The Pickwick Club discussion

15 views
Hard Times > Part II, Chapters 6 - 10

Comments Showing 1-44 of 44 (44 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Kim (last edited Mar 05, 2016 07:34PM) (new)

Kim Dear Pickwickians,

Another week is over and we are through another installment of Hard Times just as gloomy and depressing as all the other installments have been. At least I thought they were, I find as I read this, that instead of things going a little better as we get more into the story, things seem to be getting worse, at least for some of our characters they are. Chapter 6 is titled "Fading Away" and begins with Stephen just leaving Mr. Bounderby's house. Upon leaving the house, Stephen meets Rachael and the old woman whom he had met some time before standing outside Bounderby's house. When he asks how the old woman came to be with Rachael the woman tells him that she had heard Bounderby was married and wanted to see his wife, so she has been waiting outside the Bounderby house all day long waiting for a glimpse of Louisa but never sees her. Meanwhile she had passed Rachael a few times and Rachael had such a friendly face the woman had talked to her and as she says herself, There!’ said the old woman to Stephen, ‘you can make all the rest out for yourself now, a deal shorter than I can, I dare say!’

When Stephen tells her that he has met Mrs. Bounderby and that she is young and beautiful, our old woman seems delighted, and says that Louisa must be a happy woman married to Bounderby. He tells the women that he no longer works for Bounderby:

‘Why, Rachael,’ he replied, ‘whether I ha lef’n his work, or whether his work ha lef’n me, cooms t’ th’ same. His work and me are parted. ’Tis as weel so—better, I were thinkin when yo coom up wi’ me. It would ha brought’n trouble upon trouble if I had stayed theer. Haply ’tis a kindness to monny that I go; haply ’tis a kindness to myseln; anyways it mun be done. I mun turn my face fro Coketown fur th’ time, and seek a fort’n, dear, by beginnin fresh."

Stephen invites both women to his room to have a cup of tea saying that afterwards he will walk the old woman, who now tells us her name is Mrs. Pegler, back to the inn where she is spending the night. Both women agree and come with him.

Mrs. Pegler tells them she has been a widow for many years and she had one son who was now dead.

"While he excused himself, the old lady’s cup rattled more and more. ‘I had a son,’ she said, curiously distressed, and not by any of the usual appearances of sorrow; ‘and he did well, wonderfully well. But he is not to be spoken of if you please. He is—’ Putting down her cup, she moved her hands as if she would have added, by her action, ‘dead!’ Then she said aloud, ‘I have lost him.’"

At this time the landlady comes to the door to announce the arrival of a guest, the only word Mrs. Pegler hears is Bounderby and she becomes very upset and begs Stephen and Rachael to hide her. It takes them a moment to convince her that it isn't Mr. Bounderby but Mrs. Bounderby who is there and then she calms down enough to stay in the room, but stands in a corner in the shadows. It is Louisa who comes into the room with her brother Tom. For the first time, Louisa has come to the dwelling of one of the hands, and also for the first time thinks of them as more than just statistics. She learns that Stephen now fired from his job, will not be able to find another one in the same town. He now has the reputation of being troublesome, learning that Stephen is no longer welcome by his employer or the other workers. We also find out the reason he wouldn't join with his fellow workers in the United Aggregate Tribunal:

‘He fell into suspicion,’ said Louisa, ‘with his fellow-weavers, because—he had made a promise not to be one of them. I think it must have been to you that he made that promise. Might I ask you why he made it?’

Rachael burst into tears. ‘I didn’t seek it of him, poor lad. I prayed him to avoid trouble for his own good, little thinking he’d come to it through me. But I know he’d die a hundred deaths, ere ever he’d break his word. I know that of him well.’


I'm not sure what trouble she thought it would get him into joining the union unless she expects them all to lose their jobs over it. Louisa tries to give him money but he will only take two pounds from her, telling her he will pay her back when he can. One thing I noticed in this chapter is that Louisa finally gets to show some emotion, a little anyway, instead of just facts, facts, facts and no feeling. Looking at Stephen and Rachael her features soften and when she speaks to him her voice has softened too. Tom says he wants to talk with Stephen for a few minutes and they go out on the stairs, he tells Stephen that he may be able to do him a good turn and tells Stephen he is to wait outside the bank each evening for an hour or so after work. If Tom is successful the porter will bring him a message as he waits, if he doesn't get a message in the next few evenings he can leave town as he planned. Stephen agrees to grant the request. During his three days of waiting, Stephen is observed by Mrs. Sparsit and Bitzer and begins to feel a disreputable character loitering in front of the bank. The last evening he waits for two hours, but no message is ever given him. He leaves Coketown the next morning.

"So strange to turn from the chimneys to the birds. So strange, to have the road-dust on his feet instead of the coal-grit. So strange to have lived to his time of life, and yet to be beginning like a boy this summer morning! With these musings in his mind, and his bundle under his arm, Stephen took his attentive face along the high road. And the trees arched over him, whispering that he left a true and loving heart behind."


message 2: by Kim (last edited Mar 05, 2016 07:37PM) (new)

Kim Chapter 7 is titled "Gunpowder" and as it begins we have Mr. Harthouse, who has been very successful in his job is considered to have great promise in the industry. As we are told:

"Mr. James Harthouse, ‘going in’ for his adopted party, soon began to score. With the aid of a little more coaching for the political sages, a little more genteel listlessness for the general society, and a tolerable management of the assumed honesty in dishonesty, most effective and most patronized of the polite deadly sins, he speedily came to be considered of much promise."

