Essential Quotes by Character: Louisa Gradgrind Bounderby

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Essential Passage 1: Book 1, Chapter 3

“In the name of wonder, idleness, and folly!” said Mr. Gradgrind, leading each away by a hand; “What do you do here?”“Wanted to see what it was like,” returned Louisa shortly.“What it was like?”“Yes, father.”There was an air of jaded sullenness in both, and particularly in the girl: yet, struggling through the dissatisfaction of 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, which brightened its expression. Not with the brightness natural to cheerful youth, but with uncertain, eager, doubtful flashes, which had something painful in them, analogous to the changes in a blind face groping its way.She was a child now, of fifteen or sixteen; but no distant day would seem to become a woman all at once. Her father thought so as he looked at her. She was pretty. Would have been self-willed (he thought in his eminently practical way), but for her bringing-up.


Louisa and her brother, Thomas, were raised by her father, Mr. Gradgrind, according to the strict tenants of his philosophy of pragmatism, rationality, and realism. All he wanted was facts, with no room for fancy or imagination. Louisa, however, resisted this upbringing. One day, when accompanied by her equally incorrigible brother Thomas, they stopped to peek through a fence at a circus, where Sissy Jupe’s father worked as a clown. Coming upon them as he returned home, Mr. Gradgrind was shocked that they would stoop to an interest in so fanciful thing as a circus. Louisa, a young girl on the verge of womanhood, stood her ground against her father’s ire. The struggle between her father’s teachings and her own personality is evident in her “jaded sullenness.” She resents the focus on “facts” at the expense of enjoyment and imagination. She is indeed self-willed, despite her father’s beliefs to the contrary. This is an early hint at the inner struggle Louisa will face as a woman, in her marriage and in her relationships with her brother and her father.

Essential Passage 2: Book 2, Chapter 6

For the first time in her life, Louisa had come into one of the dwellings of the Coketown Hands; for the first time in her life, she was face to face with anything like individuality in connexion with them. She knew of their existence by hundreds and by thousands. She knew what results in work a given number of them would produce, in a given space of time. She knew them in crowds passing to and from their nests, like ants or beetles. But she knew from her reading infinitely more of the ways of toiling insects than of these toiling men and women.


Stephen Blackpool, an employee at the local mill, has stood up against the mill owners yet will not join the union. He believes it is wrong to make demands of the owners and against the workers’ common good. Slackbridge, the union organizer, warns Blackpool to join or else face ostracism. Blackpool, not to be bullied by either side, walks out of the union hall and returns to his home. He defends his actions to Bounderby, who criticizes him for refusing to speak against his fellow workers. Later, Louisa comes to his residence to speak to him. She remarks to herself that this is the first time she has actually seen a worker’s daily life and abode. Before, the particulars of others’ circumstances were just facts, such as her father taught her to believe. She...

(This entire section contains 1463 words.)

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at last sees the workers as individuals, with lost hopes and dreams like her own. Louisa regrets how much she has lost by not being aware of others whose conditions are different from her own.

Essential Passage 3: Book 3, Chapter 1

“But,” said Mr. Gradgrind, slowly, and with hesitation, as well as with a wretched sense of helplessness, “if I see reason to mistrust myself for the past, Louisa, I should mistrust myself for the present and the future. To speak unreservedly to you, I do. I am far from feeling convinced now, however differently I might have felt only this time yesterday, that I am fit for the trust you repose in me; that I know how to respond to the appeal you have come home to make to me; that I have the right instinct—supposing it for the moment to be some quality of that nature—how to help you, and to set you right, my child.”


Louisa has come to the end of her marriage to Josiah Bounderby, having never loved him but married him out of duty to her father. James Harthouse, who has been courting her despite her being married, has encouraged her to run away from her husband and elope with him. Louisa, however, has a highly developed sense of morality, and such an action would be unconscionable to her. Instead, she goes to her father and confronts him (despite the fact that she insists she is condemning him). Mr. Gradgrind, shattered by the realization of the full extent of his daughter’s unhappiness, rejects his philosophy of rationalism by which he raised her and her siblings. He sees now the great harm such teaching has done to her, forcing her into an unhappy marriage and into a situation that would destroy her character. Though Louisa appeals to her father, Mr. Gradgrind now feels himself unqualified to counsel her. He feels that he has destroyed her trust in him, and thus has failed as a father.

Analysis of Essential Passages

As a Dickensian heroine, Louisa Gradgrind Bounderby is contrary to the normal characterization that Dickens uses for the Victorian young woman. From Lucie Manette in A Tale of Two Cities to Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop, Dickens often portrays his female characters as the innocent, frail, meek depiction that was often used in nineteenth-century literature. Louisa, however, shows an astonishing strength, refusing to bow down to any other male character, with the exception of agreeing to marry Bounderby according to her father’s wishes. In general she stands alone, against her father, her husband, inequality, even against morality.

