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Hard Times
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The Dickens Project - Archives > Hard Times, Part III, Chapters 6 - The End

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message 1: by Zulfiya (last edited Oct 29, 2014 03:59PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments It is late, but it is finally here - I definitely mean the post. Things just started slowing down for me as today is the first day when I do not have to do anything after my classes are over. I plan to catch up with other reading projects.

As for Hard Times, I finished listening to it nearly ten days ago, but physically had no chance to post anything reasonable or interesting to discuss.

Scores of boxes are still unpacked, but I fished out all the books I will need in the nearest future :-)

Now, Hard Times business.

Things are resolved, but are not resolved in the traditional Dickensian way. There is no ever happy after, there are no happy meetings between long lost parents and children. Villains are punished in the way they are usually punished, and the book leaves an impression of something that has not been finished yet. It started inauspiciously and it finished inauspiciously.

What are your thoughts about this part specifically and the book in general.

It seems to me that Dickens actually was trying to tackle some of the edgiest topics in literature in Victorian literature - abuse, lack of emotional attachment when parenting (a typical British slogan "Children should be seen but not heard" is under a certain criticism in this novel), drinking and abusive women, but the elements of the novel did not click well together.

The other pet peeve is Stephen, who is slightly idolized by Dickens and even suffers more than anyone else in the novel, but his role as the "redeemer" did not come as clear-cut and fleshed out as it could have been. On the other hand, no one can accuse Dickens of being indifferent and unsympathetic.

I also see how dysfunctional many of his families are becoming in his later novels. It seems that his hapless family life has something to do with his pessimism.

I believe this novel had more potential than Barnaby Rudge, but BR had very touching emotional moments while Hard Times was the most detached novel from me as a reader. On the plus side, this novel is often praised as the one that exposed a number of social ills, and in this aspect it is quite revolutionary.

message 2: by Robin P, Moderator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Robin P | 2065 comments Mod
I agree with all your comments, Zulfiya. As far as somewhat positive outcomes, Gradgrind learns a lesson and asks for forgiveness, and Louisa gets away from Bounderby. Bounderby loses all his audience, since Gradgrind no longer agrees with him and Mrs. Sparsit leaves. Tom is able to escape abroad, where I imagine his family will send him money, since he probably will never amount to anything.

But I was disappointed that Cissy's father turned out to have a sad end. I wondered if Gradgrind wanted to marry Cissy. Of course, he's way too old but maybe no more so than Bounderby, or than John Jarndyce in relation to Esther in BH.

Stephen definitely has a Christlike image. He refuses to hate anyone or blame anyone or even to participate with the union. This makes him rather hard to identify with. I wonder if readers found his death touching, as they did for Little Nell.

No one gets married at the end of this book and no children are born (the classic happy endings).

Helen_in_the_uk Robin wrote: "Stephen definitely has a Christlike image. He refuses to hate anyone or blame anyone or even to participate with the union. This makes him rather hard to identify with..."

Great point Robin - also Stephen's death occurs just after he is released from Old Hell Shaft. The description of which is a very stark contrast to the beauty of the surrounding countryside that is described in detail prior to his discovery. However, Stephen's death only seems to have a marked inpact on Rachel.

I liked the way Dickens summed up the futures of the main characters, but left it a little open for the reader to decide if this is really how their histories would end.

This is only my second Dickens novel, so I'm a mere beginner at this, but I agree with those in an earlier thread who called this a novella or a sketch for a larger novel. Interesting characters, but they are not explored thoroughly enough to make this a great book.

message 4: by Lynnm (last edited Oct 31, 2014 06:55PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lynnm | 3027 comments I'm not sure if Dickens is directly considering parenting. I felt that he was using their relationship to talk about the negative affects of not using and cultivating our creative side and nurturing our emotional lives.

Again, and I know I'm going against the overall opinion here, but I didn't find Dickens detached. It works well with the cold, unemotional side of business. I can tell it's a Friday night after a long, difficult week at school - I'm a bit silly - as I typed that I immediately thought of Meg Ryan telling Tom Hanks in "You've Got Mail" that he had a cash register for a heart. :-)

Stephen, of course, had to die. I didn't think of him as a "redeemer." I thought of him more as a martyr. It reminded me of a little known novel that came out in the 1920s in the U.S. about the Italian-American immigrant experience...Pietro Di Donato's "Christ in Concrete." He also talks about how workers die to help build the country, but more importantly, how workers are exploited in unsafe conditions in the service of wealthy businessmen. The owners get rich, and the workers die.

I enjoyed the novel. Far better than I thought that I would, only remembering that I didn't like it when I read it in high school.

Hedi | 953 comments So, finally I am also able to write some comments. I had finished the book, but went on a business trip when you, Zulfiya, opened the post.

I do agree with Zulfiya's opening comments as well and am still a little disconnected with the book. It was not a typical Dickens as you have all mentioned, the characters were interesting, but not very deep, there were no happy endings, and even some of the solutions in the end seemed lacking something. That is maybe my issue with this novel, it has been a feeling of lack of something without being able to tell what exactly it was/ is.
Could it be the lack of comical situations that make you smile or the poetic descriptions that sound like a poem, or the more elaborated characters? I still think it was a nice book, but it just does not seem to be what I had expected. I was a little disappointed about the social content/ hardships in the book. I think I had expected something more in the line with Gaskell's North and South. And maybe it was just the high expectation after David Copperfield and Bleak House and his other long novels that made me feel this way. Had the book been by another author I might have viewed it differently.
I am now very curious with regards to Little Dorrit, which I have never read before. Will that novel pick up where Dickens left off with Bleak House? Was Hard Times just an episode in his career trying out a different style?
I still have to read the introduction by Philip Collins which is included in my Everyman's Library edition. Maybe it will give me some more insight.

