Facts. Is there anything more important or solid in life than facts? Well, yes. And unfortunately, when one only considers facts, rather than emotions, beliefs and personalities, than one ends up in a pickle. And by pickle I mean a daughter married to a foul older man, and a son who doesn’t give a damn about the law.
Which is practically what Charles Dickens is trying to teach us in his novel, Hard Times. Or something like that *cough cough*.
Set at the beginning of the 19th century, Hard Times follows the life of Thomas Gradgrind, a man consumed with facts and little else. He does not have time for imagination, wonderment or emotions. And thus, that is the way his children are raised. Unfortunately, his two oldest children, Tom and Louisa, both feel repressed by their father’s strictness, and each take dramatically different paths through their lives. Dutiful Louisa marries Mr Bounderby, a boastful and apparently ‘self-made’ man – yet she later pays the consequences of her marriage when she falls in love with another man; while Tom breaks the law in order to sustain a terrible habit.
Known for his commentary on social injustices of the 19th century, Charles Dickens stays true to form in Hard Times. Though there is a strong plot throughout Hard Times, alas there are multiple, and while the main focus of the novel has more to do with emotions than inequalities, his moral lessons are still weaved throughout. While some are more obvious than others – particularly poor Stephen Blackwell (a man of such a low caste that even his dialogue is rendered practically unreadable), who is stitched up as a robber simply because of his class – there are other, more subtle lessons throughout.
While at times Hard Times was a bit burdensome to read, overall, for a novel that’s 200 years old, in many ways it hasn’t dated. For example Coketown, a fictitious mining town set in England, may be pre-Industrial revolution, the inequality and stigma attached to it is scarily similar to that endured by mining towns in England during Margaret Thatcher’s reign. And though (most) women can now choose whom they want to marry, Louisa’s dutifulness to the men in her life – essentially, her true way of showing affection – is something that many women still fall back on today. And, as usual with Dicken’s characters, there is always at least one person who reminds you of an ignorant fool you know in the 21st century. Because, let’s be honest here, doesn’t everyone have a Bounderby (a blustering liar who looks down on others) in their lives?
Dickens is the epitome of English literature and is well known for his subtle wit and musings on society and culture. Hard Times is no exception to his reputation. Though at times it can be slightly hard to read, as far as classics go, Hard Times has not so much as aged as proved a point. For anyone who is a fan of literature, I would recommend this book.
Have you read Hard Times or anything by Charles Dickens? What did you think of it? Let me know!