Despite being raised to eschew imagination, Louisa early shows her fascination with the less-than-serious aspects of her environment. Symbolically, she reveals an interest in the circus, a highly fanciful enterprise that her father despises and rejects. When she is caught peeking through the fence, her father remonstrates at this waste of time. His eventual adoption of Sissy Jupe, the daughter of one of the circus performers, shows his desire to “educate” the youth of Britain away from a life of amusement to one of “facts” and rational thought. Sissy, however, joins with Louisa and replaces her somewhat when Louisa yields to marrying Bounderby.

As the circus was a crack in the world that her father created for her, Louisa’s introduction to the world of the working class also shows the inadequacy of her upbringing. She sees that facts alone do not fully enlighten the welfare of the people, embodied in Stephen Blackpool. The sheltered existence first of her father and now of her husband opens Louisa’s eyes to the reality of a life not her own.

Louisa’s introduction to the attempted seduction by James Harthouse also reveals to her the depths of her own unhappiness and the possibility of happiness that has been denied her. It underscores her vulnerability to the manipulations of others, specifically men, into a life that is simply different from the sorrow in which she finds herself. Yet through her strength of character, she rejects Harthouse and confronts her father.

Louisa’s ability to verbalize the full extent of the damage that her father’s teaching has done to her life enables Mr. Gradgrind himself to come to an understanding of how harmful his philosophy has been. Through Louisa, he sees that there are facts that are outside his control, such as the fact that his daughter was forced into an unhappy marriage simply because her father saw it as financially and socially desirable, which was often the lot of young women of the period. As the mill workers stand up to the unjust conditions of their workplace, Louisa Gradgrind Bounderby rebels against the unjust conditions of women, particularly their financial and social reliance on men, and their forced inability to provide for themselves or to make their own choices.

Louisa Gradgrind Bounderby stands out in the works of Dickens as an unusual portrayal of a strong and independent woman, one who does not sink to the level of vindictiveness as does Estella in Great Expectations. With her wisdom and her strength, she serves as the moral center of Hard Times.

Essential Quotes by Theme: Rationalism

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Essential Passage 1: Book 1, Chapter 1

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 the Facts, sir!


Thomas Gradgrind operates a school founded on the philosophy of rationalism. Only that which is provable by observation and personal experience is real. The realms of imagination and faith are worthless and must be avoided. Personal preference counts for nothing. Only the utility of a thing or concept gives it value. Gradgrind is demonstrating to Mr. Bounderby the efficacy of his school’s philosophy by having an academic presentation. Sissy Jupe bears the brunt of his insistence on facts. While her explanations concerning horses and carpets run into the realms of fancy and personal preference, Gradgrind repeatedly condemns her and humiliates her in front of the school for doing so. Gradgrind states that not only does he utilize this philosophy in the education of his students, but he also makes it the foundation for the rearing of his own children. This admission will have significant consequences in the outcome of the story, especially concerning his daughter, Louisa.

Essential Passage 2: Book 2, Chapter 12

“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? What have you done, O father, what have you done, with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here!”She struck herself with both her hands upon her bosom.“If it had ever been here, its ashes alone would save me from the void in which my whole life sinks. I did not mean to say this; but, father, you remember the last time we conversed in this room?”He had been so wholly unprepared for what he heard now, that it was with difficulty he answered, “Yes, Louisa.”“What has risen to my lips now, would have risen to my lips then, if you had given me a moment’s help. I don’t reproach you, father. What you have never nurtured in me, you have never nurtured in yourself; but O! if you had only done so long ago, or if you had only neglected me, what a much better and much happier creature I should have been this day!”On hearing this, after all his care, he bowed his head upon his hand and groaned aloud.“Father, if you had known, when we were last together here, what even I feared while I strove against it—as it has been my task from infancy to strive against every natural prompting that has arisen in my heart; if you had known that there lingered in my breast, sensibilities, affections, weaknesses capable of being cherished into strength, defying all the calculations ever made by man, and no more known to his arithmetic than his Creator is,—would you have given me to the husband whom I am now sure that I hate?”He said, “No. No, my poor child.”


