92604 : 24 / 1 / 2010 - اللغة الإنجليزية : Hard Times for Charles Dickens-whole review
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Hard Times for Charles Dickens-whole review
The novel is unusual in that it did not contain illustrations; nor is it set in or around London (both usual in Dickens novels). Instead the story is set in the fictitious Victorian industrial Coketown, a generic Northern English mill-town partially based upon 19th-century Preston.
Dickens reasons for writing Hard Times were mostly monetary. Sales of his weekly periodical, Household Words, were low, and he hoped the inclusion of this novel in instalments would increase sales. Since publication it has received a mixed response from a diverse range of critics, such as F.R. Leavis, George Bernard Shaw, and Thomas Macaulay, mainly focusing on Dickens treatment of trade unions and his post-Industrial Revolution pessimism regarding the divide between capitalistic mill owners and undervalued workers during the Victorian era.
Book I: Sowing
Mr. Gradgrind, whose voice is "dictatorial", opens the novel by stating "Now, what I want is facts" at his school in Coketown. He is a man of "facts and calculations." He interrogates one of his pupils, Sissy, whose father is involved with the circus, the members of which are "Fancy" in comparison to Gradgrinds espousal of "Fact." Since her father rides and tends to horses, Gradgrind offers Sissy the definition of "veterinary surgeon." She is rebuffed for not being able to define a horse factually; her classmate Bitzer does, however, provide a more zoological profile deion and factual definition. She does not learn easily, and is censured for suggesting that she would carpet a floor with pictures of flowers "So you would carpet your room—or your husbands room, if you were a grown woman, and had a husband—with representations of flowers, would you? Why would you?" She is taught to disregard Fancy altogether. It is Fancy Vs Fact.
Louisa and Thomas, two of Mr. Gradgrinds children, pay a visit after school to the touring circus run by Mr. Sleary, only to find their father, who is disconcerted by their trip since he believes the circus to be the bastion of Fancy and conceit. With their father, Louisa and Tom trudge off in a despondent mood. Mr. Gradgrind has three younger children: Adam Smith, (after the famous theorist of laissez-faire policy), Malthus (after Rev. Thomas Malthus, who wrote An Essay on the Principle of Population, warning of the dangers of future overpopulation) and Jane.
Josiah Bounderby, "a man perfectly devoid of sentiment", is revealed as being Gradgrinds boss. Bounderby is a manufacturer and mill owner who is affluent as a result of his enterprise and capital. Bounderby is what one might call a "self-made man" who has risen from the gutter. He is not averse to giving dramatic summaries of his childhood, which terrify Mr. Gradgrinds weak wife who is often rendered insensate by these horrific stories. He is described in an acerbic manner as being "the Bully of Humility."
Mr. Gradgrind and Bounderby visit the public-house where Sissy resides to inform her that she cannot attend the school anymore due to the risk of her ideas propagating in the class. Sissy meets the two collaborators, informing them her father has abandoned her not out of malice, but out of desire for Sissy to lead a better life without him. This was the reasoning behind him enlisting her at Gradgrinds school and Gradgrind is outraged at this desertion. At this point members of the circus appear, fronted by their manager Mr. Sleary. Mr. Gradgrind gives Sissy a choice: either to return to the circus and forfeit her education, or to continue her education and never to return to the circus. Sleary and Gradgrind both have their say on the matter, and at the behest of Josephine Sleary she decides to leave the circus and bid all the close friends she had formed farewell.
Back at the Gradgrind house, Tom and Louisa sit down and discuss their feelings, however repressed they seem to be. Tom, already at this present stage of education finds himself in a state of dissatisfaction, and Louisa also expresses her discontent at her childhood while staring into the fire. Louisas ability to wonder, however, has not been entirely extinguished by her rigorous education based in Fact.
We are introduced to the workers at the mills, known as the "Hands." Amongst them is a man named Stephen Blackpool or "Old Stephen" who has led a toilsome life. He is described as a "man of perfect integrity." He has ended his days work, and his close companion Rachael is about somewhere. He eventually meets up with her, and they walk home discussing their day. On entering his house he finds that his drunken wretch of a wife, who has been in exile from Coketown, has made an unwelcome return to his house. She is unwell, and mumbles inebriated remarks to Stephen, who is greatly perturbed by this event.
