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Hard Times

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"My satire is against those who see figures and averages, and nothing else," proclaimed Charles Dickens in explaining the theme of this classic novel. Published in 1854, the story concerns one Thomas Gradgrind, a "fanatic of the demonstrable fact," who raises his children, Tom and Louisa, in a stifling and arid atmosphere of grim practicality.

Without a moral compass to guide them, the children sink into lives of desperation and despair, played out against the grim background of Coketown, a wretched community shadowed by an industrial behemoth. Louisa falls into a loveless marriage with Josiah Bouderby, a vulgar banker, while the unscrupulous Tom, totally lacking in principle, becomes a thief who frames an innocent man for his crime. Witnessing the degradation and downfall of his children, Gradgrind realizes that his own misguided principles have ruined their lives.

Considered Dickens' harshest indictment of mid-19th-century industrial practices and their dehumanizing effects, this novel offers a fascinating tapestry of Victorian life, filled with the richness of detail, brilliant characterization, and passionate social concern that typify the novelist's finest creations.

Of Dickens' work, the eminent Victorian critic John Ruskin had this to say: "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 close and earnest care by persons interested in social questions."

353 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1854

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About the author

Charles Dickens

8,116 books26.8k followers
Charles John Huffam Dickens was a writer and social critic who created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime, and by the twentieth century critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius. His novels and short stories enjoy lasting popularity.

Dickens left school to work in a factory when his father was incarcerated in a debtors' prison. Despite his lack of formal education, he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lectured and performed extensively, was an indefatigable letter writer, and campaigned vigorously for children's rights, education, and other social reforms.

Dickens was regarded as the literary colossus of his age. His 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, remains popular and continues to inspire adaptations in every artistic genre. Oliver Twist and Great Expectations are also frequently adapted, and, like many of his novels, evoke images of early Victorian London. His 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities, set in London and Paris, is his best-known work of historical fiction. Dickens's creative genius has been praised by fellow writers—from Leo Tolstoy to George Orwell and G. K. Chesterton—for its realism, comedy, prose style, unique characterisations, and social criticism. On the other hand, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf complained of a lack of psychological depth, loose writing, and a vein of saccharine sentimentalism. The term Dickensian is used to describe something that is reminiscent of Dickens and his writings, such as poor social conditions or comically repulsive characters.

On 8 June 1870, Dickens suffered another stroke at his home after a full day's work on Edwin Drood. He never regained consciousness, and the next day he died at Gad's Hill Place. Contrary to his wish to be buried at Rochester Cathedral "in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner," he was laid to rest in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. A printed epitaph circulated at the time of the funeral reads: "To the Memory of Charles Dickens (England's most popular author) who died at his residence, Higham, near Rochester, Kent, 9 June 1870, aged 58 years. He was a sympathiser with the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England's greatest writers is lost to the world." His last words were: "On the ground", in response to his sister-in-law Georgina's request that he lie down.

(from Wikipedia)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,748 reviews
Profile Image for Rhiannon D'Averc.
Author 17 books22 followers
June 29, 2008
This book is, for me, Dickens' best. I loved every second of it, the darkness of Tom's steady descent into drinking and gambling were brilliant and there were several times I found myself simply rereading a few paragraphs over and over, in awe at them. (The end of Chapter XIX, The Whelp, is something I hold in very high regard as possibly one of his best pieces of writing ever.) I want to deal with the characters individually from here, since I feel they are all very important.

Mr Gradgrind - Facts. This man's obsession with facts and hate for fantasy is possibly one of the most genius parts of the plot, highlighting exactly what Dickens means to say. His regret at the end serves to show the inevitable outcome of living his sort of life, and is done in a very clever way. His name is also wonderful. I like to say it. Gradgrind. It's great, isn't it?

Bounderby - Dickens made me hate him, and he was made to be hated. For all his bluster and superiority he is in fact worse in moral integrity than Stephen or Tom, which is why I was intensely glad as Louisa took her steps away from him. He really is a 'bounder'.

Louisa/Loo - A perfect tragic heroine, but I couldn't help thinking more than once that she should really get some backbone. But I suppose that was the point, so she was well done too.

Cecilia/Sissy - I didn't like her very much, but I did like the way she was used, as the embodiment of fancy and fun. She served to drive the point home and was useful in terms of story development.

Tom/The Whelp - Goodness, I hated him sometimes. As I've already said, his descent was done well and some of the description around him was fantastic. Dickens' habit of referring to him as the whelp was perfect.

Stephen Blackpool - The character I could emphathise with most, he was likeable and pitiable. I loved his struggle with Slackbridge and the Trade Union, and his contrasting relationships with Rachel and his wife made me feel very sorry for both of them. His ending was also very sad, and shows just how cruel people can be to each other.

Mrs Sparsit - One of the most brilliant in the book. The image of her staircase, with Louisa walking to the bottom, is one that has stuck with me as being particularly genius. I also laughed at her disappointment by the train towards the end, as she was so anxious to see the downfall of others she ended up being nothing more than a jobless window.

James Harthouse - Although for most of the book I wished Louisa would run away with him, the end convinced me otherwise. Still, he was a very interesting character who provided a catalyst for all the suppressed emotions of the Gradgrinds/Bounderbys.

All in all, a brilliant book.
Profile Image for Bionic Jean.
1,212 reviews1,002 followers
January 10, 2023
“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.”

So begins Hard Times, and what an opening this is! We know instantly from this, some of what the novel will be about, and the character of the man who says these words. He is plain-speaking in his “inflexible, dry, and dictatorial” voice, direct and committed to his extreme view of teaching as instruction. His name is Mr. Thomas Gradgrind, “an eminently practical man”, and he has an ailing wife, and five children called Louisa, Tom, Jane - and revealingly - Adam Smith and Malthus. He has a misguided idea of Utilitarianism as a ideal in all things, only valuing facts and statistics, and ruthlessly suppressing the imaginative sides of his children's nature.

Mr. Gradgrind also has a close friend, a banker and mill owner, Josiah Bounderby, who boasts that he is a self-made man, proud that he raised himself in the streets after being abandoned as a child - and in the meantime never letting anyone forget it. Whereas both men express the same hardnosed views, Josiah Bounderby is a very different sort of man, a blustering, arrogant and hypocritical man,

“A man who was always proclaiming, through that brassy speaking-trumpet of a voice of his, his old ignorance and his old poverty. A man who was the Bully of humility”.

“'We have never had any difficulty with you, and you have never been one of the unreasonable ones. You don't expect to be set up in a coach and six, and to be fed on turtle soup and venison, with a gold spoon, as a good many of 'em do!' Mr. Bounderby always represented this to be the sole, immediate, and direct object of any Hand who was not entirely satisfied.”


Hard Times is an unusual novel for Dickens, in that it is set in a Lancashire mill town in the North of England, and deals with the working conditions of the “hands” or workers there. This is not Dickens's familiar geographical area, nor is this novel his best accomplishment by a long way. Yet the novel is now a bestseller, and often the first one people read, or study at school, because it is his shortest novel.

What prompted Dickens's sudden interest, was a twenty-three week long mill workers' strike in Preston, which Dickens had gone to see in January 1854, prior to writing about it in his periodical “Household Words”. He based his invented grimy, soot-besmirched “Coketown” on Preston. There are fewer descriptive passages than usual in this short novel, but the depressed gloom of Coketown is very effectively conveyed,

“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.”

In principle Dickens was very interested in this area of workers' conditions and the resultant protests. He had touched on working class unrest in “Barnaby Rudge”, and had intended to write about factories in “Nicholas Nickleby”, although both of these are far longer and more powerful novels. The article he wrote in “Household Words” after his visit, says,

“... into the relations between employers and employed ... there must enter something of feeling and sentiment ... mutual explanation, forbearance and consideration ... otherwise those relations are wrong and rotten to the core and will otherwise never bear sound fruit.”

