, No. 268, Autumn, 1943, pp. 187-91.

[In the essay below, Harrison profiles the characters in Hard Times, each of whom is "the ghost of some greater creation," appearing in a "great book" which is "no less a piece of artistry than Copperfield."]


In the good old days of my Victorian childhood there were two forms of entertainment, forerunners of the cinema, which have dwelt in my memory.

The first was the "Penny Reading," when the Vicar read to a (more or less) enthralled audience some work of (also more or less) merit and interest. How this species of enjoyment was developed and transcended by Charles Dickens everyone knows.

The Shadow Show was the other diversion. The performers, themselves unseen, were behind a white sheet and between it and a powerful light, so that their shadows were cast upon the screen. Much skill was needed on the part of actors and producer. Well managed, an excellent and amusing performance resulted. It was possible to accomplish much on the transparent curtain that could not be done upon the actual stage itself. A swordsman could most effectively run his adversary through without in the least incommoding him, and an angry termagant could empty a basin of gluey tapioca pudding over her husband without the victim being in any way inconvenienced. As Dickens glorified the Penny Reading into a magnificent and thrilling feast of laughter and tears, so, though he suspected it not, he achieved one of the greatest of all Shadow-shows. For that great book, Hard Times, is a Pantomime of Phantoms.

That "great book"? Yes; for although I do not love it as I do the other novels, I consider it to be a great literary and artistic triumph. It is quite unnecessarily apologised for by some Dickensians who proclaim it "Dickens's one failure." It is a success! no less a piece of artistry than Copperfield.

Hard Times is a greater achievement than it would otherwise be, since not a single character in it is real, but is only the ghost of some greater creation. Some are the foreshadowings of full-blooded beings. Others are ghosts of earlier personalities. Their very voices are echoes of other and richer voices from the past, or speak in proleptic tones words of those whose forerunners they are.

Let us marshal them in ghostly array. Who first shall peer through the horse-collar? Who, indeed, but the hero and heroine.

That raises the question: Who is the hero, and who the heroine, of Hard Times? There are two pairs of claimants, yet neither pair with any very valid claims to the titles.

First, then, Stephen Blackpool and Rachael. Poor Stephen is only the very pallid ghost of Ham Peggoty; and while we admire his rugged honesty, and deplore his sorrows, his is so joyless an existence, unrelieved by any gleam of humour, that we do not warm to him as we do to the hearty, good-humoured, though equally tragic, Yarmouth fisherman.

I am going to be very immoral, though not in such fashion as to bring a blush to the cheek of the young person, even though she be so susceptible as Miss Podsnap. If only Stephen had actually broken into the bank, broken Bitzer's head for him, and stolen a hundred and fifty of the best—which old Bounderby could well have afforded to lose—I should have liked him better! Surely he could have escaped safely with his Rachael to some foreign land? There he could have saved the life of some millionaire who had no encumbrances such as relatives. Once in possession of the fortune of the grateful Croesus, whom Dickens could have caused to depart this life at a convenient season, Stephen could have returned the sum forcibly borrowed, together with a like sum in recognition of the accommodation! But he just fades out of the picture, without the glory with which Ham made his exit. He has the high character of Ham, however, and we are forced to admire him. Dickens's indictment of that old-time Divorce Law, which was so unequal for rich and poor, was justified, and without doubt, played its part in the changing of it.

Rachael is but a sorrowful Harriet Carker, minus Harriet's education and her Mr. Morfin. The two women have the same gentle patience, and believing as I do that "thoughts are things," I am sure that certain ideas utilised in the presentation of Harriet Carker, were still floating in the author's mind when he evolved Rachael. Hers is a stronger spirit than most, and even rather overshadows Harriet. Perhaps she is the most substantial, or, shall I say, the least unsubstantial, figure in Hard Times. She is heroic, and could have been made the outstanding personage of the book.

Who are our other candidates for the rôle? Who but Mr. and Mrs. Bounderby. They are the only legitimate lovebirds apart from Stephen and Rachael. And the love of the latter pair, though innocent, was illicit.


Enter, then, Josiah and Louisa. Like Mr. Dombey, whom he resembles in his commerciality and in his love of power but in little else, old Bounderby wanted a presentable wife to preside at his table and over his household. Like him, too, he sought to domineer when things went wrong, and, copying his predecessor, tried to humble his wife by the presence of a masterful and prideful housekeeper. This was a rather favourite device of Dickens. You will recall that Mr. Murdstone used his sister to browbeat poor little Mrs. Copperfield "as was" into obedience.

Josiah Bounderby still exists. He is at the moment a town councillor in a borough well known to some of us. He shows his superiority by being familiar and rude to everybody who doesn't suit him.

Dickens's Josiah, however, was no Dombey (in which Mrs. Chick would even him with Florence, I suppose!). Josiah Bounderby was like another Joey B., old Josh, that plain red herring with a hard roe, sir, J. Bagstock.

I do not despise or share the common contempt for the old Major, I must confess. I have come into fairly close touch with army men, from General to Bugler Boy, and I have found many of the Bagstock breed among them. Put them in a club after retirement on half-pay, or whatever it is, and they are blustering, bullying, bellicose, and all that's objectionable with a B or any other letter. Boastful braggarts; vain-glorious; gluttonous; self-seeking; how their fellow-clubmen often loathe them! Opinionated bores! But let us not dismiss the Bagstock breed so summarily.

Put them on the battlefield against your Hitlers, Mussolinis, Rommels, and they'll prove the Bagstock breed to be the true British bulldog type; fighting to the last drop of their blood; never conscious of defeat, so never beaten. And because they never speak of their real and often glorious achievements, but only boast and exaggerate almost imaginary exploits, we are apt to sneer at old Josh and his like. For the Bagstocks of to-day, as well as for men of finer calibre, let us be grateful! Hats off to those grand old officers who, unable because of age to rejoin at their old rank, are content to do humbler yet equally noble work.

The Bounderby breed we can well spare. Josiah had the same sort of pride as had the Major, and like him was always boosting and puffing J. B. But since he could not boast of his high connections, he bragged of his low ones. If you are a psychologist you will perfectly understand the reason. Some folk must have limelight. If they have no merit and no high connections they make a merit of their demerit and exalt themselves in their very degradation. To such, to be proven commonplace or mediocre, is humiliating. So in the failure of the much be-lauded "my friend Dombey, sir," Joey B. lost face. In the proving that he was respectable in origin and not disreputable, the other J. B. too, lost face. The Bounderbys of this world, though often good business men—not so much by reason of talent as of bounce—are insufferable bores and bounders. Josiah, like Mr. Gabriel Parsons (surely the least offensive of the clan) "mistook rudeness for honesty . . . Many besides Gabriel mistake bluntness for sincerity." Bounderby, however, didn't care a "demnition" whether he was thought sincere or not. He was just blunt and brutal, because he thought it signified power. He and the Major were supreme egoists and egotists.

Bounderby's wife doesn't move us to any emotion whatsoever. She just leaves us cold. We know she is only a puppet, made in the likeness of Lizzie Hexam, who is at least warm-blooded. Loo Bounderby was never intended to be a wife, and even after her freedom from J. B. Dickens has no future as wife and mother for her. She was never intended for sweetheart or wife. She was essentially a sister. The relationship of brother and sister is the one Dickens best understood, and he has given us notable examples in most of his works. Sometimes the twain are both bad, as witness the Murdstones, and Sampson and Sally Brass. We find examples of the good brother and good sister in Paul and Floy, the Pinches, Nicholas Nickleby and Kate. Good brother and bad sister Dickens practically declines to acknowledge, but in the reverse he excels. This latter state of affairs we find exemplified in Little Dorrit and Tip, Charlie Hexam and Lizzie, Tom and Loo Gradgrind.

In Tom and Louisa we see Charlie and Lizzie Hexam reflected. Like Lizzie, Louisa sacrifices herself nearly always to her brother's interests. Like Lizzie, Loo saw pictures in the fire. Unlike Lizzie, she did not realise that such sacrifice could become a form of selfishness, involving the sacrifice of others; also that it could be a curse instead of a blessing even to the object of her affection. Like a wise girl Lizzie refused to marry Bradley Headstone just to please her brother; but Loo married Mr. Bounderby simply to please her father and to make things easy for the "whelp." She really deserved to be miserable, sorry for her though we are.

This brother and sister affection is a reflection of Dickens's own family life, and is worthy of much closer examination than we have time to expend upon it at the moment. Few have equalled and none has surpassed Charles Dickens in depicting this tie.


What of the villain? That pallid study which afterwards developed into Henry Gowan, artist—James Harthouse (an anaemic James Steerforth, with a "whelp" instead of a "daisy" for hero-worshipper) is unworthy the dignity. Gowan did marry Pet, and that was worth living for, for Pet was really one of the few lovable Dickens girls. His description of her is in but a few words, yet how well the portrait is drawn. Harthouse, however, achieved nothing. He had all the indecision of Cousin Rick without his charm and amiability. Harthouse hadn't the gizzard to be a "willin."

But Mrs. Sparsiti Ah, there I grant you we have a very pretty villainess. I adore Mrs. Sparsit (the wicked old marplot), though I'm glad she laddered her stockings and grazed her aristocratic conk through her nosey-parkering. But I love her because she was a Powler. My grandmother was a Powler. At least she was a de la Moth, and could never forget it—nor allow anybody else to forget it. She was a grand old snob, in a kindly way, and Mrs. Sparsit was a grand old snob in an unkindly way. I'm a snob, too. I'm proud that I'm a de la Moth, a de Port, a St. John and a Fortescue, and that I have the right—the right, mark you—to the title Esquire; also that I have the right, moreover, to place the picture of a bar of iron with knobs on on my carriage door (had I a carriage still), and to cause my coachman to wear a sort of black cauliflower, yclept a cockade, in his top hat. So as a de Regis (I'd forgotten him!) I willingly kowtow to Mrs. Sparsit for her merit in being a Powler. Nevertheless the old dear was a feline, and a feminine canine, and I'm glad she had to return to old Lady Scadgers—a fattened Lady Tippins. Of course Mrs. S. was just the ghost of Mrs. Pipchin minus her bombazeen and the Peruvian mines. She was also a lesser Mrs. General, and the shade of "The Old Soldier" (Mrs. Markleham).

The bride's parents next claim our attention. Thomas Gradgrind was a mere study for the great Mr. Podsnap. Podsnap was a man of Fact—the fact that Great Britain is not America. Gradgrind was a man of facts. Podsnap was the finished picture; Gradgrind the charcoal outline.

Mrs. Gradgrind is a weak after-image of Mrs. Nickleby. She is the one really comic character (the Powler apart) in Hard Times. Her admonition to her children to "run away and be something-ological, at once," is real Dickens, and comparable with Mrs. Nickleby's suggestion that some agreement be made with old Mr. Snawley that young Mr. Snawley (or Slammons, or Smike) should have "fish twice a week, and a pudding twice, or a dumpling, or something of that sort."

Her death-bed, had Dickens not hurried over it (Hard Times alone, of all his novels, shows signs of impatience), would have been a little like that of old John Willett, and we should have expected her to "Go to the Ologies" as old John went to the "Salwanners." But the author was weary of her. Her colourlessness bored him. So, though he gives us just a touch of the grisly passing of Mrs. Skewton, he doesn't follow it up.

The bridegroom's widowed mother must be noticed. Mrs. Pegler was only good Mrs. Brown washed and brushed up and spoiled in the process. Mrs. Brown had an undutiful daughter; Mrs. Pegler an undutiful son. One mother was mercenary, the other self-sacrificing, but they are unfinished sketch and completed etching respectively.


Of the lesser lights, Sissy Jupe is Esther Summerson's Charley. She is the only attractive girl in the book. Kidderminster and "the revolving Bailey" are one. E. W. B. Childers's conversational style—toward Mr. Bounderby anyway—is that of Rogue Riderhood toward his daughter. Mr. Jupe has no more real being, so far as the story is concerned, than has Mrs. Harris. We strongly suspect "there ain't no sich a person."

Slackbridge, though his oratorical style is that of Chadband, is a Roger Riderhood in his sneaking, underhand ways; his betrayal of Stephen is akin to Riderhood's denunciation of "Gaffer."

Miss Peecher's pet pupil finds her opposite number in the model Bitzer. The same model must have sat for certain characteristics of both "the lightest of porters," and the eminently respectable Mr. Littimer. M'Choakumchild is of the Bradley Headstone type of pedagogue; a type which the new science of psychology has caused largely to die out. He was practical, but not so practical as Mr. Squeers, who, having extracted from a student a definition of a horse scarcely equal to that of Bitzer, sends him to gain a further knowledge of that friend of man by grooming him. Mr. M'C. did not teach; he crammed. Squeers did teach, and was the better educationalist of the two!

Mr. Sleary was one of Dickens's charming asthmatics. Though in this respect of the Omer clan, he is really Vincent Crummies, half-resuscitated. Sleary was grandfather to a male Infant Phenomenon. Crummies was the father of the female LP.

In Mrs. Blackpool we are not at all interested. She was what poor Nancy might have became, but without Nancy's excuses. Emma Gordon and Josephine Sleary might have been anybody or nobody and have their counterparts as walkers-on in various other tales.


A great novel? Yes. A picture of sordid places and stodgy people whose loves and hates and commonplace lives do not thrill us over-much, but a picture true to life. It is a book that makes us think, and makes us realise that life can be very commonplace and yet abound in tragedy and misery. A lesson that we ought to be—must be—interested in the unattractive dull people whom we meet, as well as in those who are attractive and brilliant.

The picture of a factory can be a great work of art, and we only expect blacks, greys, and dingy browns. Only a fool would complain that there are not seen gorgeous sunset and palms, and camels.

"What is terewth, my friends?" If I should read a book of facts, factories and fools, and should say, "Lo, it is not a good book; it hath no crystal fountains, no champagne and oysters, would that be terewth?" And echoes answer, it would be dem'd foolishness.

Hard Times is a great book, the greater for being enacted entirely by phantoms. It is Charles Dickens's Shadow Show.

F. R. Leavis (essay date 1948)

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SOURCE: "Hard Times: An Analytic Note," in The Great Tradition, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1954, pp. 273-99.

[Leavis was an influential twentieth-century English critic. His methodology combines close textual criticism with predominantly moral and social concerns; however, Leavis is not interested in the individual writer per se, but rather with the usefulness of his or her art in the scheme of civilization. The essay reprinted below, which appeared in its present form in 1948, is widely considered the seminal (and most controversial) essay on Hard Times published in the twentieth century. Here, elaborating on claims made in decades past by Ruskin and Shaw, Leavis presents a case for perceiving Hard Times as Dickens's greatest novel. This essay has been answered by numerous critics during the past forty years, notably by John Holloway (1962) and David H. Hirsch (1964).]

Hard Times is not a difficult work; its intention and nature are pretty obvious. If, then, it is the masterpiece I take it for, why has it not had general recognition? To judge by the critical record, it has had none at all. If there exists anywhere an appreciation, or even an acclaiming reference, I have missed it. In the books and essays on Dickens, so far as I know them, it is passed over as a very minor thing; too slight and insignificant to distract us for more than a sentence or two from the works worth critical attention. Yet, if I am right, of all Dickens's works it is the one that has all the strength of his genius, together with a strength no other of them can show—that of a completely serious work of art.

The answer to the question asked above seems to me to bear on the traditional approach to 'the English novel.' For all the more sophisticated critical currency of the last decade or two, that approach still prevails, at any rate in the appreciation of the Victorian novelists. The business of the novelist, you gather, is to 'create a world,' and the mark of the master is external abundance—he gives you lots of 'life.' The test of life in his characters (he must above all create 'living' characters) is that they go on living outside the book. Expectations as unexacting as these are not when they encounter significance, grateful for it, and when it meets them in that insistent form where nothing is very engaging as 'life' unless its relevance is fully taken, miss it altogether. This is the only way in which I can account for the neglect suffered by Henry James's The Europeans, which may be classed with Hard Times as a moral fable—though one might have supposed that James would enjoy the advantage of being approached with expectations of subtlety and closely calculated relevance. Fashion, however, has not recommended his earlier work, and this (whatever appreciation may be enjoyed by The Ambassadors) still suffers from the prevailing expectation of redundant and irrelevant 'life.'

I need say no more by way of defining the moral fable than that in it the intention is peculiarly insistent, so that the representative significance of everything in the fable—character, episode, and so on—is immediately apparent as we read. Intention might seem to be insistent enough in the opening of Hard Times, in that scene in Mr. Gradgrind's school. But then, intention is often very insistent in Dickens, without its being taken up in any inclusive significance that informs and organizes a coherent whole; and, for lack of any expectation of an organized whole, it has no doubt been supposed that in Hard Times the satiric irony of the first two chapters is merely, in the large and genial Dickensian way, thrown together with melodrama, pathos and humour—and that we are given these ingredients more abundantly and exuberantly elsewhere. Actually, the Dickensian vitality is there, in its varied characteristic modes, which have the more force because they are free of redundance: the creative exuberance is controlled by a profound inspiration.

The inspiration is what is given in the title, Hard Times. Ordinarily Dickens's criticisms of the world he lives in are casual and incidental—a matter of including among the ingredients of a book some indignant treatment of a particular abuse. But in Hard Times he is for once possessed by a comprehensive vision, one in which the inhumanities of Victorian civilization are seen as fostered and sanctioned by a hard philosophy, the aggressive formulation of an inhumane spirit. The philosophy is represented by Thomas Gradgrind, Esquire, Member of Parliament for Coketown, who has brought up his children on the lines of the experiment recorded by John Stuart Mill as carried out on himself. What Gradgrind stands for is, though repellent, nevertheless respectable; his Utilitarianism is a theory sincerely held and there is intellectual disinterestedness in its application. But Gradgrind marries his eldest daughter to Josiah Bounderby, 'banker, merchant, manufacturer,' about whom there is no disinterestedness whatever, and nothing to be respected. Bounderby is Victorian 'rugged individualism' in its grossest and most intransigent form. Concerned with nothing but self-assertion and power and material success, he has no interest in ideals or ideas—except the idea of being the completely self-made man (since, for all his brag, he is not that in fact). Dickens here makes a just observation about the affinities and practical tendency of Utilitarianism, as, in his presentment of the Gradgrind home and the Gradgrind elementary school, he does about the Utilitarian spirit in Victorian education.

All this is obvious enough. But Dickens's art, while remaining that of the great popular entertainer, has in Hard Times, as he renders his full critical vision, a stamina, a flexibility combined with consistency, and a depth that he seems to have had little credit for. Take that opening scene in the school-room:

'Girl number twenty,' said Mr. Gradgrind, squarely pointing with his square forefinger, 'I don't know that girl. Who is that girl?'

'Sissy Jupe, sir,' explained number twenty, blushing, standing up, and curtsying.

'Sissy is not a name,' said Mr. Gradgrind. 'Don't call yourself Sissy. Call yourself Cecilia.'

'It's father as call me Sissy, sir,' returned the young girl in a trembling voice, and with another curtsy.

'Then he has no business to do it,' said Mr. Gradgrind. 'Tell him he mustn't. Cecilia Jupe. Let me see. What is your father?'

'He belongs to the horse-riding, if you please, sir.'

Mr. Gradgrind frowned, and waved off the objectionable calling with his hand.

'We don't want to know anything about that here. You mustn't tell us about that here. Your father breaks horses, don't he?'

'If you please, sir, when they can get any to break, they do break horses in the ring, sir.'

'You mustn't tell us about the ring here. Very well, then. Describe your father as a horse-breaker. He doctors sick horses, I dare say?'

'Oh, yes, sir!'

'Very well, then. He is a veterinary surgeon, a farrier, and horse-breaker. Give me your definition of a horse.'

(Sissy Jupe thrown into the greatest alarm by this demand.)

'Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!' said Mr. Gradgrind, for the general benefit of all the little pitchers. 'Girl number twenty possessed of no facts in reference to one of the commonest animals! Some boy's definition of a horse. Bitzer, yours.'

. . . . .

'Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely, twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.' Thus (and much more) Bitzer.

Lawrence himself, protesting against harmful tendencies in education, never made the point more tellingly. Sissy has been brought up among horses, and among people whose livelihood depends upon understanding horses but 'we don't want to know anything about that here.' Such knowledge isn't real knowledge. Bitzer, the model pupil, on the button's being pressed, promptly vomits up the genuine article, 'Quadruped. Graminivorous,' etc.; and 'Now, girl number twenty, you know what a horse is.' The irony, pungent enough locally, is richly developed in the subsequent action. Bitzer's aptness has its evaluative comment in his career. Sissy's incapacity to acquire this kind of 'fact' or formula, her unaptness for education, is manifested to us, on the other hand, as part and parcel of her sovereign and indefeasible humanity: it is the virtue that makes it impossible for her to understand, or acquiesce in, an ethos for which she is 'girl number twenty,' or to think of any other human being as a unit for arithmetic.

This kind of ironic method might seem to commit the author to very limited kinds of effect. In Hard Times, however, it associates quite congruously, such is the flexibility of Dickens's art, with very different methods; it cooperates in a truly dramatic and profoundly poetic whole. Sissy Jupe, who might be taken here for a merely conventional persona, has already, as a matter of fact, been established in a potently symbolic rôle: she is part of the poetically-creative operation of Dickens's genius in Hard Times. Here is a passage I omitted from the middle of the excerpt quoted above:

The square finger, moving here and there, lighted suddenly on Bitzer, perhaps because he chanced to sit in the same ray of sun-light which, darting in at one of the bare windows of the intensely whitewashed room, irradiated Sissy. For the boys and girls sat on the face of an inclined plane in two compact bodies, divided up the centre by a narrow interval; and Sissy, being at the corner of a row on the sunny side, came in for the beginning of a sunbeam, of which Bitzer, being at the corner of a row on the other side, a few rows in advance, caught the end. But, whereas the girl was so dark-eyed and dark-haired that she seemed to receive a deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun when it shone upon her, the boy was so light-eyed and light-haired that the self-same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed. His cold eyes would hardly have been eyes, but for the short ends of lashes which, by bringing them into immediate contrast with something paler than themselves, expressed their form. His short-cropped hair might have been a mere continuation of the sandy freckles on his forehead and face. His skin was so unwholesomely deficient in the natural tinge, that he looked as though, if he were cut, he would bleed white.

There is no need to insist on the force—representative of Dickens's art in general in Hard Times—with which the moral and spiritual differences are rendered here in terms of sensation, so that the symbolic intention emerges out of metaphor and the vivid evocation of the concrete. What may, perhaps, be emphasized is that Sissy stands for vitality as well as goodness—they are seen, in fact, as one; she is generous, impulsive life, finding self-fulfilment in self-forgetfulness—all that is the antithesis of calculating self-interest. There is an essentially Laurentian suggestion about the way in which 'the dark-eyed and dark-haired" girl, contrasting with Bitzer, seemed to receive a 'deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun,' so opposing the life that is lived freely and richly from the deep instinctive and emotional springs to the thin-blooded, quasi-mechanical product of Gradgrindery.

Sissy's symbolic significance is bound up with that of Sleary's Horse-riding, where human kindness is very insistently associated with vitality. Representing human spontaneity, the circus-athletes represent at the same time highly-developed skill and deftness of kinds that bring poise, pride and confident ease—they are always buoyant, and, ballet-dancer-like, in training:

There were two or three handsome young women among them, with two or three husbands, and their two or three mothers, and their eight or nine little children, who did the fairy business when required. The father of one of the families was in the habit of balancing the father of another of the families on the top of a great pole; the father of the third family often made a pyramid of both those fathers, with Master Kidderminster for the apex, and himself for the base; all the fathers could dance upon rolling casks, stand upon bottles, catch knives and balls, twirl hand-basins, ride upon anything, jump over everything, and stick at nothing. All the mothers could (and did) dance upon the slack wire and the tight-rope, and perform rapid acts on bare-backed steeds; none of them were at all particular in respect of showing their legs; and one of them, alone in a Greek chariot, drove six-in-hand into every town they came to. They all assumed to be mighty rakish and knowing, they were not very tidy in their private dresses, they were not at all orderly in their domestic arrangements, and the combined literature of the whole company would have produced but a poor letter on any subject. Yet there was a remarkable gentleness and childishness about diese people, a special inaptitude for any kind of sharp practice, and an untiring readiness to help and pity one another, deserving often of as much respect, and always of as much generous construction, as the everyday virtues of any class of people in the world.

Their skills have no value for the Utilitarian calculus, but they express vital human impulse, and they minister to vital human needs. The Horse-riding, frowned upon as frivolous and wasteful by Gradgrind and malignantly scorned by Bounderby, brings the machine-hands of Coketown (the spirit-quenching hideousness of which is hauntingly evoked) what they are starved of. It brings to them, not merely amusement, but art, and the spectacle of triumphant activity that, seeming to contain its end within itself, is, in its easy mastery, joyously self-justified. In investing a travelling circus with this kind of symbolic value Dickens expresses a profounder reaction to industrialism than might have been expected of him. It is not only pleasure and relaxation the Coketowners stand in need of; he feels the dreadful degradation of life that would remain even if they were to be given a forty-four hour week, comfort, security and fun. We recall a characteristic passage from D. H. Lawrence.

The car ploughed uphill through the long squalid straggle of Tevershall, the blackened brick dwellings, the black slate roofs, glistening their sharp edges, the mud black with coal-dust, the pavements wet and black. It was as if dismalness had soaked through and through everything. The utter negation of natural beauty, the utter negation of the gladness of life, the utter absence of the instinct for shapely beauty which every bird and beast has, the utter death of the human intuitive faculty was appalling. The stacks of soap in the grocers' shops, the rhubarb and lemons in the greengrocers'! the awful hats in the milliners all went by ugly, ugly, ugly, followed by the plaster and gilt horror of the cinema with its wet picture announcements, 'A Woman's Love,' and the new big Primitive chapel, primitive enough in its stark brick and big panes of greenish and raspberry glass in the windows. The Wesleyan chapel, higher up, was of blackened brick and stood behind iron railings and blackened shrubs. The Congregational chapel, which thought itself superior, was built of rusticated sandstone and had a steeple, but not a very high one. Just beyond were the new school buildings, expensive pink brick, and gravelled playground inside iron railings, all very imposing, and mixing the suggestion of a chapel and a prison. Standard Five girls were having a singing lesson, just finishing the la-me-do-la exercises and beginning a 'sweet children's song.' Anything more unlike song, spontaneous song, would be impossible to imagine: a strange bawling yell followed the outlines of a tune. It was not like animals: animals mean something when they yell. It was like nothing on earth, and it was called singing. Connie sat and listened with her heart in her boots, as Field was filling petrol. What could possibly become of such a people, a people in whom the living intuitive faculty was dead as nails, and only queer mechanical yells and uncanny will-power remained?

Dickens couldn't have put it in just those terms, but the way in which his vision of the Horse-riders insists on their gracious vitality implies that reaction.

Here an objection may be anticipated—as a way of making a point. Coketown, like Gradgrind and Bounderby, is real enough; but it can't be contended that the Horse-riding is real in the same sense. There would have been some athletic skill and perhaps some bodily grace among me people of a Victorian travelling circus, but surely so much squalor, grossness and vulgarity that we must find Dickens's symbolism sentimentally false? And 'there was a remarkable gentleness and childishness about these people, a special inaptitude for any kind of sharp practice'—that, surely, is going ludicrously too far?

If Dickens, intent on an emotional effect, or drunk with moral enthusiasm, had been deceiving himself (it couldn't have been innocently) about the nature of the actuality, he would then indeed have been guilty of sentimental falsity, and the adverse criticism would have held. But the Horse-riding presents no such case. The virtues and qualities that Dickens prizes do indeed exist, and it is necessary for his critique of Utilitarianism and industrialism, and for (what is the same thing) his creative purpose, to evoke them vividly. The book can't, in my judgment, be fairly charged with giving a misleading representation of human nature. And it would plainly not be intelligent criticism to suggest that anyone could be misled about the nature of circuses by Hard Times. The critical question is merely one of tact: was it well-judged of Dickens to try to do that—which had to be done somehow—with a travelling circus?

Or, rather, the question is: by what means has he succeeded? For the success is complete. It is conditioned partly by the fact that, from the opening chapters, we have been tuned for the reception of a highly conventional art—though it is a tuning that has no narrowly limiting effect. To describe at all cogently the means by which this responsiveness is set up would take a good deal of 'practical criticism' analysis—analysis that would reveal an extraordinary flexibility in the art of Hard Times. This can be seen very obviously in the dialogue. Some passages might come from an ordinary novel. Others have the ironic pointedness of the school-room scene in so insistent a form that we might be reading a work as stylized as Jonsonian comedy: Gradgrind's final exchange with Bitzer (quoted below) is a supreme instance. Others again are 'literary,' like the conversation between Gradgrind and Louisa on her flight home for refuge from Mr. James Harthouse's attentions.

To the question how the reconciling is done—there is much more diversity in Hard Times than these references to dialogue suggest—the answer can be given by pointing to the astonishing and irresistible richness of life that characterizes the book everywhere. It meets us everywhere, unstrained and natural, in the prose. Out of such prose a great variety of presentations can arise congenially with equal vividness. There they are, unquestionably 'real.' It goes back to an extraordinary energy of perception and registration in Dickens. 'When people say that Dickens exaggerates,' says Mr. Santayana, 'it seems to me that they can have no eyes and no ears. They probably have only notions of what things and people are; they accept them conventionally, at their diplomatic value.' Settling down as we read to an implicit recognition of this truth, we don't readily and confidently apply any criterion we suppose ourselves to hold for distinguishing varieties of relation between what Dickens gives us and a normal 'real.' His flexibility is that of a richly poetic art of the word. He doesn't write 'poetic prose'; he writes with a poetic force of evocation, registering with the responsiveness of a genius of verbal expression what he so sharply sees and feels. In fact, by texture, imaginative mode, symbolic method, and the resulting concentration, Hard Times affects us as belonging with formally poetic works. There is, however, more to be said about the success that attends Dickens's symbolic intention in the Horse-riding; there is an essential quality of his genius to be emphasized. There is no Hamlet in him, and he is quite unlike Mr. Eliot.

The red-eyed scavengers are creeping From Kentish Town and Golders Green

—there is nothing of that in Dickens's reaction to life. He observes with gusto the humanness of humanity as exhibited in the urban (and suburban) scene. When he sees, as he sees so readily, the common manifestations of human kindness, and the essential virtues, asserting themselves in the midst of ugliness, squalor and banality, his warmly sympathetic response has no disgust to overcome. There is no suggestion, for instance, of recoil—or of distance-keeping—from the game-eyed, brandy-soaked, flabby-surfaced Mr. Sleary, who is successfully made to figure for us a humane, anti-Utilitarian positive. This is not sentimentality in Dickens, but genius, and a genius that should be found peculiarly worth attention in an age when, as D. H. Lawrence (with, as I remember, Mr. Wyndham Lewis immediately in view) says, 'My God! they stink,' tends to be an insuperable and final reaction.

Dickens, as everyone knows, is very capable of sentimentality. We have it in Hard Times (though not to any seriously damaging effect) in Stephen Blackpool, the good, victimized working-man, whose perfect patience under infliction we are expected to find supremely edifying and irresistibly touching as the agonies are piled on for his martyrdom. But Sissy Jupe is another matter. A general description of her part in the fable might suggest the worst, but actually she has nothing in common with Little Nell: she shares in the strength of the Horse-riding. She is wholly convincing in the function Dickens assigns to her. The working of her influence in the Utilitarian home is conveyed with a fine tact, and we do really feel her as a growing potency. Dickens can even, with complete success, give her the stage for a victorious tête-à-tête with the well-bred and languid elegant, Mr. James Harthouse, in which she tells him that his duty is to leave Coketown and cease troubling Louisa with his attentions:

She was not afraid of him, or in any way disconcerted; she seemed to have her mind entirely preoccupied with the occasion of her visit, and to have substituted that consideration for herself.

The quiet victory of disinterested goodness is wholly convincing.

At the opening of the book Sissy establishes the essential distinction between Gradgrind and Bounderby. Gradgrind, by taking her home, however ungraciously, shows himself capable of humane feeling, however unacknowledged. We are reminded, in the previous school-room scene, of the Jonsonian affinities of Dickens's art, and Bounderby turns out to be consistently a Jonsonian character in the sense that he is incapable of change. He remains the blustering egotist and braggart, and responds in character to the collapse of his marriage:

I'll give you to understand, in reply to that, that there unquestionably is an incompatibility of the first magnitude—to be summed up in this—that your daughter don't properly know her husband's merits, and is not impressed with such a sense as would become her, by George! of the honour of his alliance. That's plain speaking, I hope.

He remains Jonsonianly consistent in his last testament and death. But Gradgrind, in the nature of the fable, has to experience the confutation of his philosophy, and to be capable of the change involved in admitting that life has proved him wrong. (Dickens's art in Hard Times differs from Ben Jonson's not in being inconsistent, but in being so very much more flexible and inclusive—a point that seemed to be worth making because the relation between Dickens and Jonson has been stressed of late, and I have known unfair conclusions to be drawn from the comparison, notably in respect of Hard Times.)

The confutation of Utilitarianism by life is conducted with great subtlety. That the conditions for it are there in Mr. Gradgrind he betrays by his initial kindness, ungenial enough, but properly rebuked by Bounderby, to Sissy. 'Mr. Gradgrind,' we are told, 'though hard enough, was by no means so rough a man as Mr. Bounderby. His character was not unkind, all things considered; it might have been very kind indeed if only he had made some mistake in the arithmetic that balanced it years ago.' The inadequacy of the calculus is beautifully exposed when he brings it to bear on the problem of marriage in the consummate scene with his eldest daughter:

He waited, as if he would have been glad that she said something. But she said never a word.

'Louisa, my dear, you are the subject of a proposal of marriage that has been made to me.'

'Again he waited, and again she answered not one word. This so far surprised him as to induce him gently to repeat, 'A proposal of marriage, my dear.' To which she returned, without any visible emotion whatever:

'I hear you, father. I am attending, I assure you.'

'Well!' said Mr. Gradgrind, breaking into a smile, after being for the moment at a loss, 'you are even more dispassionate than I expected, Louisa. Or, perhaps, you are not unprepared for the announcement I have it in charge to make?'

'I cannot say that, father, until I hear it. Prepared or unprepared, I wish to hear it all from you. I wish to hear you state it to me, father.'

Strange to relate, Mr. Gradgrind was not so collected at this moment as his daughter was. He took a paper knife in his hand, turned it over, laid it down, took it up again, and even then had to look along the blade of it, considering how to go on.

'What you say, my dear Louisa, is perfectly reasonable. I have undertaken, then, to let you know that—in short, that Mr. Bounderby . . .'

His embarrassment—by his own avowal—is caused by the perfect rationality with which she receives his overture. He is still more disconcerted when, with a completely dispassionate matter-of-factness that does credit to his régime, she gives him the opportunity to state in plain terms precisely what marriage should mean for the young Houyhnhnm:

Silence between them. The deadly statistical clock very hollow. The distant smoke very black and heavy.

'Father,' said Louisa, 'do you think I love Mr. Bounderby?'

Mr. Gradgrind was extremely discomforted by this unexpected question. 'Well, my child,' he returned, 'I—really—cannot take upon myself to say.'

'Father,' pursued Louisa in exactly the same voice as before, 'do you ask me to love Mr. Bounderby?'

'My dear Louisa, no. I ask nothing.'

'Father,' she still pursued, 'does Mr. Bounderby ask me to love him?'

'Really, my dear,' said Mr. Gradgrind, 'it is difficult to answer your question—'

'Difficult to answer it, Yes or No, father?'

'Certainly, my dear. Because'—here was something to demonstrate, and it set him up again—'because the reply depends so materially, Louisa, on the sense in which we use the expression. Now, Mr. Bounderby does not do you the injustice, and does not do himself the injustice, of pretending to anything fanciful, fantastic, or (I am using synonymous terms) sentimental. Mr. Bounderby would have seen you grow up under his eye to very little purpose, if he could so far forget what is due to your good sense, not to say to his, as to address you from any such ground. Therefore, perhaps, the expression itself—I merely suggest this to you, my dear—may be a little misplaced.'

'What would you advise me to use in its stead, father?'

'Why, my dear Louisa,' said Mr. Gradgrind, completely recovered by this time, 'I would advise you (since you ask me) to consider the question, as you have been accustomed to consider every other question, simply as one of tangible Fact. The ignorant and the giddy may embarrass such subjects with irrelevant fancies, and other absurdities that have no existence, properly viewed—really no existence—but it is no compliment to you to say that you know better. Now, what are the Facts of this case? You are, we will say in round numbers, twenty years of age; Mr. Bounderby is, we will say in round numbers, fifty. There is some disparity in your respective years, but . . . '

—And at this point Mr. Gradgrind seizes the chance for a happy escape into statistics. But Louisa brings him firmly back:

'What do you recommend, father?' asked Louisa, her reserved composure not in the least affected by these gratifying results, that 'I should substitute for the term I used just now? For the misplaced expression?'

'Louisa,' returned her father, 'it appears to me that nothing can be plainer. Confining yourself rigidly to Fact, the question of Fact you state to yourself is: Does Mr. Bounderby ask me to marry him? Yes, he does. The sole remaining question then is: Shall I marry him? I think nothing can be plainer than that.'

'Shall I marry him?' repeated Louisa with great deliberation.


It is a triumph of ironic art. No logical analysis could dispose of the philosophy of fact and calculus with such neat finality. As the issues are reduced to algebraic formulation they are patently emptied of all real meaning. The instinct-free rationality of the emotionless Houyhnhnm is a void. Louisa proceeds to try and make him understand that she is a living creature and therefore no Houyhnhnm, but in vain ('to see it, he must have overleaped at a bound the artificial barriers he had for many years been erecting between himself and all those subtle essences of humanity which will elude the utmost cunning of algebra, until the last trumpet ever to be sounded will blow even algebra to wreck').

Removing her eyes from him, she sat so long looking silently towards the town, that he said at length: 'Are you consulting the chimneys of the Coketown works, Louisa?'

'There seems to be nothing there but languid and monotonous smoke. Yet, when the night comes, Fire bursts out, father!' she answered, turning quickly.

'Of course I know that, Louisa. I do not see the application of the remark.' To do him justice, he did not at all.

She passed it away with a slight motion of her hand, and concentrating her attention upon him again, said,

'Father, I have often thought that life is very short.'—This was so distinctly one of his subjects that he interposed:

'It is short, no doubt, my dear. Still, the average duration of human life is proved to have increased of late years. The calculations of various life assurance and annuity offices, among other figures which cannot go wrong, have established the fact.'

'I speak of my own life, father.'

'Oh, indeed! Still,' said Mr. Gradgrind, 'I need not point out to you, Louisa, that it is governed by the laws which govern lives in the aggregate.'

'While it lasts, I would wish to do the little I can, and the little I am fit for. What does it matter?'

Mr. Gradgrind seemed rather at a loss to understand the last four words; replying, 'How, matter? What matter, my dear?'

'Mr. Bounderby,' she went on in a steady, straight way, without regarding this, 'asks me to marry him. The question I have to ask myself is, shall I marry him? That is so, father, is it not? You have told me so, father. Have you not?'

'Certainly, my dear.'

'Let it be so.'

The psychology of Louisa's development and of her brother Tom's is sound. Having no outlet for her emotional life except in her love for her brother, she lives for him, and marries Bounderby—under pressure from Tom—for Tom's sake ('What does it matter?'). Thus, by the constrictions and starvations of the Gradgrind régime, are natural affection and capacity for disinterested devotion turned to ill. As for Tom, the régime has made of him a bored and sullen whelp, and 'he was becoming that not unprecedented triumph of calculation which is usually at work on number one'—the Utilitarian philosophy has done that for him. He declares that when he goes to live with Bounderby as having a post in the bank, 'he'll have his revenge.'—'I mean, I'll enjoy myself a little, and go about and see something and hear something. I'll recompense myself for the way in which I've been brought up.' His descent into debt and bank-robbery is natural. And it is natural that Louisa, having sacrificed herself for this unrepaying object of affection, should be found not altogether unresponsive when Mr. James Harthouse, having sized up the situation, pursues his opportunity with well-bred and calculating tact. His apologia for genteel cynicism is a shrewd thrust at the Gradgrind philosophy:

'The only difference between us and the professors of virtue or benevolence, or philanthropy—never mind the name—is, that we know it is all meaningless, and say so; while they know it equally, and will never say so.'

'Why should she be shocked or warned by this reiteration? It was not so unlike her father's principles, and her early training, that it need startle her.

When, fleeing from temptation, she arrives back at her father's house, tells him her plight, and, crying, 'All I know is, your philosophy and your teaching will not save me,' collapses, he sees 'the pride of his heart and the triumph of his system lying an insensible heap at his feet.' The fallacy now calamitously demonstrated can be seen focussed in that 'pride,' which brings together in an illusory oneness the pride of his system and his love for his child. What that love is Gradgrind now knows, and he knows that it matters to him more than the system, which is thus confuted (the educational failure as such being a lesser matter). There is nothing sentimental here; the demonstration is impressive, because we are convinced of the love, and because Gradgrind has been made to exist for us as a man who has 'meant to do right':

He said it earnestly, and, to do him justice, he had. In gauging fathomless deeps with his little mean excise rod, and in staggering over the universe with his rusty stiff-legged compasses, he had meant to do great things. Within the limits of his short tether he had tumbled about, annihilating the flowers of existence with greater singleness of purpose than many of the blatant personages whose company he kept.

The demonstration still to come, that of which the other 'triumph of his system,' Tom, is the centre, is sardonic comedy, imagined with great intensity and done with the sure touch of genius. There is the pregnant scene in which Mr. Gradgrind, in the deserted ring of a third-rate travelling circus, has to recognize his son in a comic negro servant; and has to recognize that his son owes his escape from Justice to a peculiarly disinterested gratitude—to the opportunity given him by the non-Utilitarian Mr. Sleary, grateful for Sissy's sake, to assume such a disguise:

In a preposterous coat, like a beadle's, with cuffs and flaps exaggerated to an unspeakable extent; in an immense waistcoat, knee breeches, buckled shoes, and a mad cocked-hat; with nothing fitting him, and everything of coarse material, moth-eaten, and full of holes; with seams in his black face, where fear and heat had started through the greasy composition daubed all over it; anything so grimly, detestably, ridiculously shameful as the whelp in his comic livery, Mr. Gradgrind never could by any other means have believed in, weighable and measurable fact though it was. And one of his model children had come to this!

At first the whelp would not draw any nearer but persisted in remaining up there by himself. Yielding at length, if any concession so sullenly made can be called yielding, to the entreaties of Sissy—for Louisa he disowned altogether—he came down, bench by bench, until he stood in the sawdust, on the verge of the circle, as far as possible, within its limits, from where his father sat.

'How was this done?' asked the father.

'How was what done?' moodily answered the son.

'This robbery,' said the father, raising his voice upon the word.

'I forced the safe myself overnight, and shut it up ajar before I went away. I had had the key that was found made long before. I dropped it that morning, that it might be supposed to have been used. I didn't take the money all at once. I pretended to put my balance away every night, but I didn't. Now you know all about it.'

'If a thunderbolt had fallen on me,' said the father, 'it would have shocked me less than this!'

'I don't see why,' grumbled the son. 'So many people are employed in situations of trust; so many people, out of so many, will be dishonest. I have heard you talk, a hundred times, of its being a law. How can I help laws? You have comforted others with such things, father. Comfort yourself!'

The father buried his face in his hands, and the son stood in his disgraceful grotesqueness, biting straw: his hands, with the black partly worn away inside, looking like the hands of a monkey. The evening was fast closing in; and, from time to time, he turned the whites of his eyes restlessly and impatiently towards his father. They were the only parts of his face that showed any life or expression, the pigment upon it was so thick.

Something of the rich complexity of Dickens's art may be seen in this passage. No simple formula can take account of the various elements in the whole effect, a sardonic-tragic in which satire consorts with pathos. The excerpt in itself suggests the justification for saying that Hard Times is a poetic work. It suggests that the genius of the writer may fairly be described as that of a poetic dramatist, and that, in our preconceptions about 'the novel,' we may miss, within the field of fictional prose, possibilities of concentration and flexibility in the interpretation of life such as we associate with Shakespearean drama.

The note, as we have it above in Tom's retort, of ironicsatiric discomfiture of the Utilitarian philosopher by the rebound of his formulae upon himself is developed in the ensuing scene with Bitzer, the truly successful pupil, the real triumph of the system. He arrives to intercept Tom's flight:

Bitzer, still holding the paralysed culprit by the collar, stood in the Ring, blinking at his old patron through the darkness of the twilight.

'Bitzer,' said Mr. Gradgrind, broken down, and miserably submissive to him, 'have you a heart?'

'The circulation, sir,' returned Bitzer, smiling at the oddity of the question, 'couldn't be carried on without one. No man, sir, acquainted with the facts established by Harvey relating to the circulation of the blood, can doubt that I have a heart.'

'Is it accessible,' cried Mr. Gradgrind, 'to any compassionate influence?'

'It is accessible to Reason, sir,' returned the excellent young man. 'And to nothing else.'

They stood looking at each other; Mr. Gradgrind's face as white as the pursuer's.

'What motive—even what motive in reason—can you have for preventing the escape of this wretched youth,' said Mr. Gradgrind, 'and crushing his miserable father? See his sister here. Pity us!'

'Sir,' returned Bitzer in a very business-like and logical manner, 'since you ask me what motive I have in reason for taking young Mr. Tom back to Coketown, it is only reasonable to let you know . . . I am going to take young Mr. Tom back to Coketown, in order to deliver him over to Mr. Bounderby. Sir, I have no doubt whatever that Mr. Bounderby will then promote me to young Mr. Tom's situation. And I wish to have his situation, sir, for it will be a rise to me, and will do me good.'

'If this is solely a question of self-interest with you—' Mr. Gradgrind began.

'I beg your pardon for interrupting you, sir,' returned Bitzer, 'but I am sure you know that the whole social system is a question of self-interest What you must always appeal to is a person's self-interest. It's your only hold. We are so constituted. I was brought up in that catechism when I was very young, sir, as you are aware.'

'What sum of money,' said Mr. Gradgrind, 'will you set against your expected promotion?'

'Thank you, sir,' returned Bitzer, 'for hinting at the proposal; but I will not set any sum against it. Knowing mat your clear head would propose that alternative, I have gone over the calculations in my mind; and I find that to compound a felony, even on very high terms indeed, would not be as safe and good for me as my improved prospects in the Bank.'

'Bitzer,' said Mr. Gradgrind, stretching out his hands as though he would have said, See how miserable I am! 'Bitzer, I have but one chance left to soften you. You were many years at my school. If, in remembrance of the pains bestowed upon you there, you can persuade yourself in any degree to disregard your present interest and release my son, I entreat and pray you to give him the benefit of that remembrance.'

'I really wonder, sir,' rejoined the old pupil in an argumentative manner, 'to find you taking a position so untenable. My schooling was paid for; it was a bargain; and when I came away, the bargain ended.'

It was a fundamental principle of the Gradgrind philosophy, that everything was to be paid for. Nobody was ever on any account to give anybody anything, or render anybody help without purchase. Gratitude was to be abolished, and the virtues springing from it were not to be. Every inch of the existence of mankind, from birth to death, was to be a bargain across the counter. And if we didn't get to Heaven that way, it was not a politico-economical place, and we had no business there.

'I don't deny,' added Bitzer, 'that my schooling was cheap. But that comes right, sir. I was made in the cheapest market, and have to dispose of myself in the dearest.'

Tom's escape is contrived, successfully in every sense, by means belonging to Dickensian high-fantastic comedy. And there follows the solemn moral of the whole fable, put with the rightness of genius into Mr. Sleary's asthmatic mouth. He, agent of the artist's marvellous tact, acquits himself of it characteristically:

'Thquire, you don't need to be told that dogth ith wonderful animalth.'

'Their instinct,' said Mr. Gradgrind, 'is surprising.'

'Whatever you call it—and I'm bletht if I know what to call it'—said Sleary, 'it ith athtonithing. The way in which a dog'll find you—the dithtanthe he'll come!'

'His scent,' said Mr. Gradgrind, 'being so fine.'

'I'm bletht if I know what to call it,' repeated Sleary, shaking his head, 'but I have had dogth find me, Thquire . . . .'

—And Mr. Sleary proceeds to explain that Sissy's truant father is certainly dead because his performing dog, who would never have deserted him living, has come back to the Horse-riding:

he wath lame, and pretty well blind. He went round to our children, one after another, ath if he wath a theeking for a child he knowed; and then he come to me, and throwed hithelf up behind, and thtood on his two forelegth, weak as he wath, and then he wagged hith tail and died. Thquire, that dog was Merrylegth.

The whole passage has to be read as it stands in the text (Book III, Chapter VIII). Reading it there we have to stand off and reflect at a distance to recognize the potentialities that might have been realized elsewhere as Dickensian sentimentality. There is nothing sentimental in the actual effect. The profoundly serious intention is in control, the touch sure, and the structure that ensures the poise unassertively complex. Here is the formal moral:

'Tho, whether her father bathely detherted her; or whether he broke hith own heart alone, rather than pull her down along with him; never will be known now, Thquire, till—no, not till we know how the dogth findth uth out!'

'She keeps the bottle that he sent her for, to this hour; and she will believe in his affection to the last moment of her life,' said Mr. Gradgrind.

'It theemth to prethent two thingth to a perthon, don't it, Thquire?' said Mr. Sleary, musing as he looked down into the depths of his brandy-and-water: 'one, that there ith a love in the world, not all Thelf-interetht after all, but thomething very different; t'other, that it hath a way of ith own of calculating or not calculating, whith thomehow or another ith at leatht ath hard to give a name to, ath the wayth of the dogth ith!'

Mr. Gradgrind looked out of the window, and made no reply. Mr. Sleary emptied his glass and recalled the ladies.

It will be seen that the effect (I repeat, the whole passage must be read), apparently so simple and easily right, depends upon a subtle interplay of diverse elements, a multiplicity in unison of timbre and tone. Dickens, we know, was a popular entertainer, but Flaubert never wrote anything approaching this in subtlety of achieved art. Dickens, of course, has a vitality that we don't look for in Flaubert. Shakespeare was a popular entertainer, we reflect—not too extravagantly, we can surely tell ourselves, as we ponder passages of this characteristic quality in their relation, a closely organized one, to the poetic whole.

Criticism, of course, has its points to make against Hard Times. It can be said of Stephen Blackpool, not only that he is too good and qualifies too consistently for the martyr's halo, but that he invites an adaptation of the objection brought, from the negro point of view, against Uncle Tom, which was to the effect that he was a white man's good nigger. And certainly it doesn't need a working-class bias to produce the comment that when Dickens comes to the Trade Unions his understanding of the world he offers to deal with betrays a marked limitation. There were undoubtedly professional agitators, and Trade Union solidarity was undoubtedly often asserted at the expense of the individual's rights, but it is a score against a work so insistently typical in intention that it should give the representative rôle to the agitator, Slackbridge, and make Trade Unionism nothing better than the pardonable error of the misguided and oppressed, and, as such, an agent in the martyrdom of the good working man. (But to be fair we must remember the conversation between Bitzer and Mrs. Sparsit:

'It is much to be regretted,' said Mrs. Sparsit, making her nose more Roman and her eyebrows more Coriolanian in the strength of her severity, 'that the united masters allow of any such class combination.'

'Yes, ma'am,' said Bitzer.

'Being united themselves, they ought one and all to set their faces against employing any man who is united with any other man,' said Mrs. Sparsit.

'They have done mat, ma'am,' returned Bitzer; 'but it rather fell through, ma'am.'

'I do not pretend to understand these things,' said Mrs. Sparsit with dignity. '. . . I only know that those people must be conquered, and that it's high time it was done, once for all.')

Just as Dickens has no glimpse of the part to be played by Trade Unionism in bettering the conditions he deplores, so, though he sees there are many places of worship in Coketown, of various kinds of ugliness, he has no notion of the part played by religion in the life of nineteenth-century industrial England. The kind of self-respecting steadiness and conscientious restraint that he represents in Stephen did certainly exist on a large scale among the working-classes, and this is an important historical fact. But there would have been no such fact if those chapels described by Dickens had had no more relation to the life of Coketown than he shows them to have.

Again, his attitude to Trade Unionism is not the only expression of a lack of political understanding. Parliament for him is merely the 'national dust-yard,' where the 'national dustmen' entertain one another 'with a great many noisy little fights among themselves,' and appoint commissions which fill blue-books with dreary facts and futile statistics—of a kind that helps Gradgrind to 'prove that the Good Samaritan was a bad economist.'

Yet Dickens's understanding of Victorian civilization is adequate for his purpose; the justice and penetration of his criticism are unaffected. And his moral perception works in alliance with a clear insight into the English social structure. Mr. James Harthouse is necessary for the plot; but he too has his representative function. He has come to Coketown as a prospective parliamentary candidate, for 'the Gradgrind party wanted assistance in cutting the throats of the Graces,' and they 'liked fine gentlemen; they pretended that they did not, but they did.' And so the alliance between the old ruling class and the 'hard' men figures duly in the fable. This economy is typical. There is Mrs. Sparsit, for instance, who might seem to be there merely for the plot. But her 'husband was a Powler,' a fact she reverts to as often as Bounderby to his mythical birth in a ditch; and the two complementary opposites, when Mr. James Harthouse, who in his languid assurance of class-superiority doesn't need to boast, is added, form a trio that suggests the whole system of British snobbery.

But the packed richness of Hard Times is almost incredibly varied, and not all the quoting I have indulged in suggests it adequately. The final stress may fall on Dickens's command of word, phrase, rhythm and image: in ease and range there is surely no greater master of English except Shakespeare. This comes back to saying that Dickens is a great poet: his endless resource in felicitously varied expression is an extraordinary responsiveness to life. His senses are charged with emotional energy, and his intelligence plays and flashes in the quickest and sharpest perception. That is, his mastery of 'style' is of the only kind that matters—which is not to say that he hasn't a conscious interest in what can be done with words; many of his felicities could plainly not have come if there had not been, in the background, a habit of such interest. Take this, for instance:

He had reached the neutral ground upon the outskirts of the town, which was neither town nor country, but either spoiled. . . .

But he is no more a stylist than Shakespeare; and his mastery of expression is most fairly suggested by stressing, not his descriptive evocations (there are some magnificent ones in Hard Times—the varied décor of the action is made vividly present, you can feel the velvety dust trodden by Mrs. Sparsit in her stealth, and feel the imminent storm), but his strictly dramatic felicities. Perhaps, however, 'strictly' is not altogether a good pointer, since Dickens is a master of his chosen art, and his mastery shows itself in the way in which he moves between less direct forms of the dramatic and the direct rendering of speech. Here is Mrs. Gradgrind dying (a cipher in the Gradgrind system, the poor creature has never really been alive):

She had positively refused to take to her bed; on the ground that, if she did, she would never hear the last of it.

Her feeble voice sounded so far away in her bundle of shawls, and the sound of another voice addressing her seemed to take such a long time in getting down to her ears, that she might have been lying at the bottom of a well. The poor lady was nearer Truth than she ever had been: which had much to do with it.

On being told that Mrs. Bounderby was there, she replied, at cross purposes, that she had never called him by that name since he had married Louisa; and that pending her choice of an objectionable name, she had called him J; and that she could not at present depart from that regulation, not being yet provided with a permanent substitute. Louisa had sat by her for some minutes, and had spoken to her often, before she arrived at a clear understanding who it was. She then seemed to come to it all at once.

'Well, my dear,' said Mrs. Gradgrind, 'and I hope you are going on satisfactorily to yourself. It was all your father's doing. He set his heart upon it. And he ought to know.'

'I want to hear of you, mother; not of myself.'

'You want to hear of me, my dear? That's something new, I am sure, when anybody wants to hear of me. Not at all well, Louisa. Very faint and giddy.'

'Are you in pain, dear mother?'

'I think there's a pain somewhere in the room,' said Mrs. Gradgrind, 'but I couldn't positively say that I have got it.'

After this strange speech, she lay silent for some time.

'But there is something—not an Ology at all—that your father has missed, or forgotten, Louisa. I don't know what it is. I have often sat with Sissy near me, and thought about it. I shall never get its name now. But your father may. It makes me restless. I want to write to him, to find out, for God's sake, what it is. Give me a pen, give me a pen.'

Even the power of restlessness was gone, except from the poor head, which could just turn from side to side.

She fancied, however, that her request had been complied with, and that the pen she could not have held was in her hand. It matters little what figures of wonderful no-meaning she began to trace upon her wrappers. The hand soon stopped in the midst of them; the light that had always been feeble and dim behind the weak transparency, went out; and even Mrs. Gradgrind, emerged from the shadow in which man walketh and disquieteth himself in vain, took upon her the dread solemnity of the sages and patriarchs.

With this kind of thing before us, we talk not of style but of dramatic creation and imaginative genius.

Edgar Johnson (essay date 1952)

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SOURCE: "Critique of Materialism-Criticism: Hard Times," in Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph, Volume Two, Simon and Schuster, 1952, pp. 801-19.