The next day, Stephen makes a visit to Bounderby to try and end his woeful, childless marriage through divorce. Mrs. Sparsit, Mr. Bounderbys paid companion, is "dejected by the impiety" of Stephen and Bounderby explains that he could not afford to effect an annulment anyway. Stephen is very bewildered and dejected by this verdict given by Bounderby.
Meanwhile, Mr. Gradgrind prepares to talk to his daughter about a "business proposal", but she is seemingly apathetic in his company, and this seems to frustrate Mr. Gradgrinds efforts. He says that a proposal of marriage has been made to Louisa by Josiah Bounderby, who is some 30 years her senior. Gradgrind uses statistics to prove that an age inequity in marriage does not prove an unhappy or short marriage however. Louisa passively accepts this offer. Bounderby is rendered ecstatic by the news, as is Louisas mother, who again is so overwhelmed that she is overcome yet again. Sissy is confounded by but piteous of Louisa.
Bounderby and Louisa get married, and they set out to their honeymoon in "Lyon"; so Bounderby can observe the progress of his Hands (labourers who work in his factories there). Tom, his brother, bumps into her before they leave. They hug each other and then Tom bade farewell to her, then promised to look for her after they come back from their honeymoon.
Book 2: Reaping
Book Two opens with the attention focused on Bounderbys new bank in Coketown, of which Bitzer alongside the austere Mrs. Sparsit keep watch at night for intruders or burglars. A dashing gentleman enters, asking for directions to Bounderbys house, as Gradgrind has sent him from London, along with a letter. It is James Harthouse, a languid fellow, who was unsure what to do with his life, so became an MP as he saw it as a way out. For this, Dickens despises him.
Harthouse is introduced to Bounderby, who again reverts to almost improbable stories of his childhood to entertain Gradgrind. Harthouse is utterly bored by the blusterous millowner, yet is astounded by his wife, Louisa, and notices her melancholy nature. Louisas brother Tom works for Bounderby, and he has become reckless and wayward in his conduct, despite his meticulous education. Tom decides to take a liking to James Harthouse, on the basis of his clothes, showing his superficiality. Tom is later debased to animal status, as he comes to be referred to as the "whelp", a denunciatory term for a young man. Tom is very forthcoming in his contempt for Bounderby in the presence of Harthouse, who soaks up all these secretive revelations.
Stephen is called to Bounderbys mansion, where he informs him of his abstention from joining the union led by the orator Slackbridge, and Bounderby accuses Stephen of fealty and of pledging an oath of secrecy to the union. Stephen denies this, and states that he avoided the Union because of a promise hed made earlier to Rachael. Bounderby is bedevilled by this conflict of interest and accuses Stephen of being waspish. He dismisses him on the spot, on the basis that he has betrayed both employer and union. Later on a bank theft takes place at the Bounderby bank, and Stephen Blackpool is inculpated in the crime, due to him loitering around the bank at Toms promise of better times to come, the night before the robbery.
Sparsit observes that the relationship between James Harthouse and Louisa is moving towards a near tryst. She sees Louisa as moving down her "staircase", metaphorically speaking. She sets off from the bank to spy upon them, and catches them at what seems to be a propitious moment. However, despite Harthouse confessing his love to Louisa, Louisa is restrained, and refuses an affair. Sparsit is infatuated with the idea that the two do not know they are being observed. Harthouse departs as does Louisa, and Mrs. Sparsit tries to stay in pursuit, thinking that Louisa is going to assent to the affair, though Louisa has not. She follows Louisa to the train station assuming that Louisa has hired a coachman to dispatch her to Coketown. Sparsit however, misses the fact that Louisa has instead boarded a train to her fathers house. Sparsit relinquishes defeat and proclaims "I have lost her!" When Louisa arrives at her fathers house, she is revealed to be in an extreme state of disconsolate grief. She accuses her father of denying her the opportunity to have an innocent childhood, and that her rigorous education has stifled her ability to express her emotions. Louisa collapses at her fathers feet, into an insensible torpor.