Dickens firmly believed that every individual should have dignity and be accorded respect. Unfortunately though, the part of the “Preston Workers' Bill” that he went on to quote, presents itself as a standard Marxist theory of labour value, mentioning the “gold which is now being used to crush those who created it.” This simply went too far, and alienated his readers. The novel was not then very popular; indeed all such criticisms of the upcoming Industrial Revolution were frowned on. Looking backwards was not the way. The popular belief was that rich rewards were in store, rapid progress was assured, and that mechanisation would provide a panacea for all. Only in retrospect can we put Hard Times in context, and see what the author was trying to achieve in this specific short period of history, and also appreciate the many other aspects of the story, which were somewhat overshadowed by this unpopular message.

For Dickens was keen to illustrate his beliefs with this, his tenth novel, published in weekly parts between April and August 1854. He also, perhaps unwisely, widened his remit to include another issue of social reform close to his heart, that of Education. His earlier novels had become increasingly complex, dealing with multiple issues and with many intertwining plots, subplots and mysteries, culminating in the masterly “Bleak House”. However, with Hard Times, he seems to have misjudged the scope slightly. To write a searing indictment of Utilitarianism as currently practised, to damn both employment conditions and industrial action, plus condemning a theoretical Utiliarianism put into practice in schools, and to then put the whole into an entertaining framework with a dash of comedy and romance, was simply overambitious.

Sales of “Household Words” had been flagging, and Dickens attempted to boost these by issuing his new serial in weekly parts, instead of monthly parts, as hitherto. This was alongside all the other activities in his life: editing, directing, acting, his social work and speaking, plus all the domestic dramas he had. Dickens worked best under pressure, but even he admitted that to write episodes of Hard Times week after week was “crushing”. Dickens was a novelist, albeit an exceptionally talented novelist, and one of the first, but he was neither a philosopher nor a political economist - and certainly not a revolutionary. He was also aware that for the large part, his readers would have no truck with unionism. He had set himself a well-nigh impossible task.

Dickens rallied for the underdog, and was keen to demonstrate the continuing inhumane conditions for the poor, and the new sort of constraints that industrialisation would bring in its wake for the workers. But the way he depicts the "good" workers in this novel, Stephen Blackpool and Rachael, shows that his belief was in a sort of "noble poor". He thought they should accept their lot with dignity, and leave it to others to improve their conditions. They are docile and harmless characters, working themselves to death. When difficulties arise, they cannot be self-sufficient. They have no honourable alternative but to go cap in hand to their bosses, relying on a paternalistic system to help them. They thus come across sometimes as mere mouthpieces for ideologies; rather flat and unconvincing prototypes compared with the other characters in the book.

Even if Dickens had had the time and space to develop this novel into the sort of Dickens novel which reigns supreme, it is doubtful whether it would serve the function he probably intended. What it does do, is give a snapshot of people, rather than depict a mass movement. We have individuals to represent the different types, and in Hard Times they unfortunately seem more than ever mere constructs to spout certain opinions. This is probably always going to be a danger with any persuasive novel. Dickens also provided a counterweight to these "noble poor" characters. Just as in “Barnaby Rudge” he had shown us that mob rule was not the answer, here too the organisers of the strike are shown as underhand manipulators, quick to remove themselves from any blame. Slackbridge, the trade union agitator trying to convert the workers to unionism, is described as,

“not so honest ... not so manly, he was not so good-humoured; he substituted cunning for their simplicity, and passion for their safe solid sense.”

Mr. Gradgrind's school, just as Josiah Bounderby's mill, is equally constrained, based on ideology, dry theory and a sort of blinkered ignorance of the emotional side of life. Thomas Gradgrind, supported by the wonderfully named schoolmaster “Mr. M'Choakumchild”, is not an evil, nor even an unkind man. He is contrasted with Josiah Bounderby right at the start, and Dickens makes it plain in his introduction that a large part of the novel will be to show the growth and development of Gradgrind's character. I certainly felt very sorry for him by the end.

It has to be said, that flawed though this novel is, the characters are an absolute delight. Chief for sheer entertainment value has to be Mrs. Sparsit, Josiah Bounderby's elderly housekeeper with her “Coriolanian style of nose” (which is always poking into other people's business) and “dense black eyebrows”. She has aristocratic connections by way of her great aunt Lady Scadgers, and considers herself a cut above her employer. Her interactions with the blustering, pompous Josiah Bounderby, are a constant source of amusement. There is the pantomime villain, James Harthouse, an exaggerated version of Steerforth in “David Copperfield”. I could almost imagine him twirling his moustache, smooth-talking devil that he is; a heartless and unprincipled young politician. There is the anaemic fact-spouting machine Bitzer. And Mrs. Gradgrind, a minor character, amusingly endearing, always telling her children they should be studying their “ologies”,

“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;”

Most memorably, when asked if she is in pain, she remarks vaguely,

“I think there's a pain somewhere in the room ... but I couldn't positively say that I have got it”.

There is the lisping Mr. Sleary and his travelling circus. Dickens always has to include a theatrical troupe, or some entertainers of this type in his novels, and his personal love of the exuberance and spontaneity of the circus, and the generosity of spirit of circus folk, shines through brightly. When Sleary lisps, “people mutht be amuthed” it is really Dickens who is speaking. Dickens held passionate views on the rights of everyone to amusements; fighting against groups who advocated strict observance of the Sabbath, saying that Sunday was the only day that working people had to indulge in simple amusements, or even to attend museums and so forth. To make a circus an integral part of the serious concerns of this novel's plot is quite a tour de force, but he achieves it. Mr. Sleary's circus is essential to both the beginning, where we are introduced to Louisa and Tom peeping under the curtain of the circus tent, intrigued by all the unfamiliar lights, drama, colour and action, and to the ending ... which, naturally, I shall not divulge.

Louisa and Tom, sister and brother, are central characters. Louisa would do anything for her brother, “The Whelp”, as Dickens calls him. She loves Tom dearly, sullen though he is. Louisa develops through experience, much as her father does; she is a very strong character, whose initial sulkiness changes. She has determination and obstinacy, but also a strong sense of duty and justice. Through the story she moves through both indifference to her plight, and cynicism. She undergoes trials and tribulations which might break any young spirit, but remains true to herself. For those who (unfairly) castigate Dickens for docile females, look to Louisa - or her friend Sissy Jupe, from the circus. Or to Mrs. Sparsit, of course, although she is more of a grotesque than an heroic character. No, in every single novel Dickens writes, he provides us with plenty of strong females. It is clear however, that just as he does not like the poor to be too outspoken, he admires the quieter tenaciousness of women in extremis, and views this as an admirable female trait.

Interestingly, at the time of writing this novel, Dickens's own marriage was crumbling. He had included three essays on divorce in “Household Words” that month, and in Hard Times he portrays the plight of a man who is unable to divorce his burdensome wife, even though in this case she is “a drunk”, a hopeless wretched addict. It is Josiah Bounderby who explains in great detail everything that would be involved in such a procedure,

“Why you'd have to go to Doctors' Commons with a suit, and you'd have to go to a Court of Common Law with a suit, and you'd have to get an Act of Parliament to enable you to marry again, and it would cost you ... I suppose from a thousand to fifteen hunded pound ... perhaps twice the money.”

The character he is speaking to earns a mere few shillings a week. But it seems pertinent that Dickens inserted this detail. Dickens researched his novels quite well, reading a book on the Lancashire dialect prior to writing this, for instance, to make sure his representation of the characters' speech was accurate. Divorce was expensive, legally difficult, and socially unacceptable in the 19th century. It looks as though Dickens underwent intensive research on how to obtain a divorce, to see if it would be feasible for himself. In fact he separated from Catherine, with whom he had ten children, four years later in 1858, but never did divorce her.

There are fewer characters in this novel than usual, and none of them seem to be based on real people Dickens knew, and whom his readers knew. In earlier novels there were often several of these in one novel. It must have been a guilty pleasure for many reading a new serial by Dickens, to look out for a recognisable character, such as his erstwhile friend Hans Christian Andersen, whom he had maliciously immortalised in the odious character of Uriah Heep in “David Copperfield”. So it is quite disappointing to find none included, just as it is disappointing to realise that any illustrations were drawn later on, by various artists, and only a very few within Dickens's own lifetime. Presumably the constraints of writing to a weekly deadline impinged on more than the novel's text itself.