[Johnson is one of the most prominent Dickens scholars of the mid to late twentieth century, and his two-volume Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph (1952) is considered an essential text on Dickens and his work. In the excerpt below, he provides a detailed examination of Dickens's anti-Utilitarian stance in Hard Times, noting that the novel's final scenes "hold . . . the essence of his defense of art. "]

Hard Times brings to a culmination an orderly development of social analysis that extends in Dickens's work from Dombey and Son through Bleak House. That development has its roots, indeed, far earlier, and is to be found, although fragmentarily, in the social attitudes underlying Oliver Twist and the prison scenes of Pickwick Papers. With Dombey and Son, however, Dickens achieved his first clear picture of the workings of a monetary society; and even while he was still writing that story he underlined his hostility to Mr. Dombey's world through Scrooge and the fantasy of A Christmas Carol. Although David Copperfield is mainly an exploration of personal emotion, the social comment is an organic part of its pattern. It lurks in the legal morasses of Doctors' Commons and runs through the conscienceless exploitation of child labor in the bottling warehouse; its emphasis on money is as clear in the ostentatious display of Mr. Spenlow as in the mean rapacity of Uriah Heep; its spiritual essence is painted in Steerforth's cynical middle-class indifference to the humanity of the poor and the callousness of his seduction of Little Em'ly.

Bleak House carries on that analysis to a detailed examination of the rotten workings of the social system in almost every major institution and activity of society. Except for one: the operations of that colossus of mechanized industry that had swollen its dominion until it had almost all of modern society subjected to its power. That power Dickens saw as an inhuman, life-denying tyranny. Bleak House reveals the monstrous tentacles of acquisitive power in general, crushing human fulfillment in its foggy coils. Hard Times deals with industrial power, but is not so much a picture of its ramifications as a presentation of its underlying principles. It is an analysis and a condemnation of the ethos of industrialism.

These facts partly explain why Hard Times has been unpopular with many readers and has been disliked by most critics. People could laugh unrestrainedly at Dick Swiveller and Pecksniff and Micawber, who can only amuse, not hurt us, but no such irresponsible mirth is possible with Bounderby and Gradgrind, who have the world appallingly under their control. In Dickens's earlier novels it had been easy to think of him as a warm-hearted, unphilosophic humanitarian indignant at individual cruelties. Even in Bleak House the reader might not realize the total meaning of the indictment, and could comfort himself by imagining that Dickens was merely prejudiced against some groups in society—lawyers, moneylenders, members of the aristocracy, politicians. But there is a desperate endeavor among commentators to ignore or belittle the dark masterpieces of Dickens's maturity because they will not let us close our eyes on the clamorous problems that threaten us with disaster. The harsh truth of Mr. Merdle and the Circumlocution Office in Little Dorrit is dismissed as "twaddle," and Our Mutual Friend's astringent satire on Podsnap and the Veneerings as mere clowning in a dusty desert of a book. Except for a few critics such as F. R. Leavis, who do not care for Dickens's earlier work, only radicals and revolutionaries like Ruskin and Bernard Shaw have praised Hard Times.

For in Hard Times there is no mistaking Dickens's violent hostility to industrial capitalism and its entire scheme of life. Here he is proclaiming a doctrine not of individual but of social sin, unveiling what he now sees as the real state of modern society. "This," Shaw says, "is Karl Marx, Carlyle, Ruskin, Morris, Carpenter, rising up against civilization itself as a disease, and declaring that it is not our disorder but our order that is horrible; that it is not our criminals but our magnates that are robbing and murdering us; and that it is not merely Tom-all-Alone's that must be demolished and abolished, pulled down, rooted up, and made for ever impossible so that nothing shall remain of it but History's record of its infancy, but our entire social system." "Here you will find," Shaw continues, "no more villains and heroes, but only oppressors and victims, oppressing and suffering in spite of themselves, driven by a huge machinery which grinds to pieces the people it should nourish and ennoble, and having for its directors the basest and most foolish of us instead of the noblest and most farsighted." And thus, he summarizes, the indignation with which Dickens began "has spread and deepened into a passionate revolt against the whole industrial order of the modern world."

The change that reaches its climax in Hard Times, however, is not only in revolutionary thought, it is in method as well. And this disturbs still another group of Dickens's readers, grown used to a profusion of comic episode and a tremendous crowded canvas thronged with characters almost as numerous as life itself, all painted in vivid contrasting scenes of light and dark with a brilliant external realism. This is the method of Dombey and of Bleak House, those complicated and elaborate literary structures like some enormous medieval building whose bays and wings and niches are filled with subordinate figures and with bright genre groups of all kinds clustering in a hundred patterns ranging from grotesque fancy to portraits from nature.

Had Dickens been following this method in Hard Times, he would have had scenes among the clerks in Bounderby's bank like those in Mr. Dombey's countinghouse and scenes among the hands in Bounderby's factories like those of pasting on the labels in Murdstone and Grinby's warehouse. He would have had scenes of a cotton spinner getting tangled in the threads of his loom as comic as the marchioness smiting herself on the chin with her corkscrew, and extended scenes of clamorous industrial activity as vivid as the brief glimpses of glaring furnace mouths in Little Nell's nocturnal wanderings through the Black Country. He would have had scenes of the home lives of the factory laborers as warm as those of the Toodle family, and as grim as those of the brickmakers in Bleak House. All this would have been no less easy for Dickens's creative vitality, perhaps even easier, than the technique he did follow. Dictated partly, no doubt, by the need of compressing his story into a short novel of brief weekly installments, that technique was even more determined by Dickens's resolution to make it a formidable and concentrated blow against the iniquity of a heartless materialism.

In consequence, Hard Times is a morality drama, stark, formalized, allegorical, dominated by the mood of piercing through to the underlying meaning of the industrial scene rather than describing it in minute detail. Therefore Coketown, which might be Hanley, Preston, Birmingham, or Leeds, or, for that matter, Fall River or Pittsburgh, is drawn once for all in a few powerful strokes:

It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of buildings full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness. It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and tomorrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next.

The streets were hot and dusty on the summer day, and the sun was so bright that it even shone through the heavy vapour drooping over Coketown, and could not be looked at steadily. Stokers emerged from low underground doorways into factory yards, and sat on steps, and posts, and palings, wiping their swarthy visages, and contemplating coals. The whole town seemed to be frying in oil. There was a stifling smell of hot oil everywhere. The steam-engines shone with it, the dresses of the Hands were soiled with it, the mills throughout their many stories oozed and trickled with it. The atmosphere of those Fairy palaces was like the breath of the simoom: and their inhabitants, wasting with the heat, toiled languidly in the desert. But no temperature made the melancholy mad elephants more mad or more sane. Their wearisome heads went up and down at the same rate, in hot weather and cold, wet weather and dry, fair weather and foul. The measured motion of their shadows on the walls, was the substitute Coketown had to show for the shadows of rustling woods; while, for the summer hum of insects, it could offer, all the year round, from the dawn of Monday to the night of Saturday, the whir of shafts and wheels.

Seen from a distance, in such weather, Coketown lay shrouded in a haze of its own, which appeared impervious to the sun's rays. You could only know the town was there, because you knew there could have been no such sulky blotch upon the prospect without a town. A blur of soot and smoke, now confusedly tending this way, now that way, now aspiring to the vault of Heaven, now murkily creeping along the earth, as the wind rose and fell, or changed its quarter: a dense formless jumble, with sheets of cross light in it, that showed nothing but masses of darkness:—Coketown in the distance was suggestive of itself, though not a brick of it could be seen.

Every packed detail of this entire setting is surcharged with significant emotional and intellectual comment, and every character among the small unified group, symbolic and stylized, who act out their drama in the gritty industrial world, serves to deepen and intensify the meaning. Josiah Bounderby, banker and manufacturer, is its blatant greed and callous inhumanity in action. Thomas Gradgrind retired wholesale hardware dealer, man of facts and figures, is the embodiment of utilitarian economic theory and its endeavor to dry up life into statistical averages. Young Thomas Gradgrind, devoted first and only to his own advantage, is the mean product of the paternal theories—"that not unprecedented triumph of calculation which is usually at work on number one." The daughter Louisa is their predestined tragic victim going to her doom, in her face "a light with nothing to rest upon, a fire with nothing to burn." The consummate achievement of Mr. Gradgrind's system is represented by Bitzer, one of the pupils graduated from the day school founded by Gradgrind: for Bitzer everything is a matter of bargain and sale, accessible to no appeal except that of self-interest.

In contrast to these, Sissy Jupe, the strolling juggler's child, spending her childhod among the acrobats and equestrians of Sleary's Horse-riding, symbolizes everything in human nature that transcends the soul-crushing hideousness and mere instrumentalism of Coketown: she is vitality, generosity, uncalculating goodness. It is significant that she has been born and nourished among a people whose activities are not dominated by pure utility, but have at least some association with those of art, self-fulfilling, self-justified, and containing their ends within themselves. The contrast between her "dark-eyed and dark-haired" warmth, glowing with an inward sun-filled luster, and Bitzer's cold eyes and colorless hair and etiolated pallor, renders in pure sensation, as F. R. Leavis points out, the opposition between "the life that is lived freely and richly from the deep instinctive and emotional springs" and "the thin-blooded, quasi-mechanical product of Gradgrindery."

Nor does Dickens concern himself in Hard Times with any of the small tricks of verisimilitude in speech. The characters express themselves in a stylized idiom that is as far removed from everyday diction as it is true to the inward essence of their natures. Louisa speaks in a solemn poetry filled from the beginning with vibrant forewarnings of her destiny, and Sissy, the stroller's child, confronts Harthouse, the smart, sarcastic worldling, with the stern justice of an angelic messenger. Bounderby's housekeeper, Mrs. Sparsit, with her Roman nose and Coriolanian eyebrows, has a grotesque and mournful dignity of utterance fitting to a world of mad melodrama. And in the wild exuberance of his humor, Dickens allows Mr. Bounderby to talk with the extravagant absurdity of a figure in an insane harlequinade. When Mrs. Sparsit, rendered inarticulate by an inflamed throat and pathetic with sneezes, is trying in vain to tell Mr. Gradgrind that Louisa has deserted Bounderby for Harthouse, the aggrieved husband seizes and shakes her. "If you can't get it out, ma'am," he exclaims, "leave me to get it out. This is not a time for a lady, however highly connected, to be totally inaudible, and seemingly swallowing marbles."

In all Dickens's previous novels there had been scenes in which the characters burst into a theatrical diction of an ornate dignity or talked a gabble fantastically ridiculous. Nicholas and Ralph Nickleby assail each other in words of purple rhetoric and Edith Dombey addresses both her husband and Mr. Carker in the accents of a tragedy queen, but the successes Dickens achieves in such passages are won in the teeth of their language. And with Mrs. Nickleby, Sampson Brass, Pecksniff, Sairey Gamp, Captain Cuttle, Mr. Toots, and Jack Bunsby he had risen to heights of triumphant nonsense. "But now," as Shaw remarks, "it is no longer a question of passages;"—or even of an occasional character—"here he begins at last to exercise quite recklessly his power of presenting a character to you in the most fantastic and outrageous terms, putting into its mouth from one end of the book to the other hardly a word which could conceivably be uttered by any sane human being, and yet leaving you with an unmistakable and exactly truthful portrait of a character that you recognize at once as not only real but typical."

In the same way, the overtones of symbolism and allegory had always moved through Dickens's earlier novels, in solution, as it were, and only at times rendered in definite statement. They are implicit in the social myth of Little Nell's mad grandfather and his mania for the "shining yellow boys" seen against the stock-market-gambling fever of the 1840's. They glimmer in the Christmas pantomime transformation-scenes that end Martin Chuzzlewit, with old Martin as the beneficent Prospero bringing the pageant to a close. They are symmetrically balanced in the ice and frozen cupids of Mr. Dombey's dinner table and the warmth of the Little Midshipman where Florence and Captain Cuttle are the wandering princess and the good monster of a fairy tale. They emerge again in the image of Uriah Heep as an ugly and rebellious genie and Betsey Trotwood as the fairy godmother. They underlie that entire symbolic bestiary of wolves, tigers, cats, captive birds, flies, and spiders mat moves among the fog and falling tenements and self-consuming rottenness of Bleak House. But in these novels, except for the last, the symbolism always lurked below the surface or played over it in a fanciful and exuberant embroidery of metaphor. Even in Bleak House symbolism had never taken charge, nor determined and limited every detail in the structure.

Hard Times opens, significantly, in a schoolroom. Here the children are to be indoctrinated in the tenets of practicality, encouraged to mink of nothing except in terms of use, crammed full of information like so many "little vessels . . . ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to die brim." "Now, what I want," Mr. Gradgrind tells the schoolmaster, "is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of service to mem. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and mis is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!"

In the Gradgrind world mere are to be no imagination, no fancy, no emotion, only fact and the utilitarian calculus. When Sissy Jupe—"Girl number twenty," Mr. Gradgrind calls her, obliterating human identity itself in the blank anonymity of a number—defends her taste for a flowery-patterned carpet by saying, "I am very fond of flowers . . . and I would fancy—" the government inspector of schools pounces upon her triumphantly: "Ay, ay, ay! But you mustn't fancy. That's it! You are never to fancy"; and "You are not, Cecilia Jupe," Mr. Gradgrind repeats sepulchrally, "to do anything of mat kind." "Fact, fact, fact!" says the government official. "Fact, fact, fact!" echoes Thomas Gradgrind.

For Sissy's loving humanity, though, mis bleak factuality is quite impossible. "'Here are the stutterings,'" she misquotes her school-teacher—"Statistics," corrects Louisa—of a town of a million inhabitants of whom only twenty-five starved to death in the course of a year. What does she think of mat proportion? "I thought it must be just as hard on those who were starved whether the others were a million, or a million million." So "low down" is Sissy in "the elements of Political Economy" after eight weeks of study, mat she has to be "set right by a prattler three feet high, for returning to the question, 'What is the first principle of this science?' the absurd answer, 'To do unto others as I would that they should do unto me.'"

Mr. Gradgrind's stand at school is the stand he takes among his own children at home.

No little Gradgrind had ever seen a face in the moon; it was up in the moon before it could speak distinctly. No little Gradgrind had ever learnt the silly jingle, Twinkle, twinkle, little star; how I wonder what you are! No little Gradgrind had ever known wonder on the subject, each little Gradgrind having at five years old dissected the Great Bear like a Professor Owen, and driven Charles's Wain like a locomotive engine-driver. No little Gradgrind had ever associated a cow in a field with that famous cow with the crumpled horn . . . or with that yet more famous cow who swallowed Tom Thumb: it had never heard of diese celebrities, and had only been introduced to a cow as a graminivorous ruminating quadruped with several stomachs.

But the facts in which Gradgrindery is interested are only the cut-and-dried facts of intellectual definition, not the facts of living and breathing reality. It wants to learn nothing about the behavior of horses and how they are trained, which Sissy Jupe knows from Sleary's Horse-riding: "You musn't tell us about the ring, here." Instead, it trots out Bitzer's "definition of a horse": "Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. . . . Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth."—"Now girl number twenty," says Mr. Gradgrind, "you know what a horse is."

The factual education approved by Mr. Gradgrind is identical in spirit with that which was inflicted upon John Stuart Mill and which left him in his young manhood despairingly convinced that his emotional and imaginative nature had been starved to death. Mr. M'Choakumchild, the schoolmaster, has been "turned out," with

some one hundred and forty other schoolmasters . . . in the same factory, on the same principles, like so many pianoforte legs. . . . Orthography, etymology, syntax, and prosody, biography, astronomy, geography, and general cosmography, the sciences of compound proportion, algebra, land-surveying and levelling, vocal music, and drawing from models, were all at the ends of his ten chilled fingers. He had worked his stony way into Her Majesty's most Honourable Privy Council's Schedule B, and had taken the bloom off the higher branches of mathematics and physical science, French, German, Latin, and Greek. He knew all about all the Water Sheds of all the world (whatever they are), and all the histories of all the peoples, and all the names of all the rivers and mountains, and all the productions, manners, and customs of all the countries, and all their boundaries and bearings on the two and thirty points of the compass. . . .

He went to work in this preparatory lesson, not unlike Morgiana in the Forty Thieves: looking into all the vessels ranged before him, one after another, to see what they contained. Say, good M'Choakumchild. When from dry boiling store, thou shalt fill each jar brim full by-and-by, dost thou think thou wilt always kill outright the robber Fancy lurking within—or sometimes only maim him and destory him!

The principles that dominate Mr. Gradgrind's school are the principles that dominate Coketown and its industry. His hard-facts philosophy is only the aggressive formulation of the inhumane spirit of Victorian materialism. In Gradgrind, though repellent, it is honest and disinterested. In Bounderby, its embodiment in the business world, with his bragging self-interest, it is nothing but greed for power and material success, Victorian "rugged individualism" in its vulgarest and ugliest form. And Bounderby is nothing but the practice of that business ethos, for which "the relations between master and man were all fact, and everything was fact between the lying-in hospital and the cemetery, and what you couldn't state in figures, or show to be purchaseable in the cheapest market and saleable in the dearest, was not, and never should be, world without end, Amen."

The wonderful wit and insight with which Dickens withers laissez-faire capitalism is not to be lost sight of "because he chooses to speak," as Ruskin says, "in a circle of stage fire." Carlyle never voiced a more burning denunciation of the dismal science of classical economic theory or the heartlessness of "cash-nexus" as the only link between man and man. The hundred years that have passed since Hard Times was written have done hardly more to date the cant with which businessmen defend industrial exploitation than they have to brighten the drab and brutal thing. Laboring men who protested wanted "to be set up in a coach and six and to be fed on turtle soup and venison, with a gold spoon"; the laboring class "were a bad lot altogether, gentlemen," "restless," "never knew what they wanted," "lived upon the best, and bought fresh butter; and insisted upon Mocha coffee, and rejected all but prime parts of meat, and yet were eternally dissatisfied and unmanageable." As for the Labor unions: "the united masters" should not "allow of any such class combinations."

One more cluster of these sardonic clichés recalls the capitalists of our own day who were going to dispose of their businesses and go to Canada if Franklin Delano Roosevelt were re-elected. The Coketown industrialists, Dickens observes dryly, were always crying that they were ruined:

They were ruined, when they were required to send labouring children to school; they were ruined when inspectors were appointed to look into their works; they were ruined, when such inspectors considered it doubtful whether they were justified in chopping people up with their machinery; they were utterly undone when it was hinted that perhaps they need not always make quite so much smoke. . . . Whenever a Coketowner felt he was ill-used—that is to say, whenever he was not left entirely alone, and it was proposed to hold him accountable for the consequences of any of his acts—he was sure to come out with the awful menace that he would 'sooner pitch his property into the Atlantic.' This had terrified the Home Secretary within an inch of his life, on several occasions.

However, the Coketowners were so patriotic after all, that they never had pitched their property into the Atlantic yet, but, on the contrary, had been kind enough to take mighty good care of it.

The only weaknesses in Dickens's handling of the industrial scene are his caricature of the union organizer Slackbridge and his portrayal of that noble but dismal representative of the laboring classes, Stephen Blackpool. Slackbridge, with his windy and whining rhetoric ("Oh my friends and fellow-countrymen, the slaves of an iron-handed and a grinding despotism! Oh my friends and fellow-sufferers, and fellow-workmen, and fellow-men!") is a figment of imagination. "He was not so honest," Dickens says, as the workers he addressed, "he was not so manly, he was not so good-humoured; he substituted cunning for their simplicity, and passion for their safe solid sense. An ill-made, high-shouldered man, with lowering brows, and his features crushed into an habitually sour expression, he contrasted most unfavourably, even in his mongrel dress, with the great body of his hearers in their plain working clothes."

Such a description is a piece of sheer ignorance, not because union leaders cannot be windbags and humbugs as other politicians can, but because labor organizers are not like Slackbridge and do not talk like him, and did not do so in Dickens's day any more than in ours. Dickens knew human nature too well not to know that fundamentally laboring men were like all men, and he knew domestic servants and artisans working for small tradesmen, but of the class manners and behavior of industrial laborers he had made no more man a superficial observation in some half-dozen trips through the Midlands. He had attended only one union meeting in his life, during the Preston strike in January, 1854. "It is much as if a tramp," Shaw comments with witty but not untruthful exaggeration, "were to write a description of millionaires smoking large cigars in church, with their wives in low-necked dresses and diamonds."

There is a possibility, to be sure, that the brief chapter in which Slackbridge appears was designed to reassure a middle-class audience that might otherwise grow restive and worried over the radical sound of the book. Dickens's own personal support of the labor movement, however, is unequivocally clear. He had already stated in Household Words his belief that laborers had the same right to organize that their employers had, and shortly after the conclusion of Hard Times he was to appeal to working men to force reforms from the Government. Hard Times itself burns with indignant sympathy for the injustice under which the workers suffered and is violent in its repudiation of Bounderby's career and Gradgrind's philosophy.

Hardly less typical of the laboring class than Slackbridge is the independent workman Stephen Blackpool, who is ostracized by his fellow workers for not joining the union and blacklisted by Mr. Bounderby for having the courage to defend their cause. Stephen's isolated stand cuts him off from the support of his own class and the patronage of the factory owners. For all this, it is in Stephen's mouth that Dickens puts a dark summation of the life of the industrial workers: "Look round town—so rich as 'tis—and see the numbers o' people as has been broughten into bein heer, for to weave, an to card, an to piece out a livin', aw the same one way, somehows, twixt their cradles and their graves. Look how we live, and wheer we live, an in what numbers, an by what chances, and wi' what sameness; and look how the mill is awlus a goin, and how they never works us no nigher to ony dis'ant object—'ceptin awlus Death."

And to Stephen, too, Dickens gives a denunciation of laissez faire and the hostile division it creates in society: "Let thousands upon thousands alone, aw leading the like lives and aw faw'en into the like muddle, and they will be as one, and yo will be as anoother, wi' a black unpassable world betwixt yo, just as long or short a time as sitch-like misery can last. . . . Most o' aw, rating 'em as so much Power, and reg'latin 'em as if they was figures in a soom, or machines: wi'out loves and likens, wi'out memories and inclinations, wi'out souls to weary and souls to hope—when aw goes quiet, draggin' on wi' 'em as if they'd nowt o' th' kind, and when aw goes onquiet, reproachin 'em for their want o' sitch human feelins in their dealins wi' you—this will never do't, sir, till God's work is onmade."

When Stephen's crushed body is brought up from Old Hell Shaft, into which he had stumbled, his dying words are as if the crushed people themselves were speaking from the pit into which the modern world had fallen:

I ha' fell into the pit . . . as have cost wi'in the knowledge o' old fok now livin, hundreds and hundreds o' men's lives—fathers, sons, brothers, dear to thousands an thousands, an keeping 'em fro' want and hunger. I ha' fell into a pit that ha' been wi' th' Firedamp crueller than battle. I ha' read on't in the public petition, as onny one may read, fro' the men that works in the pits, in which they ha' pray'n and pray'n the lawmakers for Christ's sake not to let their work be murder to 'em, but to spare 'em for th' wives and children that they loves as well as gentlefok loves theirs. When it were in work, it killed wi'out need; when 'tis let alone, it kills wi'out need. See how we die an no need, one way an another—in a muddle—every day!

And, in the end, as if from the depths of Old Hell Shaft, Dickens sounds once more a prophetic warning to the "Utilitarian economists, skeletons of schoolmasters, Commissioners of Fact, genteel and used-up infidels, gabblers of many little dog's eared creeds," lest "in the day of [their] triumph, when romance is utterly driven out" of the souls of the poor, "and they and a bare existence stand face to face, Reality will take a wolfish turn, and make an end of you."

. . . . .

Within this larger sweep of Hard Times and its social-economic criticism there is a no less significant spiritual core. That core involves a demonstration of the way in which the Gradgrind philosophy denudes and devastates the life of Mr. Gradgrind himself. Not a bad man, "an affectionate father, after his manner," "Mr. Gradgrind, though hard enough, was by no means so rough a man as Mr. Bounderby. His character was not unkind, all things considered; it might have been very kind indeed if only he had made some mistake in the arithmetic that balanced it years ago." Instead, he has gone astray in the aridities of a crude mechanistic theory of human nature, and spends his time in the "parliamentary cinder-heap in London" proving "that the Good Samaritan was a Bad Economist."

His kindness in taking Sissy Jupe under his care enables Dickens to bring in a contrasting picture of the circus folk in Sleary's Horse-riding. They symbolize art, and their position in the eyes of Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby implies the position of art in Victorian England, just as Gradgrind and Bounderby themselves symbolize the orthodox respectability of that society. For them, art is reduced to the status of mere entertainment, and the artist is a useless Bohemian of dubious respectability, whose work they frown on as frivolous and wasteful, utterly valueless for the utilitarian calculus. Nevertheless, that work ministers to vital human needs and, debased and degraded though it is in social estimate, represents one of the few clear links Coketown has with the life of disinterested achievement and the enrichment of experience.

There were two or three handsome young women among them . . . and their eight or nine little children, who did the fairy business when required. The father of one of the families was in the habit of balancing the father of another of the families on the top of a great pole; the father of a third family often made a pyramid of both those fathers . . . ; all the fathers could dance upon rolling casks, stand upon bottles, catch knives and balls, twirl hand-basins, ride upon anything, jump over everything, and stick at nothing. All the mothers could (and did) dance upon the slack wire arid the tight rope, and perform rapid acts on bare-backed steeds; none of them were at all particular in respect of showing their legs; and one of them, alone in a Greek chariot, drove six-in-hand into every town they came to.

The circus people are also vessels of those simple virtues of sympathy and helpfulness to others for which Mr. Gradgrind's philosophy had no use and Mr. Bounderby's hardened heart no room. When Bounderby harshly tells Sissy that her father has deserted her, "They cared so little for plain Fact, these people," Dickens writes, "and were in that advanced state of degeneracy . . . that instead of being impressed by the speaker's strong common sense, they took it in extraordinary dudgeon. The men muttered 'Shame!' and the women 'Brute!'"—a reaction leading Sleary to give the visitors a hasty warning that they were in danger of being pitched out of the window.

There is no sentimentality in this portrayal of the circus strollers. Dickens admits that "they were not very tidy in their private dress" and grants that they were sometimes rather disorderly in their private lives. He knows the dirt and squalor of their surroundings. He sees Sleary exactly as he is, with his flabby body, game eye, wheezing voice, and brandy-soaked state of never being quite sober and never quite drunk. But he knows that the qualities they exemplify are just as real as those in Mr. Gradgrind, and that they are quite as likely to be found in jugglers and acrobats as in bankers and businessmen.

So the two worlds confront each other, the world of generous feeling and the world of rationalized greed. It is through his heartless philosophy that Mr. Gradgrind is to be struck down, and through his inconsistent deed of kindness that he and his family are ultimately to be saved. Through his blindness to imagination, his failure to understand the life of the emotions, the mechanical crudity of his philosophy, his son becomes a selfish sneak and thief, and Louisa, his favorite child, suffers a dark emptiness in her heart. The love that her father always ignores, the devotion to which he denies any reality, she directs with all her starved and thwarted intensity upon her scapegrace brother. For his sake she accepts the proposal her father brings from Bounderby and prostitutes herself in marriage to a man she does not love.

The scene in which she receives that proposal is a triumph of dramatic subtlety. Her dispassionate chill is disconcerting even to the father who has consistently urged treating every situation in terms of fact. With intervals of silence between them punctuated by the hollow ticking of a "deadly statistical clock," she subjects her father to a cold questionnaire: "Father, do you think I love Mr. Bounderby?" "Father, do you ask me to love Mr. Bounderby?" "Father, does Mr. Bounderby ask me to love him?"

The embarrassed man tries to escape into the realms of abstract definition; the reply, he says, depends "on the sense in which we use the expression." Mr. Bounderby does not do either Louisa or himself "the injustice of pretending to anything fanciful, fantastic, or (I am using synonymous terms) sentimental." Let them reduce the question to one of Fact: "Does Mr. Bounderby ask me to marry him? Yes, he does. The sole remaining question then is: Shall I marry him?"

Throughout the conversation Louisa has been regarding her father fixedly. "As he now leaned back in his chair, and bent his deep-set eyes upon her," Dickens writes, "he might have seen one wavering moment in her, when she was impelled to throw herself upon his breast, and give him the pent-up confidences of her heart. But, to see it, he must have overleaped at a bound the artificial barriers he had for so many years been erecting, between himself and all those subtle essences of humanity which will elude the utmost cunning of algebra . . . The barriers were too many and too high for such a leap. With his unbending, utilitarian, matter-of-fact face, he hardened her again; and the moment shot away into the plumbless depths of the past, to mingle with all the lost opportunities that are drowned there.

"Removing her eyes from him, she sat so long looking silently towards the town, that he said, at length: 'Are you consulting the chimneys of the Coketown works, Louisa?'

"'There seems to be nothing there but languid and monotonous smoke. Yet when the night comes, Fire bursts out, father!' she answered, turning quickly.

"'Of course I know that, Louisa. I do not see the application of the remark.' To do him justice, he did not, at all."

How beautifully this conversation, in reducing each question to one of "Fact," empties it of all meaning! No philosophic analysis could puncture the calculus of fact with more deadly effectiveness. And with what power it conveys the emotional tensions beneath the dialogue, Louisa's yearning for sympathy and understanding and the obtuse, well-meaning father missing it all, even the allusion to those unquenchable fires of human passion, so often hidden, that burst out in the dark night of despair. An uncomfortable sense of something not quite right, however, Mr. Gradgrind does have, and he questions his daughter whether she has any other attachment.

"Why, father," she replies with fathomless irony, "what a strange question to ask me! The baby-preference that even I have heard of as common among children, has never had its innocent resting-place in my breast. You have been so careful of me, that I have never had a child's dream. You have dealt so wisely with me, father, from my cradle to this hour, that I have never had a child's belief or a child's fear." "What do I know, father, of tastes and fancies; of aspirations and affections; of all mat part of my nature in which such light things might have been nourished? What escape have I had from problems that could be demonstrated and realities that could be grasped?"

As Louisa speaks these words, she unconsciously closes her hand, "as if upon a solid object," and slowly opens it, "as though she were releasing dust or ash." Mr. Gradgrind is "quite moved by his success, and by this testimony to it."

When Louisa's disastrous marriage to the braggart Bounderby ends in flight back to her father, all his past blindness recoils upon his head. "How could you give me life," she reproaches him, "and take from me all the inappreciable tilings that raise it from the state of conscious death? Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart? What have you done, O father, what have you done," and she strikes herself with both hands upon her breast, "with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here!"

"I never knew you were unhappy, my child."

"Father, I always knew it. In this strife . . . my dismal resource has been to think that life would soon go by, and that nothing in it could be worth the pain and trouble of a contest. . . . I do not know that I am sorry, I do not know that I am ashamed, I do not know that I am degraded in my own esteem. All that I know is, your philosophy and your teaching will not save me. Now, father, you have brought me to this. Save me by some other means!"

And as he clasps her to prevent her falling, and then lays her down upon the floor, he sees "the pride of his heart and the triumph of his system, lying, an insensible heap, at his feet."

The next day he entreats Louisa to believe that he had meant to do right. "He said it earnestly, and to do him justice he had. In gauging fathomless deeps with his mean little excise-rod, and in staggering over the universe with his rusty stiff-legged compasses, he had meant to do great things. Within the limits of his short tether, he had tumbled about, annihilating the flowers of existence with greater singleness of purpose than many of the blatant personages whose company he kept."

But in the crisis of his life, Mr. Gradgrind, unlike Sir Austin Feverel, is able to choose love and his child, not the pride of his system. And she finds her comfort and he finds his redemption through the uncalculated and inconsistent deviation from the system that had led to his taking into his household the strolling juggler's child. Sissy Jupe's affection has been twining through that utilitarian home the ministrations of a loving heart, and on her gentle strength both the father and the daughter in the end come to repose. Through Sissy, too, and Sleary's non-utilitarian gratitude for Mr. Gradgrind's kindness to her, comes the resolution of the remaining part of the story, the escape of young Tom, that other "triumph" of Mr. Gradgrind's system, from going to jail for robbing Bounderby's bank.

This conclusion to the demonstration is trenchant satire. Sulky to the last, disguised as a comic servant with black face and a grotesquely ludicrous livery, the whelp grumblingly defends himself in his father's own jargon: "So many people are employed in situations of trust; so many people, out of so many, will be dishonest. I have heard you talk, a hundred times, of its being a law. How can I help laws? You have comforted others with such things, father. Comfort yourself!"

Swift upon this confrontation arrives Bitzer, the real success of the system, determined to drag Tom back to Coketown and clinch his own succession to Tom's job in the bank. To the anguished father's pleas, Bitzer's replies, with mordant irony, throw in his face every one of his old arguments. Has he a heart? Mr. Gradgrind asks. "Smiling at the oddity of the question," Bitzer retorts with brisk factuality that the circulation couldn't be carried on without one. "If this is solely a question of self-interest with you," Mr. Gradgrind begins. But Bitzer interrupts. "I am sure you know mat the whole social system is a question of self-interest." Nor can he be bribed; his advancement at the bank is worth more than any sum Mr. Gradgrind can offer. Mr. Gradgrind tries to appeal to Bitzer's gratitude for his schooling. "My schooling was paid for," says Bitzer; "it was a bargain; and when I came away, the bargain ended."

"It was a fundamental principle of the Gradgrind philosophy," Dickens notes, "that everything was to be paid for. Nobody was ever on any account to give anybody anything, or render anybody any help without purchase. Gratitude was to be abolished, and the virtues springing from it were not to be. Every inch of the existence of mankind, from birth to death, was to be a bargain across the counter. And if we didn't get to Heaven that way, it was not a politico-economical place, and we had no business there."

Bitzer is prevented from giving the alarm and young Tom is smuggled out of the country by a fantastic plot involving the services of the circus's dancing horse and educated dog. Mr. Sleary, no economist to the last, refuses any financial reward, although a collar for the dog and a set of bells for the horse, he agrees, he will be glad to take. "Brandy and water I alwayth take." And privately, to Mr. Gradgrind, over his glass of grog, he makes a final revelation and pronouncement. Sissy's father is dead: his performing dog, who would never have deserted him, had returned to the circus months ago, worn out and almost blind, and there died.

It seems to suggest, Mr. Sleary observes musingly, that there is a love in the world, not all self-interest after all, but something very different; and that love has a way of its own of calculating or not calculating, to which it may be hard to give a name.

And, as for the circus artists and Mr. Gradgrind's former disapproval of them, Mr. Sleary says in his preposterous lisp: "Thquire, thake handth, firtht and latht! Don't be croth with uth poor vagabondth. People mutht be amuthed. They can't be alwayth a learning, nor yet they can't be alwayth a working, they ain't made for it. You mutht have uth, Thquire. Do the withe thing and the kind thing too, and make the betht of uth; not the wortht!"

Seen in all its implications against the background of the story, these final scenes hold in solution Dickens's entire indictment of nineteenth-century industrial society and the essence of his defense of art. Against the monstrous cruelty of mine and mill and pit and factory and countinghouse, against the bleak utilitarian philosophy with which they were allied, what power could there be except the flowering of the humane imagination and the ennoblement of the heart?

Monroe Engel (essay date 19S9)

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SOURCE: "Addenda: The Sports of Plenty," in The Maturity of Dickens, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1959, 169-89.

[In the following excerpt, Engel favorably appraises Hard Times, focusing upon its economy of presentation and emphasis upon the need for imaginationnot utility aloneto make life bearable and full.]

The recent marked increase in the reputation of Hard Times has come at the expense of Dickens' general reputation. Satisfaction with this one sport of his genius has been used as a basis on which to denigrate that genius in its more characteristic manifestations. Hard Times satisfies the modern taste (in the arts alone) for economy—in Action, for spare writing and clearly demonstrable form. Dickens was capable of both, but they were not natural or congenial to him, and he chose to employ them only under the duress of limited space. Curiously enough, Hard Times grants a scant measure of the very quality for which it argues, imaginative pleasure. Its seriousness is so scrupulous, plain, and insistent that the reader moves along with simple, too rarely surprised consent, and it is worth noting that at one point Dickens considered calling the novel "Black and White."

Yet it is silly to prolong the arbitrary see-saw between Hard Times and the rest of Dickens' work. It is more to the point to see that the greatest virtues of Hard Times are Dickens' characteristic virtues, but less richly present in this book than in many others.

Hard Times is least interesting as an exploitation of its avowed subject, the inadequacy of the Benthamite calculus. The crude but forceless simplicity of Gradgrind can scarcely be said to represent the complexity and solidity of Bentham's influential contributions to English thought. Gradgrind is the merest of straw men. But it may well be that in writing Hard Times Dickens was impelled as much by a need to dissociate himself fully and publicly from the Benthamites as by any need to attack them for themselves. The chief grounds on which he attacks the Benthamites, however, are well taken grounds—are, in fact, the very grounds on which Mill himself was to attack them two decades later in his Autobiography. Mill had to discover poetry in order to recover from the ravages of the Benthamite education imposed on him by his father; and the ultimate deficiency of the Gradgrind system, too, is that it ignores or condemns the imagination.

More interesting than the attack on the Benthamites, then, though it is laid out almost as obviously, is the defense of fancy and imagination. The necessity for imagination becomes clear only when the inadequacy of reason and of rational social action to deal completely with the unalterable aspects of existence is recognized. The death of fancy is linked to the threat of revolution:

The poor you will always have with you. Cultivate in them, while there is yet time, the utmost graces of the fancies and affections, to adorn their lives so much in need of ornament; or, in the days of your triumph, when romance is utterly driven out of their souls, and they and a bare existence stand face to face, Reality will take a wolfish turn, and make an end of you.

It is only imagination, too, that can bridge the gulf of difference between the classes, only imagination that can merge immediate and divergent self-interests in an ultimate common self-interest. "The like of you don't know us, don't care for us, don't belong to us," Rachael says to Louisa, and the "facts" of Coketown amply support her contention, though in Louisa's case the birth of her imaginative powers is accompanied by a growing realization of and sympathy for the condition of the poor.

Fancy is the progenitor of charity, in the Christian rather than the philanthropic sense, and it is the lack of fancy in her childhood that makes it impossible for Louisa to approach her mother's deathbed with full feeling, with better than "a heavy, hardened kind of sorrow." This recognition immediately precedes one of Dickens' most brilliant and functional death scenes, the death of Mrs. Gradgrind with only Louisa present.

"But there is something—not an Oology at all—that your father has missed, or forgotten, Louisa. I don't know what it is. I have often sat with Sissy near me, and thought about it. I shall never get its name now. But your father may. It makes me restless. I want to write to him, to find out for God's sake, what it is. Give me a pen, give me a pen."

Even the power of restlessness was gone, except from the poor head, which could just turn from side to side.

She fancied, however, that her request had been complied with, and that the pen she could not have held was in her hand. It matters little what figures of wonderful no-meaning she began to trace upon her wrappers. The hand soon stopped in the midst of them; the light that had always been feeble and dim behind the weak transparency, went out; and even Mrs. Gradgrind, emerged from the shadow in which man walketh and disquieteth himself in vain, took upon her the dread solemnity of the sages and patriarchs.

Here, as usual with Dickens, death is the control by which reality is measured—and, in this case, by which the Gradgrind system is discounted. In the vivid imaginative rendering of the scene, we comprehend what forces are at work on Louisa to pierce her trained incapacity, as we do too when her hazard at the devices of James Harthouse is rendered in an extraordinary sexual image: "The figure descended the great stairs, steadily, steadily; always verging, like a weight in deep water, to the black gulf at the bottom."

It is finally the brief, largely figurative renderings of experience in this novel, far more than the rather mechanical working out of the plot, that most effectively accomplish the destruction of the "hard facts" point of view. We know best what is wrong with Coketown not from the facts we are told about it, nor from the picture of Bounderby's hypocritical oppression, nor even so much from the scene of the union meeting, as from the descriptive imagery of serpents and elephants. In a sense, imagination makes its own best case for itself.

The great virtues of the novel are in disquieting part incidental virtues—incidental, that is, to the main line of development of the story, though absolutely essential to its impact. The questions this raises are peculiar questions concerning the forced restriction of the play of imagination or fancy in a novel that has chiefly to do with the necessity for the free life of the imagination. It seems almost Gradgrindian therefore to prefer Hard Times to, say, David Copperfield or Our Mutual Friend!

A. O. J. Cockshut (essay date 1961)

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SOURCE: "Hard Times-Dickens's Masterpiece?" in The Imagination of Charles Dickens, Collins, 1961, p. 137-42.

[In the essay below, Cockshut seeks to demonstrate—contra F. R. Leavisthat Hard Times is not Dickens's masterpiece. He does, however, consider it a novel of high accomplishment. ]

Dr. Leavis has performed a valuable service by focusing attention on Hard Times, an important and neglected work. Those of us who do not quite agree with him about its quality are nevertheless grateful.

The leading idea of the book is proclaimed in the contrast between its subject, industrial society, and the titles of its three sections—Sowing, Reaping and Garnering. The intention, carried out at times with great subtlety and at times with a rather weary obviousness, was to show inherent life and growth conquering theory and calculation. This approach tends to break down the stock distinctions between town and country, between industry and agriculture, between science and intuition. From the first brilliant description of the factory world, where the elephants' heads represent the movements of machinery, the factory is treated as a living thing. Thus industrial smoke is linked with the horrors of hypocrisy and deception. "A blur of soot and smoke, now confusedly tending this way, now that way, now aspiring to the vault of Heaven, now murkily creeping along the earth, as the wind rose and fell, or changed its quarter: a dense formless jumble, with sheets of cross light in it, that showed nothing but masses of darkness: Coketown in the distance was suggestive of itself, though not a brick of it could be seen." And in a notable passage the fire of the furnaces is compared to the fire of human passions. When she is considering Bounderby's proposal, Louisa is asked by her father, "Are you consulting the chimneys of the Coketown works?" and she replies, "There seems to be nothing there but languid and monotonous smoke. Yet when the night comes, Fire bursts out."

Coketown and its people are living mysteries, not facts. The process of inner growth is never absent from the author's mind. It dominates even casual phrases: "to pretend . . . that they went astray wholly without cause, and of their own irrational wills, was to pretend that there could be smoke without fire, death without birth, harvest without seed." This, in part, is the meaning of Stephen Blackpool's fall into the disused mine, which causes his death. The creature of industrial society, the mine, does not cease to influence events when it is uncontrolled and forgotten—a point which Stephen's own words underline: "When it were in work, it killed wi'out need; when 'tis alone, it kills wi'out need."

Now it seems that two of the three main targets at which Dickens directed his criticism, were well chosen. Bounderby and Harthouse, each in his odd, inverted way, illustrate the principle of inner life and growth. Bounderby's story of character and industry triumphant is a sham; and his mock humility about being brought up in the gutter is a form of snobbery and pride. His relations with Mrs. Sparsit perfectly illustrate the real source of his feelings and his lies. The important point is that the low "down-to-earth" materialistic attitude takes its origin in an idealistic illusion. Harthouse, on the other hand, has adopted the dogmas of political economy out of boredom, out of that weary assumption of originality, which is always a mark of dullness of mind. (How well Dickens understood this avant-garde type. Gowan in Little Dorrit is a different and equally interesting version of it.) Also Harthouse knows in advance that the devotees of political economy will be secretly impressed with his upper-class connections. Therefore he will carry more weight in their councils than he would in circles more accustomed to enjoying aristocratic support. His pose is one of cynicism. "The only difference between us and the professors of virtue or benevolence, or philanthropy—never mind the name—is, that we know it is all meaningless, and say so; while they know it equally and will never say so." But this sincere-insincerity is itself insincere. He has no real interest in the cynical principles of the political economists; his cynicism is only an attractive line. He is the ancestor of a long line of "brutally frank and courageously outspoken" publicists of the twentieth century; and it can be fairly claimed that Dickens may well have been the first person to understand and analyse the type.

Altogether it is a beautifully-planned contrast between Bounderby and Harthouse. But the third term is surely weaker than Dr. Leavis allows. Gradgrind seems to belong to the world of pure moral fable—which in its main outlines Hard Times most certainly is not. So we are uneasy whenever Gradgrind has dealings with Bounderby and Harthouse. They are not the same kind of creature at all, and so can only communicate, as it were, through the author's mind. And so there is no reserve of dramatic force to play with at the time of Gradgrind's conversion; the conversion itself, accordingly, is almost trivial.

Of course, the atmosphere of the moral fable, or even of the fairytale is introduced deliberately at times. We cannot doubt that when we read a sentence like this: "Stephen, whose way had been in a contrary direction, turned about, and betook himself as in duty bound to the red brick castle of the giant Bounderby." It is deliberate, but is it always judiciously used? Neither Bounderby nor Blackpool really deserves this aura of fairytale. Each has his own psychological truth; and each has characteristics which could not occur in any pre-industrial society.

There is a similar difficulty about the circus. Dr. Leavis says, most aptly, of the scene where Sleary finally points the book's moral: "Reading it there we have to stand off and reflect at a distance to recognise potentialities that might have been realised elsewhere as Dickensian sentimentality. There is nothing sentimental in the actual fact." The crucial importance of Mr. Sleary and the circus is obvious. The circus is at the beginning and the end. From it comes Sissy Jupe to save the Gradgrind family; and Tom, the disgraced product of a politico-economical education returns to it to make his escape.

But here again we meet the difficulty, are we reading a fable or a novel? In a semi-realistic work of this sort we can hardly be satisfied with the circus as a simple undifferentiated alpha and omega, like Kafka's castle or the lake from which Arthur's sword appeared and to which it returned. We are bound to look for some positive wisdom in Mr. Sleary and I cannot help feeling that Dr. Leavis is too enthusiastic when he speaks of "the solemn moral of the whole fable, put with the Tightness of genius in Mr. Sleary's asthmatic mouth." Sleary belongs, of course, to a long tradition of the wise or holy fool. To speak of genius here is surely to place Sleary among the finest representatives of this tradition, to put him in the company of the Fool in Lear and Dostoevsky's Myshkin. He will scarcely stand the comparison; and the passage Dr. Leavis quotes will hardly support his claim:

"Thquire, you don't need to be told that dogth ith wonderful animalth."

"Their instinct," said Mr. Gradgrind, "is surprising."

"Whatever you call it—and I'm bletht if I know what to call it"—said Sleary, "it ith athtonithing. The way in which a dog'll find you—the dithtanthe he'll come."

"His scent," said Mr. Gradgrind, "being so fine."

"I'm bletht if I know what to call it," repeated Sleary, shaking his head, "but I have had dogth find me, Thquire. . . ."

It is generally acknowledged by Dr. Leavis and others that the Trade Union scenes are not satisfactory; though Dickens achieved one stroke of prophetic insight, when, in Bounderby's interview with Blackpool, he showed the subconscious sympathy between owners and Trade Unions linked against individualistic workers.

The parallel between Bounderby's and Blackpool's matrimonial troubles is unconvincing; and one feels that probability, psychology and everything else had been sacrificed to symmetry. The last chapter summarises in a few hundred words events which might fill a whole novel. Here Dickens's sense of the superiority of life to fact, which is the guiding star of the novel, up to this point, seems ironically to have deserted him. Gradgrind could almost have written the chapter himself.

There are then, it seems to me, sound reasons against considering Hard Times a masterpiece. But it remains a work of great distinction, which performed for the first time the very important imaginative task of integrating the factory world into the world of nature and of humanity. And I end with a quotation designed to show this process at work. It is like a new pastoral tradition miraculously beginning, in which the Industrial Revolution can really share: "They walked on across the fields and down the shady lanes, sometimes getting over a fragment of a fence so rotten that it dropped at a touch of the foot, sometimes passing near a wreck of bricks and beams overgrown with grass, marking the site of deserted works. They followed paths and tracks, however slight. Mounds where the grass was rank and high, and where brambles, dockweed, and such like vegetation, were confusedly heaped together, they always avoided; for dismal stories were told in that country of the old pits hidden beneath such indications."

John Holloway (essay date 1962)

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SOURCE: "Hard Times: A History and a Criticism," in Dickens and the Twentieth Century, edited by John Gross and Gabriel Pearson, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962, pp. 159-74.

[The essay below, along with David H. Hirsch 's "Hard Times and F. R. Leavis" (1964), represents the most trenchant critical response to Leavis's famous 1948 essay championing Hard Times as Dickens's most accomplished novel.]


'With his unbending, utilitarian, matter-of-fact face', Dickens writes of Mr. Gradgrind. That Hard Times is a novel which embodies a moral problem, an issue between ways of living, is by now familiar knowledge; and so is it, that one side of the issue, in some sense or another, is 'Utilitarianism'. But the ideas and attitudes which that word most readily calls up today prove not to be those which were most prominent in Dickens's own mind or own time; and to trace the exact contour of significance which ran for Dickens himself, as he wrote the book, through the material he handled, will turn out to be a more than merely historical accumulation of knowledge: it determines the critical position which one must finally take with regard to the novel.

Hard Times itself provides the necessary clues plainly enough. But they do not point to Utilitarianism as an ambitious philosophical theory of enlightened and emancipated thinking or of comprehensive social welfare and reform; nor to the genuine (if challengeable) idealism and dedicated high-mindedness of such an education as James Mill designed for his son (Greek at the age of three, and something that could at least pass as the full circle of human knowledge by adolescence). What Dickens seems to have had in mind was something much less far-reaching, and much more mundane and commonplace. The point comes out at once from Dickens's list of possible titles for the novel. This included: 'Two and Two are Four'; 'Simple Arithmetic'; 'A Mere Question of Figures'; and, the first of all, 'According to Cocker'. The last is William Cocker, the seventeenth-century author whose Arithmetic was still in use as a school text. "The celebrated Mr. Cocker', Dickens called him in a speech the year after Hard Times appeared.

That Mr. Gradgrind stands for the utilitarian seen not philosophically but arithmetically is made plain elsewhere. 'Let us strike the key-note again . . . 'Dickens opens Bk. I, Ch. 8, '. . . by means of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, settle everything'. The very next chapter indicates what kind of arithmetic is in question. 'Mr. M'Choakumchild said he would try me again . . . "What is your remark on that proportion? (of population dying from starvation); . . . What is the percentage?" (of sea-voyagers drowning, etc.)' And at the beginning of this chapter, Mr. Gradgrind is explicit: Dickens's concern is with the often naive enthusiasm of the earlier nineteenth century for undigested statistics of economic and social advance. '. . . the necessity of infinite grinding at the mill of knowledge as per system, schedule, blue book, report, and tabular statements A to Z'.

That there was something naïve in the use of statistics during the period is not only confirmed by such a modern authority as Schumpeter, but will be clear, even to the comparative layman's eye, from a glance at the tabular statistics of such an author as J. R. McCulloch. In Hard Times, in fact, Utilitarianism largely means 'Manchester School' political economy: 'Utilitarian economists, skeletons of schoolmasters, Commissioners of Fact'—there is an implicit reference back to the 'unlucky infants' who are told to 'take everything on political economy'.

Dickens had views about McCulloch. Six months before he began Hard Times he wrote mat a piece submitted for his magazine Household Words was 'dreadfully dull . . . I should have thought the greater part of it by McCulloch edited by Rintoul'. R. S. Rintoul was editor of the Spectator from 1828 and (as the D.N.B. has it) was 'a model of exact journalism' who 'soon brought round him men like Bentham (and) Mill'. McCulloch is important in the field of political economy not only for his Principles (1st ed., 1825)—to which this discussion must revert: it was the standard work until Mill's book of the same name replaced it in 1843—but also, and perhaps still more, for encyclopaedic productions like the Descriptive and Statistical Account of the British Empire. In these two enormous volumes, amid the laboured elegance of McCulloch's style, and the laborious superabundance of his figures, one may find both what sets the scene for Dickens's novel, and what brings one back to some of the attitudes (those of Bounderby, say) depicted in it. 'Lancashire is the grand seat of the cotton manufacture . . . Manchester, now the second town in the empire, is the principal centre of the manufacture; but it is also carried on, to a great extent, and with astonishing success, at Preston (etc.).' Immediately before this, McCulloch records of the county of Lancashire, '. . . average rent of land in 1842-3, 28s. 111/2d. an acre'. This cotton manufacture is 'by far the most wonderful triumph of mechanical genius and invention that the world has ever seen'. In another of McCulloch's encyclopaedias, the Practical, Theoretical, and Historical Dictionary of Commerce and Commercial Navigation (1832), we find that for the Lancashire cloth to undersell Indian handloom weavers, though using raw material brought from India, was again 'the greatest triumph of mechanical genius'. The Dictionary, Geographical, Statistical and Historical, of the Various Countries, Places and Principal Natural Objects of the World (2 vols., 1841-2), happens to bring out another fact relevant to Hard Times. Until only a very few years before this novel was written, no town north of Preston was served by rail from London: Dickens, visiting the town early in 1854 to get first-hand impressions of the cotton lock-out, was indeed penetrating deep into the Other World of the industrial north.

I have given the full titles of these works of McCulloch, because even by themselves they enable one to glimpse the world of naïve but encyclopaedic fact against which Dickens was reacting. As the picture is completed, it leads the attention not towards men of greater intellectual distinction than McCulloch, but towards men still more commonplace, towards now forgotten figures of mid-Victorian popularization. One of these was Charles Knight, Secretary of the Society for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge, and like McCulloch a great compiler of encyclopaedic dictionaries. Knight was for many years a personal friend of Dickens, who was willing to view his factual compilations sympathetically. In 1854 Knight sent him a copy of his Knowledge is Power, which was a kind of elementary (and enthusiastic) guide to contemporary processes of commerce and more particularly manufacture; and said he was afraid that Dickens, then busy writing Hard Times, would set him down as 'a cold-hearted political economist'. Dickens's reply provides useful confirmation of what is now being argued as the issue in the novel: 'My satire is against those who see figures and averages, and nothing else—the representatives of the wickedest and most enormous vice of this time—. . . Bah! What have you to do with these?'

J. T. Boulton has already suggested that (in spite of this disclaimer on Dickens's part) Knowledge is Power should be seen as the kind of work which Dickens had in mind in his critique of factualism. But Dickens's ideas must have been fully formed before he saw a copy of this work, and a much earlier compilation by Knight, his Store of Knowledge, seems far more to the point. Indeed, it seems certain that one of the articles in the Store of Knowledge directly influenced Dickens in respect of Hard Times. This is the piece by William Youatt entitled, baldly, "The Horse'. On the first page of this we find a paragraph which begins, 'The teeth of the horse require some lengthened consideration . . . '; and explains that the discussion which follows, some 750 words in length, is of value because the horse's mouth is a sure guide to his age. There seems reason to think that this must have given Dickens the ideas for Bitzer's egregious 'definition of a horse' :

Quadruped. Graminiverous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. . . . Age known by marks in mouth.

Moreover, another article in the Store of Knowledge may also have contributed something to the novel. This is the piece entitled 'Schools' by Dr. Beard, for it contains a remarkable passage from the evidence given before the 1838 Committee on Education: a passage which cannot but recall, in detail, the visit of Mr. Gradgrind and the 'third gentleman' to the school in the opening scene of the novel. This is the visit which produces Bitzer's model performance, and the discomfiture of Sissy Jupe:

. . . certain children are brought prominently forward . . . these frequent exhibitions to strangers visiting the school have all an injurious effect upon the mind of the child, and also an injurious effect upon the minds of the other children, discouraging and disheartening them.

A careful reading of Beard's article, however, begins to reveal the complexities of the situation Dickens was moving in; for it closes with what is in some ways a most humane and enlightened account of how the education of children should proceed; envisaging it, almost after the manner of É mile, as a following of nature and a gradual unfolding of the child's inner powers. I think that this makes clear how one cannot see the issue as a simple one between a humane and enlightened novelist and rigid and hide-bound compilers. That the enlightenment is not on one side only is confirmed by some words of McCulloch's on the subject; words which hint at some of the intricacies of meaning in the word 'utilitarian' itself:

To render education productive of all the utility that may be derived from it, the poor should, in addition to the elementary instruction now alluded to, be made acquainted with the duties enjoined by morality and religion . . .

The context of these remarks is thoroughly 'Manchester School', and has its unenlightened side. But the reference to 'utility' gives a little help towards rightly understanding what has often been not understood at all: the standpoint which Dickens takes up in the latter part of the schoolroom scene, the discussion that deals, improbably enough one cannot but remark, with wallpapers and carpets.


The fact is, that (as K. J. Fielding has in part made plain, but not, I think, fully enough), Dickens in this section of his book is far from taking up a position which is enlightened. In fact, it is much easier to argue that his satire was directed against the contemporary forces of enlightenment (the whole scene is rich in contemporary reference) and is written from the standpoint of the mid-Victorian middle-class Philistine. This, broadly speaking, is the Dickens who wrote with a low-brow vulgarity about Millais's 'Christ in the Carpenter's Shop' in the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition. The naïveté, in fact, is now on his side. The 'third gentleman' (as Fielding points out) represents the views of the 'Department of Practical Art' organized under the Board of Trade in 1852. But it did not use the word 'Practical' through no-nonsense fact-and-nothing-but-fact Philistinism: it did so because it sought to function as a growing point in the decorative arts and in industrial design. Those whom it drew together—John Bell, head of the Normal School of Design at Somerset House; Owen Jones, the forerunner of Morris in wallpaper design; M. Digby Wyatt, Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Great Exhibition; Ralph Wornum, compiler of the 1846 National Gallery catalogue; Richard Redgrave; and Henry Cole, Secretary of the Department of Science and Art from 1853 to 1873, and (since he was a civil servant) pseudonymous designer of 'Summerly's Art Manufactures' from 1847 on—were the most enlightened men in their field at the time. What they stood for was a repudiation of the crude and vulgar photographic realism of ignorant factory design—what might with justice be called 'Bounderby art'—and its replacement by designs which recognized what would nowadays be universally accepted as first principles of informed, professional work: the stylization necessary in decorating a flat surface, the preservation of a proper balance between empty and filled spaces, and so on. What they opposed was what Professor Pevsner, writing of design such as Dickens is defending, called 'the riotous effect of large bouquets of flowers, rank ferns, and thick whorls'—the carpets, as another designer having affinities with this group was later to describe them, 'on which ponds of water were drawn with water-lilies floating upon them, and other absurdities equally offensive to good taste'.