He has gained the confidence of Bounderby and he has become a frequent caller at the Bounderby house. His reason for his frequent visits to the house seems to be to seduce Louisa. We are told she is lead gradually "Step by step, onward and downward, towards some end," the gunpowder I suppose getting ready to explode. As for Harthouse, he never makes a particular plan to seduce Louisa, he simply finds the pursuit of Louisa is amusing. He writes to his brother that he finds the Bounderbys 'great fun'. He had noticed that her face changes for her brother and he wants her face to change the same way for him. He decides the only way that he can make Louisa happy is through Tom and he decides he will take advantage of this opportunity. As they walk in the flower garden he broaches to Louisa the subject of Tom, convincing Louisa of his deep interest in Tom. As they return to the house they meet Tom who will barely talk to his sister. She enters the house but Harthouse and Tom stay outside and my dislike of Tom grows and grows during this conversation:

‘‘Not got it, Mr. Harthouse? I don’t say she has got it. I may have wanted more than she was likely to have got. But then she ought to get it. She could get it. It’s of no use pretending to make a secret of matters now, after what I have told you already; you know she didn’t marry old Bounderby for her own sake, or for his sake, but for my sake. Then why doesn’t she get what I want, out of him, for my sake? She is not obliged to say what she is going to do with it; she is sharp enough; she could manage to coax it out of him, if she chose. Then why doesn’t she choose, when I tell her of what consequence it is? But no. There she sits in his company like a stone, instead of making herself agreeable and getting it easily. I don’t know what you may call this, but I call it unnatural conduct.’

There was a piece of ornamental water immediately below the parapet, on the other side, into which Mr. James Harthouse had a very strong inclination to pitch Mr. Thomas Gradgrind junior, as the injured men of Coketown threatened to pitch their property into the Atlantic. But he preserved his easy attitude; and nothing more solid went over the stone balustrades than the accumulated rosebuds now floating about, a little surface-island."


I liked Harthouse for wanting to throw Tom over the stone balustrade and I think I would have liked him more at this point if he would have actually done it. He does then, instead of throwing him away, use his influence over Tom to make him act more kindly to Louisa, to which she is extremely grateful. The chapter ends with this:

"When Tom appeared before dinner, though his mind seemed heavy enough, his body was on the alert; and he appeared before Mr. Bounderby came in. ‘I didn’t mean to be cross, Loo,’ he said, giving her his hand, and kissing her. ‘I know you are fond of me, and you know I am fond of you.’

After this, there was a smile upon Louisa’s face that day, for some one else. Alas, for some one else!

‘So much the less is the whelp the only creature that she cares for,’ thought James Harthouse, reversing the reflection of his first day’s knowledge of her pretty face. ‘So much the less, so much the less."



message 3: by Kim (new)

Kim Chapter 8 is titled "Explosion" and I suppose the previous chapter must have had enough gunpowder in it for the explosion. The chapter opens with Harthouse smoking his pipe (never trust a pipe smoker) and musing over the happenings between him and Louisa.

"He had established a confidence with her, from which her husband was excluded. He had established a confidence with her, that absolutely turned upon her indifference towards her husband, and the absence, now and at all times, of any congeniality between them. He had artfully, but plainly, assured her that he knew her heart in its last most delicate recesses; he had come so near to her through its tenderest sentiment; he had associated himself with that feeling; and the barrier behind which she lived, had melted away. All very odd, and very satisfactory!"

He is pleased with the way things are going, and yet we are told, there is no wickedness in him, he is simply indifferent and purposeless. "The end to which it led was before him, pretty plainly; but he troubled himself with no calculations about it. What will be, will be."

Harthouse departs early for a public occasion, at some distance from the Bounderby residence. When he returns to the Bounderby house at six, he is met by Bounderby, who bursts out of the shrubbery and informs him there has been a robbery at the bank. Whoever entered the bank did so with a false key; the key was later found in the street. A small safe in Tom's closet had been ransacked and a total of one hundred and fifty pounds was gone. The only suspect is Stephen Blackpool, who was seen suspiciously loitering outside the bank late at night, shortly before leaving Coketown, I hate Tom more all the time.

‘Well,’ said Bounderby, stopping and facing about to confront them all, ‘I’ll tell you. It’s not to be mentioned everywhere; it’s not to be mentioned anywhere: in order that the scoundrels concerned (there’s a gang of ’em) may be thrown off their guard. So take this in confidence. Now wait a bit.’ Mr. Bounderby wiped his head again. ‘What should you say to;’ here he violently exploded: ‘to a Hand being in it?’

‘I hope,’ said Harthouse, lazily, ‘not our friend Blackpot?’

‘Say Pool instead of Pot, sir,’ returned Bounderby, ‘and that’s the man.’

Louisa faintly uttered some word of incredulity and surprise.

‘O yes! I know!’ said Bounderby, immediately catching at the sound. ‘I know! I am used to that. I know all about it. They are the finest people in the world, these fellows are. They have got the gift of the gab, they have. They only want to have their rights explained to them, they do. But I tell you what. Show me a dissatisfied Hand, and I’ll show you a man that’s fit for anything bad, I don’t care what it is.’

Another of the popular fictions of Coketown, which some pains had been taken to disseminate—and which some people really believed."


There is another person who is believed to be part of this robbery, according to Bounderby anyway:

‘I think so, sir,’ said Bounderby, with a defiant nod. ‘I think so. But there are more of ’em in it. There’s an old woman. One never hears of these things till the mischief’s done; all sorts of defects are found out in the stable door after the horse is stolen; there’s an old woman turns up now. An old woman who seems to have been flying into town on a broomstick, every now and then. She watches the place a whole day before this fellow begins, and on the night when you saw him, she steals away with him and holds a council with him—I suppose, to make her report on going off duty, and be damned to her."

By now they had met Louisa, Mrs. Sparsit, and Bitzer. Although Bounderby seems convinced that Stephen is the thief, Louisa doesn't seem to believe it, I don't think Harthouse believes it, what Mrs. Sparsit and Bitzer believe I don't know. Mrs. Sparsit's nerves have been shocked by the event and she temporarily moves in with the Bounderbys, where she begins to spend more and more time with Mr. Bounderby, occasionally resorting to tears as she caters to Bounderby's whims, sometimes playing backgammon with him, which Louisa never does, and preparing his sherry with lemon-peel and nutmeg. She also insists upon referring to Louisa as “Miss Gradgrind” by mistake of course.