The critics' views of Hard Times lurch from one extreme to the other. One characterises it as “sullen socialism”; yet another's view is that it is his “masterpiece” and “his only serious work of art”. These views seem to be rather partisan, reflecting the political and socio-economic views of the individual, rather than impartially judging any merit in, or assessment of, the novel itself. It is undoubtedly not his best work, but it is enjoyable nevertheless. Parts of it made me laugh out loud; I felt suitably shocked, saddened and indignant at others. It has all Dickens's sarcasm, wit, expostulation, sentiment and ridiculous cameos. He can shift in a page-turn from scathing satire to heart-rending pathos. In a way Hard Times is a throwback. It is dissimilar to the majestic novels which immediately precede it, but is more reminiscent of the biting sarcasm of the early novels such as “Oliver Twist”. It does however show the maturity and skill of the later writer. There is tragedy, frailty, robbery, treachery, deceit, impersonation, violence, greed, overarching ambition, possibly an attempted murder, imprisonment and deportation; all humanity and inhumanity is here.

And what lingers is the message of the vital and enduring importance of the imagination and fantasy; of a young life perilously close to being blighted by an upbringing blinkered by Utilitarian principles. There is the satisfactory ending, characteristic of Dickens's novels, where all the characters are accounted for, and in general (although not in every case) the villains get their just desserts.

Hard Times is like a little taste of Dickens. Sadly you do not get the depth of character, the richness of detail in his powerful descriptions, both of place and character, nor do you get the rich tapestry of convoluted plots. Another critic wrote that it is more like “a menu card for a meal rather than one of Dickens's rich feasts,” and this I find quite apt.

But it is hugely enjoyable and could not be written by anyone else. Give it a try, but if it is your first Dickens, please make sure it is not the only one. You would miss out on so much.

“'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, oh, Father, What have you done with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here? ' said Louisa as she touched her heart.”
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,568 reviews55.5k followers
March 26, 2022
Hard Times, 1854, Charles Dickens

Hard Times – For These Times (commonly known as Hard Times) is the tenth novel by Charles Dickens, first published in 1854. The book surveys English society and satirists the social and economic conditions of the era. Hard Times is the tenth novel by Charles Dickens, a short novel that appeared not in monthly publications like the previous ones, but as a weekly serial in his magazine Household Words, from April 1 to August 12, 1854.

عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «روزگار سخت»؛ «دوران سخت»؛ «دوران مشقت»؛ نویسنده: چارلز دیکنز؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز پانزدهم ماه ژوئن سال2010میلادی

عنوان: روزگار سخت؛ نویسنده: چارلز دیکنز؛ مترجم: حسین اعرابی؛ تهران، نگاه، سال1364، در446ص؛ چاپ دوم سال1367؛ چاپ سوم سال1368؛ موضوع داستان از نویسندگان بریتانیا - سده19م

عنوان: روزگار سخت؛ نویسنده: چارلز دیکنز؛ مترجم: الهام دانش نژاد؛ تلخیص برای نوجوانان، در71ص در تهران، دبیر، سال1389؛

عنوان: دوران سخت؛ نویسنده: چارلز دیکنز؛ مترجم: سید جلیل شاهرودی لنگرودی؛ تهران، نشر سخن، مجید، سال1394، در416ص؛ شابک978600941263؛

عنوان: روزگار سخت؛ نویسنده: چارلز دیکنز؛ مترجم: عارف دهقان؛ تبریز، آیدین ساو؛ سال1394؛ در76ص؛ شابک9786009533466؛

روزگار سخت؛ یکی از عنوانهای فارسی رمانی از «چارلز دیکنز (زاده سال1812میلادی - درگذشت سال1870میلادی)، نویسنده ی بریتانیا، که نخستین بار در سال1854میلادی منتشر شد؛ حاصل مشاهدات نویسنده، درباره ی وضع صنعت در شهر «منچستر»، و «پریستون‌»، و زندگی کارگران، و روابطشان با کارفرمایان است؛ «تامس گرادگریند»، نمونه ی صاحب صنعت سلطه جو، و اهل شهر «کوکناون»، از مراکز صنعتی، «مردی است کاملاً اهل عمل» که به چیزی جز راستیها، و آمار باور ندارد، و فرزندان خود «لویز» و «تام» جوان را، با سرکوب کردن بی‌رحمانه ی جنبه‌ های ذوقی، و آرمانی سرشتشان، تربیت می‌کند؛ «لویز» را به همسری کارخانه‌ داری خسیس، و حقه‌ باز، به نام «جوسایا باندربی» می‌دهد؛ که سی سال از دخترش بزرگتر است، و خلق و خویی بس خشن دارد، و از آن قماش آدمهایی است، که تمدن صنعتی آنها را به وجود می‌آورد؛ «لویز» تا اندازه‌ ای، از آن جهت به این زناشویی تن در می‌دهد، که تربیتی که پدرش به او داده، او را پرخاشجو، و خونسرد، بار آورده است، و تا اندازه‌ ای هم، به این باور که می‌خواهد به برادریکه تنها کسی است که «لویز» دوستش میدارد، و کارمند «باندربی» است، یاری کند؛ ...؛ ادبیات مشاجره است؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 08/04/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ 05/01/1401هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Amit Mishra.
231 reviews666 followers
July 9, 2019
The novel depends on the opposition between fact, Dickens's name for the cold and loveless attitude to the life he associated with Utilitarianism, and fancy, which represents all the warmth of the imagination. A contrast which gives it both tension and unity.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,503 reviews733 followers
September 14, 2022
“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.”
Charles Dickens, Hard Times

One of Dickens' shortest works deemed as one of his best by some readers and critics.... deemed his worse by me. The almost sledgehammer-like satirising of the ills of industrialisation and utilitarianism, with the trials and tribulations of the Gradgrinds. Also a look at the practices, beliefs and education of the ruling classes and how it impacts on the lesser class residents of factory town Coketown (a fictionalised Manchester). Hard times had by all, does not a story make. 3 out of 12.

2009 read
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
447 reviews3,219 followers
February 22, 2017
Mr. Thomas Gradgrind , a very wealthy, former merchant, now retired, only believes in facts, and mathematics, two plus two, is four... facts are important, facts will lift you into prosperity, facts are what to live by, they are the only thing that matters, everything else is worthless ... knowing. He sets up a model school, were the terrorized students, will learn this, ( and other subjects that are unfortunately, also taught) the eminently practical man, teaches his five children at birth ... facts! They fear him, a dictator, at home, his weak minded, sick wife, just looks on, wrapping herself up, to keep warm and complaining of her weariness . But fictitious Coketown , (Manchester) is a dirty, factory town, incessant noises from countless machines, powered by coal, chimneys forever spewing dark gases, polluting the air, thick smoke like a twisting snake high above the atmosphere, moving this way and that, spreading all through the surrounding areas, the filth, the sickness, and early death, to the inhabitants, but the "hands" are not relevant, money is, making lots of it, that, and only that. A foul- smelling canal, and even more, a purple river, flows by , the buildings becoming an ugly gray, quickly, the people have to escape to the countryside, to breath fresh healthy air. Travelers going by this place, can only imagine there is a city there, under the black cloud covering, yet they can't see it. Mr. Gradgrind best friend, if there is such an animal, in his circle, is the banker, and manufacturer, Mr. Josiah Bounderby, always telling anyone, within hearing distance, that he himself, rose from the gutter, to become a rich man, no help... he did it alone . Story after story, of his sleeping in the streets, hungry, soiled, without a farthing to his name. Abandoned by the evil, uncaring, widowed mother, brought up by his horrible, drunken grandmother, who beats the child repeatedly . Entertaining, heart-wrenching, you felt for this man, how he suffered greatly in youth, except it's not quite true ...in fact, lies. Louisa, Mr. Gradgrind's oldest and favorite child, is very pretty, the bachelor Bounderby, has eyes for her, when she reaches the proper age of about 20, the fifty- year -old man, asks for her hand in marriage, of course, conveying this fact first, to her father. Louisa says what does it matter, a prisoner in her own home, the girl hasn't seen anything of the world, disaster follows, the couple have nothing in common, what can they talk about? Mrs. Sparsit, her husband's meddling housekeeper, from a good family, hates her. Louisa, flirts with the restless, gentleman, Mr. James Harthouse, who proudly states that he is no good! Still Louisa, only loves her brother, "The Whelp", young Thomas, getting money from his sister, gambling, drinking, wasting it all and always coming back for more. The selfish boy, works in the bank for Mr. Bounderby, his now, brother- in- law, when the well runs dry, the drunkard "finds" some 150 pounds sterling, inside the bank, not properly being used and sees, that it will be. Implicating an innocent "hand", Stephen Blackpool, fired recently by Bounderby, for speaking too much, shunned by the trade union members, for not joining, he walks the streets a lonely man, with an alcoholic wife who deserted him, she still periodically comes back , to sober up, and a sweetheart, that he can't marry too. Mr.Blackpool, seeks work elsewhere, not knowing he's a suspect, in the puzzling crime. The industrial revolution makes some people rich and others sick, but there is no going back , the dye has been cast ...
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,845 reviews16.3k followers
December 29, 2018
Hard Times is Dickens’s novel set in the fictional Coketown and centering around utilitarian and industrial influences on Victorian society.