Book 3: Garnering
Mrs. Sparsit arrives at Mr. Bounderbys house, and reveals to him the news her surveillance has brought. Mr. Bounderby, who is rendered irate by this news, journeys to Stone Lodge, where Louisa is resting. Mr. Gradgrind tries to disperse calm upon the scene, and reveals that Louisa resisted the temptation of adultery. Bounderby is inconsolable and he is immensely indignant and ill-mannered towards everyone present, including Mrs. Sparsit, for her falsehood. Bounderby finishes by offering the ultimatum to Louisa of returning to him, by 12 oclock the next morning, else the marriage is forfeited. Suffice to say, Mr. Bounderby resumes his bachelorhood when the request is not met.
The discomfited Harthouse leaves Coketown, on an admonition from Sissy Jupe, never to return. He submits. Meanwhile, Mr. Gradgrind and Louisa cast suspicions that Tom, the "whelp", may have committed the bank robbery. Stephen Blackpool who has been absent from Coketown, trying to find mill work under a pseudonym, tries to exculpate himself from the robbery. On walking back to Coketown, he falls down the Old Hell Shaft, an old pit, completing his terminal bad luck in life. He is rescued by villagers, but after speaking to Rachael for the last time, he dies.
Louisa suspects that Tom had a word with Stephen, making a false offer to him, and therefore urging him to loiter outside of the bank. Mr. Gradgrind and Sissy concur with this theory and resolve to find Tom, since he is in danger. Sissy makes a plan for rescue and escape, however, and she reveals that she suspected Tom early on during the proceedings. She sends Tom off to the circus that she used to be a part of, namely Mr. Slearys. Louisa and Sissy travel to the circus; Tom is there, disguised in blackface. Remorselessly, Tom says that he had little money, and that robbery was the only solution to his dilemma. Mr. Sleary is not aware of this and agrees to help him reach Liverpool, and Mr. Gradgrind, prays that his son is able to board a ship that will send him to the faraway Americas. The party is stopped, however, by Bitzer, who is anxious to claim his reward for the misdemeanour. The "excellent young man" is entreated to show compassion and questions whether he has a heart, to which Bitzer, cynically responds, that of course he has a heart, and that the "circulation could not be carried on without one." Sleary is dismayed by this revelation, and agrees to take Bitzer and Tom to the bank without any further delays. However, he sees that Mr. Gradgrind has been kind to Sissy, and agrees to detain and divert Bitzer whilst Tom leaves for Liverpool.
Returning to Coketown, Mrs. Sparsit is relieved of her duty to Bounderby who has no qualms about firing a lady, however "highly connected" she may be. The final chapter of the book details the fates of the characters. Mrs. Sparsit returns to live with her aunt, Lady Scadgers. The two have feelings of acrimony towards each other. Bounderby dies of a fit in a street one day. Tom dies in the Americas, having begged for penitence in a half-written letter to his sister, Louisa. Louisa herself grows old and never remarries. Mr. Gradgrind abandons his Utilitarian stance, which brings contempt from his fellow MPs, who give him a hard time. Rachael continues to labour while still consistently maintaining her work ethic and honesty. Sissy is the moral victor of the story, as her children have also escaped the desiccative education of the Gradgrind school and grown learned in "childish lore."
Thomas Gradgrind is a utilitarian who is the founder of the educational system in Coketown. "Eminently practical" is Gradgrinds recurring deion throughout the novel, and practicality is something he zealously aspires to. He represents the stringency of Fact, statistics and other materialistic pursuits. He is a "square" person and this can be seen not only through Dickens´deion of his personality but also through the deion of his physical appearance, "square shoulders".
Only after his daughters breakdown does he come to a realisation that things such as poetry, fiction and other pursuits are not "destructive nonsense." In the third book, not only does he notice the existence of the unknown thought of "fancy" but he ironically asks Bitzer (one of his students in book the first, who gives a perfect deion of a horse) if he has a heart (to save Tom) and in this situation, Bitzer again gives a very scientific response. This is a very clear example of the biblical reference " as ye sow, so shall ye reap".