In the meantime, knowing that her brother is deeply in debt, Louisa suspects Tom of stealing the money. She lies awake one night listening for her brother to come in. It is after midnight before she hears Tom enter. She goes to his upstairs room, hoping that he will confide in her.She confronts him about it, and he protests his innocence. Tom lies to Louisa, telling her that he had taken Stephen outside on the stairs that night to tell him what a good windfall he had in getting her help. However, as soon as she leaves his room, he buries his face in his pillow and begins to sob guiltily.

"Kissing her again, he turned round, drew the coverlet over his head, and lay as still as if that time had come by which she had adjured him. She stood for some time at the bedside before she slowly moved away. She stopped at the door, looked back when she had opened it, and asked him if he had called her? But he lay still, and she softly closed the door and returned to her room.

Then the wretched boy looked cautiously up and found her gone, crept out of bed, fastened his door, and threw himself upon his pillow again: tearing his hair, morosely crying, grudgingly loving her, hatefully but impenitently spurning himself, and no less hatefully and unprofitably spurning all the good in the world."



message 4: by Kim (last edited Mar 05, 2016 07:14PM) (new)

Kim I'm glad to get on to Chapter 9, perhaps it will be more cheerful, the title is "HEARING THE LAST OF IT" and begins with Mrs. Sparsit still at the Bounderby home recovering her nerves while watching every move of Louisa. She seems to hate Louisa and I don't know why. Did she want to marry Bounderby herself? Or did she want to be the only woman in his life? I think she could come live with them and make his tea and his sherry, and play games with him and Louisa wouldn't care at all, I'm not sure she'd even notice, so what about Louisa does Mrs. Sparsit hate? Dickens begins the chapter with this description of Mrs. Sparsit:

"Mrs. Sparsit, lying by to recover the tone of her nerves in Mr. Bounderby’s retreat, kept such a sharp look-out, night and day, under her Coriolanian eyebrows, that her eyes, like a couple of lighthouses on an iron-bound coast, might have warned all prudent mariners from that bold rock her Roman nose and the dark and craggy region in its neighbourhood, but for the placidity of her manner. Although it was hard to believe that her retiring for the night could be anything but a form, so severely wide awake were those classical eyes of hers, and so impossible did it seem that her rigid nose could yield to any relaxing influence, yet her manner of sitting, smoothing her uncomfortable, not to say, gritty mittens (they were constructed of a cool fabric like a meat-safe), or of ambling to unknown places of destination with her foot in her cotton stirrup, was so perfectly serene, that most observers would have been constrained to suppose her a dove, embodied by some freak of nature, in the earthly tabernacle of a bird of the hook-beaked order."

We find that she is a wonderful woman for prowling around the house. She seems to be able to be anywhere but no one sees how she gets there. She also takes a great liking to Harthouse, lucky him. I like Dickens description of Harthouse in this paragraph.

‘Your memory does me more honour than my insignificance deserves. I availed myself of your obliging hints to correct my timidity, and it is unnecessary to add that they were perfectly accurate. Mrs. Sparsit’s talent for—in fact for anything requiring accuracy—with a combination of strength of mind—and Family—is too habitually developed to admit of any question.’ He was almost falling asleep over this compliment; it took him so long to get through, and his mind wandered so much in the course of its execution."

The longer Mrs. Sparsit stays the more she attempts to seperate the husband and wife, she makes his breakfast one morning causing Bounderby to be angry because Louisa didn't get his breakfast herself or care that Mrs. Sparsit did:

‘‘What is the matter with you?’ asked Louisa, coldly surprised. ‘What has given you offence?’

‘Offence!’ repeated Bounderby. ‘Do you suppose if there was any offence given me, I shouldn’t name it, and request to have it corrected? I am a straightforward man, I believe. I don’t go beating about for side-winds.’

‘I suppose no one ever had occasion to think you too diffident, or too delicate,’ Louisa answered him composedly: ‘I have never made that objection to you, either as a child or as a woman. I don’t understand what you would have.’

‘Have?’ returned Mr. Bounderby. ‘Nothing. Otherwise, don’t you, Loo Bounderby, know thoroughly well that I, Josiah Bounderby of Coketown, would have it?’

She looked at him, as he struck the table and made the teacups ring, with a proud colour in her face that was a new change, Mr. Harthouse thought. ‘You are incomprehensible this morning,’ said Louisa. ‘Pray take no further trouble to explain yourself. I am not curious to know your meaning. What does it matter?’


I liked Louisa during this, I liked that she wasn't letting Mrs. Sparsit and Bounderby upset her and remained quite unmoved by them, but when I think of the reason she could is because nothing at all matters to her, it was sad. I would like Louisa to have some happiness in her life, something other than Tom anyway. Bounderby is better than him. On this morning Mrs. Sparsit is so overcome when Bounderby is leaving that she even kisses his hand murmuring ‘My benefactor!’ and then retired, overwhelmed with grief. However, once Bounderby is gone she shakes her fist at his portrait and says ‘Serve you right, you Noodle, and I am glad of it.’

And now leaving Bounderby and Mrs. Sparsit to do whatever it is they do, Louisa gets a message that her mother is dying and returns to her childhood home. We are told she had seldom been back since her marriage:

"Neither, as she approached her old home now, did any of the best influences of old home descend upon her. Her remembrances of home and childhood were remembrances of the drying up of every spring and fountain in her young heart as it gushed out. The golden waters were not there. They were flowing for the fertilization of the land where grapes are gathered from thorns, and figs from thistles."