Dickens’s brilliant use of characterization can be seen in high form here and as always, his naming of his story’s populace is entertaining by itself. The best is without a doubt Mr. McChokumchild, a teacher.

Louisa Gradgrind is a thinly disguised fictionalization of John Stuart Mill. One of the great things about reading literature from the 1800s or earlier is that a reader can ascertain how contemporary works have been influenced by the older work.

Wildly inspirational and influential. Elements of Hard Times and Dickens work in general can be seen in Roger Waters works, Monty Python and even The Big Lebowski.

** 2018 - Dickens' character names are the best - Gradgrind? Bounderby, Jupe, Sparsit. Harthouse, Blackpool, Slackbridge. But of course Mr. McChoakumchild is the best, maybe the best in his canon. McChoakumchild's name is an ax upon which his satire grinds, illustrating his social commentary.

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Profile Image for Alok Mishra.
Author 4 books1,181 followers
August 22, 2022
Dickens' classic, satirical and realistic novel Hard Times was there in my syllabus, MA. I enjoyed it. The novel juxtaposes emotions against hardcore rationalism. This juxtaposition, however, cannot stand the test of time today (I say it with a weary heart). Dickens' writing might appear a little short to boring in today's context. For those who want to enjoy good language and some challenging narrative, the novel will still be luring.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews2,891 followers
July 16, 2020
Dickens wrote Hard Times as an attempt to increase sales of his flagging magazine and had to produce it in weekly instalments which probably explains why it's so bereft of inspiration and artistry. It's ironic that a novel lauding the importance of heart and imagination as guiding principles in social reform should have a mercantile consideration at root. Hard Times is a leaden rhetorical read. There's little subtlety in its sermonising. There's not even much of a story and what story there is doesn't always make sense. Most surprisingly of all it doesn't include a single memorable character. The characters are programmed automatons of the flimsy plot. Even the humour is relentlessly off key. The only positive note is his standard sentimentalised girl-woman only plays a minor role in this novel.

For me this joins A Tale of Two Cities and David Copperfield as duds in the Dickens' canon, though it doesn't possess the redeeming features those two novels possessed.
Profile Image for Piyangie.
504 reviews361 followers
October 30, 2022
Hard Times is my return to Charles Dickens as an adult. I have read Oliver Twist and David Copperfield as a child. I didn't have an appetite for Dickens when I was young, for his subjects were sad and depressing. But as an adult, I understand and appreciate him. He touched so many sides of the society which were rarely spoken of before. He penetrated into human minds so thoroughly and exposed both their black and white sides. Although these qualities in his writing made me sad and depress before, the same qualities have made me fall in love with his writing now.

Hard Times is Dickens's shortest novel. Through a well outlined and well-written story, Dickens comments on the lives, living, and conditions of towns in the light of industrialization. This social commentary gives a perfect picture of the lives and conditions of living of working-class people and the dominating power exercised on them by their masters over every aspect of their lives, suppressing them and using them to secure their wealth and position in life.

There is also a strong criticism of utilitarianism. This theory was introduced in the aftermath of the industrial revolution to make it easy for the masters to control the working class, depriving them of any capacity to reason and making them live a submissive life according to their whims and fancies. Dickens's use of Facts against Reason throughout the book subtly mocks the theory and exposes the social downfall that it would lead to. He brings the character of Louisa Gradgrind and demonstrates what tragedies one would face if they are suppressed of their capacity to feel and to reason. Although it is a little overstated, the point is clearly proved.

I liked the character variety in the book. They ranged from kind, goodhearted, sweet-tempered to cunning, boastful, treacherous. This wide variety added colour and contrast to the book. The story was engaging, his social views kept me well connected with it all along. I enjoyed his satire very much. Dickens is a realistic writer of the Victorian era and that is the secret of his popularity even today.
Profile Image for Dalia Nourelden.
475 reviews599 followers
January 23, 2023
الرواية  تقسم الاحداث الى ثلاث كتب وتحتوى على عدة افكار أبرزها وماسأتحدث  عنه باستفاضه هو اسلوب التربية والحياة التى تقوم عليه وتحدث ايضا عن تلك المدينة الصناعية وبالتالى التحدث عن العمال العاملين وحياتهم ونظرة صاحب العمل لهؤلاء العمال وطريقه حديثه عنهم

الكتاب الاول : البذر


وفيه نتعرف على جراد جرايند وابنائه ونخص بالذكر لويزا وتوم ، ونرى اسلوب وقناعة جراد جرايند سواء  فى حياته او فى تربية ابنائه و فى المدرسة ، الحياة والتربية القائمة على الوقائع
...
《لا تعلموا هؤلاء الصبية والفتيات شيئا عدا الوقائع،  فالوقائع
 وحدها هى المطلوبة في الحياة . لاتغرسوا شيئا سواها واقتلعوا كل شئ عداها ، فما بغير الوقائع يسعكم ان تصوغوا عقول الحيوانات الناطقة،  لانه ما من شئ يجدى عليهم سواها》

حسنا فنحن فى مدرسة وعائلة وبلدة تعتمد على الوقائع،  لا يوجد اعتراف بالعواطف ، لا وجود للخيال ، لايمكن ان نسمح بالتساؤل ، الحجرات والمبانى خالية من  اى مظهر للجمال .
مدينة من الاجر الاحمر الذى اصبح اسود من الرماد .

الشوارع صغيرة مأهولة بإناس متشابهون وخروجهم وعودتهم الى عمل واحد ولاشئ فى حياتهم سوى العمل .
مرفوض بالطبع ان توجد حوائط مرسوم عليها خيول مثلا او ارض مرسومة بالزهور فهذا غير واقعى ومرفوض مجرد التفكير فى ذلك .

ولاننسى ان نذكر صديقه الحميم مستر باوندربى  الذى يتفق معه تماما فى افكاره ومجرد تماما من العواطف وهو رجل مصرفى ، تاجر وصاحب مصنع ، رجل عصامى لا يتوقف عن تذكيرنا بذلك وبطفولته البائسة.

و مسز سبارست وهى التى كانت تعمل و تحيا مع مستر باندوربى والتى كان دوما يذكر اصلها وزوجها المتوفى ومكانتهم العالية من قبل والتى تركت المنزل حين تزوج مستر باندوربى .

ونلتقى فى المدرسة ب سيسى جيب التى التحقت حديثا للمدرسة حينما جاءت مع والدها للبلدة  مع السيرك الذى يعمل فيه  لمديره مستر سليري ، وبالطبع تربيتها يختلف كثيرا عن تعاليم مدرسة جيرا جراند واساليبه وقناعاته .