Josiah Bounderby is a business associate of Mr. Gradgrind. A thunderous merchant given to lecturing others, and boasting about being a self-made man. He employs many of the other central characters of the novel, and his rise to prosperity is shown to be an example of social mobility. He marries Mr. Gradgrinds daughter Louisa, some 30 years his junior, in what turns out to be a loveless marriage. They then had no children. Bounderby is the main target of Dickens attack on the supposed moral superiority of the wealthy, and is revealed to be an hypocrite in his sensational comeuppance at the end of the novel. He is the " bully of humility" as he tells everyone that he is a "self made man" and that his mother left him to be looked after by his grandmother but then, due to Mrs. Sparsits wrong accusation of thinking that Mrs. Pegler was the bank robber, we find that he has been lying.
He uses Mrs. Sparsit in order to give him status as she belonged to the "Powlers" a very important family in the same way as Bounderby takes advantage of Mrs. Sparsit expecting people of a lower status to respect her presence.
Louisa Bounderby nee Gradgrind ("Loo")
Louisa is the unemotional, distant and eldest child of the Gradgrind family. She has been taught to abnegate her emotions, and finds it hard to express herself clearly, saying as a child she has "unmanageable thoughts." She is married to Josiah Bounderby, in a very logical and businesslike manner, representing the emphasis on factuality and business pathos of her education. Her union is a disaster and she is tempted into adultery by James Harthouse, yet she manages to resist this temptation with help from Sissy.
All her life she has been "gazing into the fire" "wondering" in the first book we find that she wonders not knowing what it is she is wondering about, in book two with Mrs. Gradgrinds death we get the impression that she well will find out as Mrs. Gradgrind (another victim of the system) says: "there is something wrong" she dies without knowing what it is. It is at the end of book two after Harthouses love declaration when Louisa understands the meaning of love, fancy, everything that until that moment her life had lacked. She realizes how immature the decision of marrying Bounderby was (only because of Toms insistence). She then goes to complain to her father and all he says is: "I never knew you were unhappy my child". This shows how Louisa has made him recognize the existence of fancy. Fancy is transmitted through a chain, as Harthouse does to Louisa and Louisa to Gradgrind. The chain breaks at the end of the novel when Gradgrind tries to pass it onto Bitzer.
Cecilia Jupe ("Sissy")
The embodiment of imagination, hope and faith. Abandoned by her father, a circus performer at Slearys circus. Gradgrind offers Sissy the chance to study at his school and to come and live at Stone Lodge with the Gradgrind children. Sleary also offers her a place and tells her she will be treated like one of the family, but Sissy follows her fathers wishes of her having a good education, goes to live with Gradgrind. She goes through "hard times" when she is with the Gradgrinds at the beginning because she does not understand the difference between a life based upon facts and one based upon fancy, like hers. When she does notice this, she leaves school in order to look after ill Mrs. Gradgrind. She always asks Mr. Gradgrind if a letter from her father arrived.
Due to Sissys high morals and natural warm-heartedness she has a huge influence on the Gradgrind family. When Mrs Gradgrind dies she largely takes over the role of mothering the younger Gradgrind Children: Jane, Adam Smith and Malthus.
She is the biggest representative of fancy in the novel. She offers the contrast between fact and fancy. She finishes happy and surrounded by children.
Thomas Gradgrind Junior ("Tom")
The eldest son and second child of the Gradgrinds, Tom develops as a thoroughly contemptible character. Initially sullen and bitterly resentful of his fathers Utilitarian Gradgrindian education, Tom has a very strong relationship with his sister Louisa. At length, Tom starts work in Bounderbys bank (which he later robs), and descends into sybaritic gambling and drinking - he is indiscreet over Louisas marriage to Bounderby with James Harthouse. Nonetheless Louisa never ceases to deeply adore Tom, and she aids Sissy and Mr. Gradgrind in saving her brother from arrest. It is also hinted that Tom has romantic feelings for Sissy that are partly reciprocated. He is, ultimately, an insecure wastrel.
Known as "the whelp" (small puppy) this is the way of Dickens mocking this character. He takes advantage of his loving sister in order to get out of the life that his father is giving him which he doesnt like. We might feel sympathy towards him at some points of the novel (mostly in book one) as he has the same kind of feelings as Louisa.