Rather, she goes with a heavy, hardened kind of sorrow to find her mother rapidly sinking. As Mrs. Gradgrind gets closer to death she asks for a pen to write a letter to her husband:

‘You learnt a great deal, Louisa, and so did your brother. Ologies of all kinds from morning to night. If there is any Ology left, of any description, that has not been worn to rags in this house, all I can say is, I hope I shall never hear its name.’

‘I can hear you, mother, when you have strength to go on.’ This, to keep her from floating away.

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


She then seems to think that Louisa has given her the pen because she simply waves her hands in the air, feigning the motion of writing, not long after this she dies.

What is it that Mrs. Gradgrind wanted to ask her husband?


message 5: by Kim (new)

Kim Chapter 10 is titled "Mrs. Sparsit's Staircase" and we are back to that wonderful woman who is now imagining a staircase with Louisa descending it further every day.

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

It became the business of Mrs. Sparsit’s life, to look up at her staircase, and to watch Louisa coming down. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, sometimes several steps at one bout, sometimes stopping, never turning back. If she had once turned back, it might have been the death of Mrs. Sparsit in spleen and grief."


After several weeks at the Bounderby home, way too many weeks, Mrs. Sparsit finally returns to her apartment at the bank. On the eve of her departure, Mr. Bounderby invites her to be a weekend guest at his home coming on Saturday and staying until Monday each week at which she replies "to hear is obey". Following this invitation, she and Mr. Bounderby discuss the bank robbery. Bounderby says that Rome was not built in a day and neither will the thief be discovered in such a short period of time. He adds that if Romulus and Remus could wait, so can he, for he and they have much in common: they had had a she-wolf for a nurse; he, a she-wolf for a grandmother, saying that she didn't give any milk, only bruises. Even when he is alone with Mrs. Sparsit he still has to mention his childhood in the gutter.

Meanwhile Louisa and Harthouse discuss the robbery and Louisa says she can hardly believe Stephen could have done it. Harthouse replies:

‘My dear Louisa, then consent to receive the submissive representation of your devoted friend, who knows something of several varieties of his excellent fellow-creatures—for excellent they are, I am quite ready to believe, in spite of such little foibles as always helping themselves to what they can get hold of. This fellow talks. Well; every fellow talks. He professes morality. Well; all sorts of humbugs profess morality. From the House of Commons to the House of Correction, there is a general profession of morality, except among our people; it really is that exception which makes our people quite reviving. You saw and heard the case. Here was one of the fluffy classes pulled up extremely short by my esteemed friend Mr. Bounderby—who, as we know, is not possessed of that delicacy which would soften so tight a hand. The member of the fluffy classes was injured, exasperated, left the house grumbling, met somebody who proposed to him to go in for some share in this Bank business, went in, put something in his pocket which had nothing in it before, and relieved his mind extremely. Really he would have been an uncommon, instead of a common, fellow, if he had not availed himself of such an opportunity. Or he may have originated it altogether, if he had the cleverness.’

Louisa says she is lightened in her heart by what he has said, and Dickens tells us she is going down, down, down Mrs. Sparsit's staircase. The chapter ends with this:

"With all her deference for Mr. Bounderby as contradistinguished from his portrait, Mrs. Sparsit had not the smallest intention of interrupting the descent. Eager to see it accomplished, and yet patient, she waited for the last fall, as for the ripeness and fulness of the harvest of her hopes. Hushed in expectancy, she kept her wary gaze upon the stairs; and seldom so much as darkly shook her right mitten (with her fist in it), at the figure coming down."


message 6: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy Kim wrote: "(never trust a pipe smoker)"

Never trust a pipe smoker? Present company excluded, I hope. I have never actually met a person who smoked pipes and was in any way to be reproached. In one group I joined the other day, I even learnt that the English language has a word for "to walk around while smoking a pipe" - the verb is "to lunt", and it has a good chance of becoming one of my favourite English words.

We pipe smokers are also generally considered good and patient listeners, which is only natural because once you have lighted your pipe, you must be careful lest it should go out again, and if you put it aside too long and talk too much, it will definitely do so.

As to Mr. Harthouse and his worming himself into Louisa's confidence just for the fun of it, he definitely proves one of my favourite English sayings, "The devil makes work for idle hands."


message 7: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy Kim wrote: "I'm glad to get on to Chapter 9, perhaps it will be more cheerful, the title is "HEARING THE LAST OF IT" and begins with Mrs. Sparsit still at the Bounderby home recovering her nerves while watchin..."

I actually found Mrs. Gradgrind's death scene very moving, which is all the more surprising since up to then, Mrs. Gradgrind has always been presented as a caricuture. In this chapter, we are once more reminded of the estrangement between her and her daughter Louisa, and her statement that whenever she said something she would never hear the end of it might well show how she must have felt being surrounded by some many "learned" people in that household. This chapter really did her justice in a nice way.


message 8: by Peter (new)

Peter Kim wrote: "Dear Pickwickians,

Another week is over and we are through another installment of Hard Times just as gloomy and depressing as all the other installments have been. At least I thought they were, I ..."


This is a powerful chapter as much for what it suggests as for what it says. You are right, Tristram. In this chapter we see an altered Louisa who is slowly becoming aware not only of herself but her surroundings as well. Dickens begins to adjust our perceptions of her, and, by doing so, invites the readers to feel more empathy for her and her situation.

In addition, we have Stephen refer to Rachael to as "th' Angel o' my life." Thus, the reader sees Dickens reinforcing the role and the persona of Rachael and introducing Loiusa as a more sympathetic character.

Did anyone else find the last paragraphs of Book II chapter 6 having some tinges of Wordsworth's poem "Westminister Bridge?" As Stephen leaves Coketown there is a moment when it is bathed in a light that offers the briefest appearance of something more grand.


message 9: by Peter (new)

Peter I see Loiusa as a main focus in these chapters, and Dickens highlights her emotional dilemma with an interesting comparison. Dickens places Loiusa in the middle, much like a fulcrum, of three equally false men. First, her brother Tom used Louisa as his means to secure his job at the bank. As well, Tom uses Louisa as his personal banker to pay off his continual gambling debts. Louisa goes so far as to sell off some of her jewelry to finance his losses. The return on her investment in Tom is one of a rather telling action. We read that Tom, when discussing his sister " took to biting ... rosebuds ... and tearing them away from his teeth." This symbolic transferred violence is telling of the relationship between Tom and his sister.