فهل سيقبل  بوجود فتاة مثل  سيسى فى المدرسة لتدمر افكارهم ؟؟
وتجعل الاطفال الاخرون يفكرون او حاشا لله يتخيلون 😲! خاصة بعدما رأى ابنائه يشاهدان السيرك  وهو بالطبع شئ غير مقبول  .
فنتعرف على  احداث سيكون لها تاثير كبير فى حياة سيسى ومستقبلها 

فهذة هى البذرة التى نرى مثال تاثيرها فى شخص لويزا وتوم ، ونذكر شيئا هاما جدا لويزا اخت عطوفة وحنونة وتحب توم لدرجة تجعلها تفعل اى شئ من اجل سعادته ، شجاعة لاتخاف ان تتحمل نتيجة افعالها الطبيعية لكن الخاطئة بنظر والدها كمشاهدة السيرك او التخيل او التساؤل .

و نتعرف على ستيفن بلاكبول وراشيل كعاملين فى مصنع النسيج  ل باوندربى  ، ونتعرف على حياتهم ،والعجوز الغامضة التى سيلتقيها ستيفن فمن هى ؟؟

الكتاب الثانى :الحصاد


نكمل الحياة مع مستر باندوربى و مسز سبارست  وتوم ولويزا 
ثم نتعرف هنا على مستر جيمس هارتهاوس الشخص المصاب بالسأم الذى لا يفضل اى الاراء والذى ين��م حديثا ليجرب فكر مستر جراند وافكار بلدته ، وتجذبه زوجة مستر باندوربى التى يجدها رابطة الجأش لاتترك نفسها للتصرفات العفوية ويشعر ان هناك شخصية اخرى وراء تلك الشخصية الجامدة حتى يظهر الجرو فتتغير سمات وجهها فتشرق لرؤية هذا الجرو 《 الجرو هو مسمى للشخصية كما سماها مستر جيمس واعتمدها ديكنز فى الحديث غالبا عن هذه الشخصية المستفزة الشديدة الانانية 😡 ومع واجب الاعتذار طبعا للجرو الحقيقى لتشبيه هذا الشخص الانانى به 😁》
وبهذا التحول تزداد رغبة مستر جيمس فى التقرب من مسز باندوربى فيقترب من الجرو ليحظى بثقتها .

فماذا ستكون نتيجة رغبته ؟ وماهى حقيقة شخصيته وافكاره ودوافع افعاله ؟وماذا سيفعل الجرو ؟ وماذا ستفعل مس سبارست ؟ وماهى نتيجة تربية مستر جراند لابنائه

ونتعرف على ماحدث للعامل ستيفن سواء مع زملائه العمال او مع مستر باندوربى

ثم ننتقل للكتاب الثالث : الحصيلة


لنتعرف على نتيجة افكار مستر جراند وهل سيظل على ايمانه  بها ؟
و نعود لنلتقى بسيسى مرة اخرى ليكون لها مواقف هامة و مؤثرة . ونتعرف على  امور من طفولة مستر باندوربي ، ويتأكد بكل الطرق الممكنة كرهى واحتقارى للجرو .



الرواية مابين السهل احيانا والصعب احيانا اخرى ، ليست صعوبة بقدر وجود بعض التعبيرات والكلمات التى كانت عسير على فهمها .لكن فى المجمل اعجبتنى وخاصة انى بدأتها وبداخلى تخوف منها لصعوبتها او لثقلها لكنها فاجأتنى فاندمجت معها واعجبتنى
مثلما تسعدنى الروايات التى تلاقى توقعاتي تسعدنى الروايات التى اتوقع ثقلها فاجد ان خوفى ليس فى محله 🤩🤩😍😍

مأخذى الوحيد هو ان هناك بعض الكلمات التى لم تعد معروفة وغير معروف معناها للقارئ العادى مثلى كان من الافضل ان يضاف معنى او شرح لهذة الكلمات

٤ / ٥ / ٢٠٢٠
Profile Image for Tim.
467 reviews581 followers
January 10, 2023
“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.”

So begins Charles Dickens’ Hard Times. He creates a thesis for a character who believes that facts and a rationalism philosophy can conquer all, and for the next 280 pages will break down this philosophy.

It is well known that Dickens is a rather emotional writer. He wants to make people feel, so such a philosophy as the above must have been quite irritating to him. Imagine if you will that Dickens’ point in this novel is a watermelon. I know this sound peculiar, but bear with me. How to make sure that all his readers understand his point?

By doing the following:



This is the most blunt and blatant book imaginable. I’m not faulting him for that. Dickens wanted to make sure his readers got his point, and he was the most popular author amongst general readers, including many lesser educated. He wanted to make sure they got it, and by God, he would do his best to make sure they did. That said, the lack of subtlety hurt it from a modern perspective... still, he cannot really be faulted for that.

I’ve now read four Dickens books and of the four this is my least favorite. It doesn’t have the emotional impact of A Tale of Two Cities, the good humor of Oliver Twist or the perfect delivery of his moral that A Christmas Carol has. That’s not to say this is a bad book, it was quite a comfortable read with moments of the genius I’ve come to expect from him, it just didn’t quite match up to what I’ve enjoyed in the past. I’ve noticed that I tend to prefer Dickens when he’s in a more comedic mode, and while there is humor here, it is overall a much more serious book. At one point, prior to starting to read Dickens, I almost chose this to be my first one on account of it being so short compared to his other books. I'm glad I didn't as I'm not sure I would have felt the need to immediately jump to another of his works. Still, I’m glad I read it and will be continuing making my way through his works. 3/5 stars.
Profile Image for Muhtasin.
182 reviews642 followers
March 6, 2021

The eminent Victorian critic John Ruskin had this to say about this book :

"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 close and earnest care by persons interested in social questions."
Profile Image for Lisa.
971 reviews3,331 followers
July 23, 2019
"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."

My reading of theories of pedagogy and knowledge development usually is quite separate from my reading of fiction for the pure pleasure of being human!

But now recently I have come across several references to the wonderful Dickensian caricature of positivism with the suggestive name of Gradgrind. There is a war going on in the world of schooling, with a clear front between those who are in favour of the measurable fact-based model that fictional Gradgrind tried on his own environment, with quite heartbreaking results, and those who have interpreted the opposite of Gradgrindianism as the way forward, and claim that inquiry, creativity and transferable skills are the pillars of education, and that facts are obsolete before they enter the heads of the suffering child vessels.

Now I am quite sure that Dickens could have written a brilliant satire on the extreme opposite of Gradgrind's pedagogy if he had seen it in action. How are children to develop ideas if they have no knowledge to get inspired by? How are they going to proceed in inquiry if they have no basic understanding of the scientific concepts? How are they going to create exciting and artistic visual and textual artefacts without the literacy skills that are the tools leading towards linguistic and artistic mastery? How are they going to "research" a history topic independently that they have never heard of before, and definitely cannot put into context?

As happy as I am whenever Gradgrind shows up in the educational debates, I have to say that his very presence as a negative example of old-school knowledge is an ironic symbol of the value of "knowing" the iconic history of literary or scientific reference points. If you haven't had some kind of basic schooling in literature, you won't understand what Gradgrind's evil represents: to evaluate his mentioning in the school debate, you have to know about Victorian standpoints, Dickens' position within them, Gradgrind's failure, and educational theories over the past century that have swung like a pendulum from one extreme to the other.

So cheers to the fact that facts are part of life - and the devil is in the PART!
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,525 reviews1,771 followers
Read
April 27, 2020
In current political discourse I have a particular dislike of the phrase 'Hard working families' since it implies it is not good enough to be working, or in a family, or even merely both of those together. No, only if it in addition to that you are sufficiently hard working are you good enough for your needs to be taken seriously in politics, and if you should slacken in your Stakhanovite ardour by preferring maybe to take a holiday rather than like Boxer in Animal Farm to work yourself into the glue factory, then presumably policy makers will think 'to Hell with you then'.

I feel that it was to counter such utilitarianism and the implicit acceptance of GDP ever increasing and the positive balance sheet as the meaning and purpose of life that Dickens wrote this comic melodrama - and and to assert the burning importance of creating in law a form of affordable and accessible divorce, which was a matter of particular concern to Dickens once he decided that he was bored of his wife and preferred rushing about after a young actress instead.

