Hard Times by Charles Dickens is a satire written in 1854 but about the Hard Times of a mill town in 1840’s. This story is tragic as it looks at the differences of the have and the have nots of society. It is a little crazy how some of the issues are still relevant especially about workers rights on safety. Hard Times is a satire and Dickens will find little ways to add humor, he has a lot of fun with names such as Gradgrind, Slackbridge, and M’Coakumchild to name a few. The story is told as an ensemble there is no main character, the story bounces to people mostly associated with the Gradgrind and Bounderby familes/workers. My copy of this book was included with a mini-biography that was very helpful in knowing just how personal the story was to Dickens, who’s father was in debtors prison and working off his debt, Charles Dickens to help out is family of 8 started working at a factory at age 12. This is my first Dickens, I’m not counting the starts and stops, or in high school where they kind of read Great Expectations to you, but Hard Times is the first that I have read with out a doubt from start to finish. I have heard that this is not one of his best, but I enjoyed it for the most part. I was happy to say I understood at least 85% which I call a win. There was only one chapter where the metaphors through be off and I thought a character died but just injured. This is my second classic of the year I always mean to read more, but I’mm happy with my having read this and Little Women this year.
The Plot: Gradgrind the senior is a teacher only concerned with facts, facts are all you have to know to make any decision. Throughout the book this measure is tested and applied. Gradgrind starts changing the day he meets student 20 Sissy Jupe. Gradgrind mock her for not be able to factually describe a horse, when her father works as a horse trainer, she keeps adding emotion and opinion to the description. Gradgrind’s two children are seen checking out the circus that he deduces it could be Sissy Jupe’s influence. He goes to meet her father to kick her out of school, but upon going there they find out that Sissy Jupe has been abandoned by her father. Gradgrind decides to take the girl and raise her as his own, despite knowledge not being her thing, she cares for people and uses emotion in her thoughts. That’s one small story in this novel about little stories adding up to big decisions.
What I Liked: Sissy Jupe is my favorite character, I wish she where the main character, she’s the heart of this somewhat bleak story. I do like the change in Gradgrind, his change is brought about family and trying to save reputation, but it happens. I do love that Mr. Boundbury has a little comeuppance, as one of his biggest lies are exposed. I like that the novel sticks to the theme of hard times that both poor and rich have problems, but while one has integrity and the other has resources, the poor have it way worse but the rich elite believe they have it worse. I do love what happened to Mrs. Sparsit, who’s backstabbing bit her when she was in the room when Boundbury’s lie was exposed. Favorite line is, “I have not the honor of knowing you; – bit if you mean that you can make more money of your time than I can of mine, I should judge from your appearance, that you are about right.” I love that Dickens wrote a character named Mr. Sleary who has the deepest slur ever, it was both challenging and fun to read his words.
What I Disliked: Stephen Blackpool character I didn’t feel was used right, I did want to see his big moment, not just the aftermath of it. His chapter with Rachael was so confusing, I thought he died but was only injured, he had integrity but made so many mistakes it was annoying. The story was a little disjointed at time focusing on different characters instead of the main topic always at hand, it usually circles back around to the main issue, but the jumping around messes with the story flow.
Recommendation: This was an interesting read for it’s time stamp of English life in the 1840. The satire is deep and sometimes biting. Tis novel is not a feel good novel but a delight none the less. I had fun with it. Of the stories that I know of Dickens from various plays and movies, I would recommend maybe reading those first, this is more known for it’s time stamp and unflinching look at mill towns in the 1840’s than it is for a great story. I rated Hard Times by Charles Dickens 3 out of 5. I think this story is very important but the actual story could have been more engaging.