Louisa has developed a close relationship with James Harthouse, who is in fact trying to seduce her. Having met her in the woods, James tries to persuade her to leave her husband and elope with him. Leaving her there in the woods, he departs. Louisa, however, goes to visit her father. She confronts him with the manner in which he raised her. Although she insists that she is not reproaching him for doing wrong, she is in fact doing just that. She has found herself involved in a matter of the heart, which she is unfamiliar with because of the rationalism instilled in her by her father’s teaching. She has given herself to a loveless marriage to a man she now realizes she hates, due to her father’s teaching. She has no happiness or fulfillment in life, due to her father’s teaching. Louisa wishes she had never been born, or at least been subject to parental neglect, than to have been raised in such a manner. The insistence on “nothing but facts” has ruined her emotionally, depriving her of all joy.

Essential Passage 3: Book 3, Chapter 9

Here was Mr. Gradgrind on the same day, and in the same hour, sitting thoughtful in his own room. How much of futurity did he see? Did he see himself, a white-haired decrepit man, bending his hitherto inflexible theories to appointed circumstances; making his facts and figures subservient to Faith, Hope, and Charity; and no longer trying to grind that Heavenly trio in his dusty little mills? Did he catch sight of himself, therefore much despised by his late political associates? Did he see them, in the era of its being quite settled that the national dustmen have only to do with one another, and owe no duty to an abstraction called a People, “taunting the honorable gentleman” with this and with that and with what not, five nights a-week, until the small hours of the mornings? Probably he had that much fore-knowledge, knowing his men.


With the final separation between Louisa and Mr. Bounderby, Mr. Gradgrind has come to a final rejection of the rationalism that had been the foundation of his life and career. In a passage that Dickens uses to inform the reader of the future course of the lives of the characters, Mr. Gradgrind is shown in his new role of humanitarian. He sees himself as a “white-haired decrepit man,” using his “inflexible” theories in the service of mankind through “Faith, Hope, and Charity,” three virtues that never fit into the rationalism of his previous thought. Instead of driving them out of his industry, he brings them in to enhance the lives of the people. His future political career as one of the “national dustmen” of Parliament is shown to be the opposite of what that institute was rapidly (in Dickens’s opinion) becoming: an organization run by those more interested in their own careers than in the welfare of the people. As Bounderby was indifferent to the plight of his workers, so the government is indifferent to the plight of the common citizen. Thus Mr. Gradgrind is shown to be thoroughly redeemed in the end, having the heart that Louisa accused him of lacking.

Analysis of Essential Passages

Rationalism arose in the nineteenth century in part as a reaction against the emotionalism of the Romantic movement. The coming emphasis on what is visible and provable presaged the conflict between science and religion that would arise with Darwin’s theory of evolution, for example. Personal beliefs, faith, art, and literature would all be affected and influenced by the rise of the empirical.

Dickens deals with this struggle through the characters of Thomas Gradgrind and his daughter, Louisa. Gradgrind believes in a world of “Facts,” only that which is provable and evident. The world of imagination, emotions, and faith is to be routed out in his educational philosophy, of which Louisa is a product. The only things that exist are those that can be proved by experimentation or direct observation. The world of emotions, as exhibited by Louisa, is harmful to the full development of the human mind, according to Gradgrind. As such, his anger at her stopping to watch the circus performers is directed not so much at her misbehavior but in her wasting time in such frivolous and fanciful ways. She is quickly brought back into line and forced to marry Mr. Bounderby.

As for the rationalistic view of marriage, Louisa marries Bounderby as a social and financial duty in alignment with her father’s wishes. The fact that she does not love her husband is immaterial, since love is not based on “Fact.” If science had advanced as much as it has at present, Gradgrind would have presented the belief that “love” is merely a chemical reaction in the brain, rather than a product of the heart. Thus Louisa marries not knowing the importance of such “irrational” matters as love and respect in a marriage.

It is only in her relationship with James Harthouse that Louisa begins to let her emotions have more of an effect on her actions. In a rationalistic frame of mind, a marriage is an artificial bow to the dictates of social mores but can easily be broken should a more “effective” relationship arise. Thus it is not fear of adultery or divorce that causes Louisa to break off her relationship with Harthouse, but the sudden realization that the “heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” Her focus becomes not marriage and romance per se, but the fulfillment of life in joy and happiness.

Through Louisa’s revelation, Thomas Gradgrind also comes to the realization of the inability of rationalism to bring meaning to an individual life. People are emotional beings. Just as the mill workers struggle to improve their working conditions, so the average human being struggles to improve their daily existence beyond the mere acquisition of money as a means to survival. Gradgrind comes to a full understanding of the damage such a philosophy has on an individual. In a reaction against the burgeoning science that states that man is just another animal, Gradgrind believes at last that to be human is to be much more than to survive. Art, music, and friendship are not necessary for survival; they are the reason for surviving at all.


Quotes in Context