He tells Blackpool to wait for him outside the bank and if he has something to give him, he will make sure Bitzer gives it to him. He tricks him by doing so as he only does so in order to make him look as if it was him who robbed the bank, maybe as a form of revenge after Bounderby sacking him. He is found out in book three where Blackpool is shown to be innocent. Mr. Gradgrind makes signs to put them up in the whole town clearing Blackpools name and putting the blame on his own son.
"Old Stephen", as he is referred to by his fellow Hands, is a worker at one of Bounderbys mills. His life is immensely strenuous, and he is married to a constantly inebriated wife who comes and goes throughout the novel. She remains anonymous and unidentified throughout the novel. He forms a close bond with Rachael, a co-worker. After a dispute with Bounderby, he is dismissed from his work at the Coketown mills and is forced to find work elsewhere. Whilst absent from Coketown he is accused of a crime for which he has been framed. Tragically, on his way back to vindicate himself, he falls down a mine-shaft. He is rescued but dies of his injuries.
Stephen is a man "of perfect integrity", a man who will never give up his moral standpoint to follow along with the crowd, a quality which leads to the conflict with Slackbridge and the Trade Union.
"Bitzer" is a classmate of Sissys and brought up on facts and is taught to operate according to self-interest. He takes up a job in Bounderbys bank, and later tries to arrest Tom.
"Mrs. Sparsit" is a "classical" widow who has fallen upon despairing circumstances. She is employed by Bounderby, yet her officiousness and prying get her fired in a humorous send-off by Bounderby.
"James Harthouse", who enters the novel in the 2nd book, is an indolent, languid, upper-class gentleman, who attempts to woo Louisa, and gets sent away by Sissy.
"Mrs. Pegler", a "mysterious old woman" who turns out to be Bounderbys mother.
"Slackbridge", a union leader
"Circus folk", including Signor Jupe (who never actually appears in the novel), his dog Merrylegs, Mr. Sleary (the lisping manager of the circus) and Cupid; used to represent that the world of the circus is not always as pure as is represented by Sissy and Sleary.
"Mrs. Gradgrind", the wife of Mr. Gradgrind, who is an invalid and complains constantly. Her marriage to Thomas is a precursor of Louisas marriage to Bounderby.
"Mr. MChoakumchild", the teacher of the class containing Sissy Jupe and Bitzer, says very little but his name suggests a cold personality that stifles imagination.
Relating back to Dickens aim to "strike the heaviest blow in my power", he wished to educate readers about the working conditions of some of the factories in the industrial towns of Manchester, and Preston. Relating to this also, Dickens wished to expose the assumption that prosperity runs parallel to morality, something which is cruelly shattered in this novel, due to his portrayal of the moral monsters, Mr. Bounderby, and James Harthouse, the cynical aristocrats. Dickens was also campaigning for the importance of imagination in life, and not for peoples life to be reduced to a collection of material facts and statistical analysis. Dickens favorable portrayal of the Circus, which he describes as caring so "little for Plain Fact", is an example of this.
Fact vs. Fancy
This theme is developed early on, the bastion of Fact being the eminently practical Mr. Gradgrind, and his model school, which teaches nothing but Facts. Any imaginative or aesthetic subjects are eradicated from the curriculum, but analysis, deduction and mathematics are emphasized. Conversely, Fancy is the opposite of Fact, encompassing, fiction, music, poetry, and novelty shows such as Slearys circus. It is interesting that Mr. Sleary is reckoned to be a fool by the Fact men, but it is Sleary who realises people must be "amuthed" (amused). This is made cognisant by Toms sybaritic gambling and Louisa, who is virtually soulless as a young child, and as a married woman. Bitzer, who has adhered to Gradgrinds teachings as a child, turns out to be an uncompassionate egotist.
This is closely related to Dickens typical social commentary, which is a theme he uses throughout his entire œuvre. Dickens portrays the wealthy in this novel as being morally corrupt. Bounderby has no moral scruples; he fires Blackpool "for a novelty". He also conducts himself without any shred of decency, frequently losing his temper. He is cynically false about his childhood. Harthouse, a leisured gent, is compared to an "iceberg" who will cause a wreck unwittingly, due to him being "not a moral sort of fellow", as he states himself. On the opposite spectrum, Stephen Blackpool, a destitute worker, is equipped with perfect morals, always abiding by his promises, and he is always thoughtful and considerate of others, as is Sissy Jupe.