Professor Giedion's important discussion of this group does much to bring out their contemporary affinities and their essential quality. First, he points out that in their basic principle of design, fitness for purpose, 'the intellectual outlook of the circle is more or less in keeping with Utilitarianism as expounded in its philosophical and economic aspects by J. S. Mill', a view which does less to damn the designers than to remind one that Utilitarianism, at its best, had itself some claim to rank as part of a high civilization. Second, he mentions that another name must be added to those given above: that of Gottfried Semper. Semper is a forerunner of twentieth-century standards of design. In 1855 Semper left England to become Professor to the Technische Hochschule in Zürich. His main work, Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts (1860-3) was a fundamental work in the theory of design; and by 1910 'the German reform movement in the decorative arts, which took fitness to purpose as its final criterion, regarded him as a basic authority'. Through Semper, the circle which Dickens satirized counts among the forerunners of the Bauhaus.

Like Charles Kent, Henry Cole, perhaps the most active member of the group, was a personal acquaintance of Dickens; and this perhaps explains the difference between the latter's scornful if covert attack on the Department in the novel, and the explicit discussion, in Household Words, of the 'Chamber of Horrors', the room full of prize examples of disastrous mid-Victorian taste, which Cole organized for a short time at Marlborough House. Dickens's extent of disagreement with the principles of design represented by Marlborough House is a limited one; and in fact, it would be fair to say that he hardly knows where he stands: 'the whole Hog and nothing but the whole Hog . . . is a little indigestible'. The importance of this article (as of the rather sheepishly inconclusive sentence just quoted) is that it enables one to see the level of thought at which Dickens was operating. Certainly, in both novel and article, he stands in a general way for human feeling against what is doctrinaire and rigid. But there is a sense in which his disagreement is partial or even casual: it does not penetrate to the fundamental issues involved, and one cannot deny that there is at least a hint of the Philistine about it.


At present, the reputation of Hard Times stands high, and the suggestion that lack of depth, even something of the middle-class Philistine, shows elsewhere in how the book works out its scheme of values, will not carry immediate conviction. The assertion requires proof, of course, with regard to what is in the text itself. Nothing takes the place of that. But it may prove easier to see clearly what is there, if one notices the elements of compromise, of an amiable but casual grasp of the realities, in Dickens's outlook as we can trace it generally at the very time it was being written. The deficiencies of McCulloch, for example, transpired in his tone—'wonderful triumph of mechanical genius', 'grand seat of the cotton manufacture . . . astonishing success', as much as in his '28s. 111/2d.'; we are reminded too closely of the complacent bombast of Mr. Roebuck as Arnold pillories him in The Function of Criticism at the Present Time. But it is not easy to find a Roebuckism which excels the following:

To that great compact phalanx of the people, by whose industry, perseverance, and intelligence, and their result in money-wealth, such places as Birmingham, and many others like it, have arisen—to that great centre of support, that comprehensive experience, and that beating heart—Literature has turned happily . . .

and this is Dickens himself, at a civic dinner in Birmingham exactly a year before he began writing Hard Times. All in all, Dickens stood much too near to what he criticized in the novel, for his criticism to reach a fundamental level. This is not a matter of his having a balanced view of the whole situation as between manufacture, labour, and capital; but of his sharing the somewhat naïve enthusiasms, and with them to some extent the brusque middle-class hostilities and presumptions, of those whom he thought he was criticizing. Household Words, throughout the early 1850's, is full of enthusiastic accounts of the wonders of Victorian manufacture. Even in February 1854, almost the very moment when he was beginning Hard Times, Dickens could write:

Mighty, indeed, are the dealings of these cotton monarchs. Complicated are their transactions; numberless the interests they affect; and far away and strange the lands they give vitality to, the mouths they feed, the forms they clothe.

A year before, writing then too of the Lancashire mills, he wrote:

the factory itself is certainly not a 'thing of beauty' in its externals. But it is a grand machine in its organization—the men, the fingers, and the iron and steel, all work together for one common end.

The article concludes with a eulogy of the 'captain of industry' (Mr. Titus Salt) who was building new model factories at Saltaire. 'Captain of industry' is of course a phrase of Carlyle's. Dickens dedicated Hard Times to that fiery and apocalyptic bourgeois, and assured him that there was nothing in the book with which he would disagree. It is plain that Dickens's whole love-hate relation to Victorian industry was deeply influenced by the writings of the older man.

If this is true, though, how does it show in the novel? It shows in Dickens's treatment of the main situation of the book. For all his opposition to the 'hard fact men' like McCulloch, he subscribes out and out to McCulloch's principle of an ultimate identity of interest between men and masters. 'Those whose interests must be supposed to be identical or must be destroyed', he writes; and the effect of this on the novel is barely less than deliberate falsification of what Dickens knew, from his visit to Preston, to be the facts. For Slackbridge, the 'O my friends' stump-orator (it is wholly in place to appropriate Carlyle's scornful term in Latter Day Pamphlets) is based upon a 'professional speaker' whom Dickens actually witnessed on his visit to Preston during the 1853-4 lockout. He, however, so far from dominating the meeting and getting his way at it, was on Dickens's own testimony suppressed by the Chairman; and when Dickens wrote of that meeting in Household Words, what he did was praise the men's

. . . astonishing fortitude and perseverance; their high sense of honour among themselves; the extent to which they are impressed with the responsibility that is upon them of setting a careful example, and keeping their order out of any harm and loss of reputation. . . .


If we seek to assess the level of seriousness and insight at which Dickens is working in the novel, it cannot be without significance to notice what he sets against the world of 'addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division' which he rejects. His alternative is neither the determined individuality and, in a certain degree, genuine cultivation of the best masters (as Charlotte Bronte saw this when she depicted Hunsden in The Professor, or as Mrs. Gaskell did with John Thornton in North and South or indeed, to some extent, Dickens himself with Mr. Rouncewell in Bleak House); nor the desperate need, communal feeling, and strengthening responsibility which he saw for himself among the 'hands'. His alternative was something which lay altogether outside the major realities of the social situation with which he dealt: the circus world of Mr. Sleary.

In principle, perhaps, this world could indeed carry the weight of that 'vital human impulse' to which Dr. Leavis refers as counterpart to the 'utilitarian' ethos that for him is one pole of the novel. The comparison between Hard Times and Picasso's 'Saltimbanques' has been made (though it seems obviously extravagant); and occasionally, a phrase in the novel (such as the reformed Mr. Gradgrind's reference to 'the right instinct'—supposing it for the moment to be some quality of that nature) looks as if it could support so ambitious and life-giving an interpretation. Again, however, general indications of how Dickens's mind was working in the period of composition help us to detect the chief impact lying within the text, the main thing which he is setting up in opposition to the 'hard fact men'. It does not seem to be anything even remotely Lawrentian (this was, after all, a pre-Nietzsche novel). On the contrary, it too, like its opposite, operated (for all its obvious common sense and its genuine value) at a relatively shallow level of consciousness, one represented by the Slearies not as vital horsemen but as plain entertainers.

In fact, the creed which Dickens champions in the novel, against Gradgrind's, seems in the main to be that of 'all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'. How unwilling many will be to admit this! Yet Dickens's letter to Charles Knight when he was writing Hard Times takes just this point of view, and turns out to have simply been reworded in the novel.

I earnestly entreat your attention to the point (I have been working upon it, weeks past, in Hard Times) . . . the English are, as far as I know, the hardest-worked people on whom the sun shines. Be content if, in their intervals of pleasure, they read for amusement and do no worse. They are born at the oar, and they live and die at it. Good God, what would you have of them!

In Hard Times this becomes

I entertain a weak idea that the English people are as hard-worked as any people upon whom the sun shines. I acknowledge to this ridiculous idiosyncrasy, as a reason why I would give them a little more play.

With which one may usefully compare Mr. Gradgrind's 'annihilating the flowers of existence' with his excise-rod and compasses, and Louisa's lament to her brother:

I don't know what other girls know. I can't play to you, or sing to you. I can't talk to you so as to enlighten your mind, for I never see any amusing sights or read any amusing books that it would be a pleasure or a relief to you to talk about, when you are tired.

One may compare also the decisive closing paragraph of the novel, about the main survivor of the book, Sissy Jupe:

. . . thinking no innocent and pretty fancy ever to be despised; trying hard to . . . beautify . . . lives of machinery and reality with . . . imaginative graces and delights.

and the concluding words of Mr. Sleary, with their emphasis not on art or gracious vitality, but amusement:

. . . Don't be croth with uth poor vagabondi. People mutht be amused. They can't alwayth be a learning, nor yet they can't be alwayth a working, they an't made for it. You mutht have uth, Thquire. Do the withe thing and the kind thing too, and make the betht of uth; not the wurtht!

From outside the text of the novel, Household Words and the Letters readily confirm this interpretation. The letter, already quoted, about the 'dreadfully dull' article ran: 'some fancy must be got into the number': fancy (the 'tender light of Fancy', as the novel has it was the necessary antidote to McCulloch and Rintoul. Finally, the Household Words article on the Preston lockout makes the same point, and one must bear in mind that it is one entirely characteristic of Dickens from Mr. Pickwick on:

there must enter something of feeling and sentiment, something which is not to be found in Mr. McCulloch's Dictionary . . . political economy is a mere skeleton unless it has a little human covering and fitting out, a little human bloom on it, and a little human warmth in it.


What this discussion seems to me to issue in is a view of the novel's moral intention which accords with the quality and development of Dickens's whole mind. He was not a profound and prophetic genius with insight into the deepest levels of human experience; but (leaving his immense gifts aside for a moment) a man whose outlook was amiable and generous, though it partook a little of the shallowness of the merely topical, and the defects of the bourgeois—the word is not too harsh—Philistine. Ruskin, generations ago, gave the necessary lead over Hard Tunes: 'in several respects the greatest (novel) he has written', he said, the author is 'entirely right in his main drift and purpose', but Ruskin himself wishes that he had used 'a severer and more accurate analysis'.

Turn to the detailed presentation, and it is clear that when Dickens is most preoccupied with his 'idea that laid hold of me by the throat in a very violent manner', he usually fails. The point is made, and as it transpires, the life fades away. Sissy's spontaneous, childish compassionateness becomes a smart debating point:

'. . . in a given time a hundred thousand persons went to sea on long voyages, and only five hundred of them were drowned or burned to death. What is the percentage? . . . And I . . . said it was nothing.'

'Nothing, Sissy?'

'Nothing, Miss—to the relations and friends of the people who were killed. . . . '

In the conversation between Louisa and her father when Bounderby has proposed, it is apparent at once that neither character is a true embodiment of the standpoint—or predicament—which is their allotted rôle; they are creatures of stick, arguing a case or (with Gradgrind) obligingly but unconvincingly tongue-tied:

'Father . . . Where have I been? What are my heart's experiences?'

'My dear Louisa,' returned Mr. Gradgrind . . . 'you correct me justly . . . I merely wished to discharge my duty.'

'What do I know, Father . . . of tastes and fancies; of aspirations and affections; of all that part of my nature in which such light things [the word "light" should not be overlooked] might have been nourished? What escape have I had from problems that could be demonstrated, and realities that could be grasped?' As she said it, she unconsciously closed her hand, as if upon a solid object, and slowly opened it as though she were releasing ash.

'My dear,' assented her eminently practical parent, 'quite true, quite true.'

How, frankly, can writing like this (the forced rhetoric, the lack of interchange, the banal image) retain our attention, unless we are enticed by problems but indifferent to art?

Two moments in the working out of the fable seem especially to deserve attention. The first is the moment of anagnorisis for Gradgrind. The scene is peculiarly significant. It is the resolution of the whole first movement of the fable (and as will become clear, it is fair to say that there is no real second movement). What is the response of a Gradgrind to the moment of discovering that his system is no system at all?—indeed, that it does not even represent what must always have meant most to him, his love for his daughter. Even as we put the question, we notice the extraordinary bias of emphasis which Dickens has given to the chapter. All its weight goes to Louisa. Gradgrind does, and says, virtually nothing. His response to the moment of truth is no response. Mill, in the Autobiography, was later to describe such a moment—of total disillusion with the life of the unmitigated intellect—though seen with an amplitude and depth which Dickens did not command, and which (I have argued) was no part of his main intention on the politico-economic side of his book. Hard Times does not begin to depict it, and I believe that the limit of the book's achievement is never clearer than it is here. George Eliot, when she showed Rosamund Vincy humiliating herself before Dorothea in the matter of Ladislaw, showed that she had the entry to this world of tortured and intricate psychology. Dickens did not.

It is easy to see the closing chapters of Hard Times as an example of what is so common among imperfect novels: the continuation of the plot (after the central idea of the work has been resolved) at the level merely of crisis and adventure. This, however, would do Dickens less than justice. The gradual degeneration of Tom, until the superb moment when, in his ridiculous and degrading disguise, 'he came down, bench by bench [like a monkey] until he stood in the sawdust', is barely (as in fact it is treated) related to Dickens's major problems in the book, though it is one of its best things. But Mr. Sleary's decision to stand by Tom, and compound the felony which Bitzer will not compound, is a major landmark in the whole fable, and the second of the two 'moments' which I mentioned above. For, after all, it is the key point (along with the 'discovery' of Bounderby's mother and her devotion) at which the fable creates its picture of the lengths to which untutored kindness and unreasoned feeling can go, and how they look as they go to mese lengths. It is, or could be, the second great test of the values of the book. Yet Dickens does not come up to the scratch; nor, after all, has Mr. Sleary ever been a character that his creator could really hope to steer through a revelatory moral crisis. The moment is left as one of lively, but not meaningful, excitement.

The Thquire thtood by you, Thethilia, and I'll thtand by the Thquire. More than that: thith ith a prethiouth rathcal, and belongth to that bluthering Cove that my people nearly pitht out o' winder. It'll be a dark night. . . .

As a 'moral fable' Hard Times is a vigorous and goodhearted book, but if 'shallow' is unduly severe with regard to the level of insight with which it proceeds, Dr. Leavis, in writing that here 'the creative exuberance is controlled by a profound inspiration' has conceded just the word which requires to be withheld.

At which point, when the smugness that too easily attends passing critical fiats is (it may be) about to descend, we open the novel at random and find, it may be, this:

'. . . she never had a lover, and the governor proposed old Bounderby, and she took him'.

'Very dutiful in your interesting sister,' said Mr. James Harthouse.

'Yes, but she wouldn't have been as dutiful, and it would not have come off as easily,' returned the whelp, 'if it hadn't been for me.'

The tempter merely lifted his eyebrows; but the whelp was obliged to go on.

'I persuaded her,' he said, with an edifying air of superiority. 'I was stuck into old Bounderby's bank . . . and I knew I should get into scrapes . . . so I told her my wishes, and she came into them . . . It was very game of her, wasn't it?'

'It was charming, Tom!'

'Not that it was altogether so important to her as it was to me,' continued Tom coolly, 'because my liberty and comfort, and perhaps my getting on, depended on it . . . but still it was a good thing in her.'

'Perfectly delightful. And she gets on so placidly.'

'Oh,' returned Tom . . . 'She's a regular girl. A girl can get on anywhere . . . I have often known her sit and watch the fire—for an hour at a stretch.'

'Ay, ay? Has resources of her own,' said Harthouse, smoking quietly.

'Not so much of that as you may suppose. . . .'

How splendid that is, in its crisp vitality and observation, and how copiously yet exactly it contributes, at every point, to the movement of the book! The hint of theatricality that is never quite absent in Dickens seems here only to add to the energy. Elsewhere, too, Harthouse figures in scenes which the author manages admirably—as in the critical conversation between him and Louisa:

'I will confide to you my doubt whether he has had many advantages. Whether—forgive my plainness—whether any great amount of confidence is likely to have been established between himself and his most worthy father.'

'I do not,' said Louisa, flushing with her own great remembrance in that wise, 'think it likely.'

'Or, between himself, and—I may trust to your perfect understanding of my meaning, I am sure—and his highly-esteemed brother-in-law.'

She flushed deeper and deeper, and was burning red when she replied in a fainter voice, 'I do not think that likely, either.'

The moment of the decisive revelation runs:

' . . . When I married, I found that my brother was even at that time heavily in debt. Heavily for him, I mean. Heavily enough to oblige me to sell some trinkets. They were no sacrifice. I sold them very willingly. I attached no value to them. They were quite worthless to me.'

Either she saw in his face that he knew, or she only feared in her conscience that he knew, that she spoke of some of her husband's gifts. She stopped, and reddened again. If he had not known it before, he would have known it then. . . .

No one can miss the mounting emotion, created in the increasing bluntness, of the very words of Louisa's speech; nor the shrewd insight into psychology, and dexterous use of it for drama, in the author's comment which follows.

Perhaps the most vividly memorable part of the whole novel is that of Mrs. Sparsit spying on Louisa and Harthouse, and following the fleeing Louisa, through the thunderstorm, to the railway station and to Coketown. It is the culmination of one of the great imaginative strokes of the book, Dickens's likening of her temptation to the descent of a great staircase, into chaos at its foot. He extracts the image, with great skill and economy, from Louisa's own 'What does it matter?' then imposes it on Mrs. Sparsit, and modulates it, with a truly poetic movement, into the 'deep water' and universal deluge of the railway scene. This whole scene of the flight, in its fluent modulation of imagery and its melodrama charged with human weight, is Dickens at his most characteristic and his best.

In fact, if what is best in this novel is reviewed generally, it cannot but suggest reflections which extend beyond itself. For the passages in Hard Times where Dickens most shows his genius, is most freely himself, are not those where he is most engaged with his moral fable or intent (if we think, mistakenly, that he is so at all) on what Dr. Leavis called 'the confutation of Utilitarianism by life'. Rather, they appear when he comes near to being least engrossed with such things; when he is the Dickens who appears throughout the novels: the master of dialogue that, even through its stylization, crackles with life, perception, and sharpness, the master of drama in spectacle and setting and action. And one possibility that the novel suggests is that we can pay too high a price for the moral fable, for such undertakings as 'the confutation of Utilitarianism'. We can pay the price of impairing a large free-ranging consciousness of the outward spectacle and psychic life of men. We assume, it may be, as we turn from the picturesqueness and picaresqueness of Dickens's earlier work to a novel like Hard Times, that in organizing his work round a moral issue he will enjoy a deeper apprehension and produce a richer result. On second thoughts, this may prove the reverse of true. The 'peculiarly insistent moral intention' (the words are again Dr. Leavis's, and to me they seem wonderfully disquieting and unacceptable) is one thing; and a moral because simply a total apprehension on the writer's part, a capacity in him to consume and register, in full, the buoyant abundance and endless variation of reality, is another. Henry James has already made the point: "The essence of moral energy is to survey the whole field . . . try to catch the colour of life itself. Perhaps we are too much inclined to demand the all-embracing moral structure in fiction, to take its mere presence as its success, to forget that what is all-embracing may also be all-consuming, and in some measure to forgo the free life, the unconstrained movement, the inexhaustible wealth of fiction, for the chiaroscuro of moralism and tyranny of theme.

David H. Hirsch (essay date 1964)

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SOURCE: "Hard Times and F. R. Leavis," in Criticism, Vol. 6, No. 1, Winter, 1964, pp. 1-16.

[The essay below represents one of the two most notable critical responses to F. R. Leavis's seminal 1948 essay on Hard Times, the other being John Holloway's "Hard Times: A History and a Criticism" (1962). Hirsch finds Hard Times "One of the dullest and least successful" of Dickens's works, despite the author's "most commendable" purpose.]

The inability of Dickens scholars to agree in their evaluations of particular novels has become one of the commonplaces of Dickens criticism. Hard Times, especially, has had a checkered career. On the one hand, it has been completely ignored as a novel (F. G. Kitton excluded it from his book The Novels of Dickens). On the other hand, such men as John Ruskin and George Bernard Shaw considered it Dickens's best book. In recent years, largely on the basis of the critical brilliance of F. R. Leavis, it is the latter view that has prevailed.

Dr. Leavis's close reading and perceptive analysis seem to have set the book's reputation, once and for all, on firm aesthetic ground. Hence, Edgar Johnson, the most important recent biographer of Dickens, accepts Leavis's evaluation wholeheartedly, concluding that the low evaluations of the book are not the result of aesthetic failure on Dickens's part, but are to be explained by the fact that the book "is an analysis and a condemnation of the ethos of industrialism." For literary critics to condemn a book on such non-aesthetic grounds is deplorable, but it is equally deplorable for literary critics to attempt to praise a work of art on such grounds. And yet, this is just what defenders of the book, including the new-critical Dr. Leavis, have done.

In the first chapter of The Great Tradition, Dr. Leavis writes, "The adult mind doesn't as a rule find in Dickens a challenge to an unusual and sustained seriousness. I can think of only one of his books in which his distinctive creative genius is controlled throughout to a unifying and organizing significance, and that is Hard Times. . . . " The tendency of Dr. Leavis's criticism is revealed in the words "genius is controlled throughout to a unifying and organizing significance." To put Dr. Leavis's point a little less eloquently, Hard Times is praiseworthy because it has a clearly intended and clearly expressed moral purpose. This is the "unifying significance" that Dr. Leavis speaks of. And the reader's consciousness of Dickens's moral purpose is, I suspect, what he means by the challenge to sustained seriousness. What I shall try to show is that both the "challenge" found by the "adult mind" and the "sustained seriousness" of Hard Times are negligible, not because Dickens's analysis of the ethos of capitalism is too penetrating and his condemnation too convincing, but because he does not succeed in converting his very commendable moral intentions into first-rate fiction.

Dr. Leavis (and since later critics do no more than echo him, I will limit myself to his critical analysis of the book) states that in Hard Times "the fable is perfect; the symbolic and representative values are inevitable, and, sufficiently plain at once, yield fresh subtleties as the action develops naturally in its convincing historical way." Fable has become a highly honorific word these days; yet there still exists some legitimate question as to whether "perfect fable" is synonymous with "great art." There is, too, a touch of ingeniousness in Dr. Leavis's using the adjective "perfect" to describe, at least by implication, a work of art; first because it is possible for a work to be "perfect" of its kind and yet at the same time of questionable significance, but more basically because even the most objective of our aesthetic criteria are so fluid that it is impossible to agree on any sort of fixed standard against which aesthetic "perfection" can be measured. And as for the clause, "the symbolic and representative values are inevitable," it is meaningless till Dr. Leavis tells us first what he imagines those values to be, and secondly what he takes to be the origin and direction of their inevitability. Does he mean an "inevitability" that grows out of the original premises of the work, or one that grows out of "real" life, out of "actual" laws of probability?

I suspect that Dr. Leavis himself is not certain, for this inability to distinguish what is in the work from what is outside of it later clogs his entire analysis. Even in the passage just quoted, the inconsistencies are patent. To maintain, for example, that "symbolic . . . values are inevitable and sufficiently plain," and to say this in commendation, is to posit and accept a supposed simplicity in the relationship between a symbol and a "something" symbolized that does not and cannot exist. Dr. Leavis's concept of the way in which symbolism and fiction operate with regard to each other is naive. Even his adjectives are confused. If it is necessary or possible to make a distinction between what is "historical" and what is "symbolic" in fiction, then it seems that the first must refer to values and the second to action. That is, as the symbolic action develops it tests (whether to affirm or deny) "historical" values.

The full extent of all this confusion is plain enough the moment Dr. Leavis starts to deal with the book itself. For instance, he tries to justify the portrayal of Sissy Jupe (one of the most insipid portraits in Dickens's generally splendid gallery) by contending that "Sissy Jupe, who might be taken here for a merely conventional persona, has already, as a matter of fact, been established in a potently symbolic role: she is part of the poetically-creative operation of Dickens's genius in Hard Times." But one of the things that makes Sissy so untenable and unpalatable as a character is the fact that she never does achieve what is in the truest sense "a potently symbolic role." That Dickens has attempted to create a symbolic character in Sissy is obvious, but that he has failed completely is equally obvious.

Karl Jaspers, in a profound monograph called Truth and Symbol, comments that

Thinking of symbols through an "other" explains them genetically and dissolves them. Geniune symbols cannot be interpreted; what can be interpreted through an "other" ceases to be a symbol. On the other hand, the interpretation of symbols through their self-presentation encircles and circumscribes, penetrates and illuminates. . . . The symbol is not passed over by being understood, but is deepened and enhanced by being meditated upon.

The modes of interpretation are, therefore, to be tested as to their meaning, whether they destroy by explaining or whether they enhance by penetrating.

But precisely what Dr. Leavis tries to do, and succeeds in doing, with regard to Sissy Jupe, is to explain her in terms of an "other" without dissolving her. He says, quite rightly, that Sissy "stands for vitality as well as goodness." Exactly. She "stands for." She does not at once embody and illuminate these qualities, as she would if she achieved existence as a genuine symbol. Sissy as a "symbol" presents no problem and no dimension. It is not only not necessary but not possible to "think" through Sissy. Her "meaning" is neither deepened nor "enhanced" by being meditated upon. The fact is that Sissy's "symbolic significance" is non-existent. If Dickens, as Leavis recognizes, intended her as a symbol, then he surely failed. And the extent of his failure is the measure of Sissy's proximity to an ordinary soap-opera heroine.

The same kind of failure, too, is perceivable in Dickens's portrayal of Sleary's Horse-riding. Leavis claims that "Sissy's symbolic significance is bound up with that of Sleary's Horse-riding, where human kindness is very insistently associated with vitality. Representing human spontaneity, the circus-athletes represent at the same time highly developed skill and deftness of kinds that bring poise, pride and confident ease—they are always buoyant, and, ballet-dancer-like, in training. . . ."

As in his exposition on Sissy, the nature and tone of Dr. Leavis's diction are more revealing than his intended meaning. The Horse-riding "represent," they do not embody or encompass. Moreover, there is no question of penetrating or illuminating the symbol through interpretation. As in the case of Sissy, a very superficial interpretation is possible. The Horse-riding, like Sissy, are simplistically associated (by Dickens and Leavis) with pure goodness. And this is to say that they are sentimentalized in the same way that Sissy is. Dr. Leavis cites the following passage in support of his contention that Sissy Jupe has "been established in a potently symbolic role":

The square fìnger, moving here and there, lighted suddenly on Bitzer, perhaps because he chanced to sit in the same ray of sun-light which, darting in at one of the bare windows of the intensely whitewashed room, irradiated Sissy . . . Sissy . . . came in for the beginning of a sunbeam, of which Bitzer . . . caught the end. But, whereas the girl was so dark-eyed and dark-haired mat she seemed to receive a deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun when it shone upon her, the boy was so light-eyed and light-haired that the self-same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed. His cold eyes would hardly have been eyes, but for the short ends of lashes which by bringing them into immediate contrast with something paler than themselves, expressed their form. His short-cropped hair might have been mere continuation of the sandy freckles on his forehead and face. His skin was so unwholesomely deficient in the natural tinge, that he looked as though, if he were cut, he would bleed white.

Dr. Leavis is all but carried away by what he takes to be the sheer poetry of this passage. He comments as follows:

There is no need to insist on the force—representative of Dickens's art in general in Hard Times—with which the moral and spiritual differences are rendered here in terms of sensation, so that the symbolic intention emerges out of metaphor and the vivid evocation of the concrete. . . . There is an essentially Laurentian suggestion about the way in which "the dark-eyed and dark-haired" girl, contrasting with Bitzer, seemed to receive a "deeper and more lustrous color from the sun," so opposing the life that is lived freely and richly from the deep instinctive and emotional springs to the thinblooded, quasi-mechanical product of Gradgrindery.

Of course there is no need to insist. That is just the trouble. The entire passage is embarrassingly obvious. The force of the imagery must certainly be granted. But this very force falsifies Dickens's "message." In its gross oversimplification of the complexity of human moral problems, the description rings a resoundingly false note. Sissy, who represents vitality, is kindled by the ray of sunlight. From the source of all life the girl who lives instinctively draws sustenance. Bitzer, who represents the antithesis of vitality, has his pallor intensified by the very same sunbeam. Operating on the boy who lives by fact, the lifesource underlines his sterility. Moral problems, however, as we all know from reading the great nineteenth-century novels, do not precipitate out of solution so easily. Nor can it be argued that Dickens had to preserve a clear distinction between light and dark, good and evil, in order to realize his symbolic intention, for this is only to say in other words that at this point in his career Dickens was incapable of creating truly symbolic fiction. When one thinks of the heights that Herman Melville had reached three years earlier in his potently imaginative use of white and black color imagery in Moby-Dick, then Dickens's failure is obvious.

Dr. Leavis's inability to see the superficiality and thinness of Dickens's imagery and symbolism is a clue to the weakness of both his aesthetic and moral criticism. It is not that morality has no place in the novel, but that Dr. Leavis's perception, or at least articulation, of the dynamic relationship between moral and artistic problems is hazy. Had Dickens truly succeeded in his imagery and symbolism, then the problem of good and evil, vitality and sterility would have been set immediately and eternally in its full complexity and ambiguity. Whiteness would not have become a convenient tab, as it is, for Bitzer, but an inscrutable mystery to be penetrated, as it is in Moby-Dick. And Sissy would not merely have "represented" vitality, she somehow would have encompassed it and have been encompassed by it at the same time.

Jaspers points out that

already in the "sign" as a symbol essential reality is rudimentarily and inherently implicit. In the unfolding of the symbol-content of the sign into a work of art, the symbol does, to be sure, become rich through consistent contemplation but in the fullness of spirit it becomes empirically less effective. The sign compels and puts everything upon me. The work of art is guidance through contemplation and by means of its external form awakens and presents in definite, pregnant articulations what is lying in readiness within.

But Sissy and the Horse-riding never become more than empty signs without "symbol-content." They contain no potential richness to be realized through contemplation; whatever effectiveness they have remains always empirical and therefore, as symbol, minimal. If we consider for a moment the richness and suggestiveness of Pearl as a symbol in The Scarlet Letter (whatever one may think of her empirical presentation as a "realistic" portrait) the banality of Sissy becomes immediately evident. It is the myriad meanings, frequently contradictory, that cluster around Pearl that make her a viable and truly fertile symbol in a way that Sissy is not.

Dr. Leavis's inadequacy in dealing with symbols in fiction is demonstrated again when he tries to establish that Sissy and the Horse-riding not only have symbolic significance but are successfully drawn "realistic" portraits as well. Dr. Leavis makes his point by way of anticipating, as he says, the following objection: "Coketown, like Gradgrind and Bounderby, is real enough; but it can't be contended that the Horse-riding is real in the same sense. There would have been some athletic skill and perhaps some bodily grace among the people of a Victorian travelling circus, but surely so much squalor, grossness and vulgarity that we must find Dickens's symbolism sentimentally false?"

To begin with, it seems that in expressing the objection, Dr. Leavis actually should have used the word "believable" instead of "real." The question is not one of whether Coketown and Bounderby have a different kind of "reality" than the Horse-riding, but of whether they are more believable, for it is possible to contend that in all cases the "reality" is the texture of words that Dickens has created. It may, of course, be objected that this is the merest quibbling over terms, that in proportion as a functional creation is "real" it is credible, and the more "unreal" it is, the less believable. But the way in which Dr. Leavis uses "real" here is indicative, it must be insisted, of a certain naïveté. He is unwilling to distinguish between "historical reality" and fictional reality, between the empirical fact and the symbolic artifact.

What Dr. Leavis seems to mean when he says that Coketown is "real enough" is that there is some empirical or historical referent (Manchester in the nineteenth century?) against which the accuracy of Dickens's description can be judged. And he extends this meaning of "real" to Bounderby and Gradgrind when he lumps them in with Coketown. Apparently, they are "real" because they represent "historical" personages in the same way that Coketown resembles a "historical" city. But the Horse-riding, Dr. Leavis continues in his imaginary objection, is not real in the same sense. The implication, then, is that the "unreality" of the Horse-riding is a reflection of its lack of historicity. The next sentence, however, indicates that what Dr. Leavis (in the role of objector) means by the "unreality" of the Horse-riding is not a lack of historicity but a lack of "roundedness," an insufficiency of human qualities. In short, they are, as every reader (including Dr. Leavis) must recognize, "too good to be true." Dr. Leavis concludes that if the Horse-riding does not contain these "rounding" qualities of "squalor, grossness, and vulgarity," then "we must find . . . the symbolism sentimentally false."

The straw man conjured up by Dr. Leavis shows the same confusion that Dr. Leavis himself has demonstrated. If the Horse-riding are lacking in certain human qualities, as they surely are, then their convincingness as a "realistic" portrayal is diminished. They do not, that is, resemble people we have known in "real" life. But this should not necessarily falsify their symbolic function. As Jaspers points out, a symbol does not rely for its truth on fidelity to empirical observation, though it is always related to empirical observation.

If we inquire about the source of the symbols [he asserts] we obviously discover their original essence to be without source. It is not possible to get behind them. The question of their source is answered in a penetrating realization of their originality. . . . The material of their appearance stems from the world of sensuous observations and of conceivabilities. But to lead the symbols back to this material is to misunderstand their essence and becomes a genetics which dissolves them.

Leavis, however, conceives the Horse-riding as symbol, and yet, at the same time tries to lead the symbol back to "the world of sensuous observations and conceivabilities," a procedure which is inevitably self-contradictory and self-defeating.

It will not do, either, to claim that the confusion cannot be attributed to Dr. Leavis, but must be imputed to the imaginary skeptic who makes the protest. For in answering the anticipated objection, Dr. Leavis accepts the false premises that are the source of all the difficulty. His reply is that

If Dickens, intent on an emotional effect, or drunk with moral enthusiasm, had been deceiving himself . . . about the nature of the actuality, he would then indeed have been guilty of sentimental falsity, and the adverse criticism would have held. But the Horse-riding presents no such case. The virtues and qualities that Dickens prizes do indeed exist, and it is necessary for his critique of Utilitarianism and industrialism, and for (what is the same thing) his creative purpose, to evoke them vividly.

What Leavis says here is more or less true. The virtues Dickens prizes probably do exist, and Dickens certainly did have to locate them somewhere, if not for aesthetic men for thematic purposes. But the anticipated objection—that the Horse-riding is not real in the same sense that Coketown, Gradgrind, and Bounderby are real—remains unanswered. For one thing, the question is not whether the virtues Dickens prizes "exist," but whether Dickens has dramatized them convincingly in the novel. Furthermore, Dr. Leavis makes the error of trying to justify the symbol by a return to "sensuous observation." As a result, what Dr. Leavis shows, finally, is not that Coketown, Gradgrind, Bounderby, the Horse-riding, and Sissy are real in the same way, but that they are fictional in the same way. As fictive creations, they are all what E. M. Forster calls "flat" characters. Just as the Horse-riding has no human vices (and are thereby less human), so Bounderby has no human virtues. All are, to use Forster's definition of a flat character, "constructed around a single idea or quality." And it does not help very much to insist that the virtues and vices they do have "exist," or that Bounderby's portrait is based on a "real-life" capitalist and Gradgrind's on the actual upbringing of John Stuart Mill.

Flat characters, as Forster points out, are not necessarily "bad" art. What plays the mischief in Hard Times, however, is that Dickens tries to give diese characters a function that they simply cannot fulfill. "A serious or tragic flat character," comments Forster, "is apt to be a bore. . . . It is only round people who are fit to perform tragically for any length of time and can move us to any feelings except humour and appropriateness."

And yet, precisely what Dickens tries to do is to use these flat "humours" characters to project a serious theme. The result is not only a bore, it is a catastrophe. The serious theme is finally ludicrous, for the characters degenerate into a hodgepodge of sentimental clichés. In his refusal to allow the existence of this sentimentality in the book, Dr. Leavis is perverse. We have already seen him extolling what he imagines to be the symbolic potency and reality of Sissy Jupe and the Horse-riding. He extends his praise further to Louisa and Tom Gradgrind; in the latter instance, however, commending the "sound psychology" of the portraits rather than the symbolism or reality:

The psychology of Louisa's development and of her brother Tom's is sound. Having no outlet for her emotional life except in her love for her brother, she lives for him and marries Bounderby—under pressure from Tom—for Tom's sake. . . . Thus, by the constrictions and starvations of the Gradgrind régime, are natural affection and capacity for disinterested devotion turned to ill. As for Tom, the régime has made of him a bored and sullen whelp. . . .

But what Dr. Leavis is talking about here is not so much psychology as ideology. Louisa is a convenient example of the ruin that "Gradgrindism" brings upon a basically good girl; Tom is an example of the way in which the same philosophy corrupts completely a basically bad boy. But as far as any serious attempts to probe the dynamic interrelationship between the "basic" character and the environment, to consider the problematic nature of self-love and conscience, Utilitarian philosophy as opposed to the Christian ideal of self-sacrifice as ways of working on basic human substance, such efforts are totally absent.

The absence is revealing, for it underlines the weakness of characterization in the book. It is no wonder that Leavis feels compelled to insist so vigorously and so repeatedly that the characterization is "potently symbolic" and "realistic" and "psychologically sound" and "wholly convincing." In showering praise on what is hardly praiseworthy a loud voice is a necessary substitute for careful, pains-taking analysis. Hence, Leavis, instead of turning his perspicuous mind to close analysis of the book, wastes his great subtlety in devising strategies for presenting his argument convincingly. He concedes, for example, that Stephen Blackpool, a minor character, is drawn in the sentimental vein, but then goes on to insist that "Sissy Jupe is another matter. A general description of her part in the fable might suggest the worst, but actually she has nothing in common with Little Nell; she shares in the strength of the Horse-riding. She is wholly convincing in the function Dickens assigns to her."

Yet it is obvious to anyone who has read the book that Sissy, as she is therein portrayed, is as dismal a failure on a literal level as she is on the "symbolic" level. She does resemble Little Nell and she does resemble Stephen Blackpool. And while it is true, too, that she has something in common with the Horse-riding, it is not strength she shares with them but weakness. To demonstrate his point that Sissy is not sentimentalized, Dr. Leavis cites the following lines from a climactic scene between Sissy and James Harthouse, Louisa's would-be seducer:

She was not afraid of him, or in any way disconcerted; she seemed to have her mind entirely preoccupied with the occasion of her visit, and to have substituted that consideration for herself.

Dr. Leavis comments, almost ecstatically: "The quiet victory of disinterested goodness is wholly convincing." Surely this is nonsense. How can these lines inform us whether the "victory" is wholly convincing or not? They are merely expository prose, an assertion by the author; and out of dramatic context they are no more convincing than any other direct assertion the author may make. The fact is that the lines are wholly unconvincing, for they indicate Dickens's own suspicion that the dramatization does not carry its own weight. And Dickens is right, too. It does not.

At the crux of this scene, Sissy pleads with and then commands Harthouse:

"Mr. Harthouse," returned Sissy, with a blending of gentleness and steadiness that quite defeated him, and with a simple confidence in his being bound to do what she required, that held him at a singular disadvantage, "the only reparation that remains with you, is to leave here immediately and finally. I am quite sure that you can mitigate in no other way the wrong and harm you have done. I am quite sure that it is the only compensation you have left in your power to make. I do not say that it is much, or that it is enough; but it is something, and it is necessary. Therefore, though without any other authority than I have given you, and even without the knowledge of any other person than yourself and myself, I ask you to depart from this place to-night, under an obligation never to return to it."

If she had asserted any influence over him beyond her plain faith in the truth and right of what she said; if she had concealed the least doubt of irresolution, or had harboured for the best purpose any reserve or pretence; if she had shown, or felt, the lightest trace of any sensitiveness to his ridicule or his astonishment, or any remonstrance he might offer; he would have carried it against her at this point. But he could as easily have changed a clear sky by looking at it in surprise, as affect her.

To insist that something is convincing or unconvincing is to become hopelessly involved in solipsistic argument. What convinces one man readily, invariably fails to convince another. And while it is probably true that few men have as much right as Dr. Leavis does to indulge in this kind of personal criticism, nevertheless I must insist that there is much in the scene cited to arouse the reader's skepticism and to justify his questioning its "convincingness." To begin with, Sissy's speech is entirely out of character for her. She is conceived initially as a "natural" character. Her naturalness is closely associated with her vitality and is one of the characteristics that identifies her. Her first speech in the book comes in answer to Mr. Gradgrind, who has just insisted that she call herself Cecilia, not Sissy: "'It's father as calls me Sissy, sir,' returned the young girl. . . ." Subsequently we learn that she cannot define a horse, that she confuses "natural prosperity" and "National Prosperity," that she can never distinguish between "statistics" and "stutterings," and so on.

To all this, one need not particularly object. Dickens wants to use Sissy's inherent natural goodness and simplicity as a foil against fact-filled and heartless Gradgrindism. Her inability, in all her "vitality," to learn dry facts stands against and emphasizes the sterility of Gradgrind's factual system. The device is somewhat clumsy and oversimplified, but legitimate nonetheless.

However, no sooner does Dickens need Sissy for a different purpose—to cow the degenerate Harthouse with her unsullied (and untried) virtue—than he changes her character without the least justification. Now the simple girl who previously was unable to string three syllables together, and who has shown herself completely incapable of being schooled, now this same simple girl speaks fluently in the flowery rhetoric of a cultured and refined eighteenth-century heroine. The words "reparation" and "mitigate," "compensation" and "obligation" flow from her lips with a readiness mat Clarissa herself would have envied. And now the girl who once said "It's father as calls . . ." has, in spite of her copiously demonstrated inability for learning, achieved perfect control of vocabulary, syntax, and grammar. She is no longer the sentimentalized waif so dear to the nineteenth century, but the sentimentalized heroine so familiar to the eighteenth. Sissy now speaks the language of the sentimental romance of seduction, and her diction is complemented by all the clichés of that genre. Purity and virtue indignantly confront shamed depravity; the former triumph magnificently, the issue never having been in doubt. Innocence expands in the glow of its own resplendence; villainy gloomily retreats to its murky, miasmatic lair. Incorruptible maid subdues vile seducer.

Dickens's inability to break out of mese trite sentimental formulae must be a key to the artistic failure of the book. And it is not merely a failure of diction or of characterization mat we are dealing with, it is a failure of imagination. Everywhere we look we see patches of threadbare melodrama. Whenever we stop to listen we hear the sickly glissandos of a street fiddler. Another climactic scene (good melodrama always has a few) will demonstrate my point. Louisa, torn between a purely mechanical loyalty to the husband she detests and the desire to be seduced by the unctuous and persistent Harthouse, suffers a nervous breakdown which comes in good soap-opera fashion: Gradgrind "tightened his hold in time to prevent her sinking on the floor, but she cried out in a terrible voice, 'I shall die if you hold me. Let me fall upon the ground.' And he laid her down there, and saw the pride of his heart and the triumph of his system, lying, an insensible heap, at his feet."

On awaking, the next morning, Louisa learns from her sister that Sissy has brought her into her old room. Another short exchange with her father reveals that Mr. Gradgrind no longer believes in his system. He has finally learned that "heart" can be as important as facts. He states the discovery in his own pompous way:

"Some persons hold," he pursued, still hesitating, "that there is a wisdom of the Head, and that there is a wisdom of the Heart. I have not supposed so; but, as I have said, I mistrust myself now. I have supposed the head to be all-sufficient. It may not be all-sufficient. . . ."

Finally, the scene reaches its climax with the entrance of Sissy. At first, Louisa, still ashamed of her weakness, and her heart still hardened by the Gradgrindian ordeal, repels Sissy. But Sissy humbly persists in tolerating abuse and radiating disinterested love until Louisa, utterly overcome, is moved to confess:

"I am so unhappy, and all mat should have made me otherwise is so laid waste, that if I had been bereft of sense to this hour, and instead of being as learned as you think me, had to begin to acquire the simplest truths, I could not want a guide to peace, contentment, honour, all the good of which I am quite devoid, more abjectly than I do. Does not that repel you?"


In the innocence of her brave affection, and the brimming up of her old devoted spirit, the once deserted girl shone like a beautiful light upon the darkness of the other.

Louisa raised the hand that it might clasp her neck and join its fellow diere. She fell upon her knees, and clinging to this stroller's child looked up at her almost with veneration.

"Forgive me, pity me, help me! Have compassion on my great need, and let me lay this head of mine upon a loving heart!"

"O lay it here!" cried Sissy. "Lay it here, my dear."

This should be a moving scene, for it suggests the power of Christian self-sacrifice, humility, and love to overcome the ruin wrought by a sterile materialism. As the scene materializes, however, it is actually ludicrous. The language is excessive, trite, and empty. The same is true of the gestures. No doubt Dickens intends the laying of Louisa's "head" on Sissy's "loving heart" to bristle with symbolic significance. But any significance is lost in the tiredness of the sentimental rhetoric. Christian and human love is triumphant, all right. But over what? Louisa has yet to do any evil. Worse, she has yet to suffer. Certainly, her rapid recovery is remarkable. And as for Sissy, she has yet to make any real sacrifice. What we get, then, in place of potently moving Christian passion and the cataclysmic struggle between the forces of good and evil is twitches of sentiment: no power, no mystery, no engagement of the moral imagination; only wallowing in the aqueous effusions of a pair of frustrated females.

The scene is a failure because the suffering is hollow. And the suffering is hollow because the characters are. At one point, Louisa and her brother, both in their adolescence, sit before the fire and converse. Louisa says,

. . . As I get older, and nearer growing up, I often sit wondering here, and think how unfortunate it is for me that I can't reconcile you to home better than I am able to do. I don't know what other girls know. I can't play to you, or sing to you. I can't talk to you so as to lighten your mind, for I never see any amusing sights or read any amusing books that it would be a pleasure or a relief to you to talk about, when you are tired.

Ostensibly, Louisa is stating the case for the arts against the mechanical monotony of stern Gradgrindian facts. But it is soon clear that for her the arts are a genteel pastime, something with which to while away the wearisome hours, something to titillate a tired mind. She is not so much concerned with the beauty or passion or power, or even the heuristic possibilities of art. Rather, she laments only the fact that the two secular opiates of the middle class—light literature and pop music—have been denied her and her brother. It is not a question of enlightening the mind, but of "lightening" it. In short, she sounds like a forerunner of the modern apologists for commercial television Westerns. Her Art-to-mesmerize-the-bourgeois position is, in fact, something of an ironic comment on Dr. Leavis's insistence that art must have a serious moral purpose, and on his commendation of Hard Times for supposedly having one.

What is so utterly appalling about Louisa's speech is its brainlessness. Dickens intends this, of course. And yet, so feeble-minded do the "good" characters become at times that it is ultimately impossible to take them at all seriously. Eventually everything is enveloped in the general inanity. Sissy, for example, describes the one instance in which she has seen her father angry:

Father, soon after they came home from performing, told Merrylegs to jump up on the backs of the two chairs and stand across them—which is one of his tricks. He looked at father and didn't do it at once. Everything of father's had gone wrong that night, and he hadn't pleased the public at all. He cried out that the very dog knew he was failing, and had no compassion on him. Then he beat the dog, and I was frightened, and said, "Father, father! Pray don't hurt the creature who is so fond of you! O Heaven forgive you, father, stop!" And he stopped, and the dog was bloody, and father lay down crying on the floor with the dog in his arms, and the dog licked his face.

The problem here is not only sentimentalism, but bad writing and bad taste. If there is any ingenuity or inventiveness it is in Dickens's managing to cram so many clichés into one paragraph: the failing performer (Let's have a benefit for Judy Garland), the abused pet, the cruel-then-repentant master, the kindly long-suffering daughter, the invocation to Heaven, the cruel-kind master-father grovelling wetly in his own tears being licked by his bleeding dog!

Tears, idle tears. And yet, these bitter orgies of tears are the only alternative that Dickens seems to have to offer to fact-grubbing Gradgrindism. That is why it is so difficult to agree with the overly-enthusiastic critics who claim that the book is a highly effective attack on the evils of industrialism and Utilitarianism. Edgar Johnson asks, "Against the monstrous cruelty of mine and mill and pit and factory and countinghouse, against the bleak utilitarian philosophy with which they were allied, what power could there be except the flowering of the humane imagination and the ennoblement of the heart?" The answer may be the power of true mind and heart, for in attempting to ennoble one at the expense of the other, what Dickens accomplishes is to debase both.

I have no doubt that Dickens's purpose was most commendable. But it seems quite clear that his achievement, unfortunately, did not match it. And my quarrel, let me make clear, is not with Dickens or even with Dickensian "sentimentalism," but with unkind criticism that gives this particular book so eminent a position in the Dickens canon. For what, after all, can be more harmful to a genuinely great author's reputation than to insist that one of his dullest and least successful works is one of his greatest?

Daniel P. Deneau (essay date 1964)

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SOURCE: "The Brother-Sister Relationship in Hard Times," in The Dickensian, Vol. LX, No. 342, January, 1964, pp. 173-77.

[In the essay below, Deneau details incestuous overtones in relations between Tom and Louisa Gradgrind in Hard Times.]

One of Dickens's major concerns in Hard Times is to display the disastrous results of an educational system which is exclusively factual, rational, utilitarian. As all readers of the novel immediately recall, Bitzer, a product of Mr. Gradgrind's school, dramatically reveals how well he has learned the utilitarian principle of self-interest and how little he knows of gratitude and human sympathy. More to the point, Tom Gradgrind, after being carefully educated according to his father's system, becomes a thief and attempts to escape the consequences of his crime by casting suspicion on an innocent man; and Louisa, his sister, painfully discovers that her education has ill-equipped her to cope with a loveless marriage and a beckoning lover. But this is not all. Isolated and schooled as they are, Tom and Louisa experience an abnormal brother-sister relationship. To my knowledge, F. R. Leavis has come the closest to identifying the nature of this relationship; in his well-known "Analytic Note" in The Great Tradition, he explains: "The psychology of Louisa's development and of her brother Tom's is sound. Having no outlet for her emotional life except in her love for her brother, she lives for him, and marries Bounderby—under pressure from Tom—for Tom's sake . . . Thus, by the constrictions and starvations of the Gradgrind régime, are natural affection and capacity for disinterested devotion turned to ill." Although Dr. Leavis puts the case well, he stops short and fails to examine the matter as fully as it deserves.

Moulded in the school of self-interest, young Tom Gradgrind develops into "that not unprecedented triumph of calculation which is usually at work on number one"—that is to say, a self-indulgent, ungrateful egoist, or a "whelp" as Harthouse and Dickens repeatedly label him. Instead of cherishing and responding normally to his sister's love, he actually uses her proffered love for whatever advantages it can bring to him.

A somewhat more detailed charting of his relationship to Louisa is instructive, though I caution mat one must return to the text itself to appreciate all the implications. During the first two occasions when brother and sister converse privately, Tom plays the active role, Louisa remaining passive and pensive. The first of these dialogues occurs at an unspecified period, sometime, however, after the appearance of Sissy Jupe and during the adolescence of Tom and Louisa. On this occasion Tom repeatedly singles out Louisa for his special regard; for instance, as the conversation opens, "the unnatural young Thomas Gradgrind" declares to Louisa that "'I hate everybody except you.'" But before the conversation concludes, we—and probably Louisa as well—are aware that Tom's affection for his sister is subordinate to his interest in self: he looks forward to the day when Louisa's affection for him can be translated into goodwill and leniency from Mr. Bounderby. The second of these conversations occurs on the evening before Louisa accepts Bounderby's offer of marriage; Tom, now actively at work for "number one," visits Louisa with the intention of insinuating Bounderby's coming proposal and of assuring himself of Louisa's willingness to sacrifice herself (prostitute herself, as Edgar Johnson says). During the scene Tom seems intent on making Louisa aware of his physical presence: ". . . encircling her waist with his arm, [he] drew her coaxingly to him," and shortly later "he pressed her in his arm, and kissed her cheek." More importantly, he elicits from her an avowal of her affection, reminds her of the "'great deal of good'" she is capable of doing him, and, apparently clever enough to put his suit in language most calculated to make an impression on Louisa, says as follows: "'We might be so much ottener together—mightn't we? Always together, almost—mightn't we?'" It is possible to hear the tones of a lover in these words; but the speech, I believe, reflects more clearly the desire of Louisa rather than that of Tom; for during the same scene she twice complains of his failing to visit her frequently enough, and as later events prove, Louisa's proximity is not what Tom desires. Once Tom has accomplished his goal of transforming his sister into Mrs. Bounderby, he takes few pains to offer expressions of his affection. He receives money from Louisa, acts the braggadocio when explaining to Harthouse the cause of Louisa's marriage, and eventually grows cold and sullen to her when he feels that she fails to supply him with adequate funds, and still more distant yet when the revelation of his crime grows closer. In the final big scene at Sleary's circus, Tom completely repulses Louisa, blaming her for his downfall, and crying: "'Pretty love mat. You have regularly given me up. You never cared for me.'"

In the last chapter of the novel, a typical Victorian epilogue which supplies glimpses into the future, we read that Tom eventually learns "that all the treasure in the world would be cheaply bartered for a sight of her [Louisa's] dear face," and upon his deathbed his last word is Louisa's name.

Although Tom's robbery and subsequent actions speak emphatically of his character—the robbery is also an important piece of plot mechanism—I believe that his reaction to his sister is an equally persuasive way of revealing the effects of his education and of clarifying his moral status. Certainly when at the end Dickens wishes us to understand that Tom experiences a redemption, that he becomes for the first time something near an emotionally and morally healthy human being, it is not, say, through an act of benevolence that the point is made, but rather through his expression of genuine love for Louisa. In short, through Tom's relationship to Louisa we learn how the Gradgrind educational régime dams up normal channels of affection and produces an abnormal love of self.

The "constrictions and starvations of the Gradgrind régime" do not successfully dry up the emotional and imaginative spring of Louisa's feminine nature; she is conscious that she has been deprived of the poetry of life, and locked within her are confused, half-formed longings. Louisa's education creates in her a dull unhappiness and an indifference towards everyone and everything, except her scapegrace brother, who apparently has been her closest companion in the long, dreary pursuit of "ologies." Abundant evidence of her sisterly affection appears in the novel. At the time of her greatest emotional crisis, she explains to her father that Tom "'had been the subject of all the little tenderness of my life'"; and it is through the "tenderest sentiment" of her heart, her love for Tom, that Harthouse begins to establish his rapport with her. It is, however, after she sacrifices herself in the marriage to Bounderby that her love for Tom seems to become more intense; although Dickens does not comment pointedly on the subject, we may speculate that her marriage is so emotionally and physically unsatisfying that she clings with renewed vigour to her emotional attachment to her brother. When Harthouse first sees Louisa, he wonders if there is anything which will move her face:

Yes! By Jupiter, there was something, and here it was, in an unexpected shape. Tom appeared. She changed as the door opened, and broke into a beaming smile.

A beautiful smile. Mr. James Harthouse might not have thought so much of it, but that he had wondered so long at her impassive face. She put out her hand—a pretty little soft hand; and her fingers closed upon her brother's, as if she would have carried them to her lips.

"Ay, ay?" thought the visitor. "This whelp is the only creature she cares for. So, so!"

Louisa's reaction at this point seems less passive than during the earlier scenes before her marriage.

The third and final private conversation between Tom and Louisa occurs on the night after the disclosure of the bank robbery. Already suspecting Tom's guilt, Louisa proceeds to her brother's bedchamber and unsuccessfully attempts to persuade him to confide in her. The details of the scene are so telling that a long quotation must be supplied; in what follows I omit the brief and unresponsive replies of Tom.

Then she arose, put on a loose robe, and went out of her room in the dark, and up the staircase to her brother's room. His door being shut, she softly opened it and spoke to him, approaching his bed with a noiseless step.

She kneeled down beside it, passed her arm over his neck, and drew his face to hers . . .

"Tom, have you anything to tell me? If ever you loved me in your life, and have anything concealed from every one besides, tell it to me." . . .

"My dear brother," she laid her head down on his pillow, and her hair flowed over him as if she would hide him from every one but herself, "is there nothing that you have to tell me? . . . You can tell me nothing that will change me. O Tom, tell me the truth!" . . .

"As you lie here alone, my dear, in the melancholy night so you must lie somewhere one night, when even I, if I am living then, shall have left you. As I am here beside you, barefoot, unclothed, undistinguishable in darkness, so must I lie through all the night of my decay, until I am dust. In the name of mat time, Tom, tell me the truth now!" . . .

"You may be certain," in the energy of her love she took him to her bosom as if he were a child, "that I will not reproach you. You may be certain that I will be compassionate and true to you. You may be certain that I will save you at whatever cost. O Tom, have you nothing to tell me? Whisper very softly. Say only 'yes' and I shall understand you!"

She turned her ear to his lips, but he remained doggedly silent . . .

"You are tired," she whispered presently, more in her usual way.

In spite of Tom's insistence that he has nothing to tell Louisa, she presses the matter with a peculiar urgency, even passionately. A "yes," as I read the scene, is really the answer Louisa desires; she seems intent on establishing a type of mental intimacy with her brother—on sharing a secret about a dark matter, a not-to-be-revealed crime. Moreover, Dickens's reference to "a loose robe" and Louisa's more pointed reference to her state of undress—"'barefoot, unclothed'"—are pretty insistent details. I suggest, in fact, that sexual overtones hover over the scene, or, more plainly, that the scene has the atmosphere of a seduction. And still another emotional current is established when we are told that Louisa takes Tom "to her bosom as if he were a child." For a moment at least (notice that after a time she returns to speaking "more in her usual way") Tom seems to become for Louisa an object of both sexual and maternal love. Though writing obliquely enough not to offend Victorian propriety, Dickens nonetheless brings his attentive reader to the realisation that, as a result of a lopsided education, Louisa reaches a point where her affection for Tom is not merely superlative sisterly affection. When Bounderby comes to inquire about his missing wife, her father stammers that "'there are qualities in Louisa, which—which have been harshly neglected, and—and a little perverted.'" The words are truer than Mr. Gradgrind suspects.

