“There is a wisdom of the head, and… there is a wisdom of the heart.”
Coketown is dominated by facts; using the model of Utilitarian, Mr Thomas Gradgrind feeds his family and pupils with facts and nothing else; banning fancy from the mind of the young. As a consequence, his daughter Louisa marries a loveless businessman, Mr Bounderby; and his son Tom falls into gambling and thievery. As they cross paths with circus-raised Sissy and victimised weaver Stephen, Mr Gradgrind is forced to recognise that materialism and mechanization, solely, is not the path to happiness.
This novel is not Dickens best work. It’s well paced and it doesn’t drag, but I missed the richness of detail in the description of places and characters. There wasn’t much depth to the story, and it left me with this unsatisfactory feeling. However, this book also had some pleasant aspects.
First of all, Dickens’ characterisation is superb. I was delighted by his use of “nomen est omen”; which brought forth the most amusing names–McChokumchild ;). The characters are colourful, and presumably a bit stereotypical. However, it’s this strong depiction of certain dispositions, that makes them stand-out and unforgettable. They could never be real people, but they do get the message across.
Second, I love Dickens use of Utilitarianism; a philosophy that was very influential during the Victorian era. It’s very raw and honest, but by using Gradgrind and Bounderby as the embodiment of this hedonistic ideology against the open-minded and free-spirited circus members, Dickens pleads for a balance between fact and fancy. Neither end of the spectrum will make you happy, as the story of Louisa and Sissy illustrate.
Third, the symbols and motifs. Dickens is a true master when it comes to down to creating connections. The smoke and Bounderby, Louisa and the fire, and time–natural vs mechanized, it’s a pleasure to discover one of these gems.
Last, Mrs Sparsit staircase scéne. With all my heart, I enjoyed the chapters relating to this topic a lot; and it’s for this reason alone that I’d urge everyone to pick up this book. Also, don’t let Dickens usually long books (+1000 pages) scare you away. Counting 368, this is one of his shortest novels out there.
(P.S. Am I the only who thought of “Little Fires Everywhere” – by Celeste Ng when reading this story? )
- Title: Hard Times
- Author: Charles Dickens
- Published: 1854
- Pages: 368
- Rating: 3/5
- Get your copy here!