This is possibly my favourite Dickens novel, apart from or including all my other favourite Dickens novels, although it is a shade more melodramatic, than others - at least it does not try to jerk the tears out of you. It is short, punchy and humorous. I think you see in this one, because it is short, how Dickens suffered from an excess of ideas so at the start we are introduced to school teachers Mr & Mrs McChokemchild who appear twice in the novel before disappearing completely. Indeed they are so insignificant that Dickens needn't have bothered naming them.

Although the novel is set in a Northern English industrial town - Coketown this is curiously not much relevant to the plot. Dickens published Gaskell's North and South, but he isn't interested in writing a shock novel about industrial Britain, Coketown as a setting is largely irrelevant to the story which again is not typical of Dickens for whom location is an important character generally in his books.

Nice themes here are family, the bad characters commit the ultimate Victorian shibboleth and reject, deny, or pimp off their families , while the good characters cling to their families and maybe can even be redeemed through family love.

This is novel that is above all about education - the formation of hegemonic social values through schooling in this case a thorough fact obsessed utilitarianism against which fantasy and the right to amusement struggles to be heard, Dickens being Dickens, it is that latter voices which eventually cuts through the 'facts' and eventually we see that Bounderby, the vigorous proponent of the school of hard knocks has in fact created himself as a the richest fantasy of all in his claim to be a self made man. In a beautiful though unsubtle touch (this is not a subtle book) travelling circus performers lodge at a pub called the Pegasus Arms - as though a winged horse wasn't fantastical enough - this one has to have arms too. In this book we are shown that without being taught or indulged with fantasy and pleasure from childhood, we end up depressed and struggling to find purpose or value in life and at continual risk from rogues and bounders.

This is an interesting one from the point of view of Dickens' radicalism too - which again rests on individual redemption - this stands at variance with the theme of education - if anybody was telling Dickens that he had to be coherent and congruent, that was not a voice he paid attention to.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews751 followers
March 23, 2016
"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 mind of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them."
Mr. Gradgrind, Hard Times

"We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control"

Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) - Roger Waters, Pink Floyd
Roger Waters' lyrics could almost be a direct response to Mr. Gradgrind's ridiculous world view.

The worst thing about Hard Times is the title, very off putting. You get the feeling that the book will indeed give you a hard time and should be avoided like the plague; particularly if you have never read Dickens before and assume that his books are hard to read. As it turned out Hard Times is one of the easiest Dickens books to follow, neither the plot or the prose is particularly convoluted. It is also one of his shortest and most concise, clocking in at a measly 350 or so pages instead of 1000+ like most of his novels.

The major theme, as far as I can discern, is the effect of stifling upbringing and overly rigid fact-based education at the expense of allowing children to cultivate their imagination. Facts and figures are essential for the development of intellect but they need to be balanced with fanciful stories and leisurely pastime. The novel’s protagonist Louisa was raised and homeschooled by her father to only be concerned with “facts facts facts!” and tales of fantasy, circuses etc, are boycotted. This has the effect of turning an innately decent loving girl into a living refrigerator. The effect on her brother is even worse, as he grows up to be a dissipated, deceitful and generally useless individual.

This being a Dickens novel the plight of the poor and the injustice society inflicts on them is depicted with a fierce passion. Both “the masters” (factory owners) and trade unionists are portrayed in very poor light. To balance the unsavory characters Dickens also introduces us to his stock “nice”, simple and honest characters and several eccentric ones. Also, even with the serious issues, Dickens wants to bring to your attention in this book, he never forgets his storytelling duties, Hard Times is well paced, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and never drags.

The reason I enjoy reading about Dickens’ characters is the reason his detractors criticize him for. His supporting characters tend to be colorful in appearance, behavior and speech. However, they are also frequently cartoonish and unbelievable as real people. This is perfectly acceptable to me because I don’t think Dickens’ intention is to write ultra-real gritty fiction. The crazy characters are there to entertain and also function as caricatures of certain types of people for metaphorical purposes. For example Josiah Bounderby one of the antagonists seems like some kind of angry red balloon, all bluster and extreme arrogance. His housekeeper Mrs. Sparsit is super aristocratic and a real nasty piece of work. James Harthouse, a total cad with the seduction of Louisa in mind. His slick patter is very amusing and brings to mind one of Oscar Wilde’s more outrageous “motormouth” characters.

Dickens also gets a lot of flak for his melodramatic sentimental plots and “deus ex machina”. All true but without writing a tedious defence of the great man I would simply say that I am OK with it all. I always find his fiction to be accessible, entertaining and poignant. His prose is also a work of art, sometimes sardonic sometimes lyrical. Again the haters find him verbose, and again I enjoy his verbosity.

My audiobook version is superbly performed by actor Martin Jarvis, definitely not just a narration, but an actual dramatic vocal performance with tons of different voices and accents.

In conclusion, this alleged review seems more like an exercise in Dickens fanboying (now that's something you don't see every day!) than a proper review. Ah well, it’s the best I can do at this time of night.

Last words go to Mr. Sleary, circus manager extraordinaire (who speaks with a lisp)
"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. Do the withe thing and the kind thing too, and make the betht of uth; not the wurtht!"
This.
Profile Image for Kamal.
320 reviews339 followers
September 15, 2019
صدفة أوقعتها فى طريقى
فيجب ان أقول عنها بعض الأشياء
كانت قراءة إلزامية ولكنها كانت قراءة رائعة
تعلقنا بها فى شبابنا لم نكن نضجنا بعد
أحببت القراءة باللغة الأصلية وحصلت على العلامة الكاملة فى هذه السنة فى مادة اللغة الإنجليزية
فأى ذكرى أجمل أنشد عن هذه الرواية الرائعة
Profile Image for Marc.
3,022 reviews1,011 followers
December 28, 2021
I know, this isn't the classic, broadly drawn out story with 25 characters and lots of side paths like we're used to from Dickens, but nevertheless I think it's one of his best, especially as a historical document. Published in 1854, it offers a harsh indictment of the horrible social conditions in a fictional English industrial town ('Coketown'). And at the same time it illustrates Dickens' moralistic look at gruesome reality.

The protagonist, the goodhearted weaver Stephen Blackpool, is the symbol of the natural wisdom of the laborers ('the Hands'). He becomes victim of both the industrial class as the labour union. Clearly Dickens didn't trust the unions as defenders of the working class, but he rather saw them as a violent, disruptive and double harted element. The author preferred reforms from above, in a context of harmonious cooperation between employees and employers.

Dickens also denounces the arrogance of the bourgeoisie (through the industrial Bounderby and the nihilistic politician Harthouse). And he offers a sharp critique on the emergent philosophy of positivism, with its obsession for hard facts and ruthless logic (a clear reference to the French philosoper Auguste Comte). Above this all hovers the wisdom of charitable female characters like Cecilia and Rachael. Perhaps you can say that Dickens' classic novels are more impressive from a literary point of view, but this social document sure made a lasting impression on me.
Profile Image for Quo.
276 reviews
September 14, 2022
To a greater or lesser degree, all novels are a composite of an author's imagination in creating characters & settings and that author's own worldview. Hard Times by Charles Dickens, a relatively brief but still complex novel, attempts to fashion the author's views on industrialization in the north of England during the 1850s, the stratified British class system & a mode of education with an emphasis on facts, while also fashioning memorable characters making the best of their lives at a difficult time.



As with many of Dickens' works, the names are distinctive, with Mr. Gradgrind & Josiah Bounderby chief among them. The mill workers are referred to dismissively as "Hands", the rivers & streams polluted by industrialization and the air heavily contaminated by the soot from factories & coal burning homes in an area just near Manchester.

There are so many things at play in this novel that at first, it seems the characters are merely caricatures & the themes rather heavy-handed, with Dickens very much on the side of the downtrodden, underpaid & often abused workers.

However, if one perseveres with Hard Times, there is ample chance that the book will begin to represent a much richer fusing of well-defined characterizations and an author's desire to represent the frailty of the underside of British life at the mid-point of the 19th century.