Next, we have Harthouse who has no guilt or embarrassment to use the whelp Tom to help worm his way into Loiusa's attention. Harthouse has already been compared to the devil and Lucifer and this initial suggestion finds much more traction in this section. We read that Harthouse "was a ready man, and he saw, and seized, an opportunity ... of presenting her own image to her, slightly disguised as her brother." The ability to change appearances and identity is a mark of the devil. Chapter 8 gives the reader even more of the insidious character of Harthouse. We read In the forth paragraph of the chapter that Harthouse is compared to the "Devil" twice, and the idea of the devil being a person who can change his form is again highlighted. This paragraph also comments on the " kindling of red fire." Harthouse constantly smokes. If we look back at chapter 15 "Father and Daughter" we discussed Louisa's comment to her father concerning Coketown that "There seems to be nothing there, but languid and monotonous smoke. Yet when night comes, Fire bursts out, father!" Is it much of a stretch to see in these lines a comment not only about Coketown as a place, but also a metaphor for passion, both hers and Harthouse's? Harthouse is languid, but his work, the work of Lucifer, often takes patience. He is a man who would enjoy a casual brutality.

The third man in Louisa's triumvirate of men is her husband. He too is not what he seems. His life of living in the gutter and eating cabbages I feel is false, although we still await his unravelling.

All these men who in their own separate ways want to lay claim to Louisa for their own gain. As Louisa struggles to find her equilibrium we have the added disruption of Mrs. Sparsit who "had the curious propensity to call Mrs. Bounderby 'Miss. Gradgrind.

Louisa struggles to find herself, to come to terms with the conflicting currents of the men who surround her and to somehow establish her own identity. She is becoming a much more interesting character in the novel.


message 10: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 392 comments I'm thankful that I've read enough Dickens to know that his characters generally get their just desserts, and I can't wait to see what that means for Tom, Harthouse, and now also Mrs. Sparsit, who seems to be a threatening presence for Louisa. Poor Louisa really seems to have the deck stacked against her, despite her wealth and position.

I wasn't as moved by Mrs. Gradgrind's death as Tristram seemed to be, but the passage he mentioned did make me pity her: ‘You must remember, my dear, that whenever I have said anything, on any subject, I have never heard the last of it: and consequently, that I have long left off saying anything.’

I also quite liked this quote:

‘Are you in pain, dear mother?’

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

What an intriguing thing to say! Even Dickens commented that it was "a strange speech" but certainly must have had something specific in mind when he wrote it. I'd love to know what he was thinking!



message 11: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 392 comments I mentioned last week that I found it odd that we hadn't left Coketown for the country, and now we have:

Mr Bounderby had taken possession of a house and grounds, about fifteen miles from the town, and accessible within a mile or two, by a railway striding on many arches over a wild country, undermined by deserted coal-shafts, and spotted at night by fires and black shapes of stationary engines at pits’ mouths. This country, gradually softening towards the neighbourhood of Mr Bounderby’s retreat, there mellowed into a rustic landscape, golden with heath, and snowy with hawthorn in the spring of the year, and tremulous with leaves and their shadows all the summer time. The bank had foreclosed a mortgage effected on the property thus pleasantly situated, by one of the Coketown magnates, who, in his determination to make a shorter cut than usual to an enormous fortune, overspeculated himself by about two hundred thousand pounds. These accidents did sometimes happen in the best regulated families of Coketown, but the bankrupts had no connection whatever with the improvident classes.

It afforded Mr Bounderby supreme satisfaction to install himself in this snug little estate, and with demonstrative humility to grow cabbages in the flower-garden. He delighted to live, barrack-fashion, among the elegant furniture, and he bullied the very pictures with his origin. ‘Why, sir,’ he would say to a visitor, ‘I am told that Nickits,’ the late owner, ‘gave seven hundred pound for that Seabeach. Now, to be plain with you, if I ever, in the whole course of my life, take seven looks at it, at a hundred pound a look, it will be as much as I shall do. No, by George! I don’t forget that I am Josiah Bounderby of Coketown. For years upon years, the only pictures in my possession, or that I could have got into my possession, by any means, unless I stole ’em, were the engravings of a man shaving himself in a boot, on the blacking bottles that I was overjoyed to use in cleaning boots with, and that I sold when they were empty for a farthing apiece, and glad to get it!’


It's fascinating to me that this "snug little estate" on a "rustic landscape" is not the retreat we would hope and expect it to be. Instead, it just gives Bounderby more excuses to pontificate.

You see this place; you know what sort of a place it is; you are aware that there’s not a completer place of its size in this kingdom or elsewhere — I don’t care where — and here, got into the middle of it, like a maggot into a nut, is Josiah Bounderby.

For the love of God, just shut up already!!

It's also in this deceptively tranquil location that the spoiled and bored Harthouse decides to start manipulating Louisa (undoubtedly between torturing puppies and shooting songbirds).

It was among the leafy shadows of this retirement, in the long sultry summer days, that Mr Harthouse began to prove the face which had set him wondering when he first saw it, and to try if it would change for him.

One wonders what the point of leaving Coketown is.


message 12: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 392 comments A new name to consider - Mrs. Pegler. The first thing to pop into my mind was "peg leg" but I don't see any relevance there. There's also the similarity between the name Pegler and another Dickens character, Peggotty, who is a warm and caring grandmotherly figure in David Copperfield.