On the night of her collapse Louisa tells her father that possibly she has loved and still loves Harthouse, but her declaration is not very convincing. Through the symbolic image constructed in Mrs. Sparsit's mind, an image of Louisa racing down a long staircase towards an abyss, Dickens attempts to suggest Louisa's dangerous movement towards adultery; but the image, after all, is Mrs. Sparsit's, and neither Louisa's actions nor thoughts clearly inform us of any lover-like response to Harthouse. No mention is made of Louisa's reaction to his disappearance (she is still declaring her love for Tom at the moment of his flight); apparently when Harthouse vanishes from Coketown he vanishes from Louisa's mind. Louisa's relationship to Tom, then, is much more central in the novel; and it is this relationship, rather than that to Harthouse, which most clearly suggests Louisa's emotional and even moral confusion.

In Hard Times Dickens moves with undeviating progress towards his goal: and that, simply stated, is a plea for the poetry rather than the prose of life. As part of his design, he speaks of an educational system which is capable of subverting a normal human relationship. At first glance, Tom's robbery and Louisa's unsuccessful marriage may seem to be Dickens's sole way of depicting their failures, and in turn the failure of the system and philosophy which moulded them; a closer look, however, makes clear that Dickens uses a more subtle, a more psychological means of asserting the moral dangers of Gradgrindism, namely, an abnormal brother-sister relationship.

David Lodge (essay date 1966)

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SOURCE: "The Rhetoric of Hard Times," in Language of Fiction: Essays in Criticism and Verbal Analysis of the English Novel, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966, pp. 144-63.

[Lodge is an English novelist and dramatist who is also highly regarded for his work as a literary critic and as the editor of several works on nineteenth- and twentieth-century British authors. In the following essay, he evaluates Dickens's rhetorical strategies, which he believes form the polemical basis of Hard Times.]

'It is the least read of all the novels and probably also the least enjoyed by those who read it,' said Humphrey House of Hard Times in The Dickens World (1941). The first part of this statement, at least, has probably not been true since The Great Tradition was published (1948). Of Hard Times, it will be remembered, Dr Leavis said, '. . . of all Dickens's works, it is the one that has all the strength of his genius, together with a strength no other of them can show—that of a completely serious work of art'.

There are of course two propositions here: one, that Hard Times is a complete and satisfactory work of art; and two, that this novel is the crown of Dickens's achievement. The latter proposition has had the greater notoriety, yet it is essentially an aside which Leavis does not attempt to argue through. The first proposition is far more susceptible of fruitful critical discussion, and as John Holloway's recent article, 'Hard Times, a History and a Criticism' [Dickens and the Twentieth Century, 1962], is the most interesting expression of dissent it has provoked, I shall take the article as a starting point.

Holloway's case can be summarized as follows: that the Utilitarian philosophy Dickens claims to be representing in the novel is a crude travesty of the reality, shallowly conceived as a mere blind faith in statistics; that it is opposed by an equally shallow plea for 'play' and 'fancy', represented by the Slearies 'not as vital horsemen but as plain entertainers'; that Dickens's attitude to Trade Unions and labour problems is unenlightened; that, in short, the novel as a whole is the product of a mind not prophetic and profound, but bourgeois and philistine. There is considerable force in all these arguments, and in some respects they merely consolidate points previously made by Humphrey House [in The Dickens World] and Raymond Williams [in Culture and Society 1780-1950, 1961]. There are two interconnected grounds for caution in accepting Holloway's arguments, however: they are extensively documented with external evidence—such as contemporary Utilitarian works and Dickens's journalism; and they tend towards an assessment of the novel itself even lower than Holloway wishes to reach. Thus he is compelled to make a divorce between the achievements of the novel and Dickens's manifest intentions:

The passages in Hard Times where Dickens is most freely himself, are not those where he is most engaged with his moral fable or intent (if we think, mistakenly that he is at all) on what Dr. Leavis has called 'the confrontation of Utilitarianism by life'.

While agreeing that 'life' (with the special resonances Dr Leavis gives to that word) is far too grand a term for the values which Dickens opposes to the world of Gradgrind and Bounderby, I suggest that Dickens's achievements in the novel can no more be separated from his polemical intention than can his failures.

On every page Hard Times manifests its identity as a polemical work, a critique of mid-Victorian industrial society dominated by materialism, acquisitiveness, and ruthlessly competitive capitalist economics. To Dickens, at the time of writing Hard Times, these things were represented most articulately, persuasively, (and therefore dangerously) by the Utilitarians. It is easy to abstract the argument behind the novel, and to demonstrate its logical and practical weaknesses. The argument has two stages: (1) that the dominant philosophy of Utilitarianism, particularly as it expresses itself in education, results in a damaging impoverishment of the moral and emotional life of the individual; and (2) that this leads in turn to social and economic injustice, since individuals thus conditioned are incapable of dealing with the human problems created by industrialism. On the level of plot (1) is expounded in terms of the Nemesis which punishes Gradgrind through his children and (2) is expounded in terms of Stephen Blackpool's sufferings. That Dickens makes a connection between the two propositions and the two areas of the plot is made clear in the scene where Blackpool confronts Bounderby and Harthouse, and is challenged to offer a solution for the 'muddle' he is always complaining about. Stephen expresses himself negatively. He repudiates the employers' exploitation of their power (' the strong hand will never do't'); their reliance on laissez faire ('lettin alone will never do't'); their withdrawal from social contact with the working classes ('not drawin nigh to fok, wi' kindness and patience an' cheery ways . . . will never do't'); and, 'most of aw', their mental habit of regarding the workers as soulless units in the economic machine while inconsistently accusing them of ingratitude if they protest:

'Most o'aw, rating 'em as so much Power, and reg'lating 'em as if they was figures in a soom, or machines; wi'out loves and likens, wi'out memories and inclinations, wi'out souls to weary and souls to hope—when aw goes quiet draggin' on wi' 'em as if they'd nowt o' th'kind, and when aw goes onquiet, reproachin' 'em for their want o' sitch humanly feelins in their dealins wi' yo—this will never do't, Sir, till God's work is onmade.' (II, v)

It is clear that Dickens is speaking through Stephen here, and what the speech amounts to in positive terms is a plea for generosity, charity, imaginative understanding of the spiritual and emotional needs of humanity.

While these values have an obvious relevance to the field of personal relations (the Gradgrind-Bounderby circle) they are less viable as a basis for reform of the body politic, because there are no sanctions to ensure their application. They are not—apart from Louisa's abortive attempt to help Stephen—shown in action in the novel vertically through the class structure: Stephen's martyr-like death bears witness to this. Yet Dickens could only offer a disembodied and vaguely defined benevolence as a cure for the ills of Coketown because he had rejected all the alternatives. In his hostile portrait of Gradgrind, Dickens repudiated not only the narrowest kind of Utilitarian rationalism, but also, as House and others have pointed out, the processes by which most of the great Victorian reforms were carried out—statistical enquiry, commissions, reports, acted on by Parliamentary legislation. In his hostile portrait of Slackbridge, and his account of Stephen's ostracism because of his refusal to join the Trade Union, Dickens repudiated the workers' claim to secure justice by collective bargaining. Dickens is, then, opposed to any change in the political and economic structure of society, and places his hopes for amelioration in a change of heart, mind, and soul in those who possess power, who will then disseminate the fruits of this change over the lower echelons of society. Dickens's ideal State would be one of 'benevolent and genial anarchy' [House].

This is an insecure basis from which to launch a critique of society, and its insecurity becomes all the more obvious when we look outside Hard Times to Dickens's journalism of the same period, and find him enthusing over the wonders of Victorian manufacture and expressing surprised admiration for the Preston cotton-workers' conduct of their strike in 1854.

And yet, when all this has been said, and the contradictions, limitations, and flaws in Dickens's argument extrapolated, Hard Times remains a novel of considerable polemical effectiveness. The measure of this effectiveness, it seems to me, can only be accounted for in terms of Dickens's rhetoric. This approach should recommend itself to the author of The Victorian Sage, a study which shows how many key Victorian writers, disarmed of logic by their opponents, resorted to non-logical methods of persuasion in order to communicate their ideas. In the criticism of Action we have learned,. . . to use 'rhetoric' as a term for all the techniques by which a novelist seeks to persuade us of the validity of his vision of experience, a vision which cannot usually be formulated in abstract terms. But in a novel like Hard Times, which can be called a roman à thèse, rhetoric functions very nearly in its traditional rôle as the vehicle of an argument.

There is another reason why rhetoric seems a particularly useful term in discussing Dickens's work. Not only is the 'author's voice' always insistent in his novels, but it is characteristically a public-speaking voice, an oratorical or histrionic voice; and it is not difficult to see a connection between this feature of his prose and his fondness for speech-making and public reading of his works.

I shall try to show that Hard Times succeeds where its rhetoric succeeds and fails where its rhetoric fails; and that success and failure correspond fairly closely to the negative and positive aspects, respectively, of the argument inherent in the novel.

The very first chapter of Hard Times affords an excellent illustration of Dickens's rhetoric, and it is short enough to be quoted and analysed in its entirety.



'Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, Sir!'

The scene was a plain, bare, monotonous vault of a schoolroom, and the speaker's square forefinger emphasised his observations by underscoring every sentence with a line of the schoolmaster's sleeve. The emphasis was helped by the speaker's square wall of a forehead, which had his eyebrows for its base, while his eyes found commodious cellarage in two dark caves, overshadowed by the wall. The emphasis was helped by the speaker's mouth, which was wide, thin, and hard set. The emphasis was helped by the speaker's voice, which was inflexible, dry, and dictatorial. The emphasis was helped by the speaker's hair, which bristled on the skirts of his bald head, a plantation of firs to keep the wind from its shining surface, all covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie, as if the head had scarcely warehouse-room for the hard facts stored inside. The speaker's obstinate carriage, square coat, square legs, square shoulders—nay, his very neckcloth, trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp, like a stubborn fact, as it was—all helped the emphasis.

'In this life, we want nothing but Facts, Sir; nothing but Facts!'

The speaker, and the schoolmaster, and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.

This chapter communicates, in a remarkably compact way, both a description and a judgment of a concept of education. This concept is defined in a speech, and then evaluated—not in its own terms, but in terms of the speaker's appearance and the setting. Dickens, of course, always relies heavily on the popular, perhaps primitive, assumption that there is a correspondence between a person's appearance and his character; and as Gradgrind is a governor of the school, its design may legitimately function as a metaphor for his character. Dickens also had a fondness for fancifully appropriate names, but—perhaps in order to stress the representativeness of Gradgrind's views—he does not reveal the name in this first chapter.

Because of the brevity of the chapter, we are all the more susceptible to the effect of its highly rhetorical patterning, particularly the manipulation of certain repeated words, notably fact, square, and emphasis. The kind of education depicted here is chiefly characterized by an obsession with facts. The word occurs five times in the opening speech of the first paragraph, and it is twice repeated towards the end of the second, descriptive paragraph to prepare for the reintroduction of Gradgrind speaking—"'we want nothing but Facts, sir—nothing but Facts'"; and it occurs for the tenth and last time towards the end of the last paragraph. In Gradgrind's speeches the word is capitalized, to signify his almost religious devotion to Facts.

Gradgrind's concept of education is further characterized in ways we can group into three categories, though of course they are closely connected:

  1. It is authoritarian, fanatical and bullying in its application.
  2. It is rigid, abstract and barren in quality.
  3. It is materialistic and commercial in its orientation.

The first category is conveyed by the structure of the second paragraph, which is dominated by 'emphasis'. This paragraph comprises six sentences. In the first sentence we are told how the 'speaker's square forefinger emphasised his observations'. The next four, central sentences are each introduced, with cumulative force, by the clause 'The emphasis was helped', and this formula, translated from the passive to the active voice, makes a fittingly 'emphatic' conclusion to the paragraph in the sixth sentence: 'all helped the emphasis'. This rhetorical pattern has a dual function. In one way it reflects or imitates Gradgrind's own bullying, over-emphatic rhetoric, of which we have an example in the first paragraph; but in another way it helps to condemn Gradgrind, since it 'emphasises' the narrator's own pejorative catalogue of details of the speaker's person and immediate environment. The narrator's rhetoric is, as it must be, far more skilful and persuasive than Gradgrind's.

The qualities in category (2) are conveyed in a number of geometrical or quasi-geometrical terms, wide, line, thin, base, surface, inclined plane and, particularly, square which recurs five times; and in words suggestive of barren regularity, plain, bare, monotonous, arranged in order, inflexible. Such words are particularly forceful when applied to human beings—whether Gradgrind or the children. The metamorphosis of the human into the non-human is, as we shall find confirmed later, one of Dickens's main devices for conveying his alarm at the way Victorian society was moving.

Category (3), the orientation towards the world of commerce, is perhaps less obvious than the other categories, but it is unmistakably present in some of the boldest tropes of the chapter: commodious cellarage, warehouse room, plantation, vessels, imperial gallons.

The authoritarian ring of 'imperial' leads us back from category (3) to category (1), just as 'under-scoring every sentence with a line' leads us from (1) to (2). There is a web of connecting strands between the qualities I have tried to categorize: it is part of the rhetorical strategy of the chapter that all the qualities it evokes are equally applicable to Gradgrind's character, person, ideas, his school and the children (in so far as he has shaped them in his own image).

Metaphors of growth and cultivation are of course commonplace in discussion of education, and we should not overlook the ironic invocation of such metaphors, with a deliberately religious, prophetic implication (reinforced by the Biblical echo of the chapter heading, "The One Thing Needful') in the title of the Book, 'SOWING', later to be followed by Book the Second, 'REAPING', and Book the Third, 'GARNERING'. These metaphors are given a further twist in Gradgrind's recommendation to 'Plant nothing else and root out everything else' (except facts).

If diere is a flaw in this chapter it is the simile of the plum pie, which has pleasant, genial associations alien to the character of Gradgrind, to whose head it is, quite superfluously, applied. Taken as a whole, however, mis is a remarkably effective and densely woven beginning of the novel.

The technique of the first chapter of Hard Times could not be described as 'subtle'. But subtle effects are often lost in a first chapter, where the reader is coping with the problem of 'learning the author's language'. Perhaps with some awareness of this fact, sharpened by his sense of addressing a vast, popular audience, Dickens begins many of his novels by nailing the reader's attention with a display of sheer rhetorical power, relying particularly on elaborate repetition. One thinks, for instance, of the fog at the beginning of Bleak House or the sun and shadow in the first chapter of Little Dorrit. In diese novels the rhetoric works to establish a symbolic atmosphere; in Hard Times, to establish a thematic Idea—the despotism of Fact. But this abstraction—Fact—is invested with a remarkable solidity through the figurative dimension of the language.

The gross effect of the chapter is simply stated, but analysis reveals that it is achieved by means of a complex verbal activity mat is far from simple. Whether it represents fairly any actual educational theory or practice in mid-nineteenth-century England is really beside the point. It aims to convince us of the possibility of children being taught in such a way, and to make us recoil from the imagined possibility. The chapter succeeds or fails as rhetoric; and I think it succeeds.

Dickens begins as he means to continue. Later in the novel we find Gradgrind's house, which, like the school-room, is a function of himself, described in precisely the same terms of fact and rigid measurement, partly geometrical and partly commercial.

A very regular feature on the face of the country, Stone Lodge was. Not the least disguise toned down or shaded off that uncompromising fact in the landscape. A great square house, with a heavy portico darkening the principal windows, as its master's heavy brows overshadowed his eyes. A calculated, cast up, balanced and proved house. Six windows on this side of the door, six on that side; a total of twelve in this wing, a total of twelve in the other wing; four and twenty carried over to the back wings. A lawn and garden and an infant avenue, all ruled straight like a botanical account-book. (I, iii)

It has been observed [by Randolph Quirk in "Some Observations on the Language of Dickens," Review of English Literature, II (1961)] that Dickens individualizes his characters by making them use peculiar locutions and constructions in their speech, a technique which was particularly appropriate to serial publication in which the reader's memory required to be frequently jogged. This technique extends beyond the idiosyncratic speech of characters, to the language in which they are described. A key-word, or group of key-words, is insistently used when the character is first introduced, not only to identify him but also to evaluate him, and is invoked at various strategic points in the subsequent action. Dickens's remarkable metaphorical inventiveness ensures that continuity and rhetorical emphasis are not obtained at the expense of monotony. The application of the key-words of the first chapter to Mr Gradgrind's house gives the same delight as the development of a metaphysical conceit. The observation that Mrs Gradgrind, 'whenever she showed a symptom of coming to life, was invariably stunned by some weighty piece of fact tumbling on her' (I, iv), affords a kind of verbal equivalent of knock-about comedy, based on a combination of expectancy (we know the word will recur) and surprise (we are not prepared for the particular formulation).

Bounderby offers another illustration of Dickens's use of key-words in characterization. He is first introduced as 'a big, loud man, with a stare, and a metallic laugh' (I, iv). The metallic quality is shortly afterwards defined as 'that brassy speaking-trumpet of a voice of his' (ibid.). His house has a front door with 'BOUNDERBY in letters very like himself) upon a brazen plate, and a round brazen door-handle underneath it, like a brazen full stop' (I, xi). Bounderby's bank 'was another red brick house, with black outside shutters, green inside blinds, a black street door up two white steps, a brazen door-plate, and a brazen door-handle full-stop' (II, i). The buildings Bounderby inhabits take their character from him, as Gradgrind's do from him. But here the emphasis is on the brass embellishments which, by the use of the word brazen (rather than brass used adjectivally) epitomize several facets of his character: his hardness, vanity, crude enjoyment of wealth, and, most important of all, the fact that he is a brazen liar. (We do not know for certain that he is a liar until the end of the novel; the 'brazen' fittings reinforce other hints which prepare us for the revelation.)

The failures of characterization in Hard Times are generally failures in using rhetorical strategies which Dickens elsewhere employs very successfully. The portrait of Slackbridge, the trade union demagogue, for instance, seeks to exploit a relationship between character and appearance in a way which is familiar in Dickens and well exemplified in the first chapter; but it does so crudely and clumsily:

Judging him by Nature's evidence, he was above the mass in very little but the stage on which he stood. In many respects he was essentially below them. He was not so honest, he was not so manly, he was not so good-humoured; he substituted cunning for their simplicity, and passion for their safe solid sense. An ill-made, high shouldered man, with lowering brows, and his features crushed into an habitually sour expression, he contrasted most unfavourably, even in his mongrel dress, with the great body of his hearers in their plain working clothes. (II, iv)

Apart from the vividness of 'crushed', the description of Slackbridge is carelessly vague, and we miss the metaphorical inventiveness that characterizes Dickens's best descriptions of people. But the main error of the passage is the ordering of its material. The rhetorical strategy announced by the opening sentence is that Slackbridge's character is to be read in his appearance. But in fact the character is read before we are given the appearance. It is as if Dickens has so little confidence in his own imaginative evidence that he must inform us, over-explicitly, what conclusions we are to draw, before we come to the evidence. We know from external sources that Dickens was in a confused state of mind about the trade union movement at the time of writing Hard Times, and we can rarely expect to receive a balanced account of organized labour from any middle-class Victorian novelist. However, the failure of understanding here reveals itself in the first place as a failure of expression; the portrait of Gradgrind, on the other hand, though it probably derives from an equivalent misunderstanding of Utilitarianism, succeeds.

Another, more significant failure of Dickens's rhetoric is to be observed in the treatment of Tom Gradgrind. In this connection, I must register my disagreement with John Holloway's opinion that 'the gradual degeneration of Tom . . . is barely (as in fact it is treated) related to Dickens's major problems in the book, though it is one of its best things'. It is gradual (though not very extensively treated) up to the beginning of Book II, by which point we have gathered that Tom, so far from drawing strength of character from his repressive and rationalist upbringing, is turning into a selfish young man prepared to exploit others for his own advantage. He is still a long way, however, from the depravity that allows him to connive at the seduction of his own sister and to implicate an innocent man (Stephen Blackpool) in his own crime. This moral gap is rather clumsily bridged by Dickens in the second chapter of Book II, where he suddenly introduces a keyword for Tom: 'whelp'.

The Bounderbys are entertaining James Harthouse to dinner. Louisa does not respond to Harthouse's attempts to flirt, but when Tom comes in, late, 'She changed . . . and broke into a beaming smile. . . .'

'Ay, ay?' thought the visitor. 'This whelp is the only creature she cares for. So, so!'

The whelp was presented, and took his chair. The appellation was not flattering, but not unmerited. (II, ii)

The chapter ends very shortly afterwards, but Dickens contrives to use the word 'whelp' three more times, and the title of the following chapter (II, iii), in which Tom betrays Louisa's situation to Harthouse, is entitled 'The Whelp'.

'Whelp' is a cliché, and it will be noticed that the word is first used by Harthouse, and then adopted by the novelist in his authorial capacity. When a novelist does this, it is usually with ironical intent, suggesting some inadequacy in the speaker's habits of thought. Dickens plays on Gradgrind's 'facts' to this effect. But in the case of Harthouse's 'whelp' he has taken a moral cliché from a character who is morally unreliable, and invested it with his own authority as narrator. This gives away the fact that Tom is being forced into a new rôle halfway through the book. For Tom's degeneration should be related to the major problems with which Dickens is concerned in Hard Times. According to the overall pattern of the novel, Tom and Louisa are to act as indices of the failure of Mr Gradgrind's philosophy of education, and should thus never be allowed to stray outside the area of our pity, since they are both victims rather than free agents. But Tom's actions do take him beyond our pity, and diminish the interest of his character.

Perhaps Dickens was misled by feeling the need to inject a strong crime-interest into his story, of which Tom was a handy vehicle; or perhaps he lost his head over the preservation of Louisa's purity (the somewhat hysterical conclusion to Chapter iii, Book II, 'The Whelp', seems to suggest this). Whatever the explanation, 'the whelp', unlike those key-words which organize and concentrate the represented character of individuals and places, acts merely as a slogan designed to generate in the reader such a contempt for Tom that he will not enquire too closely into the pattern of his moral development—a pattern that will not, in fact, bear very close scrutiny.

In the conduct of his central argument, Dickens explicitly calls our attention to a 'key-note'. The first occasion on which he does so is when introducing the description of Coketown, in Chapter v of Book I, entitled 'The Keynote':

COKETOWN, to which Messrs. Bounderby and Gradgrind now walked, was a triumph of fact; it had no greater taint of fancy in it than Mrs Gradgrind herself. Let us strike the key-note, Coketown, before pursuing our tune.

It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam engine worked monotonously up and down like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness. It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many more small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and tomorrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next.

[In "The Dickens World: a View from Todgers's," The Dickens Critics, 1961] Dorothy Van Ghent has commented on the effects Dickens gains by investing the inanimate with animation and vice versa. "The animation of inanimate objects suggests both the quaint gaiety of a forbidden life, and an aggressiveness that has got out of control. . . . The animate is treated as if it is a thing. It is as if the life absorbed by things had been drained out of people who have become incapable of their humanity.' The description of Coketown illustrates this process. The buildings and machinery of Coketown are invested with a sinister life of their own, the life of savages, serpents, and elephants (the serpent and elephant images are reiterated at least five times in the novel). The people of Coketown, on the other hand, take their character from the architecture of the town non-metaphorically conceived—'large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another'. They are reduced to indistinguishable units caught up in a mindless, monotonous, mechanical process, superbly represented in the droning repetition of sound and syntax in the last sentence of the passage quoted.

In the rest of this chapter Dickens goes on to say that, despite the efficiency of the town, it was afflicted by malaise, social and moral: drunkenness, idleness, irreligion. 'Is it possible,' he asks, 'that there was any analogy between the case of the Coketown populace and the little Gradgrinds?' He goes on to suggest that in both 'there was fancy in them demanding to be brought into healthy existence instead of struggling on in convulsions'.

The antithesis of 'fact and fancy' introduces the chapter (see the quotation above). It has been previously introduced in the schoolroom chapters, where Cissy Jupe's words, 'I would fancy ', are rudely interrupted by the government official:

'Ay, ay, ay! But you mustn't fancy,' cried the gentleman, quite elated by coming so happily to his point. 'That's it! You are never to fancy. . . . You are to be in all things regulated and governed . . . by fact. . . . You must discard the word Fancy altogether.' (I. ii)

A very similar interruption establishes the same antithesis in slightly different terms in Chapter viii, Book I, 'Never Wonder', where Dickens again proposes to strike the keynote:

LET us strike the key-note again, before pursuing the tune.

When she was half a dozen years younger, Louisa had been overheard to begin a conversation with her brother one day, by saying 'Tom, I wonder'—upon which Mr. Gradgrind, who was the person overhearing, stepped forth into the light, and said, 'Louisa, never wonder!'

Herein lay the spring of the mechanical art and mystery of educating the reason without stooping to the cultivation of the sentiments and affections. Never wonder. By means of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, settle everything somehow, and never wonder. Bring to me, says M'Choakumchild, yonder baby just able to walk, and I will engage that it shall never wonder.

The antithesis between fact and fancy (or wonder), is, then, the dominant key-note of Hard Times. It relates the public world of the novel to the private world, the malaise of the Gradgrind—Bounderby circle to the malaise of Coketown as a social community; and it draws together the two stages of the central argument of the book: the relationship between education in the broad sense and social health. In this respect Dickens is not so very far removed from the position of the Romantic critics of industrialist society. Compare [Shelley's Defence of Poetry, 1840]:

We have more moral, political and historical wisdom than we know how to reduce into practice; we have more scientific and economical knowledge than can be accommodated to the just distribution of the produce which it multiplies. The poetry, in these systems of thought, is concealed by the accumulations of facts and calculating processes. . . . We want the creative faculty to imagine that which we know. . . . To what but a cultivation of the mechanical arts in a degree disproportioned to the presence of the creative faculty, which is the basis of all knowledge, is to be attributed the abuses of all invention for abridging and combining labour, to the exasperation of the inequality of mankind? From what other cause has it arisen that the discoveries which should have lightened, have added a weight to the curse of Adam? Poetry, and the principle of Self, of which money is the visible incarnation, are the God and Mammon of the world.

There is a real community of feeling between Shelley and Dickens here: one might almost think that Hard Times takes its cue for the criticism of 'the accumulation of facts', 'calculating processes', and 'the principle of Self from the Defence. But whereas Shelley opposes to these things poetry, imagination, the creative faculty, Dickens can only offer Fancy, wonder, sentiments—though he does so with the same seriousness and the same intentions as Shelley, as a panacea for the ills of modern society. It is tempting to relate the inadequacy of Dickens's concept of Fancy to the discussions familiar in Romantic criticism of Fancy and Imagination. But it is on the rhetorical level that the inadequacy of Dickens's concept manifests itself. In the first 'key-note' chapter, the authorial voice inquiries, with heavy irony, whether we are to be told 'at this time of day'

that one of the foremost elements in the existence of the Coketown working-people had been for scores of years deliberately set at nought? That there was any Fancy in them demanding to be brought into healthy existence instead of struggling on in convulsions? That, exactly in the ratio as they worked long and monotonously, the craving grew within them for some physical relief—some relaxation, encouraging good humour and good spirits, and giving them a vent—some recognized holiday, though it were but for an honest dance to a stirring band of music—some occasional light pie in which even M'Choakumchild had no finger—which craving must and would be satisfied aright, or must and would inevitably go wrong, until the laws of me Creation were repealed? (I, v)

The rhetorical questions here impede and confuse the argument. The parallelism of 'which craving must and would be satisfied aright, or must and would inevitably go wrong' is tired and mechanical. A mathematical image is enlisted in arguing against the mathematical, calculating faculty: it is precisely Dickens's case in the novel as a whole that the 'laws of Creation' are not accountable in terms of 'ratios'. The vagueness of 'some relaxation', 'some recognized holiday' is by no means clarified by the unexciting offer of an 'honest dance' or a 'light pie' as specific palliatives for the people of Coketown.

Dickens is struggling to assert, here, the existence of a universal need in humanity, a need which arises from quite a different side of man's nature from that which is occupied with the mechanical processes of industrialism, a need which must be satisfied, a need distantly related to that need for poetry which Shelley asserts. But whereas Shelley's 'poetry' is a faculty which involves and enhances and transforms the total activity of man—'We must imagine that which we know'—Dickens's Fancy is merely a temporary escape from what is accepted as inevitably unpleasant. It is 'relief, 'a vent', 'a holiday'. To be cruel, one might say mat Dickens offers the oppressed workers of Coketown bread and circuses: bread in the metaphorical 'light pie' and circuses in the 'honest dance'—and, of course, in Mr Sleary's circus.

The realm of Fancy is most vividly evoked by the rhetoric of Hard Times in what might be called the 'fairytale' element of the novel. Many of the characters and events are derived from the staple ingredients of the fairytale, and mis derivation is clearly revealed in the language.

Louisa and Tom first figure as the brother and sister who often appear in fairy-tales as waifs, exiles, victims of circumstance, hedged about with dangers (the Babes in the Woods, etc.). As they sit by the fire of their room, "Their shadows were defined upon the wall, but those of the high presses in the room were all blended together on the wall and on the ceiling, as if the brother and sister were overhung by a dark cavern' (I, viii). In their childhood their father wears the aspect of an 'Ogre':

Not that they knew, by name or nature, anything about an Ogre. Fact forbid! I only use the word to express a monster in a lecturing castle, with Heaven knows how many heads manipulated into one, taking childhood captive, and dragging it into gloomy statistical dens by the hair. (I, iii)

Later, Louisa becomes the enchanted princess with a heart of ice, while Tom takes on the rôle of the knave. Harthouse is the demon king, popping up suddenly in the action with mischievous intent, in a cloud of (cigar) smoke:

James Harthouse continued to lounge in the same place and attitude, smoking his cigar in his own easy way, and looking pleasantly at the whelp, as if he knew himself to be a kind of agreeable demon who had only to hover over him, and he must give up his whole soul if required. (II, iii)

Sissy tells Mr Gradgrind that she used to read to her father 'About the fairies, sir, and the dwarf, and the hunchback, and the genies' (I, vii); and the circus folk in Hard Times are comparable to the chorus of benevolent, comic, grotesque, half-supernatural creatures who inhabit the world of romance and fairy-tale. They are persistently associated with legend and myth—Pegasus (I, v), Cupid (ibid.), Jack the Giant Killer (III, vii), etc. Mr Bounderby's mother, Mrs Pegler, 'the mysterious old woman' (III, v) is the crone who figures in many fairy-tales and who brings about a surprising turn in the action. Mr Bounderby refers to her as 'an old woman who seems to have been flying into the town on a broomstick now and then' (II, viii). But the proper witch of the story, and Dickens's most effective adaptation of a stock-figure from fairytale, is Mrs Sparsit. 'Mrs Sparsit considered herself, in some sort, the Bank Fairy', we are told, but the towns-people 'regarded her as the Bank Dragon, keeping watch over the treasures of the mine'. Her heavy eyebrows and hooked nose are exploited for vivid effects of cruelty:

Mr Bounderby sat looking at her, as, with the points of a stiff, sharp pair of scissors, she picked out holes for some inscrutable purpose, in a piece of cambric. An operation which, taken in connexion with the bushy eyebrows and the Roman nose, suggested with some liveliness the idea of a hawk engaged upon the eyes of a tough little bird. (I, xvi)

She flatters Bounderby to his face, but secretly insults his portrait. She wills Louisa into Harthouse's clutches, figuring Louisa's progress as the descent of a 'Giant's Staircase', on which she keeps anxious watch (II, x). The boldest treatment of Mrs Sparsit as a witch occurs in the scene where she steals through the grounds of Mr Gradgrind's country house, hoping to catch Louisa and Harthouse together.

She thought of the wood and stole towards it, heedless of long grass and briers: of worms, snails, and slugs, and all the creeping things that be. With her dark eyes and her hook nose warily in advance of her, Mrs Sparsit softly crushed her way through the thick undergrowth, so intent upon her object that she would probably have done no less, if the wood had been a wood of adders.


The smaller birds might have tumbled out of their nests, fascinated by the glittering of Mrs Sparsit's eyes in the gloom. . . . (II, xi)

When a thunderstorm bursts immediately afterwards, Mrs Sparsit's appearance becomes still more grotesque:

It rained now, in a sheet of water. Mrs Sparsit's white stockings were of many colours, green predominating; prickly things were in her shoes; caterpillars slung themselves, in hammocks of their own making, from various parts of her dress; rills ran from her bonnet, and her Roman nose. (II, xi)

Traditionally, witches are antipathetic to water. It is appropriate, therefore, that the frustration of Mrs Sparsit's spite, when she loses track of Louisa, is associated with her ludicrous, rain-soaked appearance (see the ).

We may add to these examples of the invocation of fairytale, the repeated description of the factories illuminated at night as 'fairy palaces' (I, x; I, xi; II, i, et passim), and Mr Bounderby's often expressed conviction that his men 'expect to be set up in a coach and six, and to be fed on turtle soup and venison and fed with a gold spoon' (I, xi; I, vi; H, i, et passim). These phrases contrast ironically with the actual drab environment and existence of the Coketown people.

It is, indeed, as an ironic rhetorical device that the fairytale element operates most successfully. On one level it is possible to read the novel as an ironic fairy-tale, in which the enchanted princess is released from her spell but does not find a Prince Charming, in which the honest, persecuted servant (Stephen) is vindicated but not rewarded, and in which the traditional romantic belief in blood and breeding, confirmed by a discovery, is replaced by the exposure of Bounderby's inverted snobbery.

In other respects, however, the fairy-tale element sets up unresolved tensions in the novel. It encourages a morally-simplified, non-social, and non-historical view of human life and conduct, whereas Dickens's undertaking in Hard Times makes quite opposite demands. Mr Sleary's ruse for releasing Tom from the custody of Bitzer, for instance (III, viii), is acceptable on the level of fairy-tale motivation: he returns Mr Gradgrind's earlier good deed (the adoption of Sissy) and scores off an unsympathetic character (Bitzer). But the act is essentially lawless, and conflicts with Dickens's appeals elsewhere in the novel for justice and social responsibility. As long as the circus-folk represent a kind of life that is anarchic, seedy, socially disreputable, but cheerful and humane, they are acceptable and enjoyable. But when they are offered as agents or spokesmen of social and moral amelioration, we reject them. The art they practice is Fancy in its tawdriest form, solemnly defended by Mr Sleary in terms we recognize as the justification of today's mass entertainers:

'People mutht be amuthed. They can't be alwayth a learning, nor yet they can't be alwayth a working, they an't made for it. You mutht have uth, Thquire. (III, viii)

Sissy is meant to represent a channel through which the values of the circus folk are conveyed to the social order. But her one positive act, the dismissal of Harthouse (III, ii), depends for its credibility on a simple faith in the superiority of a good fairy over a demon king.

In other words, where Dickens invokes the world of fairytale ironically, to dramatize the drabness, greed, spite and injustice which characterize a society dominated by materialism, it is a highly effective rhetorical device; but where he relies on the simplifications of the fairy-tale to suggest means of redemption, we remain unconvinced.

If Dickens's notion of Fancy was attached mainly to fairytale and nursery rhyme (cf. the allusions to the cow with the crumpled horn and Peter Piper in I, iii), his own art is very much one of Fancy in the [sense invoked in S. T. Coleridge's Biographia Literaria, 1817]: 'Fancy has no other counters to play with, but fixities and definites. The Fancy is indeed no other than a mode of Memory emancipated from the order of time and space. . . .' This seems an appropriate description of Dickens's method in, for instance, the first chapter of Hard Times, or in the description of Coketown, or in the treatment of Mrs Sparsit as a witch. To appreciate this, is to feel that Coleridge was wrong to depreciate Fancy as a literary mode; but it is also to understand why Dickens's greatest achievement as a novelist was his depiction of a disordered universe in which the organic and the mechanical have exchanged places, rather than in his attempts to trace moral and emotional processes within the individual psyche.

In Hard Times, Dickens expounds a diagnosis of the ills of modern industrial society for which no institutions can supply a cure: society, represented by a group of characters, must therefore change itself, learning from a group outside the social order—the circus. But Dickens's characters are incapable of change: the language in which they are embodied fixes them in their 'given' condition. They can only die (like Stephen Blackpool) or be broken (like Mr Bounderby). Mr Gradgrind may lose his 'squareness', but he is left a shadow: he cannot become a Michelin Man, all circles and spheres. Louisa when her heart has been melted is a far less convincing character than Louisa with a heart of ice. (This can be quickly seen by comparing the scene of her interview with Gradgrind to discuss Bounderby's proposal (I, xv), rightly singled out for praise by Leavis, with the parallel scene at the end of the book where she returns to her father to reproach him for her upbringing, and where she is given the most embarrassing lines in the novel to speak (II, xii).) Dickens falters in his handling of the character of Tom Gradgrind precisely because he uses a device for fixing character (whelp) to express a process of change.

If Hard Times is a polemical novel that is only partially persuasive, it is because Dickens's rhetoric is only partially adequate to the tasks he set himself.

David Sonstroem (essay date 1969)

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SOURCE: "Fettered Fancy in Hard Times," in PMLA, Vol. 84, No. 3, May, 1969, pp. 520-29.

[In the following essay, Sonstroem identifies conflict between Factdry statistics and empirical definitionsand Fancyvariously identified with imagination, romance, wonder, and nonsense—as central to the structure of Hard Times.]

In 1948 F. R. Leavis threw down the gauntlet, proclaiming Hard Times, hitherto "passed over as a very minor thing," to be a "masterpiece." Dickens' achievement, according to Leavis, was the production of "a richly poetic art of the word. He doesn't write 'poetic prose'; he writes with a poetic force of evocation, registering with the responsiveness of a genius of verbal expression what he so sharply sees and feels. In fact, by texture, imaginative mode, symbolic method, and the resulting concentration, Hard Times affects us as belonging with formally poetic works." His study has drawn vigorous counterstatements critical of the book, the most telling retort being that its characters are "creatures of stick": John Holloway finds neither Louisa nor her father "a true embodiment of the standpoint—or predicament—which is their allotted rôle." W. W. Watt describes Louisa as speaking "fustian." David H. Hirsch notes, "so feeble-minded do the 'good' characters become at times that it is ultimately impossible to take them at all seriously." As early as 1912 George Bernard Shaw had described Sissy Jupe as speaking "'like a book' in the most intolerable sense of the words." In short, Leavis pointed to the novel's success as poetry—its symbolic or imagistic r the other critics point to the novel's failure as drama—its failure to produce believable, attractive characters who can act out the meanings entrusted to them.

If one avoids the polar atmosphere of the controversy, it is entirely possible to share both views of the book. I find Hard Times to be a truly impressive achievement of meaningful symbolic structuring, but weak dramatically, because the personalities of certain characters do not support their full symbolic charge. The key to both aspects of the novel lies in the cause that it champions: Fancy. Through an examination of the novel's concept of Fancy—its meanings and employments—I hope to show precisely why Hard Times succeeds and fails as it does. My purpose is not really to serve as critical mediator (the critical conflict merely calls attention to the area of my consideration) but rather to get at the heart of the book and the somewhat conflicting impulses that moved Dickens as he wrote it.

The first sentence of Hard Times discloses the villain of the piece: Facts—narrow, dry statistics and definitions imperiously presented as a sufficient, and the only sufficient, explanation of the world and all living things. Not so obvious is the beleaguered alternative that Dickens champions. The predominant word for it is Fancy, but what he means by it is decidedly sweeping and variable, and therefore unclear. Dickens himself must have felt the need to explain his meaning, for he frequently links the word with synonyms: Thomas Gradgrind describes Josiah Bounderby as not "pretending to anything fanciful, fantastic, or (I am using synonymous terms) sentimental." Elsewhere Fancy is linked with "romance," "wonder," "nonsense," and "tastes, aspirations, and affections." Implicitly synonymous terms are "imaginative graces and delights," "childish lore," "Faith, Hope and Charity," and "Heart."

Two areas of meaning emerge from this cluster. The one is imaginative play: mental play unhindered by the strictures of reality. The other is fellow feeling: compassion, sentiment. That imaginative play and fellow feeling are quite different activities seems sufficiently obvious (it is easy to imagine a dull-witted bleeding heart or a thick-skinned dreamer of dreams). It is equally obvious that the two activities might be joined to form the attractive human faculty that we commonly call the sympathetic imagination—the faculty that permits one human being to enter into the mind and circumstances of another. But I will postone consideration of Dickens' relationship between imaginative play and fellow feeling in order to treat separately the relationship of each to their common enemy, Fact. For Dickens employs each as a weapon in its own defense.

The first kind of Fancy—imaginative play—is ably and almost exclusively represented by the zestful and defiantly imaginative narrative personality, who uses Fancy against Fact in several direct and very effective ways.

First, the narrator's jeux d'esprit are living proof that Fancy does exist, that it can be great fun, and that it contributes to a personality that is more charming, lively, and powerful than that of Gradgrind, the straw man of Fact. There is evident enjoyment in conceiving the description of Gradgrind as "a kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts, and prepared to blow them clean out of the regions of childhood at one discharge." or of Bounderby as "a commercial wonder more admirable than Venus, who had risen out of the mud instead of the sea." Some of the joy is transferred to the reader, who accords the narrator the victory in the battle of personalities.

Second, the narrator rides circles of Fancy around the Gradgrinds of the world to make them dizzy. Machines become elephants; smoke becomes a snake; a factory becomes a fairy palace; a face, a medallion. No tabular mentality can achieve control in such a verbal environment, but the narrator and we, who are used to such talk (we equestrians, who can keep our balance in a living, changing world), can appreciate the imaginative spin, and the discomforting of the enemy.

Third, he shows that Fancy is not only more enjoyable and mobile than Gradgrind's Fact, but also more applicable; it comes closer to tracing the twists and complexities of the world as it is, and consequently is more accurate in representing reality. M'Choakumchild, we are told, "had taken the bloom off the higher branches of mathematics"; the narrator revivifies a dead metaphor, even as he mocks the kind of mind that petrified it in the first place. He sees something that M'Choakumchild would not. Later he tells us that Gradgrind was "looking about for a suitable opportunity of making an arithmetical figure in Parliament"; the fanciful phrase, beyond Gradgrind's tabular comprehension, succinctly expresses both his aspiration and his devotion to scientific method, as well as the ridicule the narrator heaps upon his pretensions. Such language expresses truths elusive of graphs, yet it rivals them in conciseness and precision.

A fourth employment of image-play against Fact deserves extensive elaboration, and will form the main body of this study. Dickens uses imagery to show that the world he presents is interrelated, with each part resembling and depending upon every other part. The curse of the Gradgrind system is that it separates and alienates, achieving a theoretical order at the expense of actual order. The disjointed nature of the Gradgrind family; the many lonely pits, both figurative and literal, into which various characters fall; the ostracism of Stephen; the metaphor in the name Slackbridge; and the fact that there is not one true marriage portrayed in the whole book, are expressions of Dickens' sense of the pervasive separation among human beings. In contemporary pronouncements outside the novel, Dickens revealed the same fear mat "the System" was imposing estrangement upon man. He condemned a labor dispute for "the gulf of separation it hourly deepens between those whose interests must be understood to be identical or must be destroyed." Elsewhere he wished for "the fusion of different classes, without confusion . . . the bringing together of employers and employed . . . the creating of a better common understanding among those whose interests are identical, who depend upon each other, and who can never be in unnatural antagonism without deplorable results." By explicitly encouraging the reader to draw literary analogies, Dickens reveals his belief that the exercise of Fancy could prove very useful in apprehending and encouraging true union: "Is it possible, I wonder, that there was any analogy between the case of the Coketown population and the case of the little Gradgrinds?" Literary analogies like this one could be used to assert the interrelationship, the interdependence, that exists in the world. A tissue of imaginative links could give the reader a sense of mat harmonious world which Dickens feared Facts were destroying. Of course, by composing a novel mat uses imagery to suggest analogy and, ultimately, to achieve unity, he does what every other novelist does. The noteworthiness lies in his treating imaginative play as an object as well as a vehicle for consideration, and in employing it in its own defense.

The governing distinction in the imagery of Hard Times is that between life and lifelessness. The primary symbols of life are flowers and horses. Flowers represent the passive aspects of life: its tenderness, delicacy, and helplessness. In the first scene, in the schoolroom, flowers are presented as objects that crush and wither when trampled on with heavy boots. The irony of the situation lies in the fact that the three teachers of Fact are stamping out the flower-like fancies of little children (who are themselves described in plant imagery) even as the teachers preach against stepping upon figurative flowers. The connotation of vulnerability is reinforced throughout me book: Mr. M'Choakumchild (as we have seen) had "taken the bloom off the higher branches of mathematics"; Mr. Bounderby tears up a flower garden to plant cabbages; Tom, Jr., moodily tears roses apart even as he contributes to the destruction of the lives of his sister and Stephen; and his father is described as "annihilating the flowers of existence."

The active side of life is represented by horses, which connote vitality, spiritedness, and movement. The circus people, who look and act as if they are "always on horseback," are repeatedly described as engaged in energetic action: they "perform rapid acts," and, in Sleary's words, "they're accuthtomed to be quick in their movementh." Sissy Jupe, in saying of her father mat "he belongs to the horse-riding," quite accurately presents him as engaged in an activity ramer than a profession. The nobility of the horse image is enhanced through mythic suggestion: One circus performer, Mr. Childers, is described as a centaur, and the whole troupe lives at the Pegasus's Arms, in "the upper regions." The horse image represents a force to be reckoned with, a force worthy to oppose the powers of Fact and all mat it represents. Although Bounderby claims to have "eaten in his youth at least three horses," and has brought under his control "so many hundred horse Steam Power," it is the horse mat triumphs ultimately. Bitzer is obviously deluded in thinking that he has captured the true beast in his definition of a horse at the beginning of the novel, but the thing itself turns the tables by capturing Bitzer at the end of the book.

Lesser forms of life are nicely defined by measurement against the horse image. Merrylegs, Signor Jupe's performing dog, symbolizes him, in a way: The dog is clever and quick on his feet, like all the circus animals, but he is smaller than they. Like Signor Jupe, he does not quite measure up. Tom describes himself as a donkey and a mule, and the narrator, following the lead of Harthouse, calls him "the whelp." In his humiliating disguise, Tom's hands look "like the hands of a monkey." And, beast mat he is, he is engaged in biting straw. The machinery of Coketown is described as "melancholy mad elephants," more powerful, but less spirited man horses. In a delightful image, Mrs. Sparsit netting—a form of needlework involving looping some of the threads round the lady's shoe—is described as "easily ambling along," "in a sidesaddle attitude, with one foot in a cotton stirrup." She is poised beautifully between her own idea of herself (a lady fair on horseback) and her actual occupation (cloth-making for Bounderby, like everyone else in Coketown). Comparison with the livelier and less dignified bareback riders of the circus is also invited. Another extension of the animal imagery is Gradgrind's conception of the circus people as "noisy insects," and Bounderby's reference to his workmen as "pests of the earth." Both expressions are grossly unfair to the people they are supposed to describe, and so serve to mark the imperceptiveness toward others of the two men of Fact. With a greater show of justice the narrator likens Bitzer to an insect, and Bounderby calls himself a maggot.

A third major image indicative of life is the sun. In his provocative essay, Leavis calls our attention to a descriptive passage in which "Sissy, being at me corner of a row on the sunny side, came in for the beginning of a sunbeam, of which Bitzer, being at the corner of a row on the other side, a few rows in advance, caught the end. But, whereas the girl was so dark-eyed and dark-haired that she seemed to receive a deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun, when it shone upon her, the boy was so light-eyed and light-haired mat the self-same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed." What might appear, in the absence of sunlight, to be darkness in Sissy is here apprehended as "deeper and more lustrous colour." What seems to be light according to the crepuscular illumination of Gradgrindism is shown up by the sunbeam as unhealthy paleness, bloodless white. Ironically, Bitzer will become a "light porter" who carries no light. That Bitzer stands only to lose from affiliation with the source and symbol of life reveals his contrariety to it. The imagery shows him to be a negative force in the book, whereas it shows Mrs. Gradgrind, for example, in a passage reminiscent of mis one, to be a cipher: Mrs. Gradgrind "looked . . . like an indifferently executed transparency of a small female figure, without enough light behind it." Neither she nor the sun affects the other in any significant way.

Elsewhere Dickens pursues the imagery in a very conventional manner. When Stephen unwillingly returns to his home, now occupied by his besotted wife, Rachael's face unexpectedly "shone in upon the midnight of his mind." Later Rachael herself wanted "no brighter light to shine on their sorrowful talk" than Sissy. Sissy is a sun to Louisa, also: "the once deserted girl shone like a beautiful light upon the darkness of the other." Conversely, Coketown's "blur of soot and smoke," satanically "aspiring to the vault of Heaven," makes the city "impervious to the sun's rays."

Fire as a symbol for life may be considered an extension of the sun imagery. Whereas the sun represents life in its purest, most elemental form, fire represents life—liveliness—as it manifests itself in actual and imperfect people. Consequently it can be quenched (Louisa is forever watching fires dying out). And it can be a force for evil as well as for good: Louisa's resentment of Sissy's pity "smouldered within her like an unwholesome fire," and when her scheming brother misleads Stephen, "his breath fell like a flame of fire on Stephen's ear, it was so hot"; but when Sissy obtains rescuers to pull Stephen from the shaft, "their spirits were on fire like hers." The fires in the furnaces of Coketown present us with a larger image, representing the passions, and sometimes specifically the resentments, of its inhabitants. Of course fire is anathema to the forces of Fact: there is "a row of fire-buckets" in Bounderby's bank. But more often than not, these men are incapable of seeing it; they do not know that it is there. We first meet Bounderby with his back to the hearth, obliviously enjoying its warmth, and blocking off its benefits from others. Gradgrind looks directly at the fire, and yet does not understand why young Tom and Louisa would wish to see a circus. As Louisa stares into the hearth, her more corrupt brother tells her, "You seem to find more to look at in it than ever I could find." Gradgrind's blindness to the fires of life is best revealed in the passage in which he conveys Bounderby's marriage proposal to his daughter:

"Are you consulting the chimneys of the Coketown works, Louisa?"

"There seems to be nothing there but languid and monotonous smoke. Yet when the night comes, Fire bursts out, father!" she answered, turning quickly.

"Of course I know that, Louisa. I do not see the application of the remark." To do him justice he did not, at all.

His blindness to the analogy is due to his blindness to passionate life. Bounderby's blindness is put in similar terms, but more humorously. As the suspicious Mrs. Sparsit strains her eyes to observe Louisa and Mr. Harthouse strolling in the garden, Bounderby asks, "What's the matter, ma'am? . . . you don't see a Fire, do you?"

Smoke is an image that links images of life with those of lifelessness. An unpleasant derivative of fire, it is even farther removed from the sun, and is symbolically an enemy of the life represented by fire. It is repeatedly linked with the serpent—an obnoxious form of life and the foe of life at its prelapsarian best. Smoke is dirty, and it covers everything; it turns Coketown into "the painted face of a savage"—an image that links industrial progress with the jungle, and prepares us for Tom (that triumph of the System) in blackface. The serpentine coils of smoke that enfold Coketown symbolize disorder, the "muddle" of which Stephen complains. Smoke produces a narcotic effect, which blinds its victims and prevents them from acting in a prudent manner. We see this effect not only in the misguided factory workers, but also in "the whelp," his wits addled by the heady smoke of Harthouse's rich tobacco.

We find opposed to the images of life those of destruction, and usually violent destruction. In reading Hard Times one senses a pervasive violence which the action of the book cannot completely account for—which can be explained only in terms of the book's imagery. The names of the antagonists point the way to Dickens' intentions: grind in Gradgrind; bound in Bounderby (Dickens' working plans for Hard Times show that Bounderby was first to be called Mr. Bound, until Dickens hit upon the happier elongation); choke in M'Choakumchild; nick (and Old Nick) in Nickits; bite (and horse's bit) in Bitzer. But we hardly need the names to appreciate the destructiveness of Fact and its practitioners: Gradgrind is a "cannon loaded to the muzzle"; the "third gentleman" was a "professed pugilist" who was "certain to knock the wind out of common sense"; Bounderby is frequently a destructive wind, or a windbag at the breaking point (cf. the fire in Louisa, which threatens to flare out); M'Choakumchild will either "kill outright the robber Fancy" or "only maim him and distort him"; Mrs. Gradgrind, frequently "stunned" by "collision" with some Fact, habitually "dies away"; Tom would like to blow up all Facts with "a thousand barrels of gunpowder"; the loom at which Stephen works is a "crashing, smashing, tearing piece of mechanism," and Stephen has within himself a similar violence that he comes close to directing against his wife; Mrs. Sparsit, in carrying the news to Mr. Bounderby of Louisa's passionate flight, "exploded the combustibles with which she was charged, and blew up." Chapters are entitled "Gunpowder" and "Explosion." The reader soon realizes that the flowers of Fancy must find root in soil no more nourishing than gunpowder.

Destruction includes self-destruction. Even as Gradgrind chokes off Fancy in the little children, he is himself throttled by his own necktie, "trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp." Bounderby has a self-destructive streak too, although his has more to do with turbulence than constriction: "One might have fancied," with regard to the scantiness of his hair, that "he had talked it off; and that what was left, all standing up in disorder, was in that condition from being constantly blown about by his windy boastfulness." We see self-destructiveness even in the more restive votaries of Fact: after being kissed by Bounderby, Louisa rubs the spot on her cheek until it is red. Tom cautions her that she will rub a hole in her face, to which she replies, "You may cut the piece out with your penknife if you like." Later we see Tom engaged in similar behavior, "chafing his face on his coatsleeve, as if to mortify his flesh, and have it in unison with his spirit."

Specific images of lifelessness that find frequent expression, besides those connected with gunpowder and fisticuffs, are the following: (1) Bounderby's windiness, which is not to be confused with the airy qualities of the circus folk. (2) Starvation: related to the Coketowners, who live in material poverty, is Louisa, who is described several times as being imaginatively and emotionally starved. (3) The inorganic in general, which we see in the machinery of Coketown, the "metallic laugh" of Bounderby, the inflexible divorce laws, and the equally inflexible concepts of Gradgrind. (4) The pit: Old Hell Shaft, into which Stephen falls; the ditch out of which Bounderby describes himself as arising; the well into which Mrs. Gradgrind seems to have sunk as she approaches death; and the "dark pit of shame and ruin" that lies at the bottom of the staircase erected by Mrs. Sparsit for Louisa's expected moral lapse. All the pits owe their existence to Fact and all that the word entails: In effecting his rise in the world, Bounderby has thoughtlessly dug the pit for Stephen. Just as thoughtlessly, Gradgrind has prepared the "dark pit" for his daughter. And in his digging around in the "National dustbin" of Parliament, Gradgrind is only preparing further pitfalls for the innocent and unwary.

The greatest confrontation of the two classes of imagery—life and lifelessness—occurs in the first two chapters, the schoolroom scene. Here we find age versus youth—an opposition that is picked up elsewhere in the book, as we realize from the names "Kidderminster" and "Childers," the pervasive "peterpantheism" (to borrow W. W. Watt's word) among the circus characters, and the precipitate maturity or old age among the characters associated with Fact. We also find the organic opposed to the inorganic—more specifically, human beings described sometimes as plants, sometimes as vessels. Gradgrind himself is appropriately described principally in terms of the latter category, terms of enclosure. His "eyes found commodious cellarage in two dark caves"; his head is a "warehouse." Everything about him is hard and square, like the "square wall" of his forehead. (Incidentally, his squareness forms a geometric opposition to the round world of the circus.) The students are also described in similar terms—they are "little vessels," "little pitchers," and "jars"—but the expressions are ridiculously inappropriate when applied to them, and obviously represent the terms in which Gradgrind thinks of them: creatures with no value or bent of their own, mere containers. The alternative imagery for them, plants, is supplied in the exemplary flowers that must not appear on wallpaper; in the divisional title, "Sowing"; and in Gradgrind's own injunction, "Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else." A measure of Gradgrind's wrongheadedness is his seeing Facts, not children, as plants, and children as the pots to put them in. The wide disparity between the two images applied to children goes far in making Gradgrind look ridiculous.

The book's confrontation of imagery is beautifully concentrated in the two paper horses that we find in this scene. The one is the representation of a horse with which the more natural of the pupils would paper a room. The other is the definition of a horse supplied by Bitzer but emanating originally from Gradgrind. The one is no less a paper horse than the other, and the inability of the three adults to appreciate this fact dramatizes their foolishness. (The point that they are unable to distinguish between an object and a depiction of the object is reiterated when the third gentleman, in his conceptual blindness, professes that he would not step on a representation of flowers for fear of destroying them, whereas Sissy realizes that they would be "pictures" only and therefore would not "crush and wither.") The great difference between the two paper horses lies in their relationship to life. Sissy would be adding a semblance of life to an otherwise lifeless wall (the narrator does much the same thing in his treating prosaic objects, people, and events in more exotic terms: elephants, snakes, fairy palaces, a griffin, Morgiana, Blue Beard, the Sultan, and so forth), whereas Gradgrind, in preferring the definition to the real thing, is denying life that actually exists.

