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Forum nameReading Challenges, 2010
Topic subject25. Hard Times by Charles Dickens
Topic URLhttp://www.fmwriters.com/community/dc/dcboard.php?az=show_topic&forum=505&topic_id=6&mesg_id=554
554, 25. Hard Times by Charles Dickens
Posted by alissaameth, Wed Mar-31-10 10:12 PM
Fiction, 217 pages.

Hard Times, one of Dickens's shorter works, tells about a few key people who live in Coketown--a factory town, a place of Fact. The Gradgrind family is raised by the father's philosophy of education: Fact, Fact, Fact, and don't you dare think of Fancy. Similarly, the "self-made man" Mr. Bounderby, a friend of Gradgrind's, dismisses Fancy because it never helped him when he was growing up in the gutter. The story essentially tells about the consequences of this ideology on the children who are raised under it. (E.g. the "dumb" girl that was raised in a circus is the most compassionate and warm, whereas the Gradgrind kids have had all happiness sucked out of them.) There is a sub-plot about one of the factory Hands who seeks a divorce, but finds that only the rich can afford divorces. This sub-plot becomes more and more integrated with the main plot as the story goes on and the characters cross paths.

Some themes: education, Fact vs. Fancy, childhood, unhappy marriages, factory work (and unionizing)... It's a rich book, and makes me think about many different subjects as I'm reading. Since I am studying to be a teacher, I was particularly interested in its portrayal of education.

This was my 3rd or 4th reading of this novel. I absolutely love it! I'll probably re-read it again in the future. When I was reading it this time, I came across several sentences that I remembered reading and loving before, and they still tickle me. The first one comes in early on, in the third chapter: "If the greedy little Gradgrinds grasped at more than this, what was it for good gracious goodness' sake, that the greedy little Gradgrinds grasped it!" People that I read this to don't seem to think it's good art, but it's so funny! Of course, the whole novel isn't written like this. (Though there are a couple of characters with difficult-to-read accents.) The second sentence that I remembered vividly is: "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..." It's funny!

However, one thing I admire about this novel is that it is humorous, but it is also heart-breaking. Look at the title! There are two unhappy marriages in it. Louisa Gradgrind, one of the main characters, is a tragic figure. Her brother, though portrayed less sympathetically, also breaks my heart. When the father realizes that his children never had a childish childhood, he regrets what he's done. So while some parts of it are written with a somewhat flippant (and charming) air, I never get the sense that the narrator is just trying to think of clever rhymes. Rather, there is a gripping substance to the story itself, that isn't lost by introducing a sentence with 15 alliterative Gs in it.

Towards the end of this novel, I was thinking about how I could see Dickens using different literary techniques. For instance, at the very end he tells the reader what ends up happening in the characters' futures by saying something along the lines of: "...and so-and-so thought about futurity. But how far ahead could he see? Could he see that he would one day bla bla bla...? It would be so." I found myself thinking, "Maybe this is something I could use some time." I don't mean this in a demeaning way (because I love the novel), but I think the mechanics are more readily noticed. Some stories I read and think "how did the author do that!?" But in this one, I could pinpoint more. (However, that might be because I've read it 3-4 times, and studied it twice in different classes. I see more in it every time.)

This is the only work I've read by Dickens. Since I love it so much, I think I should read more of his work! In my British Literature class right now, I get the sense that many of the students don't like this novel because it's "slow and boring." It's not a super-fast paced adventure novel, but I never feel like it's stuck in one place, personally. I love the characters, and will definitely be returning to them in the future. Yes, I really must read more Dickens.