Written by Charles Dickens

Publisher: Bradbury & Evans
Pages: 353
Genre: Classics
Published: 1854-08-01
Original Language: English

"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."

Read from 2023-03-17 to 2023-04-06
Read in English
Rating: 3/5
Review: For quite a while, David Copperfield was my favourite book. So one could say that I had… Great Expectations… of Hard Times. However, whereas Copperfield drew me in and immersed me in the universe of the story, Hard Times never did.

In this case I think the problem I had with it is pretty clear: it’s too short. Or, rather, it ended too quickly, right when I started feeling engaged with what was going on. If Hard Times had been a sequel, or a second part, to a book where the characters and surroundings had already been established, I think I would have been fine with it.

We get dropped straight into the action of children being educated according to a very particular idea Mr. Gradgrind has of what is and isn’t an appropriate way for children to think. We meet Lou, Sissy, and Tom, integral characters we will follow through the story.

Unfortunately, we get dropped a little too much into the action for my taste - the characters are great, or, rather, end up being great, but they aren’t really established before the story starts happening to them. This made it a very slow read for me: I had to get to know the characters while also keeping up with what was happening to them, and what I should feel about it. Possible, yes, but the way the story was told from the start didn’t do much for me in terms of establishing the characters. I sat with the feeling that I was already expected to know them.

By the third and final part of the book, I was finally able to keep up with it, and properly care about it, and I enjoyed the ending a lot. I then wished that the book had gone on - that the summaries given in the epilogue were actually written out as further books.

Hard Times is a solid story, and I’m sure it’s worth a re-read, and that I would enjoy the start of it much more if I did. As far as Dickens and Myself goes, I think the longer books might be more for me. Fortunately, that seems to cover the rest of his bibliography.