Thus does Dickens build bridges of imagery within each of two domains: that of life and Fancy, and mat of lifelessness and Fact. The gulf between them is a real one, and members of one domain cannot really touch upon the other. Sissy is curiously unaffected by school or Stone Lodge. Peeping Tom and Louisa can only glimpse the circus horses' hoofs, and Mrs. Sparsit sees little more in her spying upon Louisa and Harthouse. Bounderby is as disruptive a presence in the Pegasus's Arms as Stephen is at Bounderby's home. But the gulf, though real enough, is not a necessary one. Even as Dickens presents it he throws bridges of imagery across it, to indicate the fundamental relationship between the two domains.

For example, people on both sides are ever rising and falling. We remember the pits, wells, and shafts mentioned earlier. The black ladder of the undertaker symbolizes a descent that characters on both sides of the gulf must undertake. Bounderby has risen in life, like the bag of hot air that he is, but the circus people, those denizens of the upper regions, also spend much of their time aloft. Kidderminster suggests the similarity in referring to Bounderby as being "on the Tight-Jeff." The narrator also suggests the similarity in calling Bounderby a circus balloon. Louisa and Tom "abase" themselves to watch the circus; so Gradgrind commands them to "rise." Yet he himself must plunge "into the howling ocean of tabular statements, which no diver ever got to any depth in and came up sane." An important feature of this imagery is that no fixed meaning or value is implied by up or down. When Bounderby remarks, "Queer sort of company . . . for a man who has raised himself," Kidderminster retorts, "Lower yourself, then. . . . Oh Lord! if you've raised yourself so high as all mat comes to, let yourself down a bit"—and we see this as good advice. The ambivalence is just one more way in which Dickens upsets an oversimplified system to further the cause of Fancy. Louisa descends Mrs. Sparsit's staircase only to find herself in a saner, "higher" situation than before. Mrs. Sparsit, in making her last exit from Bounderby, "swept disdainfully past him, and ascended the staircase," although it is really a lower, more miserable life she goes to. The sharp separation between men of Fact and Children of Fancy is softened by the recognition that both are caught up in the common vicissitudes of life.

A more direct relationship between the two domains shows the circus to be another business, not unlike Bounderby's factory. Bounderby and Sleary, the two owners, are alike in being rotund and in being described in wind imagery, the chief difference in the imagery being that Sleary is a "broken old pair of bellows" italics mine). On several occasions Sleary refers to the "fairy-business" (italics mine). He is no more apt to confuse representations of fairies with real fairies than Sissy is apt to confuse real and paper horses. A responsible position in the circus must be prepared for with an apprenticeship, just like its Coketown counterpart. Both the circus workers and the mill workers deal with "elephants" of one kind or another. And both classes of workers can be injured by their elephants: Rachael's sister was killed by a machine, and Emma Gordon, an informal foster mother to Sissy, lost her husband in "a heavy back-fall off a Elephant." The circus folk, the practitioners of Fancy, have their hard times as surely as the victims of Fact. The real difference between factory and circus is not that between labor and idleness, as Bounderby would have it, but rather that between self-seeking, exploiting management and kindly, paternalistic management. The difference is an accidental one, and shows factory and circus to be more closely related than one might at first expect.

Conversely, the domain of Fact partakes heavily of Fancy; it is the Fact people who are actually the shameless fictionalizers. Harthouse's older brother made his reputation in Parliament with his cow-and-cap fantasy, a patently false, although humorous, reconstruction of a disastrous railroad accident, an account that his hardheaded fellow M.P.'s were willing to accept as truth simply because it reinforced their prejudices. Although Bounderby's highly imaginative account of his sorry youth is pure fiction, he manages to persuade everyone, including himself, of its truth. Mrs. Sparsit's conception of the meaning that the world attaches to "Scadgers" and "Powler" is equally fanciful. And Dickens is ever referring to "prevalent fictions" among the mill owners of Coketown: industries, like fragile chinaware, easily ruined; workers desirous of turtle soup, to be eaten with a gold spoon; dissatisfaction in a worker a sign of utter criminality. We see that the domain of Fancy holds no exclusive rights to Fancy. The basic distinction would seem to be rather that the Sissys and Slearys, in accepting both Fact and Fancy, are able to tell them apart, whereas the no-nonsense Gradgrinds and Bounderbys, in refusing to recognize Fancy, engage in it unawares. Their greatest Fancy is that they do not entertain any. But again, our chief response to the realization that the proponents of Fact are at least as fanciful as anyone else is to see the gulf between the two basic domains of the book as diminished.

My intent in the previous pages has been to convey in detail a sense of the elaborate imaginative webbing or bridging that Dickens applied to the book—to show that Dickens took great pains to make Hard Times a unified imaginative whole. His doing so was no mere matter of course, but a necessity, for the tactics of the book demanded that he answer the Gradgrindian world view with the narrator's world view: a conception of imaginative links showing all parts of the world to be interrelated and answerable to one another. A primary activity of the narrative personality, then, is imaginative play—just one of the two meanings that Dickens attaches to the word Fancy.

The second meaning that Dickens attaches to Fancy, it will be remembered, is fellow feeling, "an untiring readiness to help and pity one another." The book is full of scenes of sympathy: Rachael "alone appeared to have compassion on a degraded, drunken wretch of her own sex." When Sissy learns of her abandonment, Josephine Sleary kneels "down on the floor to nurse her, and to weep over her." Louisa tells Tom, when she suspects him of foul play, "You may be certain that I will be compassionate and true to you," although she later must ask, "Where are the sentiments of my heart?" Troubled Louisa pleads with Sissy, "Forgive me, pity me, help me! Have compassion on my great need, and let me lay this head of mine upon a loving heart!" To which Sissy replies, "O lay it here! Lay it here, my dear." Even Gradgrind comes to plead for fellow feeling from Bitzer—"Pity us!"—although his search for heart is not so successful as his daughter's. Bitzer's reply to Gradgrind's question, "have you a heart?" namely, "The circulation, Sir . . . couldn't be carried on without one," reveals through the divergent meanings that can be applied to the same word the hopeless difference between the sensibility of Fact and that of Fancy. The sensibilities are no closer to touching than the meanings.

Like imaginative play, fellow feeling has a force and strength of its own, which is directed against Fact. Dickens' intentions are manifest in a note from his working plans, or "Mems.," for Hard Times: "Carry on Sissy—Power of affection." We see this power in her ingenuous jousting with her schoolmasters, where headless heart is pitted against heartless head: "I thought it must be just as hard upon those who were starved, whether the others were a million, or a million million. And that was wrong, too." The two great confrontations between Fact and Feeling are that between Bitzer and the largehearted circus folk, and that between Sissy (speaking in Louisa's behalf) and Mr. Harthouse, in which she, supported only by "my love for her, and her love for me," completely routs the man-of-the-world and sends him packing. The military motif that is carried throughout the conversation underlines the victory of heart over heartlessness. The happy and fruitful marriage forecast for Sissy at the end of the book shows the ultimate might of the values that she represents.

In these several ways Dickens pits both imaginative play and fellow feeling against Fact. If we are not entirely satisfied with the victory of these allies, the reason may be that the two components of Fancy are not always in league, and in fact work somewhat at cross-purposes. It is time to examine their relationship to each other.

That they do not always go together well is indicated by the narrator's curious paucity of compassion. For all his imagination, he displays remarkably little imaginative sympathy. In fact, as E. P. Whipple observes, "Bounderby becomes a seeming character by being looked at and individualized from the point of view of imaginative antipathy" [Dickens's Hard Times, The Atlantic Monthly, March, 1877]. Whipple goes on to criticize Dickens for his failure of sympathy toward Bounderby, and I would apply his remarks even more generally throughout the book:

When a fictional character is conceived, he shall be not only externally represented but internally known. There is no authorized, no accredited way of exhibiting character but this, that the dramatist or novelist shall enter into the soul of the personage represented, shall sympathize with him sufficiently to know him, and shall represent his passions, prejudices, and opinions as springing from some central will and individuality. This sympathy is consistent with the utmost hatred of the person described; but characterization becomes satire the moment that antipathy supersedes insight and the satirist berates the exterior manifestations of an individuality whose interior life he has not diligently explored and interpreted.

It should be said in Dickens' behalf that Whipple is too absolute and categorical. He touches upon a characteristic practice that Dickens puts to good use in many of his novels, including this one. Dickens' flat characters and his mode of handling them are rich fare indeed, and count generally as one of his strengths. But Whipple's remarks, applied as they are to Hard Times, are fair insofar as they point up an inconsistency within this book: A narrator with a mind and heart closed to certain characters is strangely out of place in a novel that pretends to champion fellow feeling.

The narrator extends his antipathy toward others besides Bounderby. He (and through him, Stephen) displays not the first sign of fellow feeling for Stephen's drunkard wife. Such expressions as "brutish instinct," "debauched features," "greedy hand," and "insensate grasp" show that the narrator is as anxious as Stephen to keep her at a great distance. Stephen's past efforts to abide with her do not entirely atone for his present revulsion; and the kindness of Rachael (who loses at least as much as Stephen because of her) shows up both Stephen and the narrator as callous in their evasive treatment of the wife. (The argument for divorce is oddly out of place in a work celebrating the compassionate bridging of interpersonal gulfs.) Thus would the narrator limit the reader's fellow feeling, by extending to Stephen alone the pity that rightfully applies to both husband and wife. Another telltale sign of antipathy is the narrator's customarily referring to Tom, Jr., as "the whelp." It is a trick of his to highlight the inappropriateness of a designation uttered by one character about another by repeating the offensive expression in his own person (e.g., "young rabble," "Jupe," "Miss Gradgrind"). When he does the same with "the whelp" we take it as another criticism of Harthouse's inability to appreciate what a thing is a man. But then the narrator takes the expression as his own, applying it again and again to Tom. Thus does the narrator, apparently inadvertently, come to share an unsympathetic outlook with Harthouse. Other characters whose plights do not receive their due of sympathy from the narrator are Mrs. Sparsit, Bitzer, and (except, perhaps, at her death) Mrs. Gradgrind. The "sneer of great disdain" on the face of the despised Slackbridge is unexpectedly reflected on his own.

Another, converse indication of cross-purposes between imagination and compassion is the lack of imaginative play on the part of the virtuous, compassionate characters: Stephen, Rachael, Louisa, the circus folk, and especially Sissy Jupe. They show up very badly against the villainous characters: Bounderby, with his magnificent imaginative reconstruction of his past, and with such expressions as, "I didn't four seven one. Not if I knew it" and "if she takes it in the fainting way, I'll have the skin off her nose, at all events!"; Mrs. Sparsit, with her staircase and her view of herself as the Bank Fairy; and even young Tom, with his "jolly old—Jaundiced Jail." These characters make the virtuous ones seem very dull indeed. Although the depiction of a wheezy lisp or colorful circus argot may save Dickens from the charge of dullness, there is no imagination required of the circus characters themselves to produce such talk; so they still emerge with dull personalities. They do not produce imaginative leaps and turns to match their physical ones. Stephen's living over a toy shop may be supposed to carry a symbolic charge, but his situation does not reverberate in his personality. Sissy, whose father specialized in "chaste Shaksperean quips and retorts," and—a superb image for the exercise of fantasy—in "forming a fountain of solid iron in midair," whose mother was a dancer, and whose childhood reading consisted of highly imaginative literature, turns out to be pedestrian enough to have been the daughter of Gradgrind. In fact, she has as little imagination as any character in the novel. I think that what is lacking in the virtuous characters—what the critics, quoted in my first paragraph, are objecting to—can be narrowed down precisely to lack of Fancy, in the first sense of the word: lack of imaginative play. Dickens denies his characters one aspect of the very quality that they represent. Their personalities lack one half of their symbolic meaning.

Thus the bifurcation of the two components of Fancy is consistently preserved: The narrator has all the imagination and none of the sentiment; the Sissy Jupes have all the sentiment and none of the imagination. The distinction between imaginative play and fellow feeling, which was educed at the beginning of this essay from Dickens' synonyms for Fancy, is seen to hold, even in implicit ways, throughout the novel.

Yet Dickens would seem to be desirous of having fantasy and sentiment come together into one harmonious activity or state of being. This intention is made clear in his treating the two concepts as synonymous—in his regarding them both as Fancy. It is also made clear, as we have seen, in his ascribing both to the virtuous characters of the book, imaginative play being ascribed to them symbolically, through the narrator's imagery, and fellow feeling, dramatically, through the characters' behavior.

In practice Hard Times relates the concepts to each other, but the connection is not really a synonymous or equivalent one. Their true relationship is implicit in Louisa's words to her father upon her returning to Stone Lodge after her near seduction: "Father, if you had known . . . that there lingered in my breast, sensibilities, affections, weaknesses capable of being cherished into strength . . . would you have robbed me . . . of the immaterial part of my life, the spring and summer of my belief, my refuge from what is sordid and bad in the real things around me? . . . Yet, father, if I had been . . . free . . . to exercise my fancy somewhat . . . I should have been a million times wiser, happier, more loving." Both concepts are referred to: "sensibilities, affections" on the one hand, "the immaterial part of my life, the spring and summer of my belief (that is to say, childhood fantasies, imaginative play) on the other. The function of the latter concept (referred to directly here as "fancy") is to provide a "refuge from what is sordid and bad in the real things around me." In other words, the proper function of imaginative play is to provide a protective atmosphere of delusion, within which a child's fellow feeling can grow to strength without being blighted by the "sordid and bad" aspects of reality. Thus is fantasy to foster compassion.

The relationship between the two components of Dickens' Fancy is elaborated further in an earlier passage: as Louisa returns to Stone Lodge and her dying mother,

Neither . . . did any of the best influences of old home descend upon her. The dreams of childhood—its airy fables; its graceful, beautiful, humane, impossible adornments of the world beyond: so good to be believed in once, so good to be remembered when outgrown, for then the least among them rises to the stature of a great Charity in the heart, suffering little children to come into the midst of it, and to keep with their pure hands a garden in the stony ways of this world, wherein it were better for all the children of Adam that they should oftener sun themselves, simple and trustful, and not worldly-wise—what had she to do with these?

The "dreams" and "airy fables" of fantasy rise to "a great Charity in the heart"; imagination leads to sentiment, and the relationship of the previously quoted passage is reasserted. What is especially revealing about the present passage is its likening the "airy fables" of imagination to a Garden of Eden, cut off from "the world beyond," "the stony ways of this world," and the "worldly-wise." Imagination is seen to be a refuge characterized by profound innocence; "little children" and "pure hands" enforce this connotation. We remember the aura of childhood that surrounds the virtuous characters of the novel—the "wonderful kind of innocence" that surrounds Sleary, for example.

Innocence tends to display a self-protective offishness, which is clearly observable in a few telling gestures in the novel. One is Sissy in full flight from Bitzer. Sensing her natural enemy, she runs away from him. Sissy must remain inviolably innocent; she cannot know Bitzer, even mentally or imaginatively. So she flees. Another such gesture is that of Rachael, in answer to Stephen's attempt to express his darker feelings about his wife:

". . . I thowt, 'How can I say what I might ha' done to myseln, or her, or both!'"

She put her two hands on his mouth, with a face of terror, to stop him from saying more.

Rachael can permit herself to know only the gentle side of Stephen's nature. Knowledge of his other side would compromise her innocence, so she instinctively silences him. Finally, there is Sissy's visit to Harthouse; the innocent enters the lair of the man-of-the-world: "She was not afraid of him, or in any way disconcerted; she seemed to have her mind entirely preoccupied with the occasion of her visit, and to have substituted that consideration for herself." I would suggest that it is not herself that she is ignoring here but Harthouse, the embodiment of worldliness. In fact the success of her visit comes about precisely because she never really notices, understands, or is touched by him—because "her mind looked over and beyond him": "if she had concealed the least doubt or irresolution, or had harboured for the best purpose any reserve or pretence; if she had shown, or felt, the lightest trace of any sensitiveness to his ridicule or his astonishment, or any remonstrance he might offer; he would have carried it against her at this point. But he could as easily have changed a clear sky by looking at it in surprise, as affect her." His every statement "had no effect on Sissy." Her success against him is seen to depend on her absolute lack of "sensitiveness" toward him. Again, to know him would be to be polluted by him, but she resists his charm, remaining as impersonal and distant as the sky itself.

And thus we come to the heart of the problem of Hard Times: Dickens' apparent failure to realize that he has allotted two, contrary roles to the imagination, because he is championing two somewhat conflicting causes: fellow feeling and innocence. On the one hand (as we have seen), through the narrator's imaginative play—his complex pattern of imagistic analogies—Dickens develops a model of a highly interrelated world, to contradict the world of separation and alienation that the Gradgrind system was imposing upon man. On the other hand, through self-delusive imaginative play, the book's innocent characters are able to insulate themselves from "what is sordid and bad" in "the world beyond." The function of the imagination is now to build bridges, now to build buffers. Dickens seems uncertain whether to work toward a coherent, interdependent world, or toward a scattering of islands of innocence. His uncertainty is due to his cross-purposes as to whether one's heart should go out in fellow feeling for others, or whether it should harden itself in self-protection. Is "the world beyond" to be truly known, or avoided? In his double advocacy of fellow feeling and innocence, Dickens does not seem to realize that either can be achieved only at some expense to the other.

The result of Dickens' cross-purposes is a series of compromises. What he gives on one hand he takes away on the other. True imaginative sympathy—imaginative play working in tandem with fellow feeling—is nowhere to be found in the novel. But we do find unimaginative sympathy—blind compassion—on the part of the virtuous characters, and imaginative antipathy on the part of the narrator. Each is given one quality that permits him to reach out toward others, and another that permits him to fend off those of evil nature. In addition, the innocents are permitted to know only other innocents, or to be touched only by what is congenial to innocence in mixed characters, like Louisa and Stephen. The more observant and adult narrator yet holds his ground within the "garden," denying all sympathy with the "worldly-wise," perhaps out of nostalgia, perhaps the better to protect the innocents. Fancy is decidedly fettered in one way or the other. Because the forces of Fancy are so confused, there is no clear, attractive alternative to the Facts of Gradgrindism. The self-confidence of the narrator is felt to be largely bluster, and the victory over Facts, a paper one. But the greatest defeat in the book is suffered by the elaborately and extensively interrelated imaginative world view that the narrator posits opposite the tabular one of Gradgrind. Dickens himself betrayed it because it showed the things and people of the world to touch in a way and to an extent that be, protective of innocence, was not ready to accept.

N. K. Banerjee (essay date 1972)

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SOURCE: "Hard Times: A Note on the Descriptive Titles of Its Books," in The Indian Journal of English Studies, Vol. XIII, 1972, pp. 22-28.

[In the following excerpt, Banerjee explores the relation between the tripartite structure of Hard Times—"Sowing," "Reaping," and "Garnering"and Dickens's development of the novel's themes.]

'Sowing', 'Reaping', and 'Garnering' are three descriptive words which appear at the head of each of the three books of Hard Times. These words are connected with an activity which is universal and eternal. They are all the more curious in the context they are used. Being a novel set in an industrial area, Coketown, and about people connected with it, Dickens's application of the expressions is deliberate and figurative. The division of the novel in terms of the three clear-cut phases of agricultural activity has the effect of drawing pointed attention to three distinctive stages of the linear progression and of providing a commentary upon each of them. Moreover, by stressing the organic unity of the process, it invites us to view the development as a whole. If mere is any treatment of this feature of the novel in any critique of Hard Times it has escaped me. This [essay] attempts to find out if the imaginative division made by Dickens has any bearing upon the structure and overall vision of the novelist.

By way of indicating the ground covered in significant criticism of this novel, mention may be made of a few important approaches. In speaking of the motive force behind this novel, F. R. Leavis asserted [in The Great Tradition] that '. . . in Hard Times he is for once possessed by a comprehensive vision, one in which the inhumanities of Victorian civilisation are seen as fostered and sanctioned by a hard philosophy, the aggressive formulation of an inhumane spirit.' Stated thus, few critics disagree with Leavis's finding. With regard to Hard Times, the presence of 'a comprehensive vision' is readily admitted by most critics. But critical treatment differs in diagnosing the nature of and the emphasis on 'the inhumanities' and consequently, on the 'formulation of the inhumane spirit'. To this may be added the divergence over Dickens's mode of approach and its effect upon readers.

Few today go so far as Edgar Johnson in claiming [in Charles Dickens] that the novel expresses 'Dickens's violent hostility to industrial capitalism and its entire scheme of life.' Nor do many critics agree with T. A. Jackson [in Charles Dickens] in regarding Hard Times as a 'frontal attack upon the ethics of capitalism as represented by the Manchester School.' Such tall claims on Dickens's behalf are rejected by Humphrey House who asserts [in The Dickens World]: 'On the question of theory there is no real difference between Dickens and W. R. Greg: he is not in the least a Socialist.' House bases his observation on Dickens's rejection of the Trade Union solution of the dispute. While it is not difficult to see how the particular evil of industrialism came to be regarded as the worst form of inhumanity of the age, other critics have found an even more powerful and pervasive inhumanity in a systematic neutralization of imagination from life in demand of a hard philosophy. As K. J. Fielding says [in Charles Dickens], "That mere fact, or logic, that leaves half of our lives out of account—any method of ruling our conduct or affairs that lacks sympathy, love, and understanding between human beings—is, in the end, not merely sterile, but bitterly destructive of all moral virtues, beauty, and everything that is best.'

Whatever the specific nature of the evil exposed or the cause thereof, there is general agreement about regarding the novel as being under the perfect intellectual control of the novelist. The fact that it was originally serialized may have obliged Dickens to be economical and mindful of its overall structure. By calling it a 'moral fable', F. R. Leavis testifies to its neat structure because intention is insistent enough everywhere in the novel. K. J. Fielding, on the other hand, believes that 'In many ways, even, the story is to be read less as a fable than as a parable, or a tract for the times.' The structural compactness and unity may be equally well believed as being conceived in terms of 'sowing', 'reaping', and 'garnering' as indicated in the plan of contents of the book.

Several interesting aspects of the novel come to light when viewed in terms of the agricultural process. What is being sown, evidently, are ideas in the minds of people in the novel. The outcome of the sowing has to be traced necessarily and this is done in the book entitled 'reaping'. 'Garnering' likewise is intended to work out the net yield. In the first chapter of Book I Gradgrind outlines his ideal:

Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will be of any service to them.

The remarks of Gradgrind are intended to instruct the instructors of his Model School. The interesting part of the address is the image of planting and rooting out. Teaching is equated with planting, also of pulling out everything else which are not facts. By a mixture of metaphors, the planting is to be done in the 'minds' of 'reasoning animals'. As Book I progressively reveals, 'facts' it is that are sown in the minds of Bitzer, Tom, Louisa and even Sissy.

Bitzer's demonstration of his prowess in recapitulating facts is indeed formidable. If anyone is likely to illustrate the triumph of the cult of Fact, it is he. The implication of the operation of sowing is no less remarkable, even in relation to others. In the case of Tom and of Louisa, it is of dubious advantage to either. As for Sissy, it must be accounted a complete failure. Even so, there are many minds which are denied the benefit of facts being sown. Stephen Blackpool and Rachael and the disreputable Circus people are a few. They are too old to go to school and in any case they form no part of the experiment. In one sense, however, no one is excluded, not even Gradgrind and Bounderby, Mrs Sparsit and James Harthouse. While applying the agricultural image, Dickens could hardly be unaware of the implication of popular saying, such as 'as you sow, so you reap', or 'Sowing the wind, and reaping the whirlwind'. In either of the senses, facts or no facts, each may be regarded as reaping what each has sown.

It would be an over-simplification to treat the novel as a demonstration of the Fact-Fancy antithesis or of Capital-Labour relation grounded in a hard philosophy of the day. Each character is locked up in a private battle with his own self and a more public one with the outer world. The experience of a lifetime is crystallized in their utterance. Thus Mrs. Gradgrind:

But there is something—not an Ology at all—that your father has missed, or forgotten.

Nothing in the novel reveals the collapse of the 'system' and the spiritual bankruptcy of the age as the accusation of Louisa:

How could you give me life, and take from me all the inappreciable things that raise it from the state of conscious death? Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart?

And her agonized wail:

All that I know is your teaching and your philosophy will not save me. Now, father, you have brought me to this. Save me by some other means.

Stephen Blackpool, without the benefit of either the Gradgrind philosophy or the Sleary philosophy, learns from experience: "Tis a muddle.' Called upon by Bounderby to suggest a solution to the muddle, he can only fall upon the 'identity of interest' recipe of orthodox economists. The very fact that he is cast out both by his fellow workers and by the employer shows his failure to establish his identity with the world. His rejection is the negation by the world, of any transcendent spiritual power behind the material world.

The death of Mrs. Gradgrind, the departure of Stephen and the flight of Louisa are conceived as the outstanding development of Book II—Reaping. They are the first to be cut down as weaklings and failures from the point of view of the given conditions and expected yield. They go down feeling, as their pronouncements indicate, that in the act of living, something has gone wrong either with them or the world around them. The process of reaping, however, spares Tom, Bitzer, Harthouse, and the rest.

Intention, as Leavis says, may be insistent enough everywhere in the novel, but nothing like its full force can be appreciated until the pattern is complete. Book III, which completes the design in Dickens's mind, is appropriately entitled—Garnering. These chapters contain significant statements which have a bearing upon the total meaning and justify the overall agricultural image. Gradgrind's peroration on the planting of facts and rooting out everything else from the minds of reasoning animals in the very first chapter, is put to the test by Dickens upon some of the pupils of the Model School within the framework of the test of life in which sowing, reaping and gleaning go on with many things else.

In operation-gleaning, the wisdom gleaned by Gradgrind ironically reverses his own hard philosophy of facts:

Some persons hold that there is a wisdom of Head, and that there is a wisdom of the Heart. I have not supposed so; but, as I have said, I mistrust myself now. I have supposed the head to be all-sufficient. It may not be all-sufficient.

Tom's bitter and cynical elucidation of the same philosophy, as applied to his own case, counterpoints his father's lifelong stand:

So many people are employed in situations of trust; so many people, out of so many, will be dishonest. I have heard you talk, of its being a law. How can I help laws? You have comforted others with such things, father. Comfort yourself.

Of this kind of wisdom Bitzer's is the deadliest:

. . . but I am sure you know that the whole social system is a question of self-interest. What you must always appeal to, is a person's self-interest. It's your only hold. We are so constituted.

Such is the harvest gleaned from the planting of facts in Book I—Sowing. But the fact that Dickens does not confine himself to the demonstration of the experiment with facts but lets many others who get involved articulate their philosophy also, suggests that the novel's structure, in its entirety, with all the characters, is conceived in the image of a full-scale agricultural operation. It is this aspect of the novel which gives it its larger dimension. Thus, even James Harthouse who was to be nothing more than the wicked aristocratic villain, once cynically admitted, 'I am not a moral sort of fellow.' While accepting defeat, he remains unregenerate to the end, as he says,

I cannot say that I have any sanguine expectation of ever becoming a moral sort of fellow, or that I have any belief in any moral sort of fellow whatever.

Even Mrs. Sparsit, of the Coriolanian nose, is given leave to speak her mind for once. An undoubted caricature of the humbled gentry by Dickens, she endears herself permanently by her estimate of that 'bully of humility'—Bounderby:

Nothing that a noodle does, can awaken surprise or indignation; the proceedings of a noodle can only inspire contempt.

Accurate or not, such a description assuages our outraged sense of decency in spite of the exaggeration and inaccuracy. Much of Stephen's dying speech and Sleary's moralizing could be mistaken for and dismissed, and rightly so, as sheer Dickensian and Victorian sentimentality. But one portion of the latter's speech, better even than the one approvingly quoted by Leavis, is,

Don't be croth with uth poor vagabondili. People mutht be amused. They can't be alwayth a-learning, nor yet they can't be alwayth a-working, they an't made for it. You mutht have uth, Thquire. Do the withe thing and the kind thing too, and make the betht of uth; not the wurtht!

The sentiment is not particularly profound, but it is common sense. It takes all sorts to make the world. Some will be ne'er-do-wells and good-for-nothings by material standards. In fact, there may be something of this in all of us. Consequently, we cannot be serious all the time. We must relax, we must unbend. The best thing to do is to accept this unpalatable truth. This reminder, not to take our ego too seriously, is salutary. It is fatally easy to slip into the mould of a readymade ideal or identity.

Keeping in view the structuring of the novel in terms of the agricultural operations of sowing, reaping, and garnering, it is time to see if it helps us to appreciate the novel any better. 'Dickens's novels,' declares Hillis Miller [in Charles Dickens], 'are a transposition into fiction of his assimilative way of living in the real world.' The real world to Dickens is usually the city, Coketown in this instance. Of its numerous people, Dickens has chosen a few through whose efforts to realize themselves, he presents a picture of the world. Like the agricultural operation it has a recurring pattern. The harvest is at all times variable and uncertain, depending upon many factors.

Robert Barnard (essay date 1974)

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SOURCE: "Hard Times, " in Imagery and Theme in the Novels of Dickens, Humanities Press, 1974, pp. 77-90.

[In the following excerpt, Barnard discusses Dickens's treatment of industrial unrest and his characterizations of Gradgrind and Bounderby in Hard Times.]

"I am afraid I shall not be able to get much here."

Dickens's disappointment in the Preston power-loom strike was obvious: the town was quiet, the people mostly sat at home, and there were no hints whatsoever from which he could work up one of his big set-pieces. He would have been much happier, artistically, with something of a more French-revolutionary nature:

I am in the Bull Hotel, before which some time ago the people assembled supposing the masters to be here, and on demanding to have them out were remonstrated with by the landlady in person. I saw the account in an Italian paper, in which it was stated that 'the populace then environed the Palazzo Bull, until the padrona of the Palazzo heroically appeared at one of the upper windows and addressed them!' One can hardly conceive anything less likely to be represented to an Italian mind by this description, than the old, grubby, smoky, mean, intensely formal red brick house with a narrow gateway and a dingy yard, to which it applies.

One suspects Dickens would have liked to take the Italian view of the incident radier than the English. But he obviously felt there was nothing to be done with industrial action as such: "I have no intention of striking", he wrote to Mrs. Gaskell. The decision changed not only the direction of the plot, but the whole tone and texture of the novel. If Dickens had found what he was hoping to find, [Hard Times] would surely have been at once more melodramatic and more "popular". As it is, the emotional key of the novel is low.

In most respects the decision was a fortunate one. At this period Dickens adopted the pusillanimous view that workers had a right to strike but were unwise to use that right, and his presentation would probably have been slanted as well as sensationalised. Dickens knew very little about the Northern industrial scene, and the North and the South are two nations. A brief visit was far from sufficient to understand the industrial worker and the stand he was taking. Again, in such a terse, compact novel the interest could not be widely diffused, and the comparative thinness of the Trade Union side of the novel enabled him to concentrate his attention relentlessly on the Hard Fact men (though even here Butt and Tillotson note that Dickens intended to establish an identity between the Gradgrind view of life and the "dandy", dilettante view, so roundly castigated in Bleak House, but was unable to find space for it).

Nevertheless, the discontent of the workers, and their banding together in Trade Unions could not be ignored altogether, and it is in the treatment of these themes that the reader is brought up against the major false note in the book. As many commentators have observed, the professional speaker from a nearby town whom Dickens saw addressing the striking workers during his visit to Preston becomes the Slackbridge of Hard Times, with the difference that in Preston the man was received with scant sympathy by the men, and was prevented from stirring up trouble by "the persuasive right hand of the chairman", whereas in Hard Times he gets a sympathetic hearing and brings about the ostracisation of Stephen.

The point is not as trivial as it might seem. Of course Dickens is under no obligation to be exact in his reporting; a misrepresentation of detail which allowed the better presentation of a wider truth about the industrial situation would have been understandable. But in this case Dickens makes the change in order to misrepresent the wider situation. Either to placate his middle-class readers, or else because a preconceived plot-line forced the falsification on him, he depicts the workers as intelligent men misled by mischievous agitators—just the very line taken up towards the new Trade Unions by the faint-hearted who baulked at offending either side. Edgar Johnson's heading for his chapter dealing with the writing of Hard Times—"The heaviest blow in my power"—is distinctly misleading. Dickens used the phrase in a letter written 16 years before the visit to Preston. As far as the treatment of industrial unrest in mis novel is concerned, the "blow" Dickens strikes is a muffled, misdirected one.

The importance of his misrepresentation of the situation is not merely extra-literary, for the falseness of Dickens's approach is quite evident in the text itself:

As he stood there, trying to quench his fiery face with his drink of water, the comparison between the orator and the crowd of attentive faces turned towards him, was extremely to his disadvantage. Judging him by Nature's evidence, he was above the mass in very little but the stage on which he stood. In many great respects he was essentially below them. He was not so honest, he was not so manly, he was not so good-humoured; he substituted cunning for their simplicity, and passion for their safe solid sense. An ill-made, high-shouldered man, with lowering brows, and his features crushed into an habitually sour expression, he contrasted most unfavorably, even in his mongrel dress, with the great body of his hearers in their plain working clothes. Strange as it always is to consider any assembly in the act of submissively resigning itself to the dreariness of some complacent person, lord or commoner, whom three-fourths of it could, by no human means, raise out of the slough of inanity to their own intellectual level, it was particularly strange, and it was even particularly affecting, to see this crowd of earnest faces, whose honesty in the main no competent observer free from bias could doubt, so agitated by such a leader.

It does indeed appear strange; in fact nothing Dickens says can make it anything but inexplicable. Nor is he helped by the quality of his writing in the Trade Union section of the novel which at times ("no competent observer free from bias") resembles that of a leader-writer defending a distinctly dubious proposition.

The first consequence of making the workers malleable by such hands as Slackbridge is that Dickens's no doubt genuinely admiring descriptions of them and their attitudes no longer ring true. His comment that "age, especially when it strives to be self-reliant and cheerful, finds much consideration among the poor" sounds condescending, where similar tributes to the brick-makers' wives in Bleak House seem perfectly natural. Nor can one convincingly laud the intelligence of men who are persuaded by the eloquence of a windbag to persecute an admirable and unfortunate fellow-worker. And the second consequence is that, if he devalues and disowns the Trade Union movement, he is forced to look elsewhere for a panacea, since mis is a novel which cries out for some sort of positive statement—seems, in fact, almost to have presented itself to Dickens as the means of bringing his testimony on the subject to the public's notice. And thus he is forced into the drivelling fatuity of Stephen's "'dyin prayer that aw th'world may on'y coom toogether more, an' get a better unnerstan'in o' one another'". Stated so baldly this message would be feeble in any industrial novel. In one that includes Bounderby it is patently ludicrous. Is it suggested that the "honest", "manly" and "good-humoured" workers should sort out their troubles amiably by getting together with this hectoring, lying bully? As far as the Trade Union section is concerned, this novel refutes its own thesis.

But in the parts of the novel concerning the Hard Fact men Dickens is much more at home. If the scenes involving Stephen and Rachael seem thinly written, superior padding, the Gradgrind-Bounderby scenes are hard-hitting and rich in layer upon layer of implication. The first impression these scenes give is of a powerful imagination holding itself in, of an almost painful discipline being exercised over an unruly creative urge. The descriptions of character are brief, forceful; the "key-notes" of the various sections are struck with admirable directness. Most of the chapters begin succinctly, even brutally: "Thomas Gradgrind, Sir. A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations"; or "The Gradgrind party wanted assistance in cutting the throats of the Graces." What would be matter for a page in Dickens's normal style is compressed to a three or four line paragraph in the new, telegraphic style necessary for the short episodes of a weekly serial:

Mr. James Harthouse began to think it would be a new sensation, if the face which changed so beautifully for the whelp, would change for him.


I entertain a weak idea that the English people are as hard-worked as any people upon whom the sun shines. I acknowledge to this ridiculous idiosyncrasy, as a reason why I would give them a little more play.

The idea that Dickens is a writer incapable of artistic self-control is a discredited one; no novel proves its untruth so well as this one. The letters of the time and the notes for the novel testify to the severity of the discipline which he kept himself under, but the reader also senses that he is consciously trying not to squeeze out entirely the exuberance and fluency of his mature style—hence the occasional latitude he allows himself in the depiction of, for example, the circus people and Bounderby.

Dickens's use of imagery in Hard Times is similarly spare, similarly effective. In the larger novels the aspects which acquire in the course of the novel symbolic overtones—be they weather, landscapes, buildings or whatever—are thoroughly, hauntingly established early on, and then subjected to elaboration and modification as the book progresses. The significance of the symbol, and the ramifications of that significance are gradually opened up to the reader; the emotional and intellectual effects that Dickens aims at are cumulative. No such technique was possible for Hard Times. There is nothing in this novel comparable to the prison in Dorrit or the river in Our Mutual Friend. Here Dickens's method is to strike a keynote, then remind the reader of it by constant repetition. For example, the key-note Coketown is struck in Chapter 5 in three pages which suggest, with a wealth of illustrative example, emotional and imaginative repression, uniformity, spiritual death. The key features of the physical description are the "interminable serpents of smoke" from the chimneys and the piston of the steam-engine which looked like "the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness". Later, in Chapter 10, we are told that from the express trains the lights in the factories made them look like fairy palaces. Whenever we need to be reminded of the emotional stagnation inherent in the Coketown system later in the book, Dickens simply mentions the serpent, the elephant and the fairy palaces, normally with no alteration or elaboration, none of the extravagances one might expect from him, given such material. Never has he made his points so economically.

A similar self-discipline is evident in the use of the staircase image, symbol of Louisa's gradual slipping into an adulterous relationship with Harthouse. It is first foreshadowed in Chapter 7 of Book II, where Dickens mentions Louisa going "step by step, onward and downward, towards some end, yet so gradually, that she believed herself to remain motionless." Later we hear that she has fallen into a confidential alliance with Harthouse "by degrees so fine that she could not retrace them if she tried." By this time the image, and its usefulness in depicting a process which he himself had not space to trace in detail was clear to Dickens, and he decided to present the image as an authorial gift to Mrs. Sparsit:

Now, Mrs. Sparsit was not a poetical woman; but she took an idea in the nature of an allegorical fancy, into her head. Much watching of Louisa, and much consequent observation of her impenetrable demeanour, which keenly whetted and sharpened Mrs. Sparsit's edge, must have given her as it were a lift, in the way of inspiration. She erected in her mind a mighty Staircase, with a dark pit of shame and ruin at the bottom; and down those stairs, from day to day and hour to hour, she saw Louisa coming.

From this point on Mrs. Sparsit becomes suitably single-minded in her idea until the moment when, she believes, Louisa "falls from the lowermost stair, and is swallowed up in the gulf. In the author's hand this image would have needed considerable elaboration and expansion; without that it would have seemed too rigid and unsympathetic as a symbol of the downward course of an unhappily married woman, desperately seizing the chance of a love she has never had, and would have suggested a too conventional moral judgement of her actions. As a figment of Mrs. Sparsit's imagination, however, it is perfect, and further develops the woman's combination of prurient curiosity and dreary respectability.

Hard Times is a reaffirmation of belief in fancy. Its targets are not Utilitarianism or Political Economy, but some aspects of Utilitarianism, some results of Political Economy. The book is aimed, in fact, at all the tendencies of the age to repress the free creative imagination of men, to stifle their individuality, to make them cogs in a machine—mere numbers in a classroom, or "hands" without bodies or minds. That Dickens was unfair to the Utilitarians, and in particular to their achievements in the great national cinder-heap, is only important if we agree with House that Gradgrind is satirised as an "intellectual", that Dickens was taking on a philosophy. If this were true, then we might agree that he "did not understand enough of any philosophy even to be able to guy it successfully." But Utilitarianism plays the same role in Gradgrind's mind as, say, religion in Mrs. Clennam's: it acts as a formidable prop to traits of character which were formed quite independently of it. Just as religion was not a part of Dickens's early conception of Mrs. Clennam, so one can imagine Gradgrind without the overlay of Utilitarianism, and still see him as a significant and relevant comment on his age. Dickens's target was not a philosophy but a frame of mind, and a very nineteenth-century frame of mind. It is not often noted that much of what he says about Gradgrind and the education of his children repeats in almost identical terms what he had recently said about Grandfather Smallweed and the education of his grandchildren, who "never owned a doll, never heard of Cinderella, never played at any game" and "could as soon play at leap-frog, or at cricket, as change into a cricket or a frog". It was inevitable that he should be thought at the time to be "taking on" the political economists, but he is in fact only concerned with certain of their attitudes which he regarded as symptomatic of attitudes generally current at the time. His message was little more than "we must not neglect the imagination"—a familiar one from Dickens, but an extremely timely one.

Inevitably in a novel with such a theme mathematical and mechanical imagery plays a large part. In many superb, ironical phrases Dickens salutes mechanised, dehumanised man in his mechanised, de-naturised environment. For example Gradgrind's house is a "calculated, cast up, balanced, and proved house", with a "lawn and garden and an infant avenue, all ruled straight like a botanical account-book". Gradgrind's judgement of human beings and relationships, which is the core of the novel's message, is similarly mathematical, though faced with the extraordinary grace and vitality of a Sissy Jupe he has to admit that "there was something in this girl which could hardly be set forth in a tabular form". "Gradgrind himself is a "galvanizing apparatus" and life at Stone Lodge—like life in the Clennam household, which practises a similar repression of emotion and imagination—goes "monotonously round like a piece of machinery". The "mechanical art and mystery of educating the reason" is served in his school by a master who is one of a hundred and forty "lately turned at the same time, in the same factory, on the same principles, like so many pianoforte legs". Time is the "great manufacturer" and, in a series of images in Chapter 14, turns out a number of human products, varying in their satisfactoriness. In this environment, love—or rather courtship—wears a "manufacturing aspect": "love was made on these occasions in the form of bracelets". All is profit and loss, input and output. Mass production extends to people: "thousands upon thousands . . . aw leading the like lives", says Stephen, as usual a mouthpiece for the author, with the masters "'rating 'em as so much Power, and reg'latin 'em as if they was figures in a soom, or machines'".

And yet fancy, rigorously excluded by the front door, pushes its way brazenly in at the back. Butt and Tillotson note the intrusion of fancy through Bounderby's assumption of low origins and Mrs. Sparsit's assumption of gentility. Even more insistent is the imagery of the novel, with its constant reference to fables, fairy tales, and the stuff of childhood and adolescent reading. Everything that was lacking in the upbringing of Louisa and Tom is present in Dickens's treatment of their story, and the Hard Fact men, who sternly outlaw fancy and emotion from their lives, become, paradoxically, the stuff of fairytales—mere ogres. Dickens makes the point very explicitly early on:

Almost as soon as they could run alone, they had been made to run to the lecture-room. The first object with which they had an association, or of which they had a remembrance, was a large black board with a dry Ogre chalking ghastly white figures on it.

Not that they knew, by name or nature, anything about an Ogre. Fact forbid! I only use the word to express a monster in a lecturing castle, with Heaven knows how many heads manipulated into one, taking childhood captive, and dragging it into gloomy statistical dens by the hair.

And of course here and later he goes on to emphasise the imaginative deprivation of the young Gradgrinds, cut off—like the appalling young Smallweeds—from nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and the usual nourishers of childhood fancy.

But fancy has its revenge, and Coketown and its inhabitants are covered with a patina of myth and fable. Stephen, for example, betakes himself at one point to "the red brick castle of the giant Bounderby." Mrs. Sparsit, whose classical features are of the "Coriolanian style", is surrounded by Roman references drawn from the sort of story once considered suitable for schoolboy reading. She goes down to meet Mr. Harthouse "in the manner of a Roman matron going outside the city walls to treat with an invading general"; as she takes tea with Bounderby she "rather looked as if her classical countenance were invoking the infernal gods"; her position in that gentleman's household is that of "captive Princess" in attendance on his car in state-processions. Inevitably, after her drenching during the pursuit of Louisa, she is compared to a classical ruin. Not particularly fanciful herself, Mrs. Sparsit is the source of fancifulness in Dickens, and is rich in a number of other imaginative comparisons of a fabulous nature: she is a griffin, she is the "Bank Dragon keeping watch over the treasures of the mine" (though she thinks of herself as the Bank Fairy), she trails Louisa "like Robinson Crusoe in his ambuscade against the savages". Similarly Coketown, as well as being full of fairy palaces, is "red and black like the painted face of a savage". The more repulsively unimaginative the subject, the more exotic and fantastic the imagery Dickens lavishes on it, always with rich comic effect. Mr. Bounderby, for example, is a "Venus . . . risen out of the mud"; by banging his hat he becomes an oriental dancer who eventually puts her tambourine on her head. Indeed, his own description of the aspirations of the Coketown hands—"to be set up in a coach and six, and to be fed on turtle soup and venison, with a gold spoon" is drawn from the world of childish fantasy, reminding one of the young Pip's lies about Miss Havisham. Thus in all these ways Dickens drives home his message that the irrational and life-giving world of fancy cannot be suppressed, will be heard; as Sleary says to Gradgrind: "You mutht have uth, Thquire . . . make the betht of uth; not the wurtht.'"

The fancy is not the only quality that is suppressed in Coketown and has its revenge by devious means. Religion too is perverted and slighted, yet emerges fitfully as one of the few forces that can save men from the living death which is Coketown. Dickens's religion, as it shows itself in this novel, is the same uncomplicated, unintellectual religion of good works and the heart's affections which it always had been. He is moved by the story of the Good Samaritan and the Woman Taken in Adultery more than by any Christian doctrine, however vital and central the theologians might judge it. But if he never goes beyond the "common stock of Christian phrases" which House notes as being all he has at his command, he uses it with telling force, for he sees the Political Economists as erecting a new religion, full of doctrine and empty of love. He can hardly mention the views of the "hard Fact tribe" without tacking on an ironical religious phrase to emphasise the barrenness of their philosophy:

The M'Choakumchild school was all fact, and the school of design was all fact, and the relations between master and man were all fact, and everything was fact between the lying-in hospital and the cemetery, and what you couldn't state in figures, or show to be purchaseable in the cheapest market and saleable in the dearest, was not, and never should be, world without end, Amen.

One senses in all the religious references the desperation of one who sees the comfortable and comforting faith which he has taken for granted all his life, and which he has believed to be the natural religion of mankind in general, being extinguished all around and being replaced by something brutal and materialistic. The masters in Coketown take up a god-like stance, rule with "a sort of Divine Right", and the Gradgrind party regale their "disciples" with "little mouldy rations of political economy". Faith, Hope and Charity, the cornerstones of his faith, are being ground in the "dusty little mills" of the Political Economists; existence is becoming a "bargain across a counter" and "if we didn't get to Heaven that way, it was not a politico-economical place, and we had no business there." In similar vein Mr. Gradgrind, at the moment when his daughter is about to burst in upon him to confront him with the terrible consequences of his system, is writing in his room what Dickens conjectures to be a study proving that the Good Samaritan was a bad political economist. For Bitzer, that superbly mechanised product of the system, the "whole duty of man" can be calculated as a matter of profit and loss, and when Mr. Gradgrind becomes an M.P., he is described as the Member for

. . . ounce weights and measures, one of the representatives of the multiplication table, one of the deaf honourable gentlemen, dumb honourable gentlemen, blind honourable gentlemen, lame honourable gentlemen, dead honourable gentlemen, to every other consideration. Else wherefore live we in a Christian land, eighteen hundred and odd years after our Master?

And if the masters deny the Christian message, or twist it to their own ends, the Union leaders do the same. It is perhaps a sign of the shaky balance which Dickens saw it as his mission to maintain that this should be so. Slackbridge is a slightly more secular Chadband, and what Dickens christens "the gospel according to Slackbridge" contains frequent references to Judas Iscariot, the serpent in the garden and the "God-like race" of workers. Slackbridge always talks of himself in terms of a Miltonic God punishing our first fathers: "I hurled him out from amongst us: an object for the undying finger of scorn to point at . . . etc." It is characteristic of Dickens that Stephen should answer him with a reference to the Good Samaritan. Dickens rather frequently uses the God of the New Testament to shame the God of the Old.

For in spite of perversions and suppressions, Dickens's religion of the heart does manage to establish itself as a yardstick by which the newer, harsher creeds are measured and found wanting. Partly, of course, it makes itself felt in this novel through Stephen, and this is unfortunate. Dickens establishes, from the moment the keynote Coketown is struck, that whoever belongs to the eighteen religious denominations which had established chapels like "pious warehouses" in Coketown, "the labouring people did not". Stephen, therefore, is untypical of his class not merely in the promise he made to Rachael not to join a Union (that inexplicable promise which she didn't want him to make and apparently doesn't insist that he keep) but also in his conviction that "'the heavens is over me ahint the smoke'". He is, as Leavis observes, a white man's nigger, and it is a measure of Dickens's lack of confidence in his power to handle the subject of the industrial worker that he has to remove Stephen so far from the average or typical before he can consider it appropriate to demand sympathy for him from the reader. The laboured allegory of his end in the "Old Hell" shaft, squeezed so dry of all emotional impact by the dreary, obvious moralising as Stephen approaches the "God of the poor", is feeble beyond belief, and one feels that it required considerable audacity on Dickens's part to write such a scene shortly after complaining about Mrs. Gaskell's characters, that he wished they would be "a little firmer on their legs." Stephen's fall down Old Hell Shaft and his long wait for hearers for his dying words amount to wanton and sadistic sentimentality. He is butchered in order to bring home to the masters and men a wholly inadequate—indeed a thoroughly false—moral.

Nevertheless, not even Stephen's blankness as a character and wrongness as a representative can totally rob his words of their force. It is wonderful how Dickens, in this brief novel, makes his moral equations almost mathematically precise but still generally manages to make them convincing. Stephen accuses his work-mates of being like the Levite who ignored the man who fell among thieves ("'if I was a lyin parisht i' th' road, yo'd feel it right to pass me by, as a forrenner and stranger'" just as Mr. Gradgrind had proved to himself that the Good Samaritan was a bad economist. At the end of the book Gradgrind's appeal to Bitzer for compassion and that young machine's reply recall, but without seeming pat or unconvincing, Sissy Jupe's version of the first principle of Political Economy: "To do unto others as I would that they should do unto me." Sissy's quotation is the stuff of which Dickens's homely, kindly religion was made, as is Rachael's "'Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone at her!'" Totally unmystical, generous, practical, tinged with sentimentality yet capable of rising to extraordinary insights. It is not always realised how closely interwoven into his thought and range of reference the Bible and its message are. It comes to his mind almost automatically when he is confronted by the brutality and materialism of his age. The philosophy of the toady Pockets, the commercial arrogance of Dombey, the greed that Merdle plays on, the stifling in children of fancy in favour of fact—the immediate response to all these is to use, or to pervert ironically, the Bible, to emphasise the shabbiness and selfishness of the proceedings. "Murdering the Innocents" is the title of the chapter which deals with Gradgrind's school.

And the third irrational force which the Philosophers fail to suppress is, of course, passion, the affections—that love which is the basis of Dickens's philosophy of life—as well as the more dangerous and destructive expressions of the sexual instinct. The whole direction of the novel is an exposition of this failure, and though this theme is dealt with less frankly and less exhaustively than the related suppression of "fancy", the crime of the attempt is clearly, in Dickens's eyes, as heavy.

In no one is the suppression completely successful. Mr. Gradgrind himself may not be conscious of any gap in his life, any dissatisfaction with the pale transparency of a wife whom he married because she was "most satisfactory as a question of figures", but he unconsciously seeks a compensation through his love for his daughter, a love which he disastrously fails to disentangle from the figures and percentages which preoccupy his conscious mind. Even Bitzer, that triumphant product of the system, on one occasion is found relieving his irrational impulses by tormenting Sissy Jupe. Though in Coketown "Nature was as strongly bricked out as killing airs and gases were bricked in", we have a sense throughout this novel of an uneasy, deceptive calm, of suppressed forces which are in danger of becoming, by that very suppression, perverted and destructive forces.

The images Dickens uses to suggest these unused powers are related to fire and water. The fires of Coketown are mirrored in the fires of Louisa's nature, where, unobserved by her father, there is "a light with nothing to rest upon, a fire with nothing to burn". In the striking scene—obviously prefiguring the similar ones in Our Mutual Friend involving Lizzie Hexam and Charlie—when Tom first explicitly suggests that Louisa might use her sexual hold over Bounderby to his, Tom's, advantage, she gazes into the fire, thinking her "unmanageable thoughts". When Tom leaves her after a later scene, she stands at the door gazing out over the lurid lights from the fires at Coketown and trying to establish their relationship to "her own fire within the house". All the suppressions involved in the Coketown system are related. Fire is the image she herself uses in that extraordinary and suggestive moment during the crucial interview with her father over the Bounderby proposal, he uneasily fingering his paper-knife, she gazing with a restlessness she herself only half understands over the tall chimneys of Coketown: "'There seems to be nothing there but languid and monotonous smoke. Yet when the night comes, Fire bursts out, father! "' The image is further developed when, later in the book, Dickens has to describe Louisa's resentment at Sissy Jupe's pity for her. The fire which has been suppressed is now all the more likely to rage destructively:

A dull anger that she should be seen in her distress, and that the involuntary look she had so resented should come to this fulfilment, smouldered within her like an unwholesome fire. All closely imprisoned forces rend and destroy. The air that would be healthful to the earth, the water that would enrich it, the heat that would ripen it, tear it when caged up.

The frequent use of water imagery and one powerful scene involving water have a similar purpose, but the instincts suggested by the comparison are deeper, gentler, more fruitful. In Coketown the factual and the superficial are relentlessly cultivated at the expense of the irrational, subconscious forces, but nevertheless Dickens has to suggest the depths of a nature like Louisa's, unplumbed, neglected, unaroused though they are. Of course, he only has to suggest, for there is nothing in Coketown that will ever be able to bring them to the surface:

To be sure, the better and profounder part of her character was not within his [Harthouse's] scope of perception; for in natures, as in seas, depth answers unto depth.

For all his love and genuine desire to do right her father entirely fails to understand her nature—he has merely been "gauging fathomless deeps with his little mean excise-rod." The whole process of education for Louisa has been nothing more man "the drying up of every spring and fountain in her young heart as it gushed out." Dickens never develops the conventional image of life as a voyage—as he does in other novels—but phrases associated with such an image come naturally to his mind when he considers the waste of Louisa's life, and the perilous suppression of her best feelings. "It is the drifting icebergs setting with any current anywhere, that wreck the ships" he notes of Harthouse. In the desperate scenes with her father when she confronts him with the consequences of his system, she is described as "cast away"—for "she had suffered the wreck of her whole life upon the rock". Her descent down the staircase towards adultery is "like a weight in deep water, to the black gulf at the bottom". The powerful and suggestive scene between Tom and Harthouse, where Tom plucks to pieces rose-buds and scatters them onto the lake below is, in its level of suggestion, too subtle and complex to respond readily to analysis, but clearly it suggests among other things the wanton sacrifice not only of Louisa's virginity but also of her whole life on the altar of Tom's selfishness. In its feeling of waste and constraint the whole scene is a brilliant epitome of the book as a whole.

David Craig (essay date 1974)

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SOURCE: "Hard Times and the Condition of England," in The Real Foundations: Literature and Social Change, Oxford University Press, Inc. 1974, pp. 109-31.

[In the following essay, Craig details Dickens's use of cultural and popular elements in Hard Times.]

Dickens's flair for expressing matters of common concern in their own style shows in the very title of the novel in which, for once, he dealt with the average life of his time. Most of the twenty-five possible titles for Hard Times and the fourteen he short-listed suggest, usually by a cliché or a pun, the theme of human life ground down by calculation and routine: for example, 'According to Cocker', 'Prove It', 'Hard Times', 'Hard Heads and Soft Hearts', 'A Mere Question of Figures'. 'Hard Times' stands out in that it was the phrase which came most naturally, when weariness or hardship had to be voiced, to the people with whom the novel is concerned: the men, women and children whose lives were being transformed by the industrial revolution. It is very much a vernacular phrase, common in folk songs especially between 1820 and 1865 but not in pamphlets, speeches, or the papers, however popular or radical. 'Hard times' (or 'tickle times', 'weary times', 'bad times') usually meant a period, often a slump, when scanty food and low wages or unemployment bore particularly hard. Much less often it could mean the more pervasive state in which people felt that the essential and permanent conditions of their lives hemmed them in inflexibly, as in the refrain of a song from the knitting mills of South Carolina around 1890:

Every morning just at five, Gotta get up, dead or alive. It's hard times in the mill, my love, Hard times in the mill.

Every morning just at six, Don't that old bell make you sick? It's hard times in the mill, my love, Hard times in the mill. . . .

Ain't it enough to break your heart? Have to work all day and at night it's dark. It's hard times in the mill, my love, Hard times in the mill.

The lightness of Dickens's judgement lay in his seizing on the popular phrase and using it for a novel which is not about a time of special neediness but rather about a kind of bondage to routine and calculation so integral to the culture of industrial societies that much of it is still with us.