Any other thoughts?


message 13: by Suzy (new)

Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) I have finished the book and will go back to these chapters to review so I can comment. I'm dipping in to ask if anyone else has listened to the audiobook narrated by the excellent Simon Prebble. He really brought the book to life for me, but I am glad I have a hard copy to refer to in order to really absorb the story and characters.


message 14: by Peter (last edited Mar 07, 2016 01:02PM) (new)

Peter Mary Lou wrote: "A new name to consider - Mrs. Pegler. The first thing to pop into my mind was "peg leg" but I don't see any relevance there. There's also the similarity between the name Pegler and another Dickens ..."

Hi Mary Lou

I too have been puzzling over the name Pegler and have not come up with anything yet. Could it be Dickens actually used a name in this book without any secondary symbolic or humourous intent?

I enjoyed your comments on Bounderby's new home, and especially its location. A move to the country fits in with the historical reality of the time. The new industrial class often desired to mimic the titled classes, and a home in the country would be in keeping with one's new-founded status. Naturally, Bounderby's "poor me" yammering helps to provide the reader with more of his annoying character traits, but it does also, I think, demonstrate his desire to prove how far he has come in society. Personally, I wish he would go outside and sleep in his countryside cabbage patch.


message 15: by Kim (new)

Kim Here is an illustration by Harry French for this week.


"'Mrs. Bounderby, I Esteem It A Most Fortunate Accident That I Find You Alone Here.'"

Part II, Chapter 7

Harry French

This illustration for Dickens's Hard Times for These Times in the British Household Edition depicts Louisa and Harthouse "among the leafy shadows of retirement" in the garden at Bounderby's country estate.


message 16: by Kim (new)

Kim Harry French again



"Left Alone With Her Mother, Louisa Saw Her Lying With An Awful Lull Upon Her Face"

Part II, Chapter 10

Harry French

Illustration for Dickens's Hard Times for These Times in the British Household Edition.

Commentary:

"Although French has labeled the plate "Left Alone With Her Mother, Louisa Saw Her Lying With An Awful Lull Upon Her Face", the moment realized seems to be a little later in the conversation, when Mrs. Gradgrind demands a pen so that she can write the name of something important that her husband has forgotten — "not an Ology at all" — but presumably "sympathy" or "affection." While Dickens's Mrs. Gradgrind is confused and weak, French's version, with the left hand raised in admonition, seems focused and alert. In French's plate it is implied that she will become one not with "the dread solemnity of the sages and patriarchs" but rather with the comforting shades of night outside her window: the trees and grass of the small cemetery, marked by a single, white headstone. The physical situation of Stone Lodge on a moor a mile or two outside Coketown and possessing "a lawn and garden and an infant avenue, all ruled straight like a botanical account-book" does not quite accord with the tranquil vista that serves as a memento mori."


message 17: by Kim (new)

Kim This illustration is by Charles S. Reinhart:



"Rachael, Will You Tell Him -- For You Know How, Without Offense -- That This Is Freely His, To Help Him on His Way?"

Part II, Chapter 6

Charles S. Reinhart

This plate illustrates Book Two, Chapter Six, "Fading Away," in Charles Dickens's Hard Times, which appeared in American Household Edition, 1870.

Commentary:

"In Stephen's rooms, the sacramental tea table (the identical, three-legged model shown and described in the earlier scene in that room) is spread for a disconsolate Rachael and an enquiring Louisa, purse in hand, offering her charity to the alienated Stephen, and a melancholy, detached Tom sitting on the bed which was the location of a life-and-death drama. For the first time in her life, Dickens comments, Louisa finds herself in the home of one of the thousands of Coketown hands (whose labor has made her father and her husband rich), even though she has walked among them all her life. Shortly, Tom is to take advantage of Stephen's being rejected by both men and masters to frame him for the impending "robbery."

As in the text, Stephen has lit the candle and "set out his little tea-board" with teapot, bread, sugar, butter, and only two cups, for "so large a party necessitated the borrowing of a cup" for the first guest, Mrs. Pegler, who has felt compelled to hide in a corner (perhaps, upper-right in Reinhart's plate) when her daughter-in-law arrives. Rachael, as in the text, stands apart, holding both her shawl and bonnet. In contrast to Rachael's homely skirt and blouse, Louisa wears a multi-layered skirt with a bustle-back. Reinhart depicts Stephen as Dickens describes him only minutes before the dialogue in the caption: "Stephen had remained quietly attentive in his usual thoughtful attitude, with his chin in his hand". Although the caption indicates she is talking to Rachael, Rachael is turned away, and Stephen directs his thoughtful gaze at the tea-table. Tom is still on the bed, swinging one leg listlessly, "and sucking his walking-stick with sufficient unconcern" -- in fact, in three of Reinhart's four representations of him Tom is sucking on something (a straw, a cigar, or his cane), subtly suggesting his infantile self-absorption."



message 18: by Kim (new)

Kim Another by Charles S. Reinhart



"Oh, Tom! Tell Me the Truth!"

Part II, Chapter 8

Charles S. Reinhart.

This plate illustrates Book Two, Chapter Eight, "Explosion," in Charles Dickens's Hard Times, which appeared in American Household Edition, 1870.

Commentary

"Louisa, in the posture of the fallen woman from melodrama, pleads with Tom (whom she gives a knowing look) to tell her the truth about the bank robbery. The time, as the blackness of the sky with just a hint of light on the horizon, is the wee hours of the morning; as the text below comments, "It was too dark for either to see the other's face", but we, God-like viewers and readers, can see Louisa's reasonably well. Hair down and dressed (apparently) in a nightgown and "loose robe", she is keeling beside the bed, almost in prayer, her hands clutching Tom's right hand, rather than, as in the text, disposing her arms about his neck, "his face to hers." Thus, Reinhart has censored slightly the text he is illustrating, shying away from depicting the intensity of Louisa's love for her brother. On the other hand, her dressing gown is anything but "loose" around the bodice."


message 19: by Kim (new)

Kim When I'm looking for illustrations I often find illustrations like this one. Does anyone know who these people are supposed to be? I can't find the artist yet.




message 20: by Peter (new)

Peter Kim wrote: "Another by Charles S. Reinhart

"Oh, Tom! Tell Me the Truth!"

