Written by Charles Dickens
Published in installments in Household Words (1854). Imprint: Penguin English Library, (1969).
Review by Charlie Britten
Hard Times recounts the emotional journeys of the Gradgrinds and the Bounderbys, wealthy industrialists, who believe that all that matters is ‘Facts’ and that everyone should be made to work or study constantly, taking no recreation. It is also the story of the strong bond forged between brother and sister, Louisa and Tom Gradgrind, as they endure their tedious ‘Facts’ education, which almost destroys them, leading Louisa to marry Mr Bounderby, who she finds physically repulsive, in order to be close to Tom, whose rackety lifestyle is leading him to financial ruin.
Hard Times is set in the grim industrial landscape of Coketown, Lancashire – away from London, Dickens’ comfort zone. The working and living conditions of the factory ‘Hands’ outrages his famous social conscience, but his paternalism abhors their efforts to improve themselves through trade unions. The Radical, Slackbridge, is depicted as self-aggrandising and ready to believe that Stephen Blackpool has robbed the bank, just because he refuses to go along with the union.
Despite being one of his shorter works, Dickens’ writes on his usual broad canvas, with many interwoven plotlines and characters. He uses long sentences which are sometimes difficult to work out, extended scene-setting and descriptions, but, unlike his contemporaries, he shows rather than tells. He is up to his usual tricks with names: Mr Gradgrind keeps everyone’s nose to the grindstone and Mr Bounderby is indeed a ‘bounder’. This is not Dickens at his best. The storyline is slow, only becoming a page-turner when Stephen Blackpool disappears and Louisa’s simmering resentment of ‘Facts’ boils over to confront and disabuse her father, Mr Gradgrind, for ever. However, at no point is it boring. ‘Hard Times’ is a character-driven novel, and Dickens’ characters keep you reading.
Charlie Britten has contributed to Fiction At Work, The Short Humour Site, Mslexia, Linnet’s Wings, Hobo Pancakes and Delivered. She writes because she loves doing it and belongs to two British online writing communities.
All Charlie’s work is based in reality, with a strong human interest element. Although much of her work is humorous, she has also written serious fiction, about the 7/7 Bombings in London and attitudes to education before the Second World War.
Charlie lives in southern England with her husband and cat. In real life, she is an IT lecturer at a college of further education.