Both theme and title, then, are typical at once of Dickens's fellow-feeling for the mass of people and of his flair for sharpening the topical to a pitch of memorable art. His novels in general, and Hard Times more than any other, are so saturated in the habits, social forms, and events of his own age, and enter so directly into its struggles, that we can best understand why such works appeared at just that juncture if we consider the trends in his own development and in English literature as a whole that had led up to the situation at mid-century. Dickens himself was notable for not drawing much on the art-literature that came before him. He delighted in and owed much to the hearty comedians among eighteenth-century novelists, especially Smollett, but it is at least as relevant to note that he began his career as a reporter, writing against time on breathless journeys around the country from one political meeting to another; that he was famous among the journalists in the gallery of the House of Commons, where he reported for seven years, for the extraordinary speed and fullness of his reports; that his first wish artistically was to act at Covent Garden because 'I believed I had a strong perception of character and oddity, and a natural power of reproducing in my own person what I observed in others'; and that his first novel, Pickwick Papers, began as the letterpress for a series of 'cockney sporting-prints' issued in monthly parts. He thus differs in kind from Jane Austen, who carried on from Johnson and Sheridan, and George Eliot, who carried on from Jane Austen and Dickens. Dickens raised an established form, the novel, to new levels by fusing all manner of popular elements and new cultural media, and this is typical of how an art grows at a time of rapid, drastic social change, when artists must take in and digest the startling new experiences, assailing them from all sides, which the conventional art of the time finds it hard to cope with.

Dickens also arrives after a prolonged lull or barren phase in British writing. By 1824 Shelley, Keats, and Byron are dead, and Wordsworth's powers have failed him; Jane Austen dies in 1817, Maria Edgeworth publishes nothing of interest after 1812, and Scott's best vein is quite done by 1824. The Twenties and Thirties are thus, in literature, a flat calm, stirred only by the faint ripples of Tennyson's first books; and when energy returns to literature it is in the form of an urgent concern with what came to be called the 'Condition-of-England question'. From about 1838 Dickens is brusquely modernising the novel, driven by his sense of the topical, his consuming fascination with his own times. His modernity is extraordinary: how many people faced with these words—'plain to the dark eyes of her mind, as the electric wires which ruled a colossal strip of music-paper out of the evening sky were plain to the dark eyes of her body'—would place it in the 1850s? Yet it is from Hard Times. Clearly the 'accident' of Dickens's individual genius is crucial in modernising fiction at that juncture, just as the 'accidental' deaths of those leading Romantic poets were crucial in causing the lull. Yet the lull also corresponds with what contemporaries called the Thirty Years' Peace (from 1815 to 1848), and what ends the lull is the upheaval that includes the outcry against the New Poor Law of 1834 (an ingredient in Oliver Twist), the Chartist campaign from 1838 onwards (an ingredient in Disraeli's Sybil), and the Year of Revolutions, 1848 (an ingredient in the radicalism of Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot). Altogether it is as though our [English] culture (including folk song, political parties, and trade unions as well as the main arts) had been cudgelling its brains for ways of dealing with the new life—life dominated by the industrial system—and had now found what was needed.

The historical image of this period—the breakneck growth of the railways, the congested towns and great oblong mills swarming across Lancashire—is so familiar that we can't pretend to keep it out of our minds as we read Hard Times. Equally, it would be wrong—a failure to drink in what Dickens offers—if the novel were allowed to trail after that history, used merely to attach a few picturesque personifications and episodes to a body of material we think we already know. But it would be another kind of missed opportunity not to use the novel as a source of insights into a specific phase in that long train of social experience which has brought us to where we are. Dickens himself was writing with this purpose—to incite thought and help mould attitudes to burning problems; and Hard Times is 'about' a specific time, the Forties, whereas others even of his most social novels tend either to satirise types that could have been found at many a time (e.g. the stony-hearted businessman in Dombey and Son) or else to draw historical elements freely from several different times (as in Bleak House). In Hard Times Dickens was striving to articulate the parts of a civilization, with a minimum of flights down fanciful by-ways, and with an insistence on the typical and even the average which suited the industrial and mass aspects of that age. It was the age in which cities like the original of Coketown multiplied by three within a lifetime and Britain 'changed over from a rural to an urban civilization' inside two generations. It happened fast enough to cause actual bewilderment. We can read in the diary of a man who must have been very much like Stephen Blackpool how when he set out on Good Friday 1860 to walk through his native parts of twenty-eight years before—the industrial villages around the eastern side of Manchester—he found that 'everything was changed':

Villages have grown into large towns, and country places where there was nothing but fields are now covered with streets, and villages and large factories and workshops everywhere. I made enquiries [at] many a place after people who had lived there, but they were either dead or gone to America or gone somewhere else. I only saw one woman whom I knew, but she did not know me and would not believe me when I told her I was very tired.

Again, from the Black Country comes a song with the refrain 'I can't find Brummagem'. Once, this sense of being literally lost in the new surroundings would have been confined to London with its uniquely fast development in the eighteenth century. Now it was widespread. According to the Census taken three years before Hard Times was written, of the 3,336,000 adults living in London and 61 other English and Welsh towns, little over one-third had been born in the town where they now lived.

Of course many things could be made of such material. But one broad approach that we can now see, from its frequent occurrence, to have been positively enjoined upon artists by the life of those times is a radical or humane concern with hard conditions, a vehement desire to bring home to public opinion, in terms both compassionate and warning, that it was not tolerable that the ordinary conditions of living for so many should be damaging to physical and psychological well-being or that rich and poor, employers and working people, should live at such different standards and be arrayed against each other in class struggle. This is the 'Condition-of-England question', so named by Carlyle in his essay 'Chartism' of 1839—Carlyle to whom Hard Times was dedicated and a quotation from whom was printed on the balance-sheet of the fund collected for unemployed workers during week fourteen of the Preston lock-out which Dickens went to report when gathering copy for the novel.

Dickens had thus found his way to a subject from the heart of industrial civilization quite early in his artistic maturity. It is surely the novels in which social institutions are turned into rich and ramifying dramatic symbols that are in Dickens's oeuvre what the tragedies are in Shakespeare's, and the series of these novels starts with Dombey and Son in 1846-8. It is a measure of the urgency and directness of Dickens's concern in Hard Times that whereas in Dombey the business that dominates Dombey's life is scarcely typical of English commercial activity at that stage, and is vaguely specified into the bargain, for Hard Times Dickens was so bent on 'getting it right' that he went to Preston (in January 1854) for material. Much of what he saw there he turned straight into fiction: for example, the 'coldly and bitingly emphatic' master or owner on the train north, who extolled Political Economy and insisted on the total irrelevance of human sympathy to questions of labour or production; or the professional speaker whom Dickens heard at a Sunday meeting of locked-out cotton workers and whom in his article he dubbed 'Gruffshaw'. It must also be said that Dickens had to go and gather copy because he had never known the industrial heartlands at first hand (apart from an occasional visit to relatives in Manchester). Both aspects, his real concern and his comparative inexperience in this field, must be kept in mind when we are pondering the truth of the novel as an image of the life centred on the factory system.

To put it in this way is not to beg the question of whether or not Hard Times really is an 'industrial novel'. My opening discussion of its title should already have shown that Dickens's concern entailed his dealing in the same breath, continually, with both the immediate facts of mill-town life and the less direct, the all-pervading cultural effects of the new intensive production. The novel is about the ways in which iron conditions were felt to have closed round people's lives. I say 'felt' as though the matter were not clear-cut, for it is a fact that people were often making heavy weather of perfectly convenient new arrangements: for example, Dickens was fascinated by transport, and people tended to grumble about the sheer punctuality and orderliness of the railways compared with the old coaching. Yet many contemporaries were not being captious or just torpidly averse to change when they expressed concern at the condition of England and considered they were beset by unprecedented troubles. Dickens was writing towards the climax of a phase during which, it can now probably be said, the standard of living for large sections of the people fell, as the first manic onset of the industrial revolution took its toll and had not yet yielded its compensating benefits. We have also to remember that encroachments on freedom of behaviour aroused militancy quite as readily as evils like wage-cuts or the price of flour. The many petitions against the enclosing of common and waste ground were only the first of many protests against the process whereby the actual scope or room in which to live was curtailed. Dickens's lifetime saw the beginning of the end for the old cottage industry. The family which in the time of, say, Defoe had carded, spun, and woven, washed and bleached as a team was now scattered from home out into the mills, there to be knit together again as a class no longer based on bloodties—the Hands of Bounderby and Gradgrind. Instead of work following the rhythms of close personal relations—work until the piece was finished, a journey to sell it, and then perhaps a long week-end until the money was finished—now the men, women, and children must submit to a rigid time-table laid down by a management avid that every minute should be worked to the full. Experience narrowed. The surroundings of the work and the work itself were the same day in day out. Where once a man might have had several jobs—for example, the German iron miners who wore their furnace-skins of white calf s hide while haymaking in their own meadows, now each person was likely to work at one job only and his sole means of livelihood was the sale of his power to work at that job.

The point is not that the quality of life deteriorated in some absolute way: so general a matter is impossible to decide for or against, and even if one breaks it down into seemingly verifiable parts, it turns out that, for example, the notorious horrors of the early factories were parallelled by the physically vile conditions in which many handloom weavers worked at home. The point for Hard Times is that people had become less a law unto themselves, the stuff of their lives less variegated, and it is this sense of lives clamped under a grid that haunts Dickens throughout his work, whether he is writing about imprisonment itself or about the more impalpable sorts of bondage that are the theme of Hard Times. In such matters it is necessary to hear the testimony of the people who lived at the point of change: for example, the following verse from a song about the transition to powered weaving (staple industry of Coketown), written by the Gorton weaver John Grimshaw:

So, come all you cotton-weavers, you must rise up very soon, For you must work in factories from morning until noon: You mustn't walk in your gardens for two or three hours a-day. For you must stand at their command, and keep your shuttles in play.

Grimshaw was a notable songster, but singing was precisely what the mill-owner felt obliged to forbid in case it interfered with production. The handloom weaver had either talked or sung while he worked: 'When not talking he would be humming or singing snatches of some old ballad.' And in a weaving-shop before steam came in, 'let only break forth the healthy and vigorous chorus "A man's a man for a' that", the fagged weaver brightens up. His very shuttle skytes boldly along, and clatters through in faithful time to the tune of his merrier shopmates!' By mid-century this was forbidden: in mill after mill placards were up with such rules as 'Any person leaving their work and found Talking with any other work-people shall be fined 2d. for each offence', and similarly for 'Talking with any one out of their own Ally', or 6d. (the equivalent of £1 today in terms of real wages) for 'talking to another, whistling, or singing'. Here is the policing and hemming-in of the human being that moved Dickens to his reiterated message, put into Sleary's mouth in Hard Times: "'People mutht be amuthed. They can't be alwayth a learning, nor yet they can't be alwayth a working, they an't made for it.'" In Hard Times the rigid system that cages people in is located squarely in or rather is seen actually to consist of the mill-town itself, especially in that passage from Chapter S that sets the keynote or fixes the image of the dominant scene:

It was a town of red brick or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it. . . . It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever. . . . It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye. . . . It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another . . .

In face of this insistence on a specific real location, it seems wilful to rarefy the novel's theme along metaphysical lines: 'Coketown with its troubles is merely the purgatory in which individuals suffer.' What Dickens is intent upon is a specific society which had become unbearable for historical (and therefore remediable) causes.

In stressing the directness of the links between the novel and mill-town life, one is not somehow missing or coarsening its thematic subtlety. Certainly Dickens did not intend an 'industrial novel' if by that one means a barely-fictive report on troubles in, say, Manchester or Sheffield: for example, he decided against depicting a strike. This led to disappointment among early reviewers who evidently assumed that he should have written a straight industrial piece and not made this aspect 'subordinate and incidental' to the educational aspect. But Dickens was shirking nothing. To be as trenchant as he was about the owners and their pet schools was itself to take sides and declare one's commitment in the matter of the condition of England. Dickens was writing at a time when the periodicals could smell radicalism a mile away, and in the most unlikely places. Jane Eyre had been censured for 'moral Jacobinism' and anti-Christian 'murmuring against the comforts of the rich and against the privations of the poor', although I would have thought that Charlotte Bronte had leaned as far back to square with conventional taboos as a remarkable artist well could without sinking herself entirely. Charles Kingsley's Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet (1850) had just been given hostile reviews in The Times, Blackwood's, the Edinburgh Review, and the Quarterly for advocating socialism cunningly disguised as Christianity. Philanthropic cotton-masters were warning village institutes about the tendencies implicit in Mary Barton. Indeed the trenchancy of Dickens's social criticism now began to jeopardize his reputation, throughout the second half of his career, in the eyes of both the conservative and the go-ahead, from Macaulay with his objection to the 'sullen socialism' of Hard Times to an American, Whipple, who considered it childish to oppose 'the established laws of political economy', which he considered on a par with those of the physical universe. It took artistic determination to come as near the heart of the industrial matter as Dickens did, and equally it led to several swerves into evasion as the good-hearted radical novelist strove to come near the truth without committing himself too ruinously.

The stress on schooling is certainly no evasion. This linking of classroom and mill turns out to be one of Dickens's most telling ways of composing his sense of English civilization into a coherent, many-sided image. Both school and town were owned, or at least controlled, by the same men, the masters, some of whom were fanatically eager to try out on the populace the theoretical social systems which they had drawn up on strict Utilitarian principles. Some of the first efforts to redeem the hell of what Mumford calls the 'insensate industrial town' went into restoring the common land in the form of parks, beginning with Dickens's Coketown, Preston, in 1833-5. But the spirit of the movement was distinctly Gradgrind. The park at Derby, for instance, was 'tastefully laid out in grass intersected by broad gravel walks, and planted with a great variety of trees, shrubs, and flowers botanically arranged'—admission free on Sunday except during hours of church service, or 6d. (equivalent to £1 now) on weekdays. Here was what the Hands got in place of the two- and three-hundred acre commons on which townsfolk a generation before had run races, played at knur and spell, or courted among the bushes. Again and again the trouble with the 'utilitarian economists and Commissioners of Fact' satirized by Dickens is not so much their basic aims as the detailed arrangements they thought necessary to achieve them—the fanatical tidy-mindedness which had so little sense of the freedom, the room for free movement, that we need as organic, sentient beings. Under the Poor Law of 1834, which was engineered by Edwin Chadwick (former secretary to the founder of Utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham), a destitute man could get no poor-relief unless he entered a workhouse (and more than a quarter of a million had done so by the Forties). To discourage people of low moral fibre from succumbing to the lure of an easy life, Chadwick and company worked out 'a discipline so severe and repulsive as to make them a terror to the poor': 'minute and regular observance of routine', for example silence during meals; confiscation of all personal possessions; total separation of men and women; and separation of husbands and wives, if still fertile, partly to make easier 'the requisite classification' (my italics). And all this was grafted onto the economic system favoured by the Utilitarians—laissez-faire, which in its tendency to produce uncontrolled slumps might have been designed to turn able-bodied and industrious workmen into paupers. Dickens was never more surely in touch with rightful popular feeling then when, in this particular novel, he made rigid systematism the centre of his target rather than the more glaring sorts of material evil. In the words of a contemporary, the attempt to apply the New Poor Law 'did more to sour the hearts of the labouring population than did the privations consequent on all the actual poverty of the land'.

Why did Dickens dwell so much on the educational forms taken by the new fanaticism? Partly because it was there, among the young, that one could see most strikingly how the still plastic human being was forced into an iron mould; partly because the schooling systems favoured by go-ahead cotton masters were themselves like living satires on Utilitarianism in practice, even before Dickens had recreated them in the mode of satire. The Gradgrind model school with its regimen of pure fact is in no way an allegory or symbol of what a cult of fact would run to if carried to an extreme. It has been suggested that what Dickens is really getting at is the Victorian fascination with compendiums, encyclopedias, statistical accounts, etc., and that Bitzer's 'definition of a horse' owes something to what could be found in publications like Charles Knight's Store of Knowledge.

The fact is that the first two chapters of the novel are an almost straight copy of the teaching system in schools run by the two societies for educating the poor. In the Manchester Lancasterian School a thousand children were taught in one huge room, controlled by a kind of military drill with monitors and a monitor-general, and taught by methods derived from the Catechism. Groups of facts, mechanically classified, were drummed in by methods that might have been meant to squash forever the children's urge to find out or understand anything for themselves:

A lesson on natural history would be given thus. The boys would read: 'Ruminating Animals. Cud-chewing or ruminating animals form the eighth order. These, with the exception of the camel, have no cutting teeth in the upper jaw, but their place is supplied with a hard pad. In the lower jaw there are eight cutters; the tearers, in general, are absent, so that there is a vacant space between the cutters and grinders. The latter are very broad, and are kept rough and fît for grinding the vegetable food on which these animals live, by the enamel being disposed in crescent-shaped ridges

MONITOR. What have you been reading about?

BOY. Ruminating animals.

MONITOR. Another name for ruminating?

BOY. Cud-chewing.

MONITOR. What is the root of the word?

BOY. 'Rumen', the cud . . .

MONITOR. You read in the lesson the enamel is disposed in crescent shaped ridges. What is the enamel?

BOY. The hard, shining part of the tooth.

MONITOR. What part of our tooth is it?

BOY. The covering of that part that is out of the jawbone.

MONITOR. What do you mean by disposed?

BOY. Placed.

MONITOR. The root?

BOY. 'Pono', I place . . .

(Bleak Age)

This of course is precisely Bitzer's "'Quadruped, Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders'", and so on. It only remains to add that the inventor of this system, Joseph Lancaster (a Quaker), claimed to have 'invented, under the blessing of Divine Providence, a new and mechanical system of education', and that the inventor of a similar rival system, Andrew Bell (an Anglican), called his 'the STEAM ENGINE of the MORAL WORLD'. Given this kind of thing Dickens had no need to invent: the satire was already there in life, and not on some lunatic fringe but in a widespread, dominant, and much-admired system. (On grounds of authenticity alone, apart from deeper considerations, this aspect has not lost its relevance. I was present, as teacher, in a class in a Scottish city school in 1959 when one of Her Majesty's Inspectors spent twenty minutes trying to get the boys to define a table. As he was about to leave, he turned and asked them to repeat the hard-won definition. None of them could remember it.)

Dickens was not seizing on a very unusually glaring or ludicrous part of the culture and making more of it than it signified. There were the closest links between heartless schooling and worse than heartless factory discipline. One of the worst sides of the early factories was the hours and conditions of work for very young children. It turns out that some of the atrocious punishments added to the already draconic routine were copied from Lancaster:

Lancaster worked out an elaborate code of rewards and punishments among which was 'the log', a piece of wood weighing four to six pounds, which was fixed to the neck of the child guilty of his (or her) first talking offence. On the least motion one way or another the log operated as a dead weight on the neck. Needham [owner of a cotton mill in the Peak district of Derbyshire] clearly tried to copy this progressive idea of the age. More serious offences found their appropriate punishment in the Lancasterian code; handcuffs, the 'caravan', pillory and stocks, and 'the cage'. The latter was a sack or basket in which more serious offenders were suspended from the ceiling. Needham clearly borrowed this idea, too, though his children are alleged to have been suspended by their arms over the machines.

That will not surprise anyone aware of what the factory system was like in its early days. But few, I think have realized that schools too went in for that kind of inhuman forcing. Lancaster laid down that classroom offenders should walk backwards round the room with the yoke of wood on their necks, and a child who was kept in was tied to his desk to save the expense of keeping a teacher on to supervise him. 'What impressed the governing classes was the orderliness that prevailed.'

If Dickens had been topical only, instead of topical, farsighted, and profound, he might have concentrated on specific abuses: for example, physical hardships that could quite easily be remedied. The Nottingham spinners whose bones were deformed, joints inflamed, and limbs ulcerated with long hours standing at the machine were presently given chairs to sit on, the thousand children stupefied by the Lancasterian drill were curtained off in 'classrooms' of fifty each (on the advice of a Utilitarian). But hardship was not the only trouble and might not even be the case: in the Preston cotton mills themselves, according to the inspecting surgeon, health was generally better than among the other townsfolk. Dickens was concerned rather to question the intrinsic nature of industrial organisation in which the worker has nothing to do but mind a machine, with no variety of work or psychological outlet in the form of some say in the running of the concern, and in which productivity is pursued at the expense of the human satisfaction it is supposed to serve. The industrial image that haunts Hard Times is of machinery that runs itself, as though without the volition of the human beings it nevertheless compels to attend it:

Time went on in Coketown like its own machinery: so much material wrought up, so much fuel consumed, so many powers worn out, so much money made . . . the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness . . . all the melancholy-mad elephants, polished and oiled up for the day's monotony, were at their heavy exercise again . . . no temperature made the melancholy-mad elephants more mad or more sane. Their wearisome heads went up and down at the same rate, in hot weather and cold, wet weather and dry, fair weather and foul. The measured motion of their shadows on the walls was the substitute Coketown had to show for the shadows of rustling woods; while, for the summer hum of insects, it could offer, all the year round, from the dawn of Monday to the night of Saturday, the whirr of shafts and wheels.

The complement to the machines are the workers—whole humans reduced to Hands:

A race who would have found more favour with some people, if Providence had seen fit to make them only hands, or, like the lower creatures of the seashore, only hands and stomachs. . . . A special contrast, as every man was in the forest of looms where Stephen worked, to the crashing, smashing, tearing piece of mechanism at which he laboured. . . . So many hundred Hands to this Mill; so many hundred horse Steam Power.

This compound insight is in the classic line of labour analysis: in literature, from Blake and Dickens through Robert Tressell to Alan Sillitoe; in discussion, from Cobbett and Hodgskin, Engels and Marx, Ruskin and Morris, through Kropotkin to the Workers' Control and Work Enlargement movements at the present time. Engels puts the thing with characteristic lucidity: factory work 'is, as the manufacturers say, very "light", and precisely by reason of its lightness, more enervating than any other. The operatives have little to do' (my italics). Marx rises to images of industrialism whose scalding force and richness of physical evocation draw, it seems to me, on Carlyle and Dickens as well as on his own genius. In 1829 Carlyle wrote in 'Signs of the Times': 'On every hand, the living artisan is driven from his workshop, to make room for a speedier, inanimate one. The shuttle drops from the fingers of the weaver, and falls into iron fingers that ply it faster.' (Note the impersonal passive there.) We have seen what Dickens wrote in 1854. In 1867 Marx wrote in the first volume of Capital:

[Manufacture] seizes labour-power by its very roots. It converts the labourer into a crippled monstrosity, by forcing his detail dexterity at me expense of a world of productive capabilities and instincts; just as in the States of La Plata they butcher a whole beast for the sake of his hide or his tallow. Not only is the detail work distributed to the different individuals, but the individual himself is made the automatic motor of a fractional operation, and the absurd fable of Menenius Agrippa, which makes a man a mere fragment of his own body, becomes realized. . . . Here we have, in the place of the isolated machine, a mechanical monster whose body fills whole factories, and whose demon power, at first veiled under the slow and measured motion of his giant limbs, at length breaks out into the fast and furious whirl of his countless working organs.

This, in its sheer openness to the newly released energies, its sense of their mingled enormity and potency, is akin to passage after passage in Dickens where he evokes the pace, the swarming detail, and the potentiality for good and ill of his age.

Given this deep and manifold rootedness of Hard Times in its age, it may seem less presumptuous to offer to assess the truth of its image of the life that centred on the factory system. This can be done, so long as we approach through the kind of art that is there in the novel; for presumably if there is a flaw in the truth of its image, this will show as failure or uncertainty in the art. I take it that something like the following would be generally acceptable as an account of how the novel works: By creating motifs and personae distinguished by a few bold, vivid, and repeated traits, far-flung and complex forces are organised into one homogeneous 'fable'. This simplifying mode is no doubt something that must be 'accepted', by which I really mean that we may well have to take it as a mixed blessing, something which, after all, is clearly a condition of the vitality—the trenchant social attack, the whole-hearted humour, and the graphic presentation—of Dickens's kind of art. It is surely a less repressible impatience that we feel with the outstanding weakness in the novel: that is, the Stephen Blackpool part, the mixture of sentimentality and melodrama in the giving of his life and his unacceptability as representative worker (the sole representative apart from Rachael, and she is only a female replica of him). The question is whether this element—which could be written off as the usual Victorian tear-jerking, obligatory and easy to disregard—flaws the truth of the total image of life centred on the factory system.

Presumably there is no need to show in detail that Stephen and Rachael are too good to be true and that their sufferings are exploited for maudlin purposes. It is the more insidious aspects of Stephen's role that call in question Dickens's managing of the political aspect. Saddling Stephen with a monstrous drunken spouse is in keeping with that Victorian way of martyring the hero or heroine (compare Janet's husband in George Eliot's 'Janet's Repentance' or Rochester's wife in Jane Eyre). But the special effect here is to isolate Stephen as much as possible from his work-fellows, and this is geared to the trade-union theme through a decision not to subscribe to the union regulations which is so flimsily motivated that no credible or even intelligible account of it ever comes out. Stephen's reasons are meant to be given in two speeches from Chapters 4 and 6 of Book II: "'I ha' my reasons—mine, yo see—for being hindered; not on'y now, but awlus—awlus—life long!'", and Louisa's statement and question to Rachael, which is never answered: "'He fell into suspicion with his fellow-weavers, because he had made a promise not to be one of them. . . . Might I ask you why he made it?'" This blur makes us begin to think that Dickens is not even implying an adverse judgement of trade-unionism but is sliding out of dealing with it at all. Stephen, by being singled out as a lonely martyr, has been made easy to pity; the well-to-do reader could take his part without being drawn for a moment into discomfiting thoughts of a whole martyred class. The figure of Slackbridge completes the unsatisfactoriness: his foaming rhetoric is done with splendid brio, but his extravagant denunciation of a highly personal decision is not credible, and his only other appearance is when he is trotted on (in Book III, Chapter 4) purely to abuse Stephen again, on the occasion of Bounderby's poster offering a reward for his arrest.

This part of the novel is thus peculiarly shaky; and its upshot is to imply that working-class militancy and working-class decency are mutually exclusive. On this [F.R.] Leavis comments [in his The Great Tradition, 1948] that 'when Dickens comes to the Trade Unions his understanding of the world he offers to deal with betrays a marked limitation. . . . Trade Unionism [is shown] as nothing better than the pardonable error of the misguided and oppressed, and, as such, an agent in the martyrdom of the good working man.' To leave it at that, however, and to insist that 'Dickens's understanding of Victorian civilisation is adequate for his purpose; the justice and penetration of his criticism are unaffected' is to postpone the disturbing question: how could Dickens have felt free to travesty so important a movement? That it is a travesty, a mere echo of popular and stubborn misconceptions, is easily proved: [Humphrey] House shows it in some useful pages of The Dickens World, and we know that much the commonest kinds of union meeting were not to hound individuals but to decide when and where to put in wage claims, to hear information and messages of support from other branches or unions, to hand out strike pay, and the like. Indeed what Dickens wrote from Preston makes it sound as though it was partly his disappointment at finding the town in so uninflamed a state that led him both to make little of the union aspect and to graft on some extraneous excitement when he did present it. But the damage done to the novel is, in my view, minimised if one sees it as a failure of sociological accuracy. For one tiling, does an artist have quite mis obligation to known facts? True, he will fail to arouse our deepest interest if he diverges wildly from, while plainly basing himself on, a familiar state of affairs. But may he not hit off a general type—for example, the huffing-and-puffing sort of demagogue—while colouring in only enough topical detail to make the persona come alive? The main problem is more subtle, and leads to deep-rooted factors in Dickens's view of social life. Let us rephrase the question already put and ask: why did Dickens pick that side of his theme for his exhibition of Virtue and Pathos? Or (to take the matter beyond guesswork and into the realm of verifiability): were there really no possibilities or makings, in the area from which Dickens got his material, for an image of industrial man as fully human though sore-pressed?

This area was Preston in the winter of 1853-4. The city was a heartland of radicalism: it so happened that all male townspeople had the vote and it therefore attracted one radical leader after another to fight the constituency. Great numbers had welcomed Cobbett when he fought an election there in 1826, and Henry Hunt, the 'matchless orator' was its M.P. (thus breaking a virtually feudal monopoly of the seat) from 1830-32. The Preston employers had long been known for their opposition to unions and as late as 1860 it was said that 'increases in wages are sometimes granted elsewhere, in Preston never'. Four strikers had been shot dead by troops in 1842. 1853 was, nationally, a year of intensive labour activity which won wage rises and shortened working hours, and in June there started what became 'by far the biggest industrial struggle in the cotton trade since the general "turn out" of 1842'. The power-loom weavers asked the employers to restore a 10 per cent wage cut enforced in 1847 on the weaving of all fabrics. Most of the masters refused even to meet the workers' representatives, and many of them were fired. To support these men and further the wage claim, unions were re-formed and at some mills strikes were started. The Masters' Association of Preston locked out their workers from September, declared they would not reemploy them unless they renounced trade-union membership, and launched prosecutions against the union leaders to help break the strike (the charges were then dropped). To help the workless, funds were raised in many places (including London) by specially-formed Trades' Committees, which are presumably what Dickens is getting at under the gratuitously pompous coinage 'United Aggregate Tribunal'. As late as April, three weeks after Hard Times began to run as a serial, strikes were still breaking out all over mid-Lancashire, at Wigan, Burnley, Bacup, Padiham.

The reader of Dickens (as of most well-known treatments of Victorian working-class life with the exception of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South) would imagine that the workers who were putting up this struggle and going through this ordeal were a wretched, sullen lot, cowed by factory and city life unless they were inflamed by trouble-makers from outside. The first-hand reports of behaviour and morale show that the prevailing tone was one of resilience, self-reliance, solidarity. In a town where between twenty and thirty thousand had been workless for twenty-three weeks, the spirit of meetings was good-humoured determination. When delegates from the (left-wing) Labour Parliament asked to be heard, the weaver chairman would say that money or constructive comment were welcome but not "'politics and differences among us when what we want is 'armony, brotherly love, and concord'". When a professional speaker got up and began in exactly Slackbridge's 'O my friends' vein to denounce plots involving a neighbouring town's alleged failure to contribute, 'the persuasive right hand of the chairman' fell gently on the man's shoulder and at once stopped him. Yet in his novel Dickens conveys that organised labour was so much self-deceiving agitation, which in passing squashed the rights of individuals, and that its platforms were hogged by mere politicoes. He knew that it was not so, for the above eye-witness account is his own, from his article 'On Strike'.

Notice that my point is not the question of simple truth to life but rather the question as to whether the essential springs of humanness were failing under industrial conditions. In that key Coketown passage early in the novel, Dickens writes that the 'many small streets still more like another' were 'inhabited by people equally like one another', and this, taken with his treatment of the Horse-riders, suggests that it is only among the travelling people, the rovers from outside settled and disciplined society, that the full humanness of spontaneity, togetherness, wholehearted fun, and tenderness can still thrive. It turns out (again from Dickens's own account and also from many other sources) that the Preston spinners and weavers had a whole culture, and a traditional and rooted culture, of fun and imagination and common effort, which they kept up in the heart of, and indeed adapted to, the industrial struggle. 'Behind the chairman,' at the Preston meeting, 'was a great crown on the top of a pole, made of parti-coloured calico, and strongly suggestive of Mayday.' Comic poems were written to drum up contributions to the unemployed fund, people contributed under playful nicknames ('The chirping blacksmith, six pence'), and humour was used especially to prod laggards into paying up. On the handbills we read:

If that fiddler at Uncle Tom's Cabin blowing room does not pay, Punch will set his legs straight.

If that drawer at card side and those two slubbers do not pay, Punch will say something about their bustles. . . .

If squinting Jack of Goodairs does not pay up in future, Punch will stand on his corns.

If those piecers at Dawson's new mill do not pay better, young Punch (old Punch's urchin) will come and break their ends . . .

If that young spark, Ben D., that works at Baxter's Mill does not pay to his trade, Punch will tell about him eating that rhubarb pudding that was boiled in a dirty night cap.

If Roger does not pay, Punch will tell about her robbing the donkey of its breakfast to stuff her bustle with.

When we come upon the first bits of circus slang in Chapters 5 and 6 of Hard Times, we quicken at once, after the bullying formalities and dry precisian assertions of the Gradgrind set. Plainly the author himself is enjoying the quirky idiom of Sleary's troupe (and we also notice that Bounderby is affronted by its outlandishness). The perspective of the novel would have been transformed, and brought still nearer to the real currents of life under industrial conditions, if Dickens had been able to allow that there were kindred things to enjoy and an unquenched capacity for enjoyment at the heart of Coketown. The more we find out what actually happened at that time, the more we realise that militancy was a lifeline—a well-spring of hope, a channel for popular energies, as well as an indispensable lever—amidst the direst conditions. Preston at Hunt's election in December 1830: the radicals, "in a high state of exaltation', paraded the streets with 'music, flambeaux, a lighted tar-barrel and three flags, one of mem tri-coloured'. Glasgow during the Reform campaign of 1831 : "The whole people in that place and in the adjoining towns walked in procession into the Green, divided into their crafts, societies, villages, and parishes, with colours and emblems . . . with about 500 flags and 200 bands of music.' Leeds at the start of Chartism in 1838: 'At the demonstrations the Moor [Hartshead Moor, then called Peep Green] was like a fair, with huts erected for the sale of food and drink, and wives and families accompanying their menfolk. From Bradford, Huddersfield, Halifax, Dewsbury, and other towns in the West Riding the delegates marched in formation—often several thousands strong—with banners flying and bands playing.' But the Preston high spirits in 1854 are all the more impressive for bubbling up, after that long workless winter, on occasions that were not special or stirring.

The relevance for Hard Times can be put in two ways. We may say that Dickens excelled when satirising the employers' habit of discrediting every rightful demand of the Hands (as in that ludicrous recurring image of Bounderby's about 'turtle soup and venison, with a gold spoon') but tended to waver into the sentimental or unconvincing when obliged to focus on the Hands either as private people or as a class liable to take social initiatives. Or we may go further and say that it was not possible to write well when taking the line that militancy was a kind of aberration. On this crucial issue he repeatedly veils radical indecision under a kind of fair-mindedness typical of the gentleman of his time (or the liberal today) who sees much too clearly to deny clamant injustice but cannot commit himself to any course of action that might end it. When Dickens assures us that 'these men [the Coketown workers], through their very delusions, showed great qualities' even when they 'went astray' by combining, or that 'every man felt his only hope to be in his allying himself to the comrades by whom he was surrounded; and that in this belief, right or wrong (unhappily wrong then), the whole of that crowd were gravely, deeply, faithfully in earnest', he is speaking with a usual voice of the middle class. It is the voice of Elizabeth Gaskell in chapter 3 of Mary Barton, blaming John Barton's bitterness at the death of his starving child partly on 'those who, either in speech or in print, find it their interest to cherish such feelings in the working class', and of The Times leader on Peterloo which generously condoled with those massacred in spite of the folly of the 'half employed and half starved' in letting themselves get 'puffed up by prodigious notions of their strength, and inflamed by artful pictures of their grievances'. Indeed it turns out that the notion of politics as an imported disease, with its implication that, left to themselves, masters and men would live in harmony, was precisely the line of the Bounderbys—the Preston cotton masters. In their manifesto of 15 September 1853 they deplored the 'designing and irresponsible body' who were interfering 'with the relation between master and servant' and creating 'where it does not exist . . . a feeling of dissatisfaction and estrangement'.

Dickens, it seems, repeatedly leans to the mass of the people, men draws back, because to commit himself would have been to wake up from the dream of harmony between classes. His criticism of a desperately harsh and unequal society is weakened to make it less uncomfortable, whether to himself or to the reader, and Stephen's latent function turns out to be to suggest that the right way to take the inevitable suffering is with dignified restraint, and alone. His dying words about the murderous condition of the mines are at once given the cast of something to be wished or prayed for rather than struggled about by his still later plea (clearly a message from the author) that "'aw th' world may on'y coom together more'". In specific situations this could only mean that the mill workers should give up their struggle, with its hard-won momentum and solidarity, in favour of arbitration (the suggestion that ends 'On Strike'), or that they should give up politics—the 'froth' and 'unsound counsel called the People's Charter'—in favour of agitation on practical matters like clean streets and cholera epidemics, all of which would somehow give rise to good government and 'a better understanding between the two great divisions of society'. Do not the first-hand records of militant activity—the songs, memoirs, and union documents—show that so much spirit, so rich a human nature, flowed into struggle that to pooh-pooh it or opt out of it by setting up some ideal above the battle was to risk one's art going soft and blurred? In taking for his subject the very core of industrial civilisation—its consequences for people's upbringing, feelings and relationships, and life's work—Dickens had set himself the most exacting test of ability to see truly. In the struggle to live humanly, the working people were exerting every kind of intelligence, courage, and elasticity, the masters were blocking, curbing and denying their humanness at point after point. In such a situation all are stultified, and Dickens embodies this most memorably in Louisa and her relationship—the lack of it—with her father. But more was needed, and if one tried to imagine the great industrial novel that never did get written, one might suggest that the masters cried out to be satirised, the mass of the people to be presented with clear-eyed realism. In so far as Dickens fails in the latter, his novel sags; in so far as he excels in the former, it succeeds, and thereby earns the currency which has made 'Coketown' the classic name for the early industrial city.

Joseph Butwin (essay date 1977)

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SOURCE: "Hard Times: The News and the Novel," in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 32, No. 1, June, 1977, pp. 166-87.

[In the following essay, Butwin examines Hard Times as a novel of social reform and compares it with social-reform journalism of the period.]

Modern criticism tends to judge the novel that aims at social reform by standards that are appropriate to another kind of novel. This tendency is typified by Virginia Woolf s rejection of the novels of Arnold Bennett, H. G. Wells, and John Galsworthy according to standards that she derives from the novels of Laurence Sterne and Jane Austen:

What odd books they are! Sometimes I wonder if we are right to call them books at all. For they leave One with so strange a feeling of incompleteness and dissatisfaction. In order to complete them it seems necessary to do something—to join a society, or, more desperately, to write a cheque. That done, the restlessness is laid, the book finished; it can be put upon the shelf, and need never be read again. But with the work of other novelists it is different. Tristram Shandy or Pride and Prejudice is complete in itself; it is self-contained; it leaves one with no desire to do anything, except indeed to read the book again, and to understand it better. . . . But the Edwardians were never interested in character in itself; or in the book in itself. They were interested in something outside. Their books, then, were incomplete as books, and required that the reader should finish them, actively and practically, for himself.

Woolf acknowledges two kinds of fiction; if we continue to judge one by the standards of the other, then her dissatisfaction is justified. But if we trace the novel of social reform back to its mid-Victorian practitioners, we find a literature that certainly deserves to be studied in its own terms and according to the special demands that it made on its original audience. Readers of Hard Times were asked to turn their attention away from the novel. Dickens's valediction in the last paragraph of the novel makes this intention clear: "Dear reader! It rests with you and me, whether, in our two fields of action, similar things shall be or not. Let them be!" He sets out to initiate "action" in a reader who is seen as something other than just a reader of novels. The novel of social reform completes itself outside the novel in a multitude of acts that may include the joining of societies and the writing of checks. It is also likely to include further reading as opposed to rereading. In the case of Hard Times the original readers were encouraged to see the novel as a form of journalism to be read continuously with Household Words, the weekly magazine in which it appeared. The novel of social reform exists in a continuum with journalism and defines its audience within the general public rather than among the community of "ideal readers" of fiction whose response justifies most literary criticism. The concept of an isolated reading public exercising no other function than the perusal of novels merely reflects the isolation of the Flaubertian artist who has become the archetype of the European novelist since Dickens.

Critical study of the novel of social reform must begin with an understanding of its differences. A great deal of the difference lies outside the novel itself within a context established by journalists, in a format congenial to journalism written for an audience that is prepared to see itself as a social force. In this essay I will re-create the journalistic milieu of Hard Times, which I take to epitomize the novel of social reform in England. This does not mean that the problems of the novel can be explained away by an outside appeal. On the contrary, Hard Times presents certain critical problems which stem precisely from Dickens's understanding of his genre and which I will try to explain in terms appropriate to the genre.

Hard Times was first read by a public which tended to take its newspapers more seriously than its novels. Abundant testimony in the 1850's locates a new source of power in public opinion, and over and over opinion is linked with the press. When novelists set out to enlist public opinion on social issues they generally understood that they were following the lead of the journalists. In an early venture of this kind Dickens follows Oliver Twist into the Magistrate's Court and shifts into the present tense that he reserves for the observation of continuous social abuse in that novel:

Although the presiding Genii in such an office as this, exercise a summary and arbitrary power over the liberties, the good name, the character, almost the lives, of Her Majesty's subjects, especially of the poorer class; and although, within such walls, enough fantastic tricks are daily played to make the angels blind with weeping; they are closed to the public, save through the medium of the daily press.

Critical reception of novels more strictly given over to social issues in the 1840's indicates that they were being read as something other than novels. The Edinburgh Review justified W. R. Greg's long (and largely unfavorable) review of Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton with the running head: "Not to be regarded as a mere Novel." Similarly the Manchester Guardian (28 February 1849) identified the book as a form of current history or journalism masquerading as a novel: "There are popular works published in the form of novels that depict either important historical events of bygone years, or the passing realities of the present, in such an intense manner that the impression conveyed is stamped more vividly and indelibly on the mind . . . than from the study of history properly so-called." This, of course, is just what the novelists of social reform intended. Greg and the Guardian reviewer were protecting the domain of journalism. Both criticized the novel for errors in fact and analysis. The novelists themselves understood that they were entering that domain and in some cases improving upon it. Charles Kingsley praised Mary Barton "for the awful facts contained in it." He saw that there are certain functions served by novelistic "facts" that may even surpass the instructive powers of the press. "In spite of blue-books and commissions, in spite of newspaper horrors and parliamentary speeches, Manchester riots and the 10th of April, the mass of higher orders cannot yet be aware of what a workman's home is like in the manufacturing districts." Again, his eye is on facts and their impact on public opinion which he locates among "the higher orders." The interest of this kind of criticism then turns to the distribution of the novel and consequent action on the part of the readership, neither of which has anything to do with the criteria described by Virginia Woolf in her essay on the Edwardians. The reviewer in this case is also a preacher and a publicist and a novelist of social reform. He begins his review of Mary Barton with a call to action: "Had we wit and wisdom enough, we would placard its sheets on every wall, and have them read aloud from every pulpit, till a nation, calling itself Christian, began to act upon the awful facts contained in it, not in the present peddling and desultory manner, but with an united energy of shame and repentance proportionate to the hugeness of the evil." Kingsley's own novel, Yeast, had just concluded its six-month run in Fraser 's where the review of Mary Barton appeared. By this time the periodical press had become the ideal vehicle for the news and the novel.

Ever since the success of Pickwick had allowed Dickens to leave the Morning Chronicle in 1836, it had been his ambition to unite the functions of the newspaper and the novel. Bentley's Miscellany, Master Humphrey's Clock, and the Daily News all failed to satisfy that impulse before 1850 when all of his ideas jelled around a journal of social reform. His earliest intentions for Household Words included the idea that it should provide the proper context for novels like Mary Barton. Immediately he wrote Gaskell: "There is no living English writer whose aid I would desire to enlist in preference to the authoress of Mary Barton (a book that most profoundly affected and impressed me). . . . all will seem to express the general mind and purpose of the journal, which is the raising up of those that are down, and the general improvement of our social condition."

Dickens's public declaration in the "Preliminary Word" to the first number of Household Words (30 March 1850) would appear at a glance to have a quite different aim in mind. He celebrates "Fancy" and the "imagination" and promises to reveal the "thousand and one tales" too often obscured by the smoke of the factories and their flaming chimneys. One might ask how the Condition of England is to be improved by the telling of tales. Through the agency of fancy and the imagination a whole class may be able to adopt the experience of another class. In order for the facts of industrial life to take hold they must be bodied forth in a fanciful way. Then something akin to Romantic sympathy may be made to prick the conscience of a class. But this activation of middle-class sympathy is not to be confused with "class consciousness" on the part of the beneficiaries of that sympathy. Dickens knows that this mixture of fact and fancy could become extremely volatile. At the end of his introduction he moves without apparent transition into a denial of revolutionary intention:

Some tillers of the field into which we now come, have been before us, and some are here whose high usefulness we readily acknowledge, and whose company it is an honour to join. But, there are others here—Bastards of the Mountain, draggled fringe on the Red Cap, Panders to the basest passions of the lowest natures—whose existence is a national reproach. And these, we should consider it our highest service to displace.

The Dickensian impression of the "Red Cap" and the "Mountain" had recently been kindled by events in France. The radical press in England self-consciously followed the French example. Julian Harney called himself "L'ami du peuple" in the Red Republican, a weekly journal published from June 1850 to July 1851, and Dickens makes it clear from the start that he is no Harney, certainly no Marat, and that his audience are not sans-culottes.

A journal dedicated to "the raising up of those that are down" finds its ideal audience among those who are not down. Dickens's other contribution to the first number of Household Words begins with the favorite formula of the middle-class reformer: "As one half of the world is said not to know how the other half lives, so it may be affirmed that the upper half of the world neither knows nor greatly cares how the lower half amuses itself." The article, called "The Amusements of the People," affirms for the lower orders the right that Sleary claims for all people in Hard Times: "We believe that these people have a right to be amused." Amusement—in this case vaudeville theater—is also education. For the education of the poor Dickens rejects the "Polytechnic Institution in Regent Street" in favor of the theater because "there is a range of imagination in most of us, which no amount of steam-engines will satisfy." The "amusements" and the instruction of the poor are not served by print. Joe Whelks, as Dickens calls the man of the people, "is not much of a reader, has no great store of books, no very commodious room to read in, no very decided inclination to read, and no power at all of presenting vividly before his mind's eye what he reads about." In other words, he is telling his audience, if you are reading this article you are not a part of "the other half." His audience is thus identified as a reading public to whose amusement and instruction is added the responsibility of reform.

Dickens initiated Household Words in 1850 with many of the ideas that would animate the writing of Hard Times four years later. The novel represents the principles of the journal as they are stated in its first issue—its belief in the redemptive power of fancy, especially in the industrial milieu, its defense of popular amusement, and its warning not to confuse middle-class reform with demagoguery.

Six months after the conclusion of Hard Times, as an introduction to the eleventh volume of Household Words, Dickens restates the principles of his journal in a leading article called "That Other Public." The threats of the "Red Cap" have receded and been replaced by the corruption of successful politicians and entrepreneurs. The machinations of both tend to render the public sluggish and recalcitrant on issues of reform. The means of both are essentially the same: they manipulate the press through the contrivance of favorable publicity. During the busy first week of February 1855 when Palmerston was to become Prime Minister, several papers reported that he had hired a few disreputable journalists to convince the American press of his pacific international policy. Without naming names Dickens condemns a politician who would "purchase remote puffery among the most puff-ridden people ever propagated on the face of the earth." Since the time of his visit to the United States in 1841, the American example would bring to Dickens's mind the worst excesses of the press and of the promoters who habitually misuse it. From Palmerston he turns to the unnamed author "of a little book of Memoirs" lately published. The list of impostures shows the subject to be P. T. Barnum:

Does the "smart" Showman, who makes such a Mermaid, and makes such a Washington's Nurse, and makes such a Dwarf, and makes such a Singing Angel upon earth, and makes such a fortune, and, above all, makes such a book—does he address the free and enlightened Public of the great United States: the Public of State Schools, Liberal Tickets, First-chop Intelligence, and Universal Education? No, no. That other Public is the sharks'-prey.

In many ways Barnum's Dwarf and Angel—Tom Thumb and Jenny Lind—fulfill the needs that Dickens describes in his articles on "The Amusements of the People" and in Hard Times. A nation governed by Gradgrinds would seem to need its Barnums. Unfortunately, Barnum asks too high a price. All of his tricks, pranks, and promotions represent the utter perversion of the art that Dickens was cultivating in Household Words. Dickens's fictions become Barnum's lies; the public's willingness to absorb fantasy becomes downright credulity. Barnum represents the self-serving publicist whose aim is not to inform but to advertise. In his autobiography Barnum describes the way the press serves the purposes of the entrepreneur:

Whatever your occupation or calling may be, if it needs support from the public, advertise it thoroughly and efficiently, in some shape or other, that will arrest public attention. . . . In this country [the United States], where everybody reads the newspapers, the man must have a thick skull who does not see that these are the cheapest and best mediums through which he can speak to the public, where he is to find his customers. Put on the appearance of business, and generally the reality will follow.

Household Words included no commercial advertisement beyond the announcement of its own future publication, the continuation of a serial or the appearance of separate volumes. When a distributor slipped a sheet of advertisement into one of the issues and angry readers complained to the Times, Dickens traced the "disgraceful effusion" to its source and reported his findings in a letter to the editor (Times, 10 and 20 July 1852). Dickens shared Carlyle's disdain for the new art of advertisement with its seven-foot hats and quack medicines.

The kind of advertisement practiced by Barnum taps what Dickens recognized as a basic human need, the need to be amused. By the time he undertook the editorship of Household Words Dickens had begun to interpret the old injunction to amuse and instruct as a mandate for social reform that could be best fulfilled through the medium of journalism. Much of what he writes in Household Words amounts to the definition and education of a good, responsive, and politically responsible public that would counter the false appeal of the Barnum breed and establish a firm constituency for the Dickensian enterprise. In Hard Times Dickens seeks a public that has been trained to respond to journalism. Various stylistic devices encourage readers to verify and test the fiction outside the novel. When the novel is made to stand alone, its weakness lies in an editorial policy that defers specific issues out of the mouths of novelistic characters and into the journalistic setting where the middle-class public is encouraged to turn from spurious demagogues and entrepreneurial boosters to the reliable guidance of the journalist.

The installments of Hard Times are the only signed articles in Household Words. The name "Charles Dickens" appears above each one, and readers are invited to take the novel as the editor's own comment on the "times." Each installment seems to enjoy both the status of a leading article and the special identity of a signed novel inserted into the journal. The reader who meets the novel in the journal comes away with a quite different impression of the meaning of the fiction than the reader of the hardcover volume called Hard Times for These Times. In Household Words it is simply Hard Times. The reader of the journal did not need the expanded title. Every article appeared under the sign of novelty; all was news, all was timely. Having read the installment, the reader continues into other reports, equally timely. Regular readers of Household Words might recall an article on the Manchester library, "Manchester Men at Their Books," when in the 22 April 1854 issue they read in Hard Times about a library in Coketown; other articles about the London poor or me Preston strike are likely to linger in the mind of the reader of the novel. It is not so much that the reader will transfer knowledge directly from one sphere to another, from fact to fiction and back again, as that he reads with the inclination to do so. Other novels that invoke the facts of historical or contemporary life do not necessarily encourage verification. Hard Times, by virtue of its format, does. The fiction leads the reader to the threshold of fact; the threshold is easily crossed within the same journal. The inquisitive reader will go further. Within the text of the novel Dickens encourages mese excursions outside the novel. He teases the reader with fictions that retain the latent authority of fact.

The facts of industrial life are bound to represent opinions, and it is Dickens's reluctance to lodge fully developed opinions within the text mat renders Hard Times incomplete as a novel of social reform. As we shall see, in one significant deletion he takes words out of the mourn of a character, Stephen Blackpool, and lets them live in a series of reports on factory safety mat appeared before and after the run of the novel. The reformer who characterizes his enemies as revolutionaries—"Bastards of the Mountain"—cannot let his hero wear a red cap. Deletions and swift allusions send the reader back into the journal and locate the source of social improvement as middle-class opinion guided by a responsible reformer-journalist. The reader is led out of the novel into the journal. This process begins with the substitution of fact for fiction.

Hard Times is generally read as a denigration of "hard facts" but at the same time it may be seen as Dickens's attempt to renew radier man reduce me status of fact. He sets out to reclaim fact from the hands of the statisticians by showing that much of what passes for fact in Coketown is really fiction. A master says "that he would 'sooner pitch his property into the Atlantic'" if he is "not left entirely alone" to do as he pleases with his own. "Another prevalent fiction," says Dickens. Any worker who saves his money can become a master or at least a rich man. "This, again, was among the fictions of Coketown." The by-play of "fact" and "fiction" is especially evident when the novel is read in the journal. An article in Household Words calls the image of marital bliss that hides the legal inequality of man and woman "One of our Legal Fictions." On the last page of the article a discreet advertisement announces the appearance of "the SIXTH PORTION of a New Work of Fiction called Hard Times." Fiction is a pejorative word only in a world self-consciously governed by fact. Dickens writes in both worlds.

Both as a novelist and a journalist Dickens contrives fictional proper nouns as a masquerade of fact. Outside the novel Dickens resisted any attempts to identify "Coketown." Literal identification would "localize" and therefore narrow the application of the story. But within the text he invites his readers to ask whether or not a real town exists behind the pseudonym: "Stone Lodge was situated on a moor within a mile or two of a great town—called Coketown in the present faithful guide-book," "A mile or two from Coketown" or even "a mile or two from a great town called Coketown" is a defensible fiction. Knowledge of English geography would reveal no Coketown. But phrased as it is, the town invites identification, especially when we remind ourselves that for its first readers the "present faithful guide-book" was Household Words, a journal filled with factual descriptions of conditions in real factory towns. The reader is always on the edge of the fact in the installments of Hard Times. At any point the author might break through as he does in "One of our Legal Fictions" to say "this is a true story." Charlotte and Robert Desborough (in that article) could be identified. The emergent meaning of the fiction is always validated by the constant possibility of fact. The journalist stands behind the novelist, and the power of the press is brought to bear on a novel whose purpose is "the general improvement of our social condition."

The literal identification of Oldham or Preston or Wigan would mean nothing. Dickens frequently makes his point by making up names. Coketown is more descriptive and evocative than Preston. In "On Strike," which we take to be a factual, journalistic report of a trip to Preston, Dickens meets a nasty (but convenient) antagonist "whom I had already began [sic] to call in my own mind Mr. Snapper, and whom I may as well call by that name here as by any other." Snapper is a straw man; he serves a purpose but he is not a real, historical person. A reader accustomed to modern, "objective" journalism is less prepared to accept Dickens's identification of an obnoxious potential demagogue as "Gruffshaw" when other, reliable reports reveal only a "Grimshaw" among the leaders of the strike. Gruff is a nice replacement for grim. A reader might recognize the hand of the novelist in this anonymous report. A few months earlier, in another article about Preston, a well-known leader of the workers named Cowell is misidentified as Cowler. In this case the change of name is meaningless and a little careless. The author was James Lowe, a journalist who knew Preston well. Lowe corrected himself six years later in his report to the Social Science Association where he names both Cowell and Grimshaw. When we look back to 1853 and 1854, I think that we can safely say that Lowe just made a mistake, but that Dickens deliberately mixed newsmaking and novel writing in order to gain the best of both in Household Words.

Together the techniques of the novelist and the journalist can be made to serve the rhetorical function of persuasion. And yet in a novel that is so harsh on other forms of rhetoric—Slackbridge's oratory, Bounderby's self-aggrandizement, and Sleary's advertisement—Dickens is unable to create a worthy spokesman for the poor. Stephen Blackpool, for one, is almost mute. Thanks to a significant deletion from an early speech, Stephen is barely allowed to give specific designation to the complaint of the factory workers, and thanks to the same deletion we never know why it is that he is unable to join the union. His public declaration leaves questions unanswered: "But I ha' my reasons—mine, yo see—for being hindered; not on'y now, but awlus—awlus—life long!" As it happens, he has made a vow to Rachael, but that vow is hidden in the deleted passage. In chapter 13 Stephen is sitting a night watch over his drunken wife. He very nearly allows her to poison herself with an unprescribed dose of medicine when Rachael wakes up and takes the matter in hand. In the dialogue that follows she alludes to a dead sister whose death is explained by Stephen in a passage that made it through the manuscript into the corrected proofs before it was cancelled:

"Thou'st spoken o' thy little sister. There agen! Wi' her child arm tore off afore thy face." She turned her head aside, and put her hand [up]. "Where dost thou ever hear or read o' us—the like o' us—as being otherwise than onreasonable and cause o' trouble? Yet think o' that. Government gentlemen come and make's report. Fend off the dangerous machinery, box it off, save life and limb; don't rend and tear human creeturs to bits in a Chris'en country! What toilers? Owners sets up their throats, cries out, Onreasonable! Inconvenient! Troublesome!' Gets to Secretaries o' States wi' deputations, and nothing's done. When do we get mere wi' our deputations, God help us! We are too much int'rested and nat'rally too far wrong t'have a right judgment. Haply we are; but what are they then? I' th' name o' th' muddle in which we are born and live and die, what are they then?" "Let such things be, Stephen. They only lead to hurt, let them be!" "I will, since thou tell'st me so. I will. I pass my promise."

Why delete? Dickens was certainly pressed throughout the writing of Hard Times to cut it down to fit twenty short installments, but it is hard to believe mat a passage of such brevity and such importance had to be sacrificed for space. It may be that at the last moment he decided that this was simply bad drama, that Rachael's arbitrary prohibition was weaker than Stephen's unexplained mystery.

Let us say that Dickens rids himself of one dramatic gaffe; he also avoids a subtle connection with the rest of the novel and a major statement of a specific industrial complaint coming from a factory worker. At the end of the last chapter four paragraphs describe the future of the survivors. Each ends with a similar refrain: "Such a thing was to be. . . . Such tilings were to be. . . . Such a thing was never to be. . . . These things were to be." Only the last of mese confirms a cheerful future that is dependent on "no fantastic vow, or bond . . . or pledge" but on Sissy's dutiful promotion of "childish lore . . . imaginative graces and delights" among her children. It is then that Dickens in the final paragraph enjoins the reader to promote "similar things. . . . Let them be!" Taken as an affirmation of responsible action, this last "Let them be" is a repudiation of the cynical carelessness of the Harthouse philosophy, "What will be, will be," which is another way of saying "laissez-faire." Stephen calls this policy on the part of the manufacturers "lettin alone." The final allusion to vows and pledges seems to imply a freedom from the unreasonable constraint by which Stephen was bound doubly in promises to Rachael and to his wife. The last "Let them be" is an ironic reflection on Rachael's opposite use of the phrase. In the deleted passage she had said, "Let such things be, Stephen" in a way that means "Let them alone. Desist." The final "Let them be" means "Let them exist. Act in such a way that these lessons will prevail." It is an injunction to action on the part of his readership. Now it may be that Dickens foresaw a problem and was unwilling to allow any ironic reflection on Stephen's promise to Rachael. The uncorrected version could be taken to mean that workers are wrong to "let such things be" in Rachael's sense. When one considers the truth (and simple eloquence) of Stephen's complaint in the deleted passage along with his pathetic fate, the vow that he makes to Rachael can be made to look at least as unfortunate as his marriage vow—to evoke shades of the red cap and the mountain and a kind of working-class activism that Dickens truly means to avoid. If there is to be any political initiative, it is to be taken not by the working class but by the reading class to whom he safely returns responsibility in the last paragraph of the book.