Lynnm, I agree with you that Stephen became a kind of martyr and he actually reminded me a little of Little Nell in TOCS.

Hedi | 953 comments An additional thought I have forgotten.
It seems that Dickens rather shows the real world in this novel with no escapes, no happy ending and the only way out for Louisa is to get separated and stay at her father's for the rest of her life.
We have discussed in previous readings that Dickens often gave his characters the ending they deserved, e.g. the evil ones die, the good ones get their happily ever after. Here it is different, even Tom who is more of the bad guy does not have to face justice for his robbery and there is no reunion - as mentioned above - for Sissy and her father.

Lynnm | 3027 comments Hedi wrote: "An additional thought I have forgotten.
It seems that Dickens rather shows the real world in this novel with no escapes, no happy ending and the only way out for Louisa is to get separated and sta..."

Hedi - that's a great point - the characters don't get what they deserve (especially Tom), and that is different for a Dickens' novel. I didn't think of that.

Renee M | 747 comments It's a bit like Dickens trying on some new clothes, and adjusting to the awkwardness of them. Perhaps he'd gotten tired of his usual style or wanted to take his talent in a new direction. I've heard it said ;perhaps here) that Hard Times was a pivotal novel that marks the beginning of a darker trend. I definitely found this to be a disappointing novel after David Copperfield and Bleak House, both if which I adored. But I know I loved Great Expectations, which is still to come, so I know Dickens finally found a way to make the new style work for him.

Hedi | 953 comments An interesting thing I read in the introduction of my edition and had not been aware of any more is that Dickens actually wanted to have a break from writing after Bleak House. He got urged to write in order to increase the sales of Household Works, which appeared on a weekly basis. So I think he was quite exhausted when he wrote this novel in addition to his privately rather unsatisfying situation and had to cope with weekly instead of monthly installments as well as much less room in the actual paper. The latter might explain the relative shortness of the novel. Evidently, he complained actually about that. ;-)
So it seems that this was a literally exceptional novel.

message 10: by Emma (new) - rated it 3 stars

Emma (emmalaybourn) | 298 comments Hedi wrote: "An interesting thing I read in the introduction of my edition and had not been aware of any more is that Dickens actually wanted to have a break from writing after Bleak House..."

That would explain the rather downbeat nature of the book. Dickens was also writing about an area of England and a way of life (in Lancashire factory towns) unfamiliar to him, which might account for the unconvincing thinness of the plot concerning Stephen's ostracism.

Lynnm | 3027 comments Hedi wrote: "An interesting thing I read in the introduction of my edition and had not been aware of any more is that Dickens actually wanted to have a break from writing after Bleak House. He got urged to writ..."

That is interesting. Explains the shortness of the novel if the paper wouldn't let him write in his usual lengthy style. Must have been frustrating for him. Although, while we complained of its shortness, most novels aren't as long as Dickens' usual length - 500-800 pages - and still manage to get the job done. :-)

Renee M | 747 comments I wondering if I would have liked this better if I didn't know it was written by Dickens and therefore had expectations. But I still think I would compare it to other 19th Century authors that I like, and find it lacking. I really hope Little Dorrit is better. I need something I can sink my teeth into!

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Guys, I am so sorry I have been slow for the last three weeks. The move into a new house and new place was eventful, and I ended up being in a wreck with my things, knees, and shins bruised to the point of taking a sick leave for a week and unable to do anything intelligent except watching some TV shows on Netflix and Amazon prime and falling asleep because of the pain medications.

I am not fully recovered yet, but my head seems to be back to reading and posting business.

I enjoyed reading everyone's comment, and your insight into some of the event was truly illuminating.
I know this novel was not his best, but still this one was worth reading. Besides, we all see his transformation and why he occasionally becomes more and more critical about certain things and why happy ends seem to be disappearing in his novels.

Now we have two more Christmas stories to read, but we will be reading only one this November - December, and then we will be ready for Little Dorrit. New Year - new novel

I will split this Christmas tale into two or three parts, and then we will be ready to go. I will post the schedule ASAP. Maybe even later tonight.

Lynnm | 3027 comments Zulfiya - sorry to hear that! But glad that you are doing better.

Moving is awful. And setting things up is only slightly less awful. And home renovations are just as bad. I used to love those home shows. Now, after doing some major renovations myself, I don't think anything about home improvement is fun, and turn the channel.

The only good thing is the final result. But it takes a few months for it to kick in after all it took to get there.

Renee M | 747 comments Oh! So sorry to hear about your accident. How miserable! And at such an awkward time. :(
Glad to hear you're at least on the mend.

message 16: by Hedi (new) - rated it 3 stars

Hedi | 953 comments Zulfiya, sorry to hear about your condition. I really hope you are feeling better soon. Moving is not so easy...

message 17: by Frances, Moderator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Frances (francesab) | 1799 comments Mod
Great comments all, I also found this novel to be an interesting commentary on parenting in the Industrial age. While initially Gradgrind seems willing to sacrifice his daughter on the altar of reason and science, he does seem to have a change of heart at the end of the novel, both in receiving and supporting Louisa when she leaves her husband and in his changed approach to parenting his younger daughter.

I agree that this novel was much less satisfying than earlier (and, I hope, later) novels an that the various threads never seemed to gel into a complete whole at the end. However an interesting window into some of the issues of the Industrial Revolution.

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