Countering the grime & tedium of life for the average worker in this novel is a school founded by Thomas Gradgrind, one based on the memorization of rules & data, steeped in facts that can't be questioned, to the complete exclusion of fantasy or poetry or one's individual imagination. Here is the enforced response to a description of a horse, given by a well-versed student named Bitzer:
Quadruped. Graminivorous. 40 teeth, namely 4 grinders, 4 eye-teeth & 12 incisors. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hooves too. Hoofs hard but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.
When another student, referred to as "Girl #20", who had grown up riding horses with a traveling circus company gives a much more experiential response, she is severely admonished. She is in fact, better known as Cecilia or "Sissy Jupe" and has been adopted as a kind of modified servant by the owner of the school, having been abandoned by her father, a clown who could no longer cause circus-goers to laugh.

What Hard Times conveys is a sense of compassion for those contending with the new reality of machines, tall chimneys "belching serpents of smoke, a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dyes, where pistons of steam engines worked monotonously all day long, up & down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness." In this milieu, the human population of Coketown is quite subservient to the machines.



Mr. Gradgrind, the school superintendent & a member of parliament and his friend, Mr. Bounderby, a self-made man who owns a bank & a factory--someone who had no exposure to a model school & is proud of it--both subscribe to a Utilitarian philosophy that is purely results-oriented but wrapped in a belief that machines will cause needed development, whatever the costs may entail. Even Gradgrind's children are seemingly in tow with this approach to life, at least until they become victims of it.

After a time, the workers begin to rebel against conditions and Stephen Blackpool, another of novel's formidable characters, is forced to choose between honoring his loyalty to a saintly woman named Rachael & his fellow factory workers as a strike looms...
Oh my friends, the down-trodden operatives of Coketown! Oh my friends & fellow-countrymen, the slaves of an iron-handed & a grinding despotism! I tell you that the hour has come, when we will rally round one another as One united power & crumble into the dust the oppressors that too long have battened upon the plunder of our families, upon the seat of our brows, upon the labor of our hands, upon the strength of our sinews, upon the God-created glorious rights of Humanity & upon the holy & eternal privileges of Brotherhood.
When Stephen is derided & dismissed both by his nascent factory union and fired by Bounderby, the factory owner, Hard Times quickly becomes more dynamic, particularly with the budding rebellion of Mr. Gradgrind's once very complacent daughter, Louisa.

Meanwhile, the traveling circus & its owner, a lisping Mr. Sleary, stand as anathema to Mr. Gradgrind & Bounderby but the circus serves as a relief valve for the oppressed of Coketown & other places along the circuit of the traveling circus.

Dickens manages to juxtapose the rigidity of Gradgrind & the buffoonish Bounderby with the apparent flexibility & casual intimacy of the circus family, with its owner, Mr. Sleary, of the belief that in a harsh world, a little levity & a brief escape can take the circus spectator a rather long way.



The formality of some of the language employed, with many complex sentences + the unfamiliarity of circus jargon & other slang of a particular time & place in England will entail frequent trips to the notes within the appendix. Added to that, there is at times some heavy-handed moralizing by the author.

However, there is a great deal more at play in Hard Times than one might initially expect. And, while hardly one of Dickens' most beloved works, it is a novel that I found full of pleasant surprises & an uplifting message about the need for compassion & forgiveness.

I saw a dramatized rendering of Hard Times in 2018 by the Lookingglass Theater of Chicago, complete with trapeze artists representing the spirit of the traveling circus. However, not having read the Dickens novel at that point, the importance of some of the individual relationships was lost on me.

Some years ago, I visited Saltaire, once a model town in West Yorkshire at the north of England, centered on a massive linen mill factory at Bradford, near Leeds. Its owner, Sir Titus Salt had acted with the best of intentions in creating the town with factory & new red brick houses for the workers at about the time that the Dickens novel is set. However, his insistence of an absence of alcohol, compulsory church attendance & payment in scrip eventually caused the workers to rebel & to strike.

The Salt's Mills factory eventually became derelict & on the verge of being torn-down, it was salvaged by Bradford-born artist David Hockney, now upgraded to an assemblage of shops, restaurants, a small theater & other venues, very much worth a visit.



*The version of Hard Times I read was a 1995 Penguin edition, with an introduction & quite helpful notes by Kate Flint. **Within my review are images of Charles Dickens; print of a polluted English city in mid 19th century; a photo image of factory worker from the same period; photo of circus trapeze artist from the Chicago theatrical performance of the novel in 2018; view of Saltaire, the now-refurbished Victorian linen mill & surrounding houses that comprised a mid 19th century "model town". ***There is an interesting 1994 BBC film of Hard Times with Alan Bates as Bounderby.
Profile Image for Helene Jeppesen.
685 reviews3,631 followers
January 9, 2016
This book is another evidence of Charles Dickens' brilliancy when it comes to writing. He starts with one person and her destiny, but gradually the story becomes more and more intricate and complex, and in the end you end up with a completely different story from what you started out with.
I have quite an ambivalent relationship to Charles Dickens and his books. Some of them I love, some of them confuse me or end up disappointing me. "Hard Times" was a good story, but I was mildly disappointed with the fact that it changes direction. I wanted to continue reading about Sissy and her destiny, but I was disappointed to realize that her story became kind of a parallel plot to the main plot. Nevertheless, the main plot was definitely full of surprises and at times kept you at the edge of your seat, and I liked that.
However, I can't disregard the fact that I was quite bored during most of this novel. I felt like the story became more and more predictable, and I felt like it kept dragging on the same characters and their worries and views on life. Therefore, I ended up rating this one 3 stars, because it's definitely worth a read, but it's not my favourite of Dickens'.
Profile Image for سماح عطية.
610 reviews2,036 followers
February 23, 2016
ربما تحمل بعض الروايات الأجنبية فكرة، حكمة ما؛
تضيق وتتسع بحسب أثرها على القاريء وما تلمسه من نبضات تكوينه .

لكن إبداع اللغة يتجلّى لي في الأدب العربيّ
من جمال أساليبها أحب أن أنهل، وفي روعة بلاغتها أشتاق للإبحار
لا مثيل للحرف العربي في إسعادي وإطرابي ..


“ إنّ الذي ملأ اللغات محاسناً .. جعل الجمال و سرّه في الضّاد ”
- أحمد شوقي
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.2k followers
January 10, 2023
Mavis Staples sings Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZsO3...

Hard Times is what they now call The Great Depression, about which Studs Terkel wrote his monumental work of oral history. But Hard Times by nineteenth-century English writer Charles Dickens is a book about working class northern England, about which he said,

"My satire is against those who see figures and averages, and nothing else."

I read it in my twenties, and read it now in a time when “data-driven” bureaucracies rule the day, and even in public education, where some teachers get their pay docked if their students do not exceed district data expectations. Performance-based development, they call it, performance being exclusively determined by student scores on standardized tests.

“One cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes that [stats and quantitative guy] Edward L. Thorndike won and [progressive, democratic, conversation- and community-based theorist] John Dewey lost”— Ellen Condliffe Lagemann

The most memorable scene in Dickens’s 1854 novel Hard Times (by Dickens) is the first one, where the teacher, Thomas Gradgrind, asks his class to define a horse:

"Bitzer," said Thomas Gradgrind. "Your definition of a horse."
"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) from Bitzer.
"Now girl number twenty," said Mr. Gradgrind. "You know what a horse is."

Girl number twenty is Sissy who rides horses every day, whose family owns horses. To “define” a horse in this way is incomprehensible and silly to her.

An accumulation of facts is the only knowledge that matters to Gradgrind. Facts, not feelings. The businessman who helped shaped the American Common Core, the set of standards that continues to drive school curriculum in the US, said,“If you want to apply for a job at GM, they don’t give a damn how you feel.” He was speaking here against the teaching of the personal essay in school, and stories, something he and his committee intended to drastically reduce in American public school curricula. And they were successful, to the detriment of the love of learning for millions of children. The Common Core privileges argument over story, nonfiction over fiction and poetry, a process that coincides with the conservative takeover of US politics more than a quarter of a century ago, but Dickens saw it already happening 150 years ago in England, skewered in this book.