Stephen's complaint on the subject of preventable accidents is not entirely lost to the novel. It is deferred to a highly elliptical passage in his last speech, spoken as he lies dying beside the Old Hell Shaft. Of course, Stephen's physical condition at this point does not allow a developed argument. Stephen reminds Rachael that the Old Hell Shaft has caused many deaths and been the subject of many petitions from the miners unheeded in Parliament. "When it were in work, it killed wi'out need; when 'tis let alone, it kills wi'out need." Stephen's death becomes another industrial accident. Now, to complete his argument, Rachael's little sister is resurrected in a brief allusion which is not likely to have much resonance in a novel in which she has only been mentioned once, two hundred pages or two months earlier not (thanks to the deletion) as an industrial victim but simply as a dead child among the angels. Now her death is explained not as a result of brutal amputation but as a result of "sickly air":

"Thy little sister, Rachael, thou hast not forgot her. . . . Thou know'st. . . how thou didst work for her, seet'n all day long in her little chair at Ay winder, and how she died, young and misshapen, awlung o' sickly air as had'n no need to be, an' awlung o' working people's miserable homes. A muddle! Aw a muddle!"

The reader jumps from the immediate situation into the question of preventable accidents in the mines and the unwillingness of legislators to act. From there we follow the weak link of Rachael's forgotten sister into conditions in the factories and the cities which, presumably, might also be amended by legislation and enforcement. A reader who has only the novel in hand may well be perplexed.

This digression does not seem to serve the immediate demands of the story of Stephen's attempt to clear himself of guilt or to say a few last words to the woman he loves. As a political prescription this mingling of open pits and petitions, a misshapen sister and miserable homes is somehow incomplete, no more than a "muddle." Dickens certainly does not wish to limit his comment here to a suggestion that unused mine shafts should be fenced off. A reader familiar with contemporary controversy would have heard the description of a man whose life has been "mangled . . . out of him" in an unfenced "shaft" as an allusion to the factory as well as the mine.

The Factory Act of 1844 required the fencing of open shafts that housed dangerous machinery, but inspection had always been inadequate and the owners unwilling to sacrifice the expense necessary for safety. In 1854 and 1855 the inspectors, with support from the Home Secretary and an informed public, began to enforce regulation. As we shall see, articles in Household Words contributed to the making of a public policy that would draw the masters out into the open.

The ellipses in Stephen's argument in Hard Times can be filled in by further reading in Household Words. In the number that included the fourth installment of the novel, an article by Henry Morley called "Ground in the Mill" also appeared (22 April 1854). The article is really an extended statement of the complaint that Dickens would delete from Stephen's speech three weeks later. Within that passage Dickens had inserted a footnote directing the reader back to "Ground in the Mill." Footnotes frequently refer to other articles in Household Words. In this case the note was deleted with the passage, and the modern editor assumes that it was done because an "intrusion of this kind of documentation would distract his readers from the realities of his fictional world." As editor of Household Words Dickens himself was not intent on maintaining the inviolability of his fictional world. Different political intention rather than the different status of fact and fiction may have prompted Dickens to reduce the association between the opinions of fictional characters and the editorial stance of Household Words. Within the novel the specific complaints of the workers are abbreviated, and attention is diverted from the novel to the journal where the editorial voice suggests action on the part of the middle class rather than the working class. An eloquent Stephen would be as unreliable as Slackbridge. Neither Morley nor Dickens advises initiative on the part of the workers; both hold the owners responsible, but neither expects much response from the owners without coercion. The owners speak directly to the Home Secretary through their "deputations." Their victims have no voice but that of their middle-class sympathizers whose effective power resides in public opinion.

In 1854 the reading public was prepared to consider conditions in the factories. The strikers at Preston were just about to give up their long and well-publicized struggle when Hard Times began to appear in the April issue of Household Words. Soon news from Crimea would seem to drive the Condition of England into oblivion, but journalists remained "to show the evils of that carelessness, which, in great matters and little matters, from Balaklava to the Lancashire coal-pits, is undoubtedly becoming a rather remarkable feature of our national character." If we take the monthly reviews and daily press to be both a gauge and a guide of public opinion, we may measure the relative impact of the novel of social reform and the journal in which it was placed. As we might guess, since Dickens allowed the journal to absorb the most pressing issues related to the industrial theme, it was the journal and not the novel that made itself felt in the press and on the platforms of public debate.

By the mid-1850's a press that was generally hostile to the claims of labor was ready to acknowledge as wholesome the appeal that the new, national unions were making to the court of public opinion. "It is public opinion, and that only which can assist the workmen in the recovery of their 'rights' if any such have been lost. From this all-controlling force manufacturers are no more exempt than any other classes in the kingdom" (Times, 2 January 1852). But until the renewal of the debate of the factory acts in 1854 the manufacturers were not inclined to consult public opinion. Strikes could be suppressed quietly, and the strikers' claim to higher wages could never wholly penetrate a community still dominated by the laws of a free and open market. It was the high incidence of preventable accidents in the factories that would fix the attention of middle-class reformers and finally draw the masters into the public arena. Here economic arguments meant less, and the humanitarian argument could hold its own. And in this case legislation and enforcement could be retained as a middle-class enterprise without the necessity of intervention from the beneficiaries. (It was not until 1882 that a working man, J. D. Prior of the Amalgamated Carpenters, was made an Inspector.) Factory safety, the latent basis of Stephen Blackpool's complaint in Hard Times, would become the favored crusade of Dickens and Morley in Household Words.

All of the emotional appeal of Rachael's little sister "wi' her child arm tore off afore thy face" is released in the first of Morley's articles. He begins the argument of "Ground in the Mill" with little vignettes of children who are caught in moments of play and punished by the machines:

"Watch me do a trick!" cried such a youth to his fellow, and put his arm familiarly within the arm of the great iron-hearted chief. "I'll show you a trick," gnashed the pitiless monster. A coil of strap fastened his arm to the shaft, and round he went. His leg was cut off, and fell into the room, his arm was broken in three or four places, his ankle was broken, his head was battered; he was not released alive.

Another is "caught as he stood on a stool wickedly looking out of window at the sunlight and the flying clouds." Imprisoned children punished, a taste for freedom and play quelled. No question of circuses here, and, for that matter, no question of polytechnic education. In conclusion Morley describes a factory school (also provided by the Act of 1844) which is flawed by complete carelessness and irregularity rather than by the rigors of the school room in Hard Times. The novel describes the price paid by children of the middle class rather than the working class. Rachael's sister is the only factory child mentioned in Hard Times. "Ground in the Mill" is dense with examples, and all are true. Twenty-six examples of death and mutilation have almost no statistical force, but they argue strongly when described one by one. Dickens and his writers replace one kind of fact with another, and as journalists they are unrelenting. One can follow the fate of their agitation in the press and what one finds is a public that reads, responds, reacts in decidedly nonliterary ways. This then was the public for the novel as well.

In an article called "Fencing With Humanity," written a year after "Ground in the Mill," Morley describes the campaign mounted by the manufacturers since that time. The Home Secretary has ordered enforcement and "instantly a large number of millowners fly to the platform, deliver and hear angry orations, form deputations, and declare themselves a slaughtered interest." This is Stephen's deleted speech cleansed of dialect: "What follers? Owners sets up their throats, cries out, 'Onreasonable! Inconvenient! Troublesome!' Gets to Secretaries o' States wi' deputations." The novel moves toward a statement that is made in the journal. Together they seek the same public, and in this case the effect can be measured by the response of competitive publicists. "Fencing With Humanity" is dated 14 April 1855, a Saturday. It appeared for sale on the preceding Wednesday (11 April). On the following Tuesday (17 April) a meeting of manufacturers calling themselves The National Association for the Amendment of the Factory Law met in Manchester. They would enlist public opinion which, they recognized, had recently turned against them. Household Words was selected by the chairman as an example of the most obvious opposition.

The chairman was the ubiquitous W. R. Greg, and the meeting was given thorough coverage in the next day's Guardian. According to Greg, the current troubles of the manufacturers are a result of "the amount of ignorance and prejudice and ill-will towards them on the part of the community-at-large." He produces an example of this ill-will:

Dickens's Household Words—(hear, hear)—a paragraph from which he would read to them, and which had been very good-naturedly put into the London morning papers only a few days ago. He would read it not merely to give an idea, if proof were necessary, of the ignorance and prejudice existing against them, but because in it were stated facts, partial facts, but still facts, on which were grounded, no doubt, the general feeling against the millowners which pervaded the community, and the abuse which was then lavished upon them as a body.—(hear, hear). (Manchester Guardian, 18 April 1855)

After reading an especially unflattering paragraph from Morley's article of the preceding week, Greg launches into his own statistics. The government, he says, finds time to prosecute factory owners for the death of one worker in 70,000 when thanks to its own neglect men are dying in Crimea at the rate of 1000 per week. And more in that vein. Greg is seconded by a Mr. Turner who knows the value of these awesome numbers in the making of public opinion. He only hopes that the chairman's words will "travel throughout the length and breadth of the land, and prove an antidote to the trash, the poison, published on Saturday in Household Words." He attacks "philanthropic writers": "They wished, of course, not only to write works which might create a popularity for themselves, but the publishers of twopenny publications wished to add grist to their mill—and so the one wrote and the other published for the prejudices of the people." Dickens is accused of barnumizing. After receiving support from a speaker with the charmingly Dickensian name of Holdforth, Turner enjoins his fellows to "charge the enemy, and they would soon beat down his ranks."

Four weeks after the meeting in Manchester, Morley responded to the assault on "twopenny publications [written] for the benefit of pseudo-philanthropists." The response, titled "Death's Cyphering-Book," is a fairly faithful record of the transactions at Manchester accompanied by a commentary that clearly bears the mark of Dickens's own repugnance for "arithmetical" calculation of life and death. Greg's statistics were supposed to reduce the threat of unfenced machinery. Through a series of imaginative counterexamples Morley reduces to absurdity "the assumption that arithmetic will ever work out questions of moral right and wrong. By such calculation a man who spends only five minutes out of a long lifetime as a murderer cannot be found guilty, especially when he could have had so many more victims. "Our pseudo-philanthropic readers" are left to decide the question.

However they are labeled, these readers are Dickens's intended audience, a morally responsive middle class whose collective power is embodied in public opinion. In one of his few vocal outbursts, Stephen Blackpool is allowed to aim his attack not at bad working conditions but at bad publicity. Stephen complains to Bounderby:

"Look how you considers of us, an writes of us, an talks of us, and goes up wi' yor deputations to Secretaries o' State 'bout us, and how yo are awlus right, and how we are awlus wrong, and never had'n no reason in us sin ever we were born."

If Stephen cannot speak for himself—and Dickens says that he cannot—others will. Stephen's speech to Bounderby invites the appearance of a spokesman who never appears in the novel. Whatever was to be said in his behalf as a specific complaint that might require specific reform would be said in the editorial columns of the journal.

When Hard Times was published as an independent volume immediately after its conclusion in Household Words, it was bound to appear incomplete, even to those readers who came to it with the correct expectation of a novel that would answer pressing social questions. Reviewers in both Blackwood's and the Westminster Review declared that the public was cheated out of a timely statement on the industrial theme. "The name of the book and the period of its publication alike deluded the public. We anticipated a story . . . of the unfortunate relationship between masters and men which produced the strike of Preston; and this most legitimate subject, at once for public inquiry and for the conciliating and healing hand of genius, to whom both belligerents were brothers, might have well employed the highest powers." Both reviewers are perplexed by the turn to the educational theme which strikes them as fanciful and irrelevant.

Dickens, if he had wished to, could have justified himself by pointing to Household Words. Another novelist of social reform would be less inclined to let the reader wander beyond the text. In North and South, which began in serial form (2 September 1854) a month after the completion of Hard Times, Elizabeth Gaskell reopens the industrial theme with a fully articulate working man, Nicholas Higgins, who reads books and responds to them, who explains the rationale of the strike and who understands the value of "public opinion" and knows how it is to be won. Higgins meets a master, John Thornton, who is stubborn but intelligent and eventually willing to change. Before the novel is over, Higgins and Thornton have begun to reconcile their differences and have embarked on a cooperative enterprise. It may be that North and South is too pat, too perfect. In this case Gaskell is less willing than Dickens to recognize that the novel of social reform takes a modest position in the literary and political processes of a world that refuses to perfect itself.

Barbara Hardy (essay date 1977)

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SOURCE: "The Late Novels," in Charles Dickens: The Later Novels, edited by Ian Scott-Kilvert, Longman Group Limited, 1977, pp. 13-34.

[In the excerpt below, Hardy examines Hard Times as one among several novels in which Dickens chose not to affirm a sure solution to the social problems he addressed.]

Hard Times,Little Dorrit, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations limit their concluding demands on the reader and do not expect us to settle down and see everything and everyone as now prospering after all that pain. The sense of reality begins in Hard Times (1854), with a toughening of moral humours in the two chief women characters. Sissy Jupe is a more subdued type of womanly virtue than Esther [in Bleak House] and we are asked to concentrate not on Sissy but on Louisa, a close study in moral psychology who also does not task our credulity or our faith. Like Edith Dombey, to whom she is related, Louisa is a case of repressed passion and vision. She sees the highest, but pride, self-contempt and doubt drive her into following the lowest. She perversely represses her capacity for virtue, and tries to act out the utilitarian disregard for feeling which her education has held up as a model. She is also moved by her love for her brother, and does not follow Edith's earlier course of punishing herself and her male aggressors, and is indeed moved by Harthouse (and he by her, and by Sissy) as Edith never is by Carker. Harthouse is a less stagey and a more compressed version of Carker, a study in perverted ennui who is a sketch for Eugene Wrayburn. Louisa is also exposed to experience not simply as a victim, like Esther Summerson, but as a susceptible and malleable human being who has a capacity for damnation.

Though the treatment of the working-class characters and industrial problems is sentimental and crass, the virtue of Hard Times lies in a new kind of truthfulness about social conditioning of character. We do not find, as in Bleak House, the anatomy of destructiveness followed by a small-scale model of construction. The humours of the self-made man gloriosus, in Bounderby, and of the convertible Utilitarian, in Gradgrind, are incisive and spirited, very much in the manner of those Jonsonian humours whose very narrowness produces a pressure of vitality. The presentation of the circus with its symbols of pastime, joy and goodhearted sleaziness is effective within the limits of the fable and, in spite of its embarrassing lisping innocence, responds adequately enough to the counter-symbol of the fact-choked and fact-choking schoolroom. The novel lacks a proper adult paradigm for the imaginative and sensual life denied by Gradgrind, but so much of the focus is on the child's education that this passes almost without notice. That it does not escape entirely without notice is perhaps a tribute to the delineation of passion, repression and conflict in Louisa. Dickens cannot really be said to explore her inner life, but he manages very skilfully, as with Dombey, to imply it.

Louisa does not go right down to the bottom of Mrs Sparsit's gloatingly imagined moral staircase, but her redemption is treated with some sternness and there is no falsely triumphant climax. The anatomy of a heartless education and a heartless industrialism, linked by the criterion of efficiency, concludes with no more than a sad and sober appraisal:

Herself again a wife—a mother—lovingly watchful of her children, ever careful that they should have a childhood of the mind no less than a childhood of the body, as knowing it to be even a more beautiful thing, and a possession, any hoarded scrap of which, is a blessing and happiness to the wisest? Did Louisa see this? Such a thing was never to be.

The last words to the Dear Reader, which recall the end of The Chimes, though discussing the possibility of remedy, is free from optimistic flights: 'It rests with you and me, whether, in our two fields of action, similar things shall be or not'. Dickens looks forward to rebirth—in the lives of children still unborn and in deathbed repentance—but he denies Louisa a brave new life; the quiet and almost matter-of-fact language is true to the experience of the novel. His liking for cheers and congratulations at the end is subdued, as he suggests that Louisa's future will be undertaken 'as part of no fantastic vow, or bond, or sisterhood . . . but simply as a duty to be done'. It is particularly satisfying that Dickens avoids the pendulum-swing so grossly offensive in Bleak House; he does not offer the language and symbolism of strong feeling and vivid fancy in reaction to the world and values of hard fact. He matches heartless rationality with a rational warmth. The very last words of the novel are placed in a context of age and death: 'We shall sit with lighter bosoms on the hearth, to see the ashes of our fires turn grey and cold.' The image of dying fires is wholly sensitive to Coketown, and remembers its ashes, in contrast to the way that Esther's little 'Bleak House' depended on ignoring the larger bleakness.

Harland S. Nelson (essay date 1981)

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SOURCE: "The Meaning of Dickens," in Charles Dickens, Twayne Publishers, 1981, pp. 190-209.

[In the following excerpt, Nelson cites Hard Times and incidents in its plot in the course of illustrating the importance of life's mystery and diversity as presented in Dicken's works.]

Though there is little of nature in Dickens, . . . mere is a significant touch in that description of Bleak House: the "still older cottage-rooms in unexpected places, with lattice windows and green growth pressing through them" imply an original and intimate connection with nature, and the irregularity of the house makes it seem a living organism which has developed a form answering to the setting and the needs of the people of the house. Human order, when it is wrong, is quite unlike this. Thomas Gradgrind's house in Hard Times is "a very regular feature on the face of the country":

Not the least disguise toned down or shaded off that uncompromising fact in the landscape. A great square house, with a heavy portico darkening the principal windows, as its master's heavy brows overshadowed his eyes. A calculated, cast up, balanced, and proved house. Six windows on this side of the door, six on that side; a total of twelve in this wing, a total of twelve in the other wing; four-and-twenty carried over to the back wings. A lawn and garden and an infant avenue, all ruled straight like a botanical account-book.

Part of the point Dickens is making, of course, is how boring the straight lines and the symmetry are. But why are they? Because there are no straight lines in nature, nor is there symmetry. To get straight lines and symmetry you leave some things out and rearrange others. E. M. Forster's image of Western order is the plan of the British sector of Chandrapore, with its regular grid of streets intersecting at right angles. "It charms not, neither does it repel" (A Passage to India, 1). In his story, most kinds of reality (and it is suggested, the most meaningful kind) fall through such a net. Straight lines and regularity mean the same in Dickens. Mr. Gradgrind "meant to do great things," but "in gauging fathomless deeps with his little mean excise-rod, and in staggering over the universe with his rusty stiff-legged compasses," he had, "within the limits of his short tether . . . tumbled about, annihilating the flowers of existence. . . ."

Contrasted to the irregularity and variety that Dickens favors, and that seem to imply the natural order of things, straight lines suggest a counter-order, Gradgrindian dryness and meagerness instead of the infinite variety of creation. Interestingly enough, Hablot Browne's illustration of Pecksniff and his daughters in their living room shows the wall at the rear hung with four pictures in a perfectly symmetrical arrangement, each of them portraying a perfectly symmetrical and straight-lined design (three buildings and a memorial to some hero), while in the shadows at the left rear the bust of Pecksniff appears to gaze approvingly. Symmetry and straight lines are here also connected to fraud and hypocrisy. There is something else about Pecksniff that fits here, too: his very moral throat. "You saw a good deal of it. You looked over a very low fence of white cravat (whereof no man had ever beheld the tie, for he fastened it behind), and there it lay, a valley between two jutting heights of collar, serene and whiskerless before you. It seemed to say, on the part of Mr. Pecksniff, 'There is no deception, ladies and gentlemen, all is peace, a holy calm pervades me'." That kind of insistence on perfect plainness and openness, concealing devious criminality, also appears in the short story "Hunted Down" (1859), in Mr. Sampson, a man whom the narrator distrusts on the instant of meeting (correctly, as it turns out). He parts his hair "straight up the middle," and he makes his hair-part stand for candor: as if he were to say in so many words, "You must take me, if you please, my friend, just as I show myself. Come straight up here, follow the gravel path, keep off the grass, I allow no trespassing." Harold Skimpole, too, affects openness, along with his inflexible claim of childlike innocence. Esther says, "The more I saw of him, the more unlikely it seemed to me, when he was present, that he could design, conceal, or influence anything; and yet the less likely that appeared when he was not present . . . "; and of course her skepticism is right, for he does nothing else. In Our Mutual Friend Eugene Wrayburn imposes on his friend Mortimer Lightwood in a similar way, protesting that he simply doesn't know whether anything in particular has been on his mind lately that would account for a change Mortimer thinks he has noticed in him. (There has been something on his mind, increasingly—Lizzie Hexam.) "So much of what was fantastically true to his own knowledge of this utterly careless Eugene, mingled with the answer, that Mortimer could not receive it as a mere evasion. Besides, it was given with an engaging air of openness, and of special exemption of the one friend he valued, from his reckless indifference." Here, too, the appearance of openness and simplicity is itself a deception.

All this hangs together. Like Forster, Dickens makes regularity and geometricity images of intellect, and like him too he shows, supremely in Hard Times, how much the intellect leaves out. Coketown has no place for the knowledge belonging to the fancy; Sleary's traveling circus (to which Gradgrind finally owes much) must set up on the outskirts of the city, and the pointedly named Pegasus's Arms where the circus people stay is "a mean little public-house, . . . as haggard and as shabby, as if, for want of custom, it had itself taken to drinking, and had gone the way all drunkards go, and was very near the end of it." But where Forster suggests reason is simply inadequate to net the world's truth, Dickens indicates it may also be a positive fraud. Reality is not open and plain; it is charged with mystery. Representations of it by the reason are utterly inadequate at their well-meaning best, and fraudulent at their criminal worst. To apprehend it fully is the work of imagination.

That is one reason why Dickens has no grand programs to offer: Orwell was right. To Dickens system is the child of intellect, and the complexity of the world is beyond the manipulative grasp of reason. But reason is inadequate not only because it cannot know enough. Love is required for any solution to the world's problems, and reason does not love. Love belongs to imagination—plausibly enough, when imagination includes the power to identify with, rather than merely to describe and anatomize. The explicit link between love and imagination is in Hard Times, in the character Sissy Jupe, who is one of Dickens's love-bearers and who comes from Sleary's circus. It is she who ministers to Louisa when Louisa flees from Harthouse, and who sends Harthouse away, and who has made a better home for Louisa's younger sister than Louisa did, and to whom Louisa turns in her trouble; and who does so miserably in M'Choakumchild's school, unable to tell whether a nation with fifty millions of money is a prosperous nation unless she knows who has them, and taking into account, in computing the percentage of accidental deaths, the intensity of the survivors' grief. M'Choakumchild's star pupil is Bitzer, whose heart "is accessible to Reason . . . and to nothing else." and Sissy's place in the schoolroom as well as her coloring emphasize her contrast with him. She sits at the end of a row diagonally across the room from Bitzer, and further back, so that she is also higher up than he is, and the sunbeam that strikes her ends at him. "But, whereas the girl was so dark-eyed and dark-haired that she seemed to receive a deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun, when it shone upon her, the boy was so light-eyed and light-haired that the self-same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed." Sissy is far from Bitzer in the schoolroom, and in every other way too: higher up and nearer the natural light (and by the same token farther from the factual lectern) which confirms her fullness of being as it reveals Bitzer's deficiency.

No grand program then, but what Sissy has to offer, is what the world needs; and there needs no system for that. Perhaps this explains why Dickens was a radical but no revolutionary: why overturn an imperfect system to set up another? deflate a blustering manufacturer like Bounderby so that a windy labor leader like Slackbridge may swell into his place? What is required is personal determination to make things right within one's own radius; "if men would behave decently the world would be decent." Dickens recognizes the powerlessness of most people to set things right, but does not therefore absolve those "born expressly to do it"—the -oodles and -uffys, "my lords and gentlemen," "Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order"; those Mr. Plornish, one of the helpless, means—"He only know'd that it wasn't put right by them what undertook that line of business, and that it didn't come right of itself; or those addressed by the narrator in Our Mutual Friend: "My lords and gentlemen and honourable boards, when you in the course of your dust-shovelling and cinder-raking have piled up a mountain of pretentious failure, you must off with your honourable coats for the removal of it, and fall to work with the power of all the queen's horses and all the queen's men, or it will come rushing down and bury us alive."

Roger Fowler (essay date 1983)

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SOURCE: "Polyphony and Problematic in Hard Times, " in The Changing World of Charles Dickens, edited by Robert Giddings, Vision and Barnes & Noble, 1983, pp. 91-108.

[Here, Fowler discusses Dickens's use of language and dialect in Hard Times as a tool for characterization and "unresolved ideological complexity. "]

The polarization of critical response to Hard Times is familiar enough to make detailed reporting unnecessary, but since this polarization is a fact relevant to my argument, I will recapitulate it briefly.

Popular reception of the novel has been largely antagonistic or uninterested. The character of the earlier novels has led to the formation of a cheerful and sentimental 'Dickensian' response which finds Hard Times, like the other later novels, cold and uncomfortable, lacking in the innocent jollity, sentimentality and grotesquery of the earlier writings. When Dickens's anniversary was mentioned in a T.V. spot on 7 February 1983, the novelist was identified through a list of his works which totally excluded the later 'social' novels.

In other circles, there has been a keenly appreciative response to Hard Times: in some quarters more academic, and in some quarters more socialist. Committedly positive evaluation is found as early as 1860 in Ruskin and then in this century in Shaw, whose appreciation of the book as 'serious social history' initiated a line of evaluation more recently reflected in, for example, Raymond Williams and in David Craig. Then there is a famous and extravagant essay by Leavis:

Of all Dickens's works it is the one that has all the strength of his genius, together with a strength no other of them can show—that of a completely serious work of art. [Culture and Society 1780-1950, 1968]

If Leavis was over-enthusiastic, others, some such as John Holloway and David H. Hirsch provoked by Leavis's surplus of commendation, have insisted on faults in the novel both as art and as social history. Even that majority of modern academic critics who accept and praise Hard Times concede some faults. Among the flaws cited by both camps are the following. A failure of a documentary kind is the presentation of the demagogue Slackbridge—'a mere figment of the middle-class imagination. No such man would be listened to by a meeting of English factory hands' (Shaw). Similarly, the use of a professional circus to represent Fancy as opposed to Fact has been faulted on the grounds that Dickens might have found Fancy in the native recreations of working people (Craig). A more 'ideological' criticism would allege that Dickens's concept of Fancy was, judging from the symbols by which he represented it, too trivial to weigh effectively against the Fact of Utilitarian economic theory and philosophy of education (Holloway, Lodge). Other critics have admitted faults of characterization—the girl Sissy is sentimentally presented and emerges as inadequate: her childhood attributes do not ground her later strength on Louisa's behalf. Again, Stephen and Rachael are said to be too good to be true; Stephen's martyrdom to a drunken wife is a cliché; his refusal to join the union is not motivated and therefore puts him into a weak, contradictory position in relation to his fellow-workers. Now these allegations of faults of construction are not naïve 'Dickensian' complaints. There is real evidence that many things are not quite right with the book, for whatever reason: because of the unfamiliar constraints of small-scale writing for weekly parts, because of the secondhand nature of Dickens's experience?

Since Hard Times has gained a very positive reputation in this century, we should beware of condemning it by totting up 'faults'. Perhaps the yardstick which we unconsciously apply, the tradition of the humanistic novel already well established by 1850, is not entirely relevant. It might be preferable to revise our conception of what type of novel this is, or at least to suspend preconception. Hard Times is problematic for the critics, and that response itself is perhaps evidence of peculiarities of form. And what we know about the genesis of the novel suggests that it was problematic for Dickens too, involving him in compositional innovations. By this I do not refer merely to the structural consequences of weekly serialization (a discipline he had experienced only once before, in writing Barnaby Rudge (1841)), though this mode undoubtedly imposed constraints on episodic and thematic structure, and demanded compression. I mean by 'compositional innovations' new and defamiliarizing dispositions of language in response to new themes and unprecedented and unresolved ideological complexity.

A possible model for the structure of Hard Times is provided by Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of the 'polyphonic' novel; a theory which has the great benefit, for my purpose, of being interpretable in linguistic terms [in Problems of Dostoyevsky's Poetics, transl. by R. W. Rotsel, 1973]. In a complex argument, partly theoretical and partly historical, Bakhtin proposes that there have existed two modes of representational fiction: monologic on the one hand and polyphonic or dialogic on the other. The monologic novel, which he claims has been the dominant traditional form, is authoritarian in essence: the author insists on the particular ideology which he voices, and the characters are 'objectified', dependent on the authorial position, and evaluated from the point of view of that position. In the polyphonic novel, on the other hand, the characters (or the 'hero', according to Bakhtin) are more liberated: they achieve voices, and points of view, which challenge the validity of the authorial position. The musical metaphor of polyphony refers to the co-presence of independent but interconnected voices. 'Dialogue' means implicit dialogue, not turn-by-turn speeches: it refers to the fact that one person's speech-forms reflect consciousness of the actual or potential response of an interlocutor, orientation towards a second act of speech. But there is a stronger meaning which Bakhtin seems to have in mind for 'dialogic', and that is 'dialectical'. The dialogic relationship confronts unresolved contrary ideologies, opposing voices in which conflicting world-views resist submersion or cancellation. The dialectical nature of Bakhtin's aesthetic can best be seen in his discussion of carnival, which was in his view the medieval forerunner of the polyphonic novel [Rabelais and His World, transl. by H. Iswolsky, 1968]. Carnival, with its boy kings and other multifarious travesties, mediates opposites, associates them while preserving their autonomous identities. It rejoices in extremes, negation, inversion, subversion, antithesis. The rhetorical figures generated by the logic of carnival are clear: they include prominently hyperbole, litotes, negation, syntactic inversions, paradox, contradiction. In social terms, the carnivalistic dialectic is the tension between mutually supportive but antithetical partners such as ruler and subject, employer and worker, teacher and pupil, husband and wife. And we would expect these differences of role, and antagonisms, to be articulated in the language of carnivalistic structures.

At a superficial level, the application of these ideas to Hard Times seems well justified. Three of the role-clashes just mentioned (employer/worker, teacher/pupil, husband/wife) figure directly and importantly in the plot. Then the novel contains a large number of diverse characters and groups of characters of very different social origins and affiliations, putting forward many and clashing points of view. The circus performers are an almost literal case of carnival: their diversity and deviance are strongly emphasized, as is their challenge to the authority of Gradgrind and Bounderby (Bk. I, Ch. 6). But polyphonic or dialogic structure is by no means limited to these circus artistes, but exists in the ensemble of numerous voices of opinion and conflict: Slackbridge, Bounderby, Stephen Blackpool, Harthouse, Louisa, Sissy, etc. The task for the analyst who wishes to make sense of this medley of voices is twofold. First, it is necessary to show in detail the linguistic and semiotic characteristics of the various voices (including the narrating voice) which participate in the dialogic structure. Second, the polyphonic structure, the multiplicity of voices, needs to be interpreted in terms of the author's ideology. A plurality of voices does not in itself mean a non-authoritarian narrative stance.

Turning to language itself, Bakhtin does not give a very clear guide as to how the structure of language contributes to the dialogic aesthetic. In fact, he appears to be quite negative on the dialogic value of stylistic variety. But this caution is strategic. He has to concede that Dostoyevsky, his main subject, is stylistically flat, but he must claim, of course, that his thesis works even in this linguistically undifferentiated case. He observes that marked linguistic individuation of fictional characters may lead to an impression of closure, a feeling that the author has definitively analysed a character and placed a boundary around its imaginative or moral potential: 'characters' linguistic differentiation and clear-cut "characteristics of speech" have the greatest significance precisely for the creation of objectivized, finalized images of people.' This seems to me not so much a limitation as an illumination, specifically an insight into our response to Dickens's grotesques: Peggotty, Micawber, Mrs. Gamp, and here, Slackbridge. All such characters seem to be clearly delineated, completely known, striking but uncomplicated. But we also need Bakhtin's more positive concession concerning the dialogic potential of speech styles; this potential is effective under certain conditions:

the point is not the mere presence of specific styles, social dialects, etc., . . . the point is the dialogical angle at which they . . . are juxtaposed or counterposed in the work . . .


dialogical relationships are possible among linguistic styles, social dialects, etc., if those phenomena are perceived as semantic positions, as a sort of linguistic Weltanschauung.

That is to say, speech styles need not be just caricaturing oddities, but to transcend caricature they must encode characters' world-views as dialectical alternatives to the world-view of the author and/or, I would suggest, other characters. Thus we might investigate whether, say, Stephen Blackpool's speech, or Bounderby's, encodes in its specific linguistic form a world-view, a set of attitudes; and how the two attitudes relate—in this case, antithetically. Similarly, and perhaps easier to demonstrate, we can look at the dialogic relationships between Gradgrind and Sleary on the one hand, and Gradgrind and the author on the other.

How to proceed in this project? The examples just mentioned are merely striking instances of many, perhaps dozens, of semiotically significant stylistic oppositions which permeate Hard Times. To provide a full account would require a book, not [an essay]. As essential as space, however, is analytic methodology. Bakhtin provides no tools for analysing linguistic structure, but there is one linguistic theory which explicitly covers Bakhtin's condition that speech styles should be treated as embodying world-views: M. A. K. Halliday's 'functional' theory of language. I must send my readers elsewhere for details [Halliday: System and Function in Language, ed. G. R. Kress, 1976, and Language as Social Semiotic, 1978], but Halliday's main premise is mat linguistic varieties within a community, or 'registers', encode different kinds of meaning, different orientations on experience. Halliday offers a number of analytic systems such as 'transitivity', 'mood', 'cohesion', 'information structure' which I and others have found very valuable in analysing texts for the world-views which they embody. I will use some of these categories below, but my analysis is constrained by space to be largely untechnical.

A list of distinct speech styles in the novel would show that there is an exceptional range of clearly differentiated voices: Sissy, Sleary, Slackbridge, Harthouse, Childers, Bounderby, Stephen, Gradgrind, etc. The length and diversity of the list are of less importance than the specific meanings of the voices and of their structural relationships, but sheer diversity is of some significance for the notion of polyphony. It could be argued merely on the basis of this multiplicity and variousness of voices and people that Hard Times makes a prima facie claim to be a polyphonic novel. The case would be putative as a global observation, more concrete and demonstrable in relation to specific sections which are explicitly carnivalistic in conduct. The best instance of the latter is the scene at the Pegasus's Arms in Book I, Chapter 6, when Gradgrind and Bounderby, in search of Sissy's father, are confronted by the members of the circus troupe, who speak 'in a variety of voices' and who are combative and subversive in their address to these gentlemen. This scene, which is both challenging and farcical, threatens an anarchic overriding of utility and authority, and touches on antitheses which are more thoroughly debated elsewhere in the book.

I shall now look more closely at how the multiple languages of Hard Times signify and intersect by examining samples under three headings: idiolect, sociolect, and dialogue.

An idiolect is the characteristic speech style of an individual. Like dialect, it is a set of background features of language, supposedly constant and permanent characteristics which distinguish a person linguistically. In its most sophisticated realization it is the complex of features, mostly phonetic, by which we recognize our acquaintances' voices on the telephone. Now idiolects apply to literature in two ways. First, the elusive 'style of an author' might be thought of as an idiolect. I mention this only to observe that Hard Times had no consistent authorial idiolect (unlike, to cite a comparable example, Mrs. Gaskell's North and South). Second, in fiction foregrounding of idiolect produces caricature; and although caricature is a fixing, objectifying process as Bakhtin has indicated, it is a device for making statements, and that is something we are looking for in Hard Times. The two sharp instances in this novel are the union demagogue Slackbridge and the circus-master Sleary. Each has a mode of speech which is quite idiosyncratic (with a qualification in the case of Sleary, below) and absolutely self-consistent.

Slackbridge conducts himself with a violent, biblical rhetoric:

Oh my friends, the down-trodden operatives of Coketown! Oh my friends and fellow countrymen, the slaves of an iron-handed and a grinding despotism! Oh my friends and fellow-sufferers, and fellow-workmen, and fellow-men! I tell you that the hour is come, when we must rally round one another as One united power, and crumble into dust the oppressors that too long have battened upon the plunder of our families, upon the sweat of our brows, upon the labour of our hands, upon the strength of our sinews, upon the God-created glorious rights of Humanity, and upon the holy and eternal privileges of Brotherhood!

It has been objected that no trades unionist of the time would have spoken like that (although, apparently, this is not beyond question). But fidelity to the language of the delegates' platform is only part of the issue. The point is that Dickens does not represent any social role in a focused way. He has created a symbolic language for his conception of 'Slackbridges', but this language signifies nothing precise: it is a generalized bombast which might inhabit the pulpit, the House of Lords, or any kind of political or public meeting. Conventionally, of course, this sort of language connotes vacuousness and insincerity, and presumably it does so here; but Slackbridge's appearance is an intervention in a complex moral dilemma (Stephen's refusal to 'combine', and his subsequent ostracism by the work-mates who know and respect him) and the signification of his speech style is inadequate to the situation. So Dickens is forced to comment directly on what Slackbridge represents:

He was not so honest [as the assembled workmen], he was not so manly, he was not so good-humoured; he substituted cunning for their simplicity, and passion for their safe solid sense.

These judgements cannot be read off from the language in which Slackbridge is presented. His role remains puzzling, and since he is dramatically foregrounded as the main speaker against Stephen in this scene, the troubling nature of the scene (stemming largely from the unclarity of Stephen's motives and therefore of his relations with others at the meeting) remains provocatively unresolved.

Sleary is the second linguistic grotesque in the novel. Whereas Slackbridge's language is dominated by a bombastic rhetoric, Sleary's speech is submerged under brandy-and-water. Sibilants are drowned: . . . all reduce to a sound spelled th:

Tho be it, my dear. (You thee how it ith, Thquire!) Farewell, Thethilia! My latht wordth to you ith thith, Thtick to the termth of your engagement, be obedient to the Thquire, and forget uth. But if, when you're grown up and married and well off, you come upon any horthe-riding ever, don't be hard upon it, don't be croth with it, give it a Bethspeak if you can, and think you might do wurth. People mutht be amuthed, Thquire, thomehow, . . . they can't be alwayth a working, nor yet they can't be alwayth a learning. Make the betht of uth; not the wortht.

But Sleary's function in the plot and in the thematic structure of the novel make him more than a comic drunk. In his first appearance (Bk. I, Ch. 6), he is a firm leader of the circus-people in their challenge to the bullying of Gradgrind and Bounderby, and effectively presides over the passage of Sissy into the care of Gradgrind. At the end of the novel, he has been harbouring Gradgrind's criminal son Tom, and (carnivalistically, through the good offices of a dancing horse) manages Tom's flight from apprehension. He is then given virtually the last word, an almost verbatim repetition of the sentiment just quoted. His interventions in the story are directly implicated in Gradgrind's fortunes, and he is the philosophical antithesis to Gradgrind's utilitarian educational thesis: Sleary's Horse-Riding stands for Fancy. This notion of Fancy may well be too trivial for Dickens's purpose, as has been conceded; but at least Sleary is so constituted as to demand attention. The idiolect is insistently defamiliarizing: it 'make[s] forms difficult . . . increase[s] the difficulty and length of perception' as Shklovsky puts it [Russian Formalist Criticism, ed. and transl. by Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis, 1965]. It takes effort to determine what Sleary is saying, because of the completeness and the whimsicality of the phonological transformation which has been applied to his speech. The reader is compelled to decipher a radical, and not entirely consistent, code which deforms everyday English words into momentarily unrecognizable spellings: bitterth, prentitht. These difficulties do not guarantee that what Sleary says is of any great interest; but the fact that Dickens has placed these difficulties in our way indicates that Sleary is meant to be listened to, mat he is designed as a significant voice against Gradgrindism in the polyphonic structure of the book.

There is another interesting aspect of Sleary's speech, and one which further distinguishes his discourse from that of Slackbridge. Beneath the idiolect, there are markers which suggest a social dialect or sociolect. Dickens builds into Sleary's speech hints of working-class morphology and lexis: eathy (easily), ath (who), wouldn't . . . no more, took (taken), plain (plainly), winder, lyin', etc., (plus some odd spellings which suggest deviance from the middle-class code, but obscurely: natur, fortun, wurthst, conwenienth); and slang and oaths: morrithed (morrissed, 'fled'), cut it short, damned, mith'd your tip (missed your tip, 'jumped short'), cackler, pound ('wager'), etc. These characteristics link Sleary with the working class—in this novel, the interests of the 'hands'—and with the circus fraternity—the spokespeople for Fancy. These links not only 'naturalize' Sleary by providing him with social affiliations, but also broaden the basis of opposition to the Utilitarian philosophies embodied in Gradgrind (whom Sleary first meets in a confrontation).

The novel contains many other contrasts of speech style, and on the whole they can be explained sociolectally rather than idiolectally: Dickens seems to have accepted the principle that now provides the theoretical basis for Hallidayan linguistics, namely that registers of language characterize social groups and encode their values. Consider, for example, the contrasting speech of Harthouse and of Stephen Blackpool. The former is first introduced as an idle waster ('carelessly lounging') with a languid, verbless, fragmented speech (Bk. II, Ch. 1). When he is established in Louisa's favours, however, this affectation is replaced by the syntax of 'elaborated code':

Mrs. Bounderby, though a graceless person, of the world worldly, I feel the utmost interest, I assure you, in what you tell me. I cannot possibly be hard upon your brother. I understand and share the wise consideration with which you regard his errors. With all possible respect both for Mr. Gradgrind and for Mr. Bounderby, I think I perceive that he has not been fortunate in his training. Bred at a disadvantage towards the society in which he has to play, he rushes into these extremes for himself, from opposite extremes that have long been forced—with the very best intentions we have no doubt—upon him. Mr. Bounderby's fine bluff English independence, though a most charming characteristic, does not—as we have agreed—invite confidence. If I might venture to remark that it is the least in the world deficient in that delicacy to which a youth mistaken, a character misconceived, and abilities misdirected, would turn for relief and guidance, I should express what it presents to my own view.

Hypotaxis—the use of multiple subordinate clauses—dominates the syntax, which is further complicated by parenthetical clauses such as '—as we have agreed—'. Main clauses are delayed by preposed adjective clauses ('Bred at a disadvantage . . .') and by suspect protestations of diffidence or sincerity ('If I might venture . . .'). Nouns are liberally modified by adjectives, many of them evaluative and evocative of extremes (graceless, worldly, utmost, wise, opposite, very best, etc.). Modals are also prominent, emphasizing the speaker's claim to epistemic and deontic involvement in what he says: cannot possibly, all possible, very best, no doubt, most, least. Touches of rhetoric of more identifiable origin than Slackbridge's are present: 'a youth mistaken, a character misconceived, and abilities misdirected' is a literary, educated form associated with writing, not oratory—the key to this literariness being the inverted structure N + Adjective (there is only one inversion, Verb + Subject, in all of Slackbridge's speeches. Harthouse's speech in this episode is marked as middle-class, elaborated, evasive.

At the other pole, socio-economically and linguistically, is Stephen Blackpool. There is a detailed effort to make Stephen's language indicate his representativeness of a class. A number of different features of his language combine to make his language suggest the regional, uneducated and oral properties of the language of the Hands. He is first shown in an intimate conversation with Rachael, an introduction which makes an immediate point that his speech style is shared, not idiosyncratic. I must quote a sizeable extract, including some commentary by the narrator which offers a clear contrast of style:

'Ah, lad! 'Tis thou?' When she had said this, with a smile which would have been quite expressed, though nothing of her had been seen but her pleasant eyes, she replaced her hood again, and they went on together.

'I thought thou wast ahind me, Rachael?'


'Early t'night, lass?'

"Times I'm a little early, Stephen; 'times a little late. I'm never to be counted on, going home.'

'Nor going t'other way, neither, t'seems to me, Rachael?'

'No, Stephen.'

He looked at her with some disappointment in his face, but with a respectful and patient conviction that she must be right in whatever she did. The expression was not lost upon her; she laid her hand lightly on his arm a moment, as if to thank him for it.

'We are such true friends, lad, and such old friends, and getting to be such old folk, now.'

'No, Rachael, thou'rt as young as ever thou wast.'

'One of us would be puzzled how to get old, Stephen, without t'other getting so too, both being alive,' she answered, laughing; 'but, any ways, we're such old friends, that t'hide a word of honest truth fro' one another would be a sin and a pity. 'Tis better not to walk too much together. 'Times, yes! 'Twould be hard, indeed, if 'twas not to be at all,' she said, with a cheerfulness she sought to communicate to him.

"Tis hard, anyways, Rachael.'

'Try to think not; and 'twill seem better.'

'I've tried a long time, and 'ta'nt got better. But thou'rt right; 'tmight mak fok talk, even of thee. Thou hast been that to me, through so many year: thou hast done me so much good, and heartened of me in that cheering way, that thy word is a law to me. Ah lass, and a bright good law! Better than some real ones.'

'Never fret about them, Stephen,' she answered quickly, and not without an anxious glance at his face. 'Let the laws be.'

'Yes,' he said, with a slow nod or two. 'Let 'em be. Let everything be. Let all sorts alone. 'Tis a muddle, and that's aw.'

A minimum of deviant spellings here serves to hint at the vowel sounds and the elisions of a northern accent. Elsewhere, Dickens indicates the accent by a more radical set of orthographic, lexical and morphological peculiarities:

'My friends,' Stephen began, in the midst of a dead calm; 'I ha' hed what's been spok'n o' me, and 'tis lickly that I shan't mend it. But I'd liefer you'd hearn the truth concernin myseln, fro my lips than fro onny other man's, though I never cud'n speak afore so monny, wi'out bein moydert and muddled.'

Detailed analyses of these dialect notations are unnecessary. Different novelists (e.g. Mrs. Gaskell, Emily Brontë) use different notational devices: some use more archaisms, others more 'non-standard' morphology, and there is variation in the spelling conventions for vowels. There are two simple points to grasp in all such cases. First, these are not to be judged as realistic transcriptions where fidelity might be an issue—they are simply conventional signals of socio-linguistic difference. Second, only a very slight deviance, as in the conversation between Stephen and Rachael, is needed to persuade middle-class readers that they are in the presence of a social group below their own.

More significant is the syntax, which is in sharp contrast to Harthouse's elaborated forms. Halliday maintains that speech and writing have different information structures, and therefore different modes of syntactic organization. Writing, which can be scanned and re-scanned for complexities and qualifications of meaning, is a medium which can accommodate the kinds of indirections which we noted in Harthouse's language. Speech, according to Halliday, is more straightforwardly linear, and it releases its meanings in a sequence of short chunks or 'information units'; these units are segmented off by intonation patterns, rises and falls in the pitch of the voice. Syntactically, they need not be complete clauses, but are often phrases or single words, and often loosely linked by apposition or concatenation. The overall style is not strictly speaking paratactic, because the conjoined constituents are not clauses of equal weight; but in its avoidance of clause subordination it is much more like parataxis than hypotaxis.

Once the existence of this mode of speech has been pointed out, it takes no great analytic expertise to recognize that the description fits the conversation of Stephen and Rachael. The point is that Dickens has—in writing, of course—deliberately constructed a very oral model of language for these two humble characters, contrasting with the formal, written model used for some unsympathetic middle-class speakers such as Harthouse. I think there is a contrast of values intended here: solidarity and naturalness on the one hand, deviousness and insincerity on the other. I cannot prove this by reference to the language alone; I simply suggest that Dickens is using speech style stereotypes to which his readers, on the basis of their socio-linguistic competence and of their knowledge of the novel's plot, assign conventional significances.

So far I have offered examples of significant individual voices, and of speech styles which seem to take the imprint of social values ('social semiotic' in Halliday's term). Other examples could be discussed; together they would assemble a picture of a text articulated in a multitude of voices. These voices are, overall, discordant and fluctuating in the kaleidoscope of views they express. Furthermore, the opposing points of view do not neatly align. Though Sleary confronts Gradgrind directly, so that the symbol of Fancy and that of Fact are in direct opposition, Harthouse and Stephen are not immediately opposed, nor many other significant antitheses of voices. Dickens's intellectual scheme for the book does not seem to have been symmetrical: his socio-linguistic symbols embodied in characters do not relate diagrammatically, and so the relationships among theoretical issues such as factual education, exploitive capitalism, statistics, social reform, play, etc., are not dramatized neatly in the linguistic or narrative relationships between the characters. The story and the language figure the ideological debates in an unsettled, troubled way. I think this raggedness is a strength. But before commenting on it directly, I want to refer to other areas of linguistic instability, different from the 'unpatternedness' of the global canvas. These areas involve dialogue, explicit or implicit, and figure shifting organization in the style of the voice.

Stephen Blackpool visits Bounderby's house on two occasions, and each time finds himself in a stand-up argument. The debates start with each speaker using his characteristic speech style. Bounderby is blustery and bullying, his speech packed with commands and demands:

Well Stephen, what's this I hear? What have these pests of the earth being doing to you? Come in, and speak up. . . . Now, speak up! . . . Speak up like a man. . . .

Bounderby continues in this register (which is his constant idiolect, or a major part of it), while Stephen's responses begin quiet and polite, in a language heavily marked for the dialectal phonology, and based on the short information units noticed earlier:

'What were it, sir, as yo' were pleased to want wi' me?' . . .

'Wi' yor pardon, sir, I ha' nowt to sen about it.' . . .

'I sed as I had nowt to sen, sir; not as I was fearfo' o' openin' my lips.'

'I'm as sooary as yo, sir, when the people's leaders is bad. They taks such as offers. Haply 'tis na' the sma'est o' their misfortuns when they can get no better.' . . .

Pressed to state how he would solve the troubles of the weaving industry, Stephen moves into a sequence of five long speeches; their sheer length is a sign of departure from character, against the norm of his conversation with Rachael. The spelling peculiarities are maintained to a large degree, as is the syntax of spoken information; this from the third long speech:

Look round town—so rich as 'tis—and see the numbers of people as has been broughten into bein heer, fur to weave, an to card, an to piece out a livin', aw the same one way, somehows, twixt their cradles and their graves.

The fifth of these speeches has Stephen, under intense provocation, voicing sentiments of 'man' against 'master' which on independent evidence, as well as the evidence of the novel, can be associated with Dickens's own humanitarian point of view. Stephen cannot say what will right the world, but he can say what will not: the strong hand of the masters, laissez-faire, lack of regard for the humanity of the mill-workers, and so on. When Stephen gives voice to these sentiments, the overall structure of his language changes to the parallelistic rhetoric of a public speech: a succession of balanced sentences, steadily increasing in length, is used to enumerate his arguments; here are two of them:

Not drawin' nigh to fok, wi' kindness and patience an cheery ways, that so draws nigh to one another in their monny troubles, and so cherishes one another in their distresses wi' what they need themseln—like, I humbly believe, as no people the genelman ha seen in aw his travels can beat—will never do't till th'Sun turns t'ice. Most of aw, ratin 'em as so much Power, and reg'latin 'em as if they was figures in a soom, or machines: wi'out loves and likeins, wi'out memories and inclinations, wi'out souls to weary and souls to hope—when aw goes quiet, draggin on wi' 'em as if they'd nowt o' th'kind, an when aw goes onquiet, reproachin 'e, for their want o' sitch humanly feelins in their dealins wi' you—this will never do't, sir, till God's work is onmade.

Some of the elaborated syntax noticed in Harthouse's language can be found here in the internal structure of clauses, in the qualifications and self-interruptions. And the overall format of repetitive structure recalls the insistent harangue of the book's opening scene, in the schoolroom.

When Stephen engages with the moral issues which concern Dickens centrally, then, his language deviates sharply from what had earlier been offered as his own characteristic socio-linguistic style. I do not point this out as an inconsistency of characterization, but as an application of the dialogic principle in the language through which Stephen is constituted. The stylistic shift shows strain in Dickens's use of a voice to express an ideological position that has become problematic through being assigned to that speaker. Stephen as originally set up by Dickens is inadequate to occupy the place in debate in which he has become situated: his language strains towards the rhetoric of a more public form of disputation than his social role warrants.

Surprising shifts of register occur in the speech of other characters, although none so remarkable as the transformation from tongue-tied weaver to articulate orator. I have no space to demonstrate any more of these changes; nor, most regrettably, can I show any selection of the range of styles of the narrative voice. Dickens ranges from subversive parody (Bk. I, Ch. 1, on Gradgrind on Fact), to complex animating and de-animating metaphors (Bk. I, Ch. 5, the superb evocation of Coketown) to pathos, and to simple direct judgement ('He was a good power-loom weaver, and a man of perfect integrity'). David Lodge has analysed some varieties of the narrative rhetoric of Hard Times in an excellent chapter of Language of Fiction: analysis which readers can consult to fill out this gap in my account. Lodge also relates these variations to uncertainties in Dickens's own position, as I do. But his judgement is essentially based on a monologic norm: 'Hard Times succeeds where its rhetoric succeeds and fails where its rhetoric fails.' Generally, Lodge argues, this rhetoric is successful when Dickens is being antagonistic or ironic, but fails when he is trying to celebrate his fictional positives.

But it is more complex than that. The various styles are not just 'successful' or 'failed', but transcend a two-term set of values: it is the plurality of codes, their inconstancy, and their frequent stridency, which all together constitute a fruitful and discordant polyphony. Any account of Dickens's 'argument' in this novel is bound to come to the conclusion that he attacks an unmanageably large and miscellaneous range of evils (utilitarianism in education and economics, industrial capitalism, abuse of unions, statistics, bad marriage, selfishness, etc.); that he mostly over-simplifies them (e.g. fails to see the beneficial relationship between some fact-gathering activities and real social reforms); that he is unclear on what evil causes what other evil. On the other side, his proposed palliatives are feeble, misconceived in terms of purely individual initiatives and responsibilities, and sentimentally formulated. Most of this conceptual muddle stems from the crucial inadequacy of Dickens's idealized solution of tolerant rapprochement of the two parties to the industrial situation:

'I believe,' said I, 'that into the relations between employers and employed, as into all the relations of this life, there must enter something of feeling and sentiment; something of mutual explanation, forbearance, and consideration; something which is not to be found in Mr. McCulloch's dictionary, and is not exactly stateable in figures; otherwise those relations are wrong and rotten at the core and will never bear sound fruit.'

Translation of all Dickens's insecurely based theses and antitheses into elements and structural relationships of this novel's form has produced the asymmetries and dissonances which my stylistic analysis has begun to display. But few people today would condemn Hard Times as a ragged failure. The inconsistencies and discords are an indication of the problematic status of the social and theoretical crises in question for a great imagination like Dickens who could not articulate unequivocally in fiction the (unknown to him) facile solutions which were consciously available to him as theory. The novel's lack of monologic authority fits Bakhtin's description, I believe; and the stylistic polyphony is provocative and creative, compelling the reader to grapple uneasily with the tangle of issues that Dickens problematizes.

Juliet McMaster (essay date 1987)

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SOURCE: "Hard Times: 'Black and White'," in Dickens the Designer, The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1987, pp. 177-92.

[In the following essay, McMaster examines how Dickens uses color imagery in Hard Times to reinforce its characterizations and themes.]

In Hard Times Dickens made colour a major feature of design. One of the titles he considered for it was 'Black and white.' The novel is patterned on a progression between the two most powerful scenes: the first in the 'intensely whitewashed' schoolroom at the beginning, with its albino star pupil, Bitzer, so pale that he looks as though he would 'bleed white,' and the second set in Sleary's darkened circus ring at the end, with Tom Gradgrind disguised as a blackamoor clown, his face 'daubed all over' with a 'greasy composition' of black make-up.

But the world of Hard Times is not all just black and white, and that tentative title, like 'Two and two are four,' 'Stubborn things,' and 'Fact,' which appear in the same working list, was intended to indicate what was wrong with the world according to Gradgrind, and how much was missing in it. As it is a novel that treats of imagination, grace, instinct, and feeling, as well as of the utilitarian system that tries to reject them, so it is concerned with the modulation between black and white, the various tones of grey, and with brighter colours. Pigmentation is one of Dickens's recurring images, and he uses it consistently to furnish incidents for his fable and to reinforce his theme.

With a vision of a world, like Dickens's, threatened with the loss of colour and romance, Keats in 'Lamia' had produced a comparable set of associations:

Do not all charms fly At the mere touch of cold philosophy? There was an awful rainbow once in heaven: We know her woof, her texture; she is given In the dull catalogue of common things. Philosophy will clip an Angel's wings, Conquer all mysteries by rule and line, Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine.