Part II, Chapter 8

Charles S. Reinhart.

This plate illustrates Book Two, Chapter Eight, "Explosion," in Charles Dickens's Hard Tim..."


Kim: I found this week's illustrations that you provided to be remarkable. To me, both French and Reinhart have captured the essence of the scenes they are depicting with sensitivity and insight. I like Reinhart's better because they are more detailed and symbolic. While I am curious how H. K. Browne would have illustrated HT, I am not Kyding when I compliment French and Reinhart.

As always, thank you for giving us the illustrations.


message 21: by Suzy (last edited Mar 07, 2016 01:18PM) (new)

Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) Kim wrote: "When I'm looking for illustrations I often find illustrations like this one. Does anyone know who these people are supposed to be? I can't find the artist yet.

"


This looks like the circus group to me. I can't think of any other situation where that many people are gathered and with that many children. Unless it's meant to depict how "the hands" lived in Coketown.

Thanks again for the illustrations, Kim.


message 22: by Peter (new)

Peter Kim

Here is an illustration of Wilkie's painting titled "Distaining for Rent" which depicts a landlord evicting his tenants. It's not the answer to your question but the picture is rather similar.

https://www.nationalgalleries.org/col...


message 23: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2034 comments Does anybody have any doubts about who rifled Tom's safe?

I didn't think so.

His plot to implicate Blackpool is so dirty that I hope he not only gets his comeuppance, but is tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail to boot. And then is punished.

Question: when, as she surely will, Louisa finds out about this, will she turn on Tom, or will she still love and believe in him?


message 24: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 392 comments Everyman wrote: "Does anybody have any doubts about who rifled Tom's safe?

I didn't think so.

His plot to implicate Blackpool is so dirty that I hope he not only gets his comeuppance, but is tarred and feathered..."


Good question, Everyman. It would serve him right if Louisa cut all ties with Tom, but unless she finds another outlet for her more tender side, I imagine she'll forgive him.

As to the artwork portraying the group of people, I also thought it was the circus troupe, which would indicate that the illustrator is also in the Spaniel camp when it comes to Merrylegs. But what is hanging in the background, and what is the man doing with it? I can't figure it out. Assuming we're correct, it seems an odd choice for the book cover, as that group has had very little to do with the meat of the story -- at least so far.

Kim - you're so good about posting the artwork. Can you send me a private message and let me know how you post pictures here? I've tried and haven't been able to do it for some reason. Only if you have time, and it's not too much trouble. Thanks.


message 25: by Suzy (new)

Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) Mary Lou wrote: "Everyman wrote: "Does anybody have any doubts about who rifled Tom's safe?

I didn't think so.

His plot to implicate Blackpool is so dirty that I hope he not only gets his comeuppance, but is tar..."


Actually, I would like to know the answer to that also! How to post pictures.

Regarding the circus not being about the meat of the story, some covers for Hard Times depict Mr. Gradgrind catching Louisa and Tom peeking in on the circus, which happens in one of the very early chapters. I think it hearkens to the major point of tension in this book - the battle between facts and fancy, or a life of strictly work and a more human approach to living.


message 26: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2034 comments Kim wrote: "When I'm looking for illustrations I often find illustrations like this one. Does anyone know who these people are supposed to be? I can't find the artist yet.

"


It could be for an episode we haven't gotten to yet. Doesn't seem to me to be Merrylegs, because if if were where's Sissy's father, and who is the baby?


message 27: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2034 comments Suzy wrote: "I think it hearkens to the major point of tension in this book - the battle between facts and fancy, or a life of strictly work and a more human approach to living. ."

Nice observation well put.


message 28: by Kim (new)

Kim Everyman wrote: "Kim wrote: "It could be for an episode we haven't gotten to yet..."

True, I didn't think of that.


message 29: by Kim (new)

Kim From John Forster's "The Life of Charles Dickens".

"I wish you would look" (20th of January 1854) "at the enclosed titles for the H. W. story, between this and two o'clock or so, when I will call. It is my usual day, you observe, on which I have jotted them down—Friday! It seems to me that there are three very good ones among them. I should like to know whether you hit upon the same." On the paper enclosed was written: 1. According to Cocker. 2. Prove it. 3. Stubborn Things. 4. Mr. Gradgrind's Facts. 5. The Grindstone. 6. Hard Times. 7. Two and Two are Four. 8. Something Tangible. 9. Our Hard-headed Friend. 10. Rust and Dust. 11. Simple Arithmetic. 12. A Matter of Calculation. 13. A Mere Question of Figures. 14. The Gradgrind Philosophy.[180] The three selected by me were 2, 6, and 11; the three that were his own favourites were 6, 13, and 14; and as 6 had been chosen by both, that title was taken."


message 30: by Peter (new)

Peter Kim wrote: "From John Forster's "The Life of Charles Dickens".

"I wish you would look" (20th of January 1854) "at the enclosed titles for the H. W. story, between this and two o'clock or so, when I will call...."


Democracy at its best.


message 31: by Suzy (new)

Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) Kim wrote: "From John Forster's "The Life of Charles Dickens".

"I wish you would look" (20th of January 1854) "at the enclosed titles for the H. W. story, between this and two o'clock or so, when I will call...."


Very fun to see this!


message 32: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Winn | 364 comments Kim wrote: "Dear Pickwickians,

Rachael burst into tears. ‘I didn’t seek it of him, poor lad. I prayed him to avoid trouble for his own good, little thinking he’d come to it through me. But I know he’d die a hundred deaths, ere ever he’d break his word. I know that of him well.’

I'm not sure what trouble she thought it would get him into joining the union unless she expects them all to lose their jobs over it. ..."