“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”—Gradgrind

Gradgrind raises his own kids, too, without stories, without feeling, only reason, which leads daughter Louisa to a miserable marriage without love, based only on practical (wealth, social status: Facts!) considerations. Love is not part of the necessary vocabulary of the Gradgrind family or school. But this fact-based approach also leads to societal consequences where the bottom line matters more than humans.

The last thirty years in economic and political philosophy is correctly assumed by many to be guided in part by the brutally selfish ideology of Ayn Rand, but a century before her it is Dickens (in 1854?!) who makes this harsh indictment of mid-19th-century industrial practices and their dehumanizing effects:

“Any capitalist . . . who had made sixty thousand pounds out of sixpence, always professed to wonder why the sixty thousand nearest Hands didn't each make sixty thousand pounds out of sixpence, and more or less reproached them every one for not accomplishing the little feat. What I did you can do. Why don't you go and do it?” As if! And those not achieving that goal correspondingly feel guilty; they know it is their fault they have not had the proper pluck, the determination, to achieve what others have done.

And social practices begin in school:

“. . . 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 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.”

But Dickens is clear in his view about school and society:

“There is a wisdom of the head, and. . . there is a wisdom of the heart.”

Both have to be present for children in school and society to thrive.

Instruction is now required in most school districts to be “data-driven,” which means that which can be reduced to numbers, to statistics, which are more easily gleaned from multiple choice tests than, say, more organic, community-driven projects where the effect might be more complex, un-graph-able, unquantifiable.

What a good book! It’s satire, but insightful satire, useful. Sure Dickens can be preachy and sentimental as he rails on social practices he finds dehumanizing. But he also can be fun; are there sillier names for teachers than Gradgrind and--this is the best--Chokumchild?!

Janice Ian’s Better Times Will Come:

https://www.bettertimeswillcome.com/s...

A link to the whole Better Times Will Come musical project:

https://www.bettertimeswillcome.com/?...
Profile Image for Blair.
128 reviews111 followers
November 29, 2021
I have mixed feelings about Charles Dickens shortest novel, Hard Times. As a satire/social commentary of 19th Century English Industrialization, morality/ethics and utilitarianism (Phew!) it succeeds pretty well. As for straight up storytelling, I think it falls flat.
As a satire, tis a bit heavy-handed and smothers the lively, colorful characters Dickens is so great at creating. One of the characters, Stephen Blackpool, an honest factory worker and man of great integrity, speaks in a vernacular that is difficult to read at times, requiring extra effort. Mr Sleary, the lisping circus proprietor is almost as challenging to read.
I love Dickens, his magnificent prose and the characters he creates but in Hard Times its glaringly apparent that they serve his greater purpose by being caricatures of political/philosophical ideologies at extreme ends of the moral spectrum. 'Good' people are the poor hard working, honest people. 'Bad' people are the rich, immoral factory owners, bankers, etc. An overly simplistic view? But I imagine quite popular with his readership back in the day.
All of this would be fine if the story could rise above it, but none of the threads of the narrative went in any direction I wanted them to go and led to an unsatisfying result. Which ultimately makes for an unsatisfying read.
I ain't be dissing Dickens though; my rating is probably more a reflection of how it compares to some of his other novels which I just loved more..
Profile Image for Bryce Wilson.
Author 10 books146 followers
September 4, 2008
Not Dicken's best work, but still, ya know, Dickens.

It's pretty much "Lets light some straw men on fire!" day in Dickens land. Presumably Hard Times was chosen as the title because "Let's Kick Some Deserving Fuckers In The Teeth" was already taken.

Still I don't know anyone I'd rather watch burn people and deliver teeth kicks then Dickens.
Profile Image for Julian Worker.
Author 32 books338 followers
August 3, 2020
I never thought I'd enjoy a Charles Dickens novel so much...on to the next one.

I believe Coketown is based on Manchester. If it is, then it's interesting that the mills that inspired Dickens to write Hard Times might have been the same ones that influenced Friedrich Engels to write The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1845.

Written in 1854, Hard Times shows Dickens is concerned with the way in which industrialisation de-humanises people. Bounderby treats people as numbers and Gradgrind suffocates his children with a warped education. This book covers the Victorian period where there was a shift in power away from the aristocracy towards the hard-nosed industrialists who were making fortunes from people's misery.
Profile Image for Alan.
Author 5 books291 followers
August 7, 2022
I taught this novel many times--oh, a dozen--because it's the shortest Dickens, fits into a college course easier than Nicholas Nickleby, my favorite, which I only taught once. Likewise with War and Peace only once because it took mostly the whole semester. Hard Times is excellent on education, only Nicholas surpassing it--and perhaps Tom Sawyer, on American and Church education.

Gradgrind, the businessman who sets the tone of M'Choakumchild's school, disapproves of his daughter Louisa's reading*, almost as much as circus performer Sissy Jupe's, who read to her circus father about the Hunchback, and Dwarfs. Gradgrind says, "Never wonder." He disapproves of such fiction, of the workers who "sometimes sat down after fifteen hours work to read mere fables about men and women, more or less like themsleves, and about children..."(38). Dickens in Nicholas Nickleby has the Member of Parliament opposing bills "for giving poor grubbing devils of authors a right to their own property," adding that in writing his speeches, Nicholas "can be as funy as you like about the authors; I believe the greater part of them live in lodgings, and cannot vote"(199).
The suspicion against novels which Dickens cites runs back to Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women, though I think in her book she says women should read what men do, not the novels they waste time on.
Besides a great dog story, there's the amusement of the circus-owner's lisp, Sleary. He says, about circuses and novels, "People mutht be amuthed. They can't alwayth be a leaarning"(222, Norton critical 1966).
M'Choakumchild is no Wackford Squeers; maybe Gradgrind is closer, but more narrow and limited, and after all, Hard Times involves public education, which nobody in the 19C expected much from (except possibly in the U.S.), whereas Nicholas involves private boarding schools in the North.
Hard Times also sums up industrialized work such as Mancastrian loom-workers and repairmen who built (1830-1890) the factories in the city where I taught, Fall River, MA. So it provided a good 19C summary of Fall River's mills and mill-workers. One of my paper suggestions invited college students (often women in their 20's) to compare their own education, and their criticisms of it, with those here.

*Louisa grows, marries, and on the last page comes to wish her children have "a childhood of the mind no less than a childhood of the body."
Profile Image for Craig Robb.
6 reviews1 follower
August 13, 2013
They say no-one reads a book to get to the middle. Well, for Hard Times, perhaps they should, so disappointing the end turns out to be, this is one of the examples of how literature has improved over the years. Having read Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities and enjoying them all immensely I tried Hard Times, having read here and elsewhere that the book represented Dickens at his best. It does not, and to say that it does devalues his other work. The book is filled with shallow characters where motivations are left unexplained, where the writing is long and overworked, where the reliance on local dialect is used as a substitute for characterisation, this for me is Dickens at his worst. There is, underneath all the wrought wordmanship, a worthy tale of the perils of industrialisation but it is too obtusely flanked by peripheral stories that do nothing but divert the attention away from this central tale. A scything edit and a reduction in word count to around 50,000 would have helped the story shine through but, as it is, it remains as blustery, repetitive overblown, misguided, predictable and boring as old Bounderby himself. Very disappointing.
Profile Image for Magrat Ajostiernos.
549 reviews3,754 followers
September 22, 2017
3,5/5
Seguramente 'Tiempos difíciles' no se sume a mis Dickens predilectos pero aún así creo que es una novela muy interesante y que he disfrutado.
El contexto político y social es realmente el centro de la historia, y más que los personajes es la trama la que importa en esta novela con temas muy claros como la Revolución industrial, la educación victoriana, la diferencia de clases, la hipocresía generalizada... y sobre todo la lucha entre la ciencia, los hechos y la imaginación.
Me han encantado todas las reflexiones de Dickens en esta novela aunque sí que es verdad que me ha faltado algo para llegar a adorarla.
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