For Dickens the philosophy that clips an angel's wings is Utilitarianism, and the attempt to 'conquer all mysteries by rule and line' is realized in Mr. Gradgrind's 'gauging fathomless deeps with his little mean excise-rod, and . . . staggering over the universe with his rusty stiff-legged compasses.' Gradgrind would certainly have expected his children and the pupils at his school to study the woof and texture of a rainbow, among their other Ologies. (One can imagine Bitzer's definition of a rainbow.) Dickens doesn't use the rainbow as an image, but he summons instead flowers, butterflies, peacock feathers and fire, and, instead of Keats's 'gnomed mine' that is opposed to 'the dull catalogue of common things' ('facts and calculations,' as Gradgrind would call them), he provides Sleary's circus. Like Keats he here sees evil as the tendency to drain and nullify the sources of bright colour. Colours, if not rainbows, are essential to his composition, as the mitigation of the stark black and white terms of the Gradgrind universe.

Black and white in Hard Times do not represent polar opposites in a moral scale: so much is clear from the fact that Bitzer, 'the colourless boy,' and Tom Gradgrind, whom we last see appropriately besmeared with black, are products of the same educational system. Dickens is in fact explicitly rejecting the light-dark moral contrast that he had exploited, say, in Oliver Twist, and he gives us a villain not a Fagin or a Quilp or a Carker, who all have feet more or less cloven, but a James Harthouse, 'aweary of vice, and aweary of virtue, used up as to brimstone, and used up as to bliss.' Black, as with Tom in blackamoor make-up, does have some of its customary associations with evil; but it is characteristically a pigmentation applied from without, and connotes a social degradation rather than innate evil. And white is not a positive attribute of virtue, but rather a negative quantity, an absence of imagination or passion, an absence of colour.

Dickens develops a number of unpleasant associations for whiteness and pallor. The earliest remembrance of the Grandgrind children is of 'a large black board with a dry Ogre chalking ghastly white figures on it.' Similarly—another parallel between the schoolroom and the town at large—the signs and public inscriptions in Coketown are all painted alike, 'in severe characters of black and white.' Black and white are like facts and figures, unaccommodating, undifferentiating, inhumane. The schoolroom in Mr. Gradgrind's school is bare and undecorated and 'intensely whitewashed,' and his children's playroom looks like 'a room devoted to hair-cutting'—that is, presumably, hygienic and sterile, and probably whitewashed too.

But it is in Bitzer that Dickens most memorably depicts whiteness, or lack of pigmentation, as repellent:

The boy was so light-eyed and light-haired that the self-same rays [of the sun] appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed. His cold eyes would hardly have been eyes, but for the short ends of lashes which, by bringing them into immediate contrast with something paler than themselves, expressed their form. His short-cropped hair might have been a mere continuation of the sandy freckles on his forehead and face. His skin was so unwholesomely deficient in the natural tinge, that he looked as though, if he were cut, he would bleed white.

Dickens's bad characters in other novels, and Bounderby in this one, are apt to be all too 'colourful'—that is, they tend to make the good characters such as Oliver and Nell seem by contrast pale and vapid. But in Bitzer for once he produced a thoroughly nasty character with no colour at all, and his nastiness resides in his colourlessness 'I [hate] that white chap,' Tom Gradgrind complains of him; 'he's always got his blinking eyes upon a fellow.' The whiteness is like the lean and hungry look of Cassius, Jingle and Stiggins—it expresses the beholder's sense of evil and danger. Even when Bitzer exerts himself, as in pursuit of Tom, he gathers no colour: 'For, there was Bitzer, out of breath, his thin lips parted, his thin nostrils distended, his white eyelashes quivering, his colourless face more colourless than ever, as if he ran himself into a white heat, when other people ran themselves into a glow.' A fit profession for the grown Bitzer is as the 'light porter' at the bank—'a very light porter indeed.' Dickens seems to have considered this avocation something of an inspiration, for in his working-plan for the number he noted, 'Bitzer light porter? Yes.' He may, I think, have been playing on the catch-phrase of Utilitarianism, 'enlightened self-interest,' for Bitzer is the supremely successful product of the Gradgrind educational system. His self-interest is complete, and enlightened—besides the light colouring—strictly to the extent that he will avoid breaking the law because breaking the law would get him into trouble. It is not surprising that F. R. Leavis [in his 'Hard Times: An Analytic Note,' 1948,] should have admired the characterization of Bitzer, for he is a very Lawrentian conception5 —one of the effete and bloodless products, like Clifford Chatterley, of a civilization that has lost contact with the physical and instinctual sources of life. Bitzer is a successful utilitarian, but at the price of losing his humanity. His blood is white, and he has no heart—none, that is, except for the physiological organ that pumps his corpuscles around his bodily frame after the manner described by Harvey.

The other colourless product of utilitarian principles is Mrs. Gradgrind, though she is by no means so successful in the pursuit of self-interest as Bitzer. Rather she seems the result of the enlightened self-interest of others, her husband's in particular. Mrs. Gradgrind is 'a little, thin, white, pink-eyed bundle of shawls, of surpassing feebleness, mental and bodily; who was always taking physic without any effect, and who, whenever she showed a symptom of coming to life, was invariably stunned by some weighty piece of fact tumbling on her.' Again, her colourlessness is an essential aspect of Dickens's conception of her. As for Bitzer he had noted in his working-plan 'Pale winking boy,' so he saw in advance Mrs. Gradgrind as a 'badly done transparency without enough light behind.' This very precise visual image, with its suggestion of the latest in the audiovisual aids market, is one he maintains consistently for poor insipid Mrs. Gradgrind. Bitzer is unwholesomely pale and white, but at least he is opaque. She is even more washed-out in colour than he. The image, when worked up into the text of the novel, becomes, 'Mrs. Gradgrind, weakly smiling, and giving no other sign of vitality, looked (as she always did) like an indifferently executed transparency of a small female figure, without enough light behind it.' We are to understand that she has been so crushed and ground by Gradgrind facts that she is scarcely alive, and Dickens has never so successfully depicted a low ebb of life: a starved amoeba would be a dynamo to her. When Louisa is summoned to her deathbed she finds her 'as nearly dead, as her limited capacity of being in any state that implied the ghost of an intention to get out of it, allowed.' And her death itself is announced with the familiar image: 'the light that had always been feeble and dim behind the weak transparency, went out.' In keeping with his larger design, the term Dickens chooses for the rendering of her fractional existence is an insufficient infusion of pigment.

Deprived of love, and dosed with an exclusive diet of hard facts, she is pathetically ignorant of what is absent in her life, the 'something—not an Ology at all,' that her husband has missed. She has no access even to her own physical being: when Louisa asks her, at her deathbed, 'Are you in pain, dear mother?,' she can only reply, 'I think there's a pain somewhere in the room, . . . but I couldn't positively say that I have got it.' As Melvyn Haberman comments [in his "The Courtship of the Void: The World of Hard Times, " 1975,] 'So withdrawn is she from her self, so vacant her being, that she cannot experience her own pain.' At her death, we are reminded of the relation between transparent Mrs. Gradgrind, victim of facts, and Bitzer, who is so constituted that he can thrive on them. Bitzer is the 'fit colourless servitor at Death's door when Mrs. Gradgrind knocked.'

The lady who is most fully opposed to Mrs. Gradgrind in the colour-scheme of the book (and it is a one-way opposition, for Mrs. Gradgrind wouldn't oppose anybody) is Mrs. Sparsit. Here there is no shortage of pigment infusion. With her definite views and her no-nonsense attitudes, she is rather like the black-and-white inscriptions in Coketown. Bounderby imagines her when young as dressed 'in white satin and jewels, a blaze of splendour,' but at the time of life in which we meet her the black predominates in her colouring. She wears white stockings, but, as a widow, presumably a black dress. Much is made of her 'dense black eyebrows,' and subsequently of her 'black eyes.' As befits her character as witch, her black eyes are black in more than their own blackness: they see evil, and, to the extent of their power, determine it. In her jealousy of Louisa she wills her into an affair with Harthouse: 'she kept her black eyes wide open, with no touch of pity, with no touch of compunction, all absorbed in interest. In the interest of seeing [Louisa], ever drawing, with no hand to stay her, nearer and nearer to the bottom of this new Giant's Staircase.' She watches eagerly, with 'gratified malice,' as Louisa proceeds to compromise herself, and draw nearer to the dark abyss that her imagination has prepared for her. As she follows Louisa on the train after spying on the assignation with Harthouse, she continues to cast dark spells to bring about the evil she longs for:

All the journey, immovable in the air though never left behind; plain to the dark eyes of her mind, as the electric wires which ruled a colossal strip of music-paper out of the evening sky, were plain to the dark eyes of her body; Mrs. Sparsit saw her staircase, with the figure coming down. Very near the bottom now. Upon the brink of the abyss.

Mrs. Sparsit, sufficiently black herself, seeks to blacken others. It is her mission to denigrate.

In the colouring of Mr. Gradgrind, Dickens suggests the need for some modulation between the stark blacks and whites that prevail in the signs of Coketown and in his children's education. For the most part he is dissociated from colour, just as he outlaws fancy, and spends his life 'annihilating the flowers of existence.' The one colour that is briefly associated with him is blue, but it is not a very vivid blue, and is cleared immediately from any romantic associations: 'Although Mr. Gradgrind did not take after Blue Beard, his room was quite a blue chamber in its abundance of blue books.' This library of the dismal science is itself sufficiently dismal, being 'a stern room, with a deadly statistical clock in it, which measured every second with a beat like a rap upon a coffin-lid.' Gradgrind is to be changed by the disasters that his educational system causes in his children's lives; and his reform, and movement towards increased humanity and understanding, is marked by his going grey. After Louisa's marriage is shattered, and he begins to suspect Tom's responsibility for the bank robbery, we hear, 'His hair had latterly begun to change its colour. . . . He leaned upon his hand again, looking grey and old.' The touch might be only a passing one, but Dickens gives it weight by including 'grey' in the final image of the book—words which he had again thought out in advance. The narrator connects humane endeavour with the effort 'to beautify . . . lives of machinery and reality with those imaginative graces and delights, without which . . . the plainest national prosperity figures can show, will be the Writing on the Wall.' This is the lesson that the Gradgrinds of the world, with their tabulation of black and white facts and figures, need to learn. Then there is a final apostrophe to the reader:

Dear reader! It rests with you and me, whether, in our two fields of action, similar things shall be or not. Let them be! We shall sit with lighter bosoms on the hearth, to see the ashes of our fires turn grey and cold.

The fire imagery has been consistent, and this ending connects it with the colour motif, and suggests a consonance between the imaginative endeavour and modulation between the uncompromising extremes of black and white.

It is characteristic of Dickens's presentation of colour here, and in keeping with movements in painting, that he should differentiate between colour that is innate in the object or person, and colour that is the effect of external context, like lighting, or the kind of deposits caused by contaminated air, as in Bleak House. Although, in the colourless world as projected by Gradgrind, any infusion of colour might be seen as good, the pigment imposed from without, as on Tom's face or on the cinder-blackened buildings of Coketown, is nearly always seen as evil. The face and the town are aligned in the initial description of Coketown:

It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood it was a town of unnatural red and black like me painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river mat ran purple with ill-smelling dye.

The imposition of pigment on pigment, black on red, black in stagnant canal, purple in running water, is unnatural and degrading, like Tom's circus make-up, which is already intimated in the comparison of Coketown with 'the painted face of a savage.' This is no longer the colourless world of utilitarian theory and enlightened self-interest, but the soiled world of utilitarian practice: industrialism, laissez-faire, and every man for himself. The gross trailing serpents of smoke and pollution are the agents of corruption by which a potentially fair city falls to being an industrial slum. 'Coketown did not come out of its own furnaces, in all respects like gold that had stood the fire,' we hear. It is overlaid, tarnished and blackened. In its environs, 'the besmoked evergreens were sprinkled with a dirty powder.' Seen from a distance, it tarnishes and blackens the landscape too, as a 'sulky blotch upon the prospect . . . A blur of soot and smoke . . . murkily creeping along the earth.' And, as the action moves into the countryside surrounding Coketown, we find similar suggestions that the landscape too has been spoiled and soiled by some outside agency, and mat what was innocent has been made ugly and dangerous by an external application of black dirt. When Sissy and Rachael take their walk in the countryside, natural greens and blues are threatened by the encroaching blackness of industrial detritus: "Though the green landscape was blotted here and mere with heaps of coal, it was green elsewhere, and there were trees to see, . . . and all was over-arched by a bright blue sky. In me distance one way, Coketown showed as a black mist.' Though colour and nature seem to prevail, and the women can take pleasure in their walk, presently it emerges mat the landscape has not only been overcast by the black mist, but literally undermined as well: 'Before them, at their very feet, was the brink of a black ragged chasm hidden by the thick grass.' In this black chasm Stephen Blackpool, the victim and martyr of Bounderby's utilitarian practice, lies dying.

Stephen's name, and the place of his death, associate him with the blackness of Coketown. In the street where he lies, we hear, the undertaker keeps, as a timely convenience, 'a black ladder, in order that those who had done their daily groping up and down the narrow stairs might slide out of this working world by the windows.' This black ladder, the grim memento mori of the working-class neighbourhood, receives some emphasis. Stephen's face, as compassionately described by Rachael, is 'so white and tired.' He belongs, then, to the prevailing black-and-white colour scheme of the tentative title, but he is not judged as responsible for this joyless pattern, as Gradgrind is, and he already has the 'iron-grey hair,' the sign of his ability to accept modulation and shades of difference, which Gradgrind must painfully acquire. The dark colours associated with him suggest rather that his life has been shadowed and darkened by inescapable suffering man that he is smeared and soiled, or morally tainted. His dipsomaniac wife, however, is another matter. She is one member of the working classes for whom the narrator has no compassion, and her degradation is again signalled by external application of dirt. Her hands are 'begrimed,' and she is 'a creature so foul to look at, in her tatters, stains and splashes, but so much fouler man that in her moral infamy, that it was a shameful thing even to see her.'

But the character who is the most memorable instance of externally applied pigmentation as a signal of moral infamy is of course Tom Gradgrind. Tom, like the colourless Bitzer, is a product of his education, but, whereas the system makes of Bitzer a successful machine, it makes of Tom an unsuccessful brute. Both are less than human, but Bitzer has no passions and no physical temptations, whereas Tom has both, without any training in how to control them.

It was very remarkable mat a young gentlemen who had been brought up under one continuous system of unnatural restraint, should be a hypocrite; but it was certainly me case with Tom. It was very strange mat a young gentleman who had never been left to his own guidance for five consecutive minutes, should be incapable at last of governing himself; but so it was with Tom. It was altogether unaccountable that a young gentleman whose imagination had been strangled in his cradle, should be still inconvenienced by its ghost in the form of grovelling sensualities; but such a monster, beyond all doubt, was Tom.

His grovelling sensualities lead him to pander his sister to a man she finds repulsive, to embezzle funds from the bank, and to throw suspicion on an innocent man. When these crimes have caught up with him, and Sleary has disguised him as a blackamoor clown to help him to escape the law, Tom is at least shown, so to speak, in his true colours. This is a passage that most critics quote, for it is one of the most powerful in the book. But much of its force derives from the build-up that Dickens has provided, in marking the contrast as well as the parallel between Bitzer and Tom, and in training the reader in the moral infamy of externally applied pigmentation.

In a preposterous coat, like a beadle's,. . . with seams in his black face, where fear and heat had started through the greasy composition daubed all over it; anything so grimly, detestably, ridiculously shameful as the whelp in his comic livery, Mr. Gradgrind never could . . . have believed in.

As Tom proves to his father over again that his teaching is responsible for his downfall—the statistical probabilities decree that 'so many people, out of so many, will be dishonest. . . . How can I help laws?'—the degrading blackening receives more emphasis still. Dickens rubs in the effect:

The father buried his face in his hands, and the son stood in his disgraceful grotesqueness, biting straw: his hands, with the black partly worn away inside, looking like the hands of a monkey. . . . From time to time, he turned the whites of his eyes restlessly and impatiently towards his father. They were the only parts of his face that showed any life or expression, the pigment upon it was so thick.

The passage is one of Dickens's triumphs in rendering a moral condition visible. And, to complete the pattern of black and white, he now produces Gradgrind's pupil, the 'colourless' Bitzer in a 'white heat,' eager to break his educator's heart by preventing his son's escape. Gradgrind is to be punished, crucified, by the black and white, the unmodulated declaration of facts that he had always advocated.

There is another and more comic instance of the external application of pigment as a vehicle for poetic justice. Mrs. Sparsit is by no means lacking in dark colour herself, as we have seen, but, black as she is, mere is a further daubing she is to undergo that will announce her infamy, though there is no one but the reader to see it. In her zeal to catch Louisa in the wrong she creeps through shrubbery and braves thunderstorms, collecting on the way a coating of verdure and worse: 'Mrs. Sparsit's white stockings were of many colours, green predominating; prickly things were in her shoes, caterpillars slung themselves, in hammocks of their own making, from various parts of her dress.' So much she endures unflinching while success, and Louisa's downfall, are in sight, but, when she has lost her in the crowd, and is weeping in frustrated malice, we are allowed to rejoice in the spectacle of Mrs. Sparsit properly punished, and daubed over, like Tom, with the visible signals of her villainy: 'Wet through and through: . . . with a rash of rain upon her classical visage; . . . with a stagnant verdure on her general exterior, such as accumulates on an old park fence in a mouldy lane.' To be reduced to an old park fencepost, encrusted with lichen and mould, is the appropriate come-uppance for the highly connected Mrs. Sparsit, once a Powler.

Brighter colours than the black and white of the Gradgrind and Bounderby world also have their place in the design of Hard Times. Colour, as in Sissy Jupe and the circus, generally suggests feeling, imagination and vitality; but there are some exceptions to this rule, which need considering first. For, though one would expect Bounderby to be mainly black, as he rejoices in the smoke of Coketown—"That's meat and drink to us. It's the healthiest thing in the world in all respects, and particularly for the lungs', he boasts—he is actually vividly coloured. He is always talking about the workers' propensity to 'expect to be set up in a coach and six, and to be fed on turtle soup and venison, with a gold spoon,' and in his own complexion he is as gaudy as anyone in the novel: at his final rage at the end of his marriage we see him 'with his very ears a bright purple shot with crimson,' a veritable mandrill. But the coloration is not so inappropriate after all. For one thing the explosive pressure signalled by his crimson and purple features completes the main terms of his characterization as windy, inflated, explosive—a Braggadocio. But, besides this, the colourful imagery that differentiates him from the black-and-white world of Gradgrind is an early signal of his true nature as a creator of fiction. For, however he may disapprove of 'idle imagination' in others, he has fancifully invented a past for himself as romantic as Dick Whittington's. Colour erupts in him, in spite of his Utilitarian principles, as fire erupts in Louisa and in the factory hands, for 'all closely imprisoned forces rend and destroy.' As Warrington Winters shows [in his 'Dickens's Hard Times, ' 1971], Bounderby and his fictional past belong to Dickens's major theme in serving 'to demonstrate that we cannot live by facts alone, that the imagination must have an outlet.'

All the same, as Bounderby is differentiated from the black-and-white Gradgrind world on the one hand, so is his livid coloration distinct from the colour of Sissy June's world, which symbolizes feeling and the power of the imagination. Bounderby's fiction is not a saving myth, but a self-aggrandizing lie. Likewise his colouring is crude and forced. He lives 'in a red house with black outside shutters, green inside blinds, a black street door, up two white steps, BOUNDERBY (in letters very like himself) upon a brazen plate, and a round brazen door-handle underneath it, like a brazen full-stop.' This loudly declarative arrangement of rectangles, squares and circles recalls the 'third gentleman's' disquisition on taste in the schoolroom scene. In confounding Sissy, who says she would enjoy representations of flowers in carpets as 'pretty and pleasant, and I would fancy—', he cuts her off with the command that she must never fancy, but must be regulated in all things by fact:

'You don't walk upon flowers in fact; you cannot be allowed to walk upon flowers in carpets. You don't find that foreign birds and butterflies come and perch upon your crockery; you cannot be permitted to paint foreign birds and butterflies upon your crockery. . . . You must see', said the gentleman, 'for all these purposes, combinations and modifications (in primary colours) of mathematical figures which are susceptible of proof and demonstration. . . . This is fact. This is taste.'

Bounderby's domestic décor would live up to these standards. For him colour is best regimented, separated, and arranged in hard-edged shapes. It is no surprise to find that his bank has exactly the same exterior as his house—red brick, black shutters, green blinds, and so forth, all 'strictly according to pattern.' These colours become, in fact, not very different from the Gradgrind black and white, inasmuch as their tendency is to eliminate differences and shades, to confound the individual with the aggregate, and so to dehumanize.

Sissy Jupe, with her allegiance to flowers, butterflies and fancy, is the representative of both colour and goodness. In the definitive schoolroom scene, she is contrasted with the colourless Bitzer, who sits in the same ray of sunshine: 'But, whereas the girl was so dark-eyed and dark-haired, that she seemed to receive a deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun, when it shone upon her, the boy was so light-eyed and light-haired that the self-same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed.' Leavis has memorably pointed out 'the force . . . with which the moral and spiritual differences are rendered here in terms of sensation,' but he has not noticed how this contrast is part of a dominant visual pattern in the novel at large. The scene continues to emphasize her colour, particularly that which comes from within. She 'would have blushed deeper, if she could have blushed deeper than she had blushed all this time.' When she is grown we are reminded of her 'rich dark hair' and of her propensity to blush: 'Her colour rose,' and 'Sissy flushed and started.' Such are the gestures which keep her colouring before us. Her fondness for flowers distinguishes her from Gradgrind, who annihilates the flowers of existence, from M'Choakumchild, who 'had taken the bloom off the higher branches' of science, and from Tom, whom we see literally tearing roses to pieces in one scene.

Her place of origin, Sleary's circus, is more colourful still. The circus people too cherish flowers, and the 'graceful equestrian Tyrolean flower-act' is one of their recurring numbers. They foregather at the Pegasus's Arms, where there is a theatrical Pegasus 'with real gauze let in for his wings, golden stars stuck on all over him, and his ethereal harness made of red silk.' Her father the clown wears as part of his clown's outfit a 'white night-cap, embellished with two peacock's feathers,' and the diminutive Master Kidderminster, who aspires to her hand, plays the role of Cupid made up with 'white bismuth, and carmine.' (Make-up, incidentally, is not degrading to the circus people as to Tom, for impersonation and clowning are their immemorial and legitimate business.)

Louisa Gradgrind's moral evolution, in gravitating from Gradgrind's world to Sissy's, is also signalled by the colour scheme. Her father intends to bring her up according to the colourless Bitzer pattern, quelling all fancy and feeling in her and devoting her entirely to fact. But the young Gradgrinds are not as bloodless and passionless as Bitzer. We have seen what happens to Tom. His inability to control his 'grovelling sensualities' causes him to become besmeared with pigment from the outside. Even little Jane Gradgrind, who is to be saved for humanity by Sissy, must have her native fancy and childish cheeks daubed over by the prevailing white—she falls asleep over vulgar fractions with a composition of white clay on her features, manufactured from 'slate-pencil and tears.'

Louisa, in spite of being a docile child, early shows signs of not belonging in the Gradgrind world. She is caught, 'red and disconcerted,' peeping through a loophole at the 'graceful equestrian Tyrolean flower-act!' In her face 'there was a light with nothing to rest upon, a fire with nothing to burn, a starved imagination keeping life in itself somehow.' The redness recurs, and in her it is the signal of feeling and passion, though she is not even aware of them in herself, nor can she give them a name. There is a poignant little incident of her adolescence, when the fifty-year-old Bounderby, stirred with lust, kisses her cheek.

He went his way, but she stood on the same spot, rubbing the cheek he had kissed, with her handkerchief, until it was burning red. . . .

'What are you about, Loo?' her brother sulkily remonstrated. 'You'll rub a hole in your face.'

'You may cut the piece out with your penknife if you like, Tom. I wouldn't cry!'

The incident sharply suggests the appalling violation—though one that she could not explain or analyse—that is practised on her in giving her to Bounderby in marriage. Having no access to her own instincts and feelings, and no knowledge that she has them, she makes no strong objection. But Bounderby's polluting kiss, so fiercely disgusting to her, is the preview of her wedding-night. And the knowledge that Tom gains of her feelings in this kiss scene shows him as doubly depraved in pushing her into the marriage.

Her father's transfer of her to Bounderby, the progress from the theory to the practice of Utilitarianism, sets her on the same path as Tom, and there is the same suggestion of denigration from without. Louisa's state of mind has been consistently associated with the fires and fumes of Coketown, and as Gradgrind proposes the match we hear of "The distant smoke very black and heavy.' She is on her way to becoming grimed over, like the red brick of Coketown and the painted face of her brother. But her symptomatic interest in fires and the light of imagination prevails over the smoke, and the more vivid colouring asserts itself. As she warns her father, 'when the night comes, Fire bursts out.'

It is Harthouse's sensual mission to awaken the dormant passion in Louisa; and he goes a long way towards succeeding. Harthouse, though not moved by strong passion himself, takes a connoisseur's delight in being the object of passion. That is, as his name implies, having no heart (he has a 'nest of addled eggs' in 'the cavity where his heart should have been') he wants to become the home for Louisa's. He specialises in arousing passion, not feeling it. Or, to use Dickens's colour metaphor, he is 'the very Devil' at 'the kindling of red fire.' As we have seen, Dickens was to develop the association of red with unleashed passion further still in A Tale of Two Cities, with the prominent red caps of the revolutionaries, and the red wine spilled in the streets that is the preview of the bloodbath of the Reign of Terror. Colour is Dickens's shorthand for aroused emotion in Louisa. Her love for Tom, the one feeling she is conscious of, first signals to Harthouse her capacity for passion, and he covets it. He sees that 'Her colour brightened' for Tom, and he begins to think 'it would be a new sensation, if the face which changed so beautifully for the whelp, would change for him.' Presently, by pretending interest in Tom, he has inveigled himself into her confidence, and proceeds on the assumption not only of her love for Tom but also of her absence of love for her husband. The signals are encouraging. She is 'flushing,' and then 'She flushed deeper and deeper, and was burning red.' Next, when she betrays that she has sold her husband's gifts to pay her brother's debts, 'She stopped, and reddened again.' Now she varies her normally numb response to her husband's blustering by facing him 'with a proud colour in her face that was a new change.' Harthouse has indeed been successful in kindling the red fire.

Louisa goes so far as to hear his urgent proposal that she should elope with him, and to be tempted by it. So much we may infer from her flight in the tempest on the train, amidst 'Fire and steam, and smoke, and red light.' But she flees not to her lover but to her father, and by the time she gets to him she is appropriately purged of pigment: 'so colourless, so disshevelled, so defiant and despairing, that he was afraid of her.'

Within the bounds of a brief fable, Louisa undergoes an emotional education. Though we are not to approve of Harthouse, he provides the means by which she discovers her own heart. Out of touch with her instincts and emotions, like her mother, and alienated from her self, she is not fully alive, and allows herself to be handed over to Bounderby like a parcel of goods, hardly even knowing that it matters. Harthouse causes an awakening of passion and consciousness; but her newly vivid colouring, like Tom's, is not integrated with moral imagination, and must be exorcised, leaving her torpid and colourless again. It is only the deep-hued Sissy (who has meanwhile changed little Jane's chalk-smeared countenance to 'a beaming face') who can reconcile her to her self. Under her influence Louisa, at the conclusion of the novel, is 'trying hard to know her humbler fellow-creatures, and to beautify their lives of machinery and reality with those imaginative graces and delights, without which the heart of infancy will wither up.' Leaving behind the black-and-white Gradgrind world, she has come to the Jupe philosophy that rejoices in flowers, butterflies and circuses, the 'imaginative graces and delights.'

Hard Times is not a complex novel, and its colour motif is simple too. The directive we receive on the appropriate colouring of imagination and pleasure in our lives is the adage, Not too little (like the absence of pigment in Bitzer and Mrs. Gradgrind), not too much (like the artificially applied coloration of Tom, Coketown and Mrs. Sparsit), but just right (like the organic colouring of Sissy Jupe and, eventually, Louisa). This essentially simple and consistent scheme serves Dickens well, and furnishes some memorable scenes and characterizations. Artistically, he has been most successful in the negative extremes, the black and white of his tentative title: in the slug-like pallor of Bitzer and the daubed-over blackness of Coketown and Tom, who wear their pigment like tar and feathers. These are memorable figures, and for good reason commentators keep coming back to them. Sissy Jupe, once she has left behind the schoolroom and her childhood, is only intermittently successful. But Louisa, cut off from access to her own feelings and instincts and a stranger to her self, is a figure of considerable psychological interest, and Dickens has made the colour-scheme tell in the development of her character too. Though its design is less elaborately developed than that of Bleak House,Hard Times equally gains in impact and coherence from a dominant visual motif.

Jean Ferguson Carr (essay date 1989)

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SOURCE: "Writing as a Woman: Dickens, Hard Times, and Feminine Discourses," in Dickens Studies Annual, Vol. 18, 1989, pp. 161-78.

[In the essay below, Carr assesses Dickens's "sympathetic identification with feminine discourses in the 1850s" as exemplified in Hard Times.]

In his 1872 retrospective essay on Dickens, George Henry Lewes presents Dickens as an exemplary figure whose career has upset the balance between popular taste and critical judgment. The essay depends on what seems initially an aesthetic opposition between show and Art, between "fanciful flight" and Literature, but these critical terms also demark class and gender boundaries that preserve the dominant literary culture. Dickens becomes "the showman beating on the drum," who appeals to the "savage" not the "educated eye," to "readers to whom all the refinements of Art and Literature are as meaningless hieroglyphs." He works in "delft, not in porcelain," mass producing inexpensive pleasure for the undiscerning reader, but is found wanting by the "cultivated" reader of "fastidious" taste. The essay attempts to contain Dickens' impact by identifying him as lower-class, uneducated, and aligned with feminine discourses, but it also suggests the difficulty of accounting for Dickens' influence and the importance of investigating the "sources of that power." Despite Lewes's isolation of Dickens as a "novelty" or as a madman, he concedes that he "impressed a new direction on popular writing, and modified the Literature of his age, in its spirit no less than in its form."

Dickens' admirers, following John Forster, have responded to the essay as mistaken and insulting. As John Gross wrote, the essay "still has the power to irritate," with its innuendo about hallucinations and lower-class vulgarity, and its casual anecdotes about the author's inadequate library. Lewes's class bias and his narrow definition of education have undermined the influence of his critique of Dickens for modern readers, but his subtle positioning of Dickens in relation to women writers and his articulation of the categories by which novels will be judged has been more durable. When, for example, Gordon Haight concludes that "Dickens was a man of emotion, sentimental throughout; Lewes was a man of intellect, philosophical and scientific," he is echoing the gender-based oppositions of Lewes's argument.

The essay on Dickens is part of the broader attempt begun by Lewes in the 1840s to serve as arbiter of the emergent literary class and of its premier form, the novel. Like Lewes's 1852 essay "The Lady Novelists," it seeks to position those literary newcomers who threaten the status and boundaries of nineteenth-century literary territory, to control the impact of a broader-based literacy and of women's emergence into more public spheres. The critique of Dickens depends on polarities that usually mark gender differences in nineteenth-century criticism, as, for example, the difference between feeling and thinking, between observing details and formulating generalizations. "Dickens sees and feels," Lewes intones,

but the logic of feeling seems the only logic he can manage. Thought is strangely absent from his works. . . . [K]eenly as he observes the objects before him, he never connects his observations into a general expression, never seems interested in general relations of things.

Lewes makes still more explicit his identification of Dickens with this secondary realm of women's writing in this backhanded compliment:

With a fine felicity of instinct he seized upon situations having an irresistible hold over the domestic affections and ordinary sympathies. He spoke in the mother-tongue of the heart, and was always sure of ready listeners.

Dickens is thus identified with the feminine, as instinctual and fortunate, as seizing rather than analyzing, as interested in "domestic affections and ordinary sympathies." He "painted nothing ideal, heroic," Lewes explains. "The world of thought and passion lay beyond his horizon."

Lewes evokes many of the same oppositions when instructing Charlotte Brontë on the "proper" realm for women writers, when cataloguing the "lady novelists" of the day, or when marking the novel as the particular "department" of women, the form that values finesse of detail, . . . pathos and sentiment." His acknowledgment that Dickens is "always sure of ready listeners" rehearses a charge often made against nineteenth-century women writers, that the financial success and popularity of their work, its very attentiveness to audience concerns, marks it as "anti-" or "sub-literary," concerned with sales not posterity. Dickens thus joins the company of writers like Fanny Fern and Mary Elizabeth Braddon who, as one critic put it, discovered: "a profitable market among the half-educated, . . . giving the undiscriminating what they wanted to read." The use of a category like the "subliterary" works to regulate the effects of the novel as a newly-positioned literary discourse that challenges the cultural hegemony of upper-class men of letters.

In July 1845, Dickens described the aim and rhetorical stance of a proposed journal, The Cricket: "I would at once sit down upon their very hobs; and take a personal and confidential position with them." In 1850, he finally established a periodical to fulfill the role of domestic comrade, that aspired "to live in the Household affections, and to be numbered among the Household thoughts, of our readers." In establishing a journal to be "familiar in their mouths as Household Words" (as the motto read), Dickens was making use of a feminine guise, privileging the intimate, private, and informal qualities usually associated with women over the social, public, and authoritative powers usually associated with men. But he was also disrupting the conventional wisdom that sharply divided the domestic and public spheres, for his journal insisted on the interpenetration of these realms.

This gesture of cultural cross-dressing is part of a recurring exploration by Dickens in the 1850s of the discourses usually identified as feminine. Michael Slater has argued that in the decade 1847 to 1857 Dickens was "apparently preoccupied with women as the insulted and injured of mid-Victorian England," and that the novels in this period feature more women characters in more prominent positions than do other of his novels. But he also sees Dickens as "voicing no general condemnation of prevailing patriarchal beliefs and attitudes." I do not find it surprising that Dickens did not "voice" a "general condemnation" of the ideology within which he wrote. What I want to investigate is why his interest hovers at the edge of articulation, why it goes so far and then retreats, or goes so far and then is silent. Why is Dickens simultaneously empathetic with oppressed women and insistent on the constraints and stereotypes that restrict them? What does his practice suggest about how women are rendered silent in Victorian culture and novels, how their perspective is undermined or preempted? To use Pierre Macherey's terms, such issues become part of what is "unvoiced," "unspoken" both in the novels and in Dickens' public postures. The issue is not so much, then, whether Dickens crafted complex psychological women characters along the lines of George Eliot or Charlotte Brontë, but how women are positioned in the powerful discourses of the novels as in contemporary social practices. In Dickens' novels, the notion of "writing as a woman" is problematic, as opposed to the confident assumptions Lewes makes of what it means "to write as women," of what the "real office" is that women "have to perform," of the "genuine female experience." Dickens' experimentation suggests that much is unknown, even to the women who "experience" their lives and desires, that there is no ready language for what women wish to "write." Although Dickens himself certainly does not articulate a program of women's liberation, and indeed deploys many cultural tropes that restrict women as "relative creatures," his novels often make the "commonsense" notions of Lewes untenable.

The proliferation of child-wives in his novels and his portrait of Esther Summerson's strained narrative have often been cited by critics as signs of Dickens' preference for coy, idealized, and subservient women. His advocacy of the domestic values of hearth and home has similarly been dismissed as a sign of a peculiar weakness, a bourgeois sentimentality aimed at pleasing or appeasing his readers. Along with his taste for melodrama and Christmas morality, such quirks are explained away as a cultural disguise the master assumed to protect his more radical designs. The more critically acceptable Dickens provides cynical and witty analysis of cultural conventions and hypocrisies from a disengaged position. In other words, Dickens is valued as a prototype of the (male) modern artist as rebel and cultural critic; he is embarrassing in his assumption of what we label (female) "Victorian" values. Like Lewes, then, we perpetuate the stigma of writing as a woman, associating feminine discourse with a lack of analysis and rigor, with pandering to "cheap" tastes. And we resist identifying Dickens with either its problems or its effects.

When Dickens' experimentation with "writing as a woman" is examined within this contest for literary territory and power, it involves more than merely being a woman writer or adopting a feminine persona. By aligning himself with terms and oppositions usually associated with women (for example, fancy vs. reason or fact, the personal vs. the institutional), Dickens, in effect, explores how his own position as a writer of fiction is marked off as suspect or inferior. He experiments with writing that traverses opposed realms and deploys narrative tropes that mark breaks in discursive power—stuttering, deception, metaphor, eccentricity, strain of voice or prose, interruptions. In this context, for example, Dickens' insistence on a linkage between "romance" and familiar things is more than a personal credo or a rehearsal of a romantic ethos. The preference in Hard Times of the devalued term "fancy" over the more culturally respectable term "imagination" locates his argument in a contemporary ideological contest, rather than as a repetition of an earlier aesthetic debate. The problematic position of women characters and writers functions as a figure of Dickens' own position in a culture suspicious of fancy and wary of claims to "domestic" power. Deflecting the unease of his position onto women as an oppressed class allows Dickens to be more extreme and critical than he could if he were evaluating his own position directly.

I would like to focus on what has usually been cited as a negative portrait of women, the failure to create a strong, likable heroine or a credible mother figure in Hard Times (1854). The novel itself is an instance of the conditions of feminine discourse, written not in any expansive artistic mode, but under the urgency of periodical publishing, as a project his printers hoped would attract readers to Household Words. Dickens disliked the conditions of weekly publication and deplored as "CRUSHING" the consequent lack of "elbow-room" and "open places in perspective." But the process must have underscored the constraints embedded in the social and material production of discourse. Indeed much of the novel explores what cannot be said or explained, what cannot be portrayed. The women of this fictional world in particular are restricted by and to their social positions, defined within narrow ideological bounds that afford little relief. The characters do not operate primarily in personal relationships to each other, nor do they "forget" their social positioning, or the polarities that operate in Coketown. They are constructed in oppositions, as women and men, mothers and daughters, middle-class thinkers and lower-class workers. The usual cultural positions for women remain curiously unpopulated, incomplete, present but not functioning as they ought. This schematic underdevelopment need not be explained away as a technological effect of the novel's weekly form, or as a style of abstraction. The ideological and technical constraints also create the possibility for Dickens to write as if from within the realm that Lewes marks off for women writers—a realm of fancy, romance, ordinary events, and mass production; a realm that remains apart from what fastidious or learned readers will value.

The novel is constrained from the beginning by the powerful social discourse of the Gradgrind system, which exists in the novel as what Bakhtin called "the word of the fathers." Bakhtin argues that such a word need not be repeated or reinforced or even made persuasive, but has "its authority already fused to it":

The authoritative word demands that we acknowledge it, that we make it our own; it binds us, quite independent of any power it might have to persuade us internally; we encounter it with its authority already fused to it. . . . It is, so to speak, the word of the fathers. Its authority was already acknowledged in the past. It is a prior discourse. It is therefore not a question of choosing it from among other possible discourses that are its equal.

Against such a word, opposition or argument is already preempted, made secondary or unhearable. Unlike the opposing terms of "wonder" and "fancy," which require constant justification in the novel, the simplest reference to "fact" evokes the authority of learning and scientific knowledge. The effect of such an authority is to make all private exchanges in the book dependent on arguments that cannot be imagined within the novel's authorized categories, so that the characters speak a kind of shadow dialogue.

The effect of this social construction is especially destructive to the transparent figure who serves as the heroine's mother. In a more self-consciously "feminist" novel, Mrs. Gradgrind might be expected to suggest the alternative to patriarchal discourses. In Hard Times, the mother is comically ineffectual and trivial, represented not as a person but as an object, as a "feminine dormouse," and a "bundle of shawls." Yet she is not even a particularly satisfactory object. Her central representation, repeated three times, is as a "faint transparency" that is "presented" to its audience in various unimpressive attitudes:

Mrs Gradgrind, weakly smiling and giving no other sign of vitality, looked (as she always did) like an indifferently executed transparency of a small female figure, without enough light behind it.

A transparency is an art form popularized by the dioramas in which a translucent image painted on cloth is made visible by backlighting. Its fragility and potential for varying production make the transparency a felicitous medium to suggest Mrs. Gradgrind's ambivalent positioning. The failure of the transparency renders her almost invisible in the novel, making her neither a pleasing image nor one that is easily readable. But the particularity of the image insists on a producer as well as a product, raising the issue of what painter "executes" her so indifferently, what producer withholds the light that might have made her more substantial, in other words, why she has been neglected as a cultural formation. Vaguely discernible through the translucent object, the producer remains a shadowy, unnamed, prior force, whom we know by traces and effects. At Mrs. Gradgrind's death, for example, we are told of an effect, but not of a cause—"the light that had always been feeble and dim behind the weak transparency, went out." And the physical depiction of her as recumbent, "stunned by some weighty piece of fact tumbling on her" leaves unnamed the force that stuns her with its weight and carelessness. We are left with an authorless piece of evidence, a "piece of fact"; but in Hard Times "fact" is easily traced back to the Gradgrind system. When we are told that finding herself alone with Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby is "sufficient to stun this admirable lady again, without collision between herself and any other fact," we know what constitutes her as an object of its gaze. It is under her husband's "wintry" eye that Mrs. Gradgrind becomes "torpid again"; under Sissy Jupe's care or even in Louisa's presence, she can be "rendered almost energetic." Both fact and its proponents are equally capable of rendering Mrs. Gradgrind nonexistent, a product of a careless fancy: "So, she once more died away, and nobody minded her."

Mrs. Gradgrind has been so slighted as a "subject" that she is surprised when Louisa asks about her: "You want to hear of me, my dear? That's something new, I am sure, when anybody wants to hear of me." And the outcome of such a lifetime of being constituted by others is that she cannot even claim to feel her own pain; when Louisa asks after her health, she answers with what the narrator calls "this strange speech": "I think there's a pain somewhere in the room . . ., but I couldn't positively say that I have got it." She is certainly slighted by Dickens, appearing in only five of the novel's thirty-seven chapters, and then usually in the final pages or paragraphs. Even her introduction seems almost an afterthought, located not in the chapter with Mr. Gradgrind, the children, or even the house, but in a parenthetical position as audience for Mr. Bounderby (ch. 4). But if Dickens is cavalier about her presence, he strongly marks her absence from that nineteenth-century site for Mother, as idealized figure in her children's memories or in their imaginative dreams of virtue. Mrs. Gradgrind's expected place as her children's earliest memory has been usurped by the father who appears as a "dry Ogre chalking ghastly white figures" on a "large black board." Louisa's return "home" for her mother's death evokes none of the "dreams of childhood—its airy fables" and "impossible adornments" that Dickens describes as "the best influences of old home"; such dreams are only evoked as a lengthy litany of what her mother has not provided for her child.

Mrs. Gradgrind does not offer a counter position—covert or otherwise—to the world of fact and ashes. She cannot overtly defy her husband, nor can she save herself from her daughter's scorn. Her advice to Louisa reflects this helplessness, and its incomprehension of the accepted referents makes her ridiculous in her child's eyes: "Go and be somethingological directly," she says, and "turn all your ological studies to good account." When she is dying, Mrs. Gradgrind tries to express her loss—of something and of words with which to articulate it—to her daughter:

But there is something—not an Ology at all—that your father has missed, or forgotten, Louisa. I don't know what it is. . . . I shall never get its name now. But your father may. It makes me restless. I want to write to him, to find out for God's sake, what it is. Give me a pen, give me a pen.

To the transparent Mrs. Gradgrind, all authoritative knowledge must come from the father, yet she worries mat he has missed or forgotten something. She does not imagine herself finding or naming it, but remembers it as unsaid. The outcome of this "insight" is invisible to the patriarchal eye; it disappears as "figures of wonderful no-meaning she began to trace upon her wrappers." When Louisa tries to fashion a meaning of her mother's words, her aim is to "link such faint and broken sounds into any chain of connexion," in other words, to translate her mother into the Gradgrind discourse. Mrs. Gradgrind emerges "from the shadow" and takes "upon her the dread solemnity of the sages and patriarchs"—she "hears the last of it"—only by dying, not as a living speaker addressing her daughter knowingly and directly. She remains stubbornly unincorporated by the novel's powerful discourses, a no-meaning that can be neither heard nor reformed.

But the mother is ridiculous, rather than tragic, only within the father's terms of judgment—terms which a society divided into opposites cannot unimagine or unspeak, and against which the lower-class opposition of fancy and heart will have little impact. The mother's very imprecision undercuts the authority of the father's discourses, making them a lesson imperfectly learned and badly recited. The novel cannot construct an imagined alternate culture, in which Mrs. Gradgrind would "discover" the language to define the "something missing," in which "ological" would not be required as an ending that validates an object's existence. Instead it unfolds the boundaries and effects of such a system. Louisa learns painfully that Mrs. Gradgrind's point-of-view has been confined to its position of "no-meaning" by concerted efforts by her father and his system of definition. Towards the end of the novel, Louisa reverses the charge of "no-meaning" and demands that her father justify instead what his "meaning" has produced: "Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart? What have you done, O father, what have you done, with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here!" In this confrontation, Louisa recognizes the contest her father has suppressed and her mother has barely suggested, a contest for how to determine the shape and value of the social realms:

I have grown up, battling every inch of my way. . . . What I have learned has left me doubting, misbelieving, despising, regretting, what I have not learned; and my dismal resource has been to think that life would soon go by, and that nothing in it could be worth the pain and trouble of a contest.

The novel presents several scenes between Louisa and her father in which this authority is examined and questioned, scenes which pointedly exclude Mrs. Gradgrind, as someone whose objections or interests are irrelevant. The chapter "Father and Daughter" opens with an oblique questioning of the absolute value of such authority, but only once the "business" is resolved does Gradgrind suggest, "now, let us go and find your mother." Yet the exploration of Gradgrind's power makes an obscure and unacknowledged connection between his power and her mother's "death" from the novel. By what seems a frivolous word-game on the part of the narrator, Gradgrind's governmental blue books (the emblem of his power) are associated with an infamous wife-killer: "Although Mr Gradgrind did not take after Blue Beard, his room was quite a blue chamber in its abundance of blue books." The narrator denies that this "error" has any meaning, thus resisting the implication that Gradgrind's intellectual system of power has something to do with the oppressed status of his wife. The blue books are accorded the power of fact, which is to prove "usually anything you like," but the narrator's flight of fancy is not to prove anything. It refers, not to the authoritative realms of statistics and science, but to fairy-tales; it is not a "fact" derived from texts, but is "something missing," an association produced by the unconscious. It remains, at best, as a kind of insider's joke, in which readers can remember that its "power" derives from texts with which Dickens was aligned, both in general (Action and fairy tale), and explicitly (Blue Beard is the basis for Dickens' Captain Murderer, whose tale he published in 1860 as one of his "Nurse's Stories").

The reference to the wife-killer, Blue Beard, who charms all with his show of courtesy and devotion before devouring his wives in the privacy of their home, is an "error" that suggests the gap between public and private, between acknowledged power and covert violence. Like the marginalized tensions created by Mrs. Gradgrind throughout the novel, this slip of the pen provokes despite its claim to marginality. The error is allowed to stand, thereby suggesting what would otherwise be too bizarre to consider. It reminds us that Gradgrind has been a social "wife-killer," obliterating his wife's role as mother to her daughter and keeping her from fuller participation in the daughter's narrative. He has "formed his daughter on his own model," and she is known to all as "Tom Gradgrind's daughter." He has isolated Louisa in his masculine realm, depriving her of any of the usual female resources with which to oppose his power; as Tom mentions with devastating casualness, Louisa "used to complain to me that she had nothing to fall back upon, that girls usually fall back upon." The reference to Blue Beard reminds us that Gradgrind's realm is not absolute except by force and mystification, that his "charmed apartment" depends on the exclusion of a more powerful, more resistant "other." The rest of the chapter teases out the possibilities that his power can be questioned. Through a series of fanciful images—that make the narrator not an unworthy companion of Mrs. Gradgrind—the absolute value of his authority is obliquely undermined. Gradgrind is presented as needing to enforce his positions with military might, relying on his books as an "army constantly strengthening by the arrival of new recruits." His solutions persist because they are isolated within a necromancer's circle, protected from critique or even outside knowledge. From his enclosed, abstracted fortress, he orders the world as if "the astronomer within should arrange the starry universe solely by pen, ink and paper, . . . could settle all their destinies on a slate, and wipe out all their tears with one dirty little bit of sponge." All these questions about Gradgrind's power are delivered as amusing details, as arguments the novelist is not able to give serious articulation. Yet the details attack not the effect of Gradgrind's power, as Louisa does with hopeless inertia, but the claim to power, its genealogy and maintenance.

It is not surprising that Louisa and her mother, and even Dickens, cannot find words for what is missing from their lives, words having been usurped as the tools of the Gradgrind system, defined and delimited by male authority. Mrs. Gradgrind does not articulate an opposition, nor does the novel openly pursue the traces of her petulant complaints. She remains unaware that her headaches and worries are symptoms of a cultural dissatisfaction, although she knows that her head began "to split" as soon as she was married. She complains to Louisa about the trouble that comes from speaking—"You must remember, my dear, that whenever I have said anything, on any subject, I have never heard the last of it; and consequently, that I have long left off saying anything," but the ideological implications of diese remarks are shortcircuited by the personal contexts in which she declines to speak. These scenes do not transform Mrs. Gradgrind into a covert rebel, but represent her as willful and self-absorbed, betraying Sissy and Louisa by her silence and diverting attention from their more pressing needs.

In fact, Mrs. Gradgrind seems to exist primarily as the cautionary exemplum of the Gradgrind system, having been married for the "purity" of being as free from nonsense "as any human being not arrived at the perfection of an absolute idiot, ever was." She proves her usefulness to the system, admirably serving as the negative against which the father seems more caring, more responsive than he seems in isolation. Her mother seems unsympathetic to Louisa's discontent, worrying over it as "one of those subjects I shall never hear the last of." And she serves as the agent who reinscribes the ideological positions of the Gradgrind system, who insists on reality being defined as what is kept "in cabinets" or about which one can "attend lectures." Louisa is scolded for running off to look at the forbidden circus by her mother, not by the father whose prohibition it is and who has caught her in the crime. The hapless Mrs. Gradgrind "whimpers" to her daughter; "I wonder at you. I declare you're enough to make one regret ever having had a family at all. I have a great mind to say I wish I hadn't. Then what would you have done, I should like to know." Yet in this pathetic effort to enforce her husband's laws, Mrs. Gradgrind has unknowingly allied herself with her child's rebellion. Her words give her away: she has "wondered" (a crime against reason), she has "regretted" (a crime against fact), and she has "wished" (a crime against her husband). Dickens notes that "Mr. Gradgrind did not seem favourably impressed by these cogent remarks." Yet what seems initially a silly, self-indulgent speech has deflected the father's wrath from his daughter and has suggested the terms for opposition—wonder, regret, desire.

Hard Times appears to authorize an oppositional discourse of fancy, which is lisped by the circus-master Sleary and represented in Sissy Jupe, the substitute mother whom Gradgrind praises as the "good fairy in his house" who can "effect" what 10,000 pounds cannot. Gradgrind's approval, and the conventionality of Sissy's depiction as a house fairy, devalues her status as an opposition figure. Indeed Sissy rarely speaks in opposition, or at all. Her power is cited by men like Harthouse and Gradgrind, and by the narrator. Unlike Mrs. Gradgrind, Sissy cannot be mocked for "cogent remarks," but simply looks at Louisa "in wonder, in pity, in sorrow, in doubt, in a multitude of emotions." Her effect is largely due to the novelty of her discourse, a novelty produced by her status as an outsider who does not understand the conventions of the system. "Possessed of no facts," girl number twenty does not recognize that "fancy" is a significant term, but uses it unthinkingly. She silences the cynical Harthouse by presenting "something in which he was so inexperienced, and against which he knew any of his usual weapons would fall so powerless; that not a word could he rally to his relief." Sissy insists on her words to Harthouse remaining a "secret" and relies on a "child-like ingenuousness" to sway her listener. And what Harthouse notices is her "most confiding eyes" and her "most earnest (though so quiet)" voice. Sissy's "wonder" is powerful only as long as she does not "speak" it in her own right, but presents it in her disengaged role as go-between. Her "power" depends on "her entire forgetfulness of herself in her earnest quiet holding to the object"—depends, in other words, on a strenuous denial of herself as a contestant for power. The narrator comments that "if she had shown, or felt the slightest trace of any sensitiveness to his ridicule or astonishment, or any remonstrance he might offer; he would have carried it against her at this point."

Sissy's discourse derives its power, not from any essential woman's knowledge that Louisa and her mother could share, but from her experience as a working-class child who knows counter examples and a different word than "fact." Louisa acquires from Sissy not the power to be "a mother—lovingly watchful of her children" but to be "learned in childish lore; thinking no innocent and pretty fancy ever to be despised." The opposition Sissy seems to represent—of imagination, emotion, questioning of patriarchal discourses—stands like the circus-master's fancy, a fantastic dream that amuses children but does not displace Gradgrindian fact. It has no ability to construct a shared feminine discourse that can alter the rigid polarities of fact and fancy, meaning and no-meaning. When Louisa tries to inquire about such forbidden topics as love, she is on her own, pursuing a "strong, wild, wandering interest peculiar to her; an interest gone astray like a banished creature, and hiding in solitary places."

In her dramatic confrontation with her father, Louisa tries to construct a realm outside the powerful sway of reason and logic. Yet she can imagine this realm only as the "immaterial part of my life," marking it as that which has no material existence or is irrelevant. She thereby perpetuates the construction of her world as absolute in its polarities—as world that is either material or immaterial, fact or fancy, reason or nonsense. To use Bakhtin's terms, she remains "bound" to "the authoritative word" in its totality; she cannot "divide it up," or "play with the context framing it" or "play with its borders." She suggests she might have come closer to a desired end "if I had been stone blind; if I had groped my way by my sense of touch, and had been free, while I knew the shapes and surfaces of things, to exercise my fancy somewhat, in regard to them." Passionate as this scene is, Louisa's specific argument shows the difficulty of evading the power of patriarchal discourse; she can only "prove" the worth of an oppositional realm by the tools she has learned from her father. Her vision remains defined as "no-meaning," as existing only in opposition to what persists as "meaning." Louisa tries to imagine a realm "defying all the calculations ever made by man, and no more known to his arithmetic than his Creator is," but ends up describing herself as "a million times wiser, happier." Like her mother, her power lies in speaking the father's word imperfectly, making her father's statistical practices meaningless by her exaggerated application. Like her mother, Louisa's complaints refer only to "something" missing; there are no words for what might be gained. The Gradgrind system is too powerful to allow Louisa or her mother to break away or to communicate very well with each other. All they can do, in their separate ways and unbeknownst to each other, is to disrupt the functioning of the father's word, and to indicate a lack, an incompleteness.

The schematic quality of Hard Times indicates a broader lack or incompleteness in the authoritative discourses of Dickens' social and literary world. Like Louisa and Mrs. Gradgrind, Dickens must articulate his valuing of "fancy" and his concern about crossing proscribed boundaries in language devalued by the patriarchal discourses of reason and fact. That Lewes sees him as hallucinating a world no wise man would recognize indicates the disturbing effect of this crossing of boundaries. Both Lewes and Dickens identify the disturbance as somehow connected with women, seeing women as touched by issues that more successfully acculturated males do not notice. Lewes saw much of Dickens' power—and what made him a disturbing novelist—as the ability to represent something that could not otherwise be acknowledged. "What seems preposterous, impossible to us," he wrote in 1872, "seemed to him simple fact of observation." Writing as a woman places Dickens in a position to observe what seems "preposterous, impossible."

At the same time, of course, for a powerful male novelist like Dickens, the position of outsider is exaggerated. Dickens can be seen as exploiting the exclusion and material oppression of women and the poor when they serve as analogies for his own more temperate marginality as a lower-middle class writer of fiction in a literary culture that preferred educated reason over experienced fancy. For male writers like Dickens and Trollope, writing "as a woman" brought literary respect and considerable financial return, whereas a writer like Charlotte Brontë was censured for her unwomanly productions and underpaid by her publisher. Unlike women who transgress the boundaries of the literary establishment, Dickens could signal his difference as significant rather than ridiculous. Unlike the poor with whom he was so closely identified, Dickens had access to the means of publication; he had the influence and position to pressure contemporary methods of production and dissemination of literary and social discourse. Such was his influence as spokesman of social discontent, that women writers of the nineteenth century, in both England and America, had to come to terms with his boundaries and codes, with his literary conventions for observing the social world and its institutions. Writers like Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Elizabeth Gaskell, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, and Rebecca Harding Davis both quote and revise his portrayal of women's writing and social position. Their attempts to write as women are circumscribed within Dickens' example and within the audience that he so powerfully swayed.

This assessment of Dickens' sympathetic identification with feminine discourses in the 1850s returns to the intertwined, ideological interests involved in any attempt to write "as a woman," in any project that assumes the position of an outsider, of an other. Dickens' experimentation with excluded positions of women and the poor provided him with a way of disrupting the status quo of the literary establishment. But, ironically, his experimentation also helped him capitalize on his status as an outsider in that literary realm. The inarticulate masses became, in effect, his constituency and his subject matter, supporting his powerful position within the literary and social establishment as arbiter of how to write about cultural exclusion. Dickens' growing influence as an editor and public spokesman for the literary world make his representations of women's writing dominate the literary scene. His example carves out a possible space for women writers in his culture, but it also takes over mat space as its own. His assumed position as outsider complicates assumptions about gender difference in writing and problematizes what Lewes so confidently called "genuine female experience." It disrupts and forces out into the open the literary establishment's defensive cultural narratives, and, in the process, constructs its own protective practices and standards. In writing as a woman, in speaking for a silenced group, Dickens both makes possible and makes complicated a challenge to "the father's word" by those who use "the mother-tongue."


Critical Evaluation