Yes, I found this part a bit contrived, Kim. It seemed that Stephen was obeying the letter of his promise to Rachael, rather than the spirit of it, with the result that he ends up in more trouble, ostracized by his fellow workers.

However, I enjoyed the coincidence that the old woman, Mrs. Pegler, gets her wish of seeing Mrs. Bounderby, even closer than she imagined.

And I found the end of this chapter touching, with old Stephen setting off on the road, "to be beginning like a boy this summer morning!"


message 33: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Winn | 364 comments Peter wrote: "We read that Tom, when discussing his sister " took to biting ... rosebuds ... and tearing them away from his teeth." This symbolic transferred violence is telling of the relationship between Tom and his sister...."

I found this scene very vivid, Peter. I'm enjoying the imagery in this novel. On a darkly comic note, I loved this description of Mrs. Sparsit: ...not to be suspected of dropping over the bannisters or sliding down them, yet her extraordinary facility of locomotion suggested the wild idea. Sort of an evil twin of Mary Poppins. And, considering the staircase she is constructing for Louisa to descend, a little ironic that she is going down them so rapidly herself!

As Louisa struggles to find her equilibrium we have the added disruption of Mrs. Sparsit who "had the curious propensity to call Mrs. Bounderby 'Miss. Gradgrind.

Yes, and Bounderby is still calling her "Tom Gradgrind's daughter"...


message 34: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Winn | 364 comments Mary Lou wrote: "I mentioned last week that I found it odd that we hadn't left Coketown for the country, and now we have:

You see this place; you know what sort of a place it is; you are aware that there’s not a completer place of its size in this kingdom or elsewhere — I don’t care where — and here, got into the middle of it, like a maggot into a nut, is Josiah Bounderby. "


What a remarkable thing to say about himself, even for Bounderby!

Speaking of names, Nickits rings a bell... isn't it close to the name of Charlie's father, the debt-collector (I've forgotten the name of his position, too) in Bleak House? I'm not sure when it took on this slang meaning, but it's an interesting association that 'nick' means to steal, arrest, and jail.


message 35: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Winn | 364 comments Peter wrote: "Mary Lou wrote: "A new name to consider - Mrs. Pegler. The first thing to pop into my mind was "peg leg" but I don't see any relevance there. There's also the similarity between the name Pegler and..."

Sounds like 'pedlar'? A similar occupation to another old woman, perhaps?


message 36: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Winn | 364 comments Kim wrote: "Harry French again

Commentary:

"Although French has labeled the plate "Left Alone With Her Mother, Louisa Saw Her Lying With An Awful Lull Upon Her Face", the moment realized seems to be a little later in the conversation, when Mrs. Gradgrind demands a pen so that she can write the name of something important that her husband has forgotten — "not an Ology at all" — but presumably "sympathy" or "affection." "


Like Tristram, I was moved by Mrs. Gradgrind's death, and was glad she rose above her caricature. I assumed the word she was searching for, was simpler than this commentator suggests -- love.
I was also glad that the sympathy Louisa shared with Sissy, has developed with young Jane.


message 37: by Kim (new)

Kim Vanessa wrote: "Speaking of names, Nickits rings a bell... isn't it close to the name of Charlie's father, the debt-collector"

Yes Vanessa, you are right, I just went back and checked and Charley's father was named Neckett, he was a debt collector – called "Coavinses" by debtor Harold Skimpole because he works for that business firm.


message 38: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy Vanessa wrote: "I assumed the word she was searching for, was simpler than this commentator suggests -- love."

Absolutely, Vanessa! In the same vein, I like the illustration by French very much that Kim posted in message no 16 because, as the comment says, Mrs. Gradgrind is presented like a woman with a purpose and not like a feeble-minded person. Although, to be quite honest, her profile made me think of Mrs. Sparsit at first and I started thinking and thinking of a scene when Mrs. Sparsit was ill and Louisa looking after her.


message 39: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy Vanessa wrote: "Mary Lou wrote: "I mentioned last week that I found it odd that we hadn't left Coketown for the country, and now we have:

You see this place; you know what sort of a place it is; you are aware th..."


According to the invaluable Dictionary of Historical Slang by Eric Partridge, "to nick" in the sense of "to steal, to purloin" was used from the early 19th century on, whereas it dates back to the 16th century in its meaning of "to cheat, to defraud". In the 19th century people also started using it as a slang word for "to arrest". So Dickens could well have been aware of the associations you suggested.


message 40: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy Peter wrote: "Kim wrote: "From John Forster's "The Life of Charles Dickens".

"I wish you would look" (20th of January 1854) "at the enclosed titles for the H. W. story, between this and two o'clock or so, when ..."


It is quite democratic, although I like "Simple Arithmetic" quite a lot. However, "Hard Times" is broader in its scope and includes both the arid philosophy of Gradgrind and the utilitarians as well as the dismal living conditions in industrial towns like Coketown.


message 41: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 392 comments Tristram wrote: "According to the invaluable Dictionary of Historical Slang by Eric Partridge..."

What a great resource to have! Thanks for alerting us to it.


message 42: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy You're welcome, Mary Lou! It's through the Pickwick Club and some of our weekly discussions that I remembered having this book on shelf - and I actually quite enjoy looking up some of the expressions.


message 43: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Winn | 364 comments Yes, good to know -- thanks, Tristram, both for the book and for looking up 'nick'. It puts an interesting spin on bankruptcy for the wealthy. I like the dry distinction Dickens made between bankrupts and the 'improvident classes'.


message 44: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2034 comments Tristram wrote: "You're welcome, Mary Lou! It's through the Pickwick Club and some of our weekly discussions that I remembered having this book on shelf - and I actually quite enjoy looking up some of the expressions."

It is a fun book. I have my father's copy, don't know whether there's a more recent edition, but this copy is from 1961.


back to top