Hard Times (Bantam Classics)
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68 of 74 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 30, 2003
I initially lamented the fact that Hard Times was assigned to me in my British lit. class. I had read some of Dickens's melodramas like A Tale of Two Cities and Oliver Twist and enjoyed them, but everything I heard about Hard Times said this was nothing like those. This was supposedly just strictly social commentary. My interpretation of that: BORING.
But then I read it.
Hard Times isn't like Dickens's other novels, but I don't think that it has any less heart than those masterpieces. In fact, Dickens endured himself much further to me with this novel as he has his characters perform Thomas Carlyle's enduring philosophy.
The novel follows the Gradgrind family who is raised adhering to FACTS and living in a society which worships the manufacturing machine. As the novel progresses, connections are made and broken, and the characters come to the realization that there is much more to reality than the material facts.
Hard Times is told so compassionately. The reader cares for these people and their tragic lives. The story is also told with biting humor that still cuts at today's society (this novel feels really modern), and the underlying philosophy is one which is so needed in our post-modern world. I would certainly recommend this novel to fans of Dickens and to fans of the truly literary novel.
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63 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2004
"Hard Times" belongs to the second half of Dickens's writing career, in which his work becomes rather more somber and, by common critical assent, more mature and satisfying. Personally, I prefer his earlier work and his very first novel, "Pickwick Papers", is to my mind his greatest. Surprisingly, "Hard Times", despite its title and reputation, contains some brilliant flashes of Dickens humour, especially in the earlier part. The descriptions of Bounderby and Gradgrind, and the early dialogue with the circus folk, are genuinely hilarious.

This is Dickens's shortest novel, about a third of the length of each of his previous four. Themes, subplots and characters are introduced without being fully explored. The author was perhaps feeling the constraints of writing in installments for a periodical, although he was well used to doing that. This relative brevity, together with the youth of some of the central characters, make this book a good introduction to Dickens for young readers.

There are the large dollops of Victorian melodrama and the reliance on unlikely coincidences that mar much of Dickens's work. Also the usual tendency for characters to become caricatures and to have names that are a little too apt (a teacher called Mr. McChoakumchild?).

The respected critic F.R. Leavis considered "Hard Times" to be Dickens's masterpiece and "only serious work of art". This seems to me wildly wrong, but such an extreme opinion may prompt you to read the book, just so that you can form your own opinion.

I read it because I had just finished "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair, which deals with the plight of Chicago factory workers, and I wanted to compare the two. Sinclair's book has greater immediacy. It takes you much closer to the suffering of the workers. In the Dickens novel, the mill workers and their plight are distanced; they are relegated to being the background to a family drama, which is what really interests the author. A third, and still greater work, that examines the same themes, is Zola's "Germinal". I recommend all three. Together, they give real insight into the social conditions that led to the proletarian political and revolutionary movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Arguably, Dickens could be classified as the greatest of all English speaking novelists...of all times. There are very few writers that can offer his consistency, novel after novel, story after story. Yes, many have written works that perhaps equal any of his given works, but few if any have been able to turn out such a volume of pure quality. Very, very few authors have had such a large portion of their work pass the test of time. Dickens gains new readers year in and year out and there is a reason for this!

Over the past 50 or so years I have heard this particular work referred to as "not Dickens' best," and "A minor work by Dickens," and other comments along those lines. I am really not in a position, nor do I have the ability to proclaim or rank this author's work one way or the other. Dickens for me is like any other author...I either like it or I do not like it; it either is a joy to read or it is not. Now I have read this short novel at least five times over the years and listen to several versions on CD and Tape. The best, minor Dickens' work, timeless classic, not pertinent in today's world, a mere political rant? Well I don't know. I do know that it is one of my favorites and do look forwarded to reading it again down the road. I am one of those horrid and probably misguided individuals who sort of make their own mind up about anything I read, and more or less ignore the pontifications of those that are suppose to know about such things. All that being said though, I cannot look you in the eye and state that I have ever read one story; one word by this author that I did not enjoy right down to the tip of my toes. He delights me.

The setting of course is in Victorian England and the Industrial Revolution is in full tilt. Make no mistake; Dickens makes no pretenses of not being of the extreme left ilk...a good little Socialist through and through. This work, like many others make his feeling well known. Like much of his work, there is no in-between here. The characters portrayed here are either very, very evil or they are very, very good. The author handles social situations in much the same way he handles his characters in this work. All are exaggerated to a certain extent, all are black and white and there is little middle ground to be found. The Capitalists are truly pigs and the working classes, the proletariat, are all Saint like creatures. For what the author is attempting here, this is quite appropriate.

Now let it be know right here that I have spent a lifetime trying my best of completely ignore the effete yammering from the left and the bellicose braying from the right in all matters. I am one of those creatures who simply do not care and more or less chose my own road. I read this story and others like it, for the sheer joy of soaking in the written words of a maters story teller. While the political and social message here is not lost on me, I simply choose to ignore it. That is just me though and it certainly makes me feel nothing less of those that take the political message and run with, or reject it... more power to them.

As with all of his other work, Dickens has created some unforgettable, if exaggerated characters in this work; my favorite Gradgrind (who, I must admit, sort of reminding me of my own father), his children Tom and Louisa, the young girl Grangrind has taken to raise, Sissy Jupe and of course the completely obnoxious cad Bounderby. Even the location; the city of Coketown is more like a character than a place displaying many of the characteristics of a human, rather than that of a town or village. Dickens is able to describe these people and places in such a way that they become close friends...even the evil ones, soon after they are introduced....well, maybe not friends, but certainly people you know and will want to revisit from time to time at the very least.

The term "hard times," while a good title for this work is a bit misleading in a way, as there is plenty of humor injected throughout the book. Seldom does a chapter pass that I find myself not chuckling over the bits of ironic humor and scathing satire the author inserts here and there. The opening tirade of Bounderby is an absolute hoot even to this day, as it certainly was at the time it was written.

And the plot! While it is simple at first glance in this work, there is never-the -less many little side plots going constantly, with personalities created an thrown in here and there to add flavor and spice to the overall story. The author skillfully blends these side paths he takes us upon and before the end of the story, brings us back to the main road. I like this! In many ways simple; in many ways so complex. I suppose the reader will find what they want.

As with all of Dickens' work, the reader must at all times keep in mind when, where and why it was written. Time and place are quite important in the understanding of this particular author and to not consider these things, much will be lost to the modern mind.

Highly recommend this one and I hope it brings others the same reading joy it has brought to be over the years.

Don Blankenship
The Ozarks
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2008
"Hard Times" is a minor Charles Dickens classic. Like all Charles Dickens' novels it features some great, memorable characters. The setting of the industrial city of Coketown is vividly described as a miserable, polluted town. There are some strong themes of class struggles between the working men in the factories and the harsh upper classes who seek to exploit them. Nearly all of the upper class characters are depicted in a negative light while the real heroes of the story are from the working class. As always, Dickens finds an entertaining way to shine a bright light on the social problems of Victorian-era England. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and highly recommend it. However, if you are choosing your first introduction to Charles Dickens, then you should pick one of his better-known novels.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on October 24, 2005
This is Charles Dickens.

Charles. Frikken. Dickens.

There's no way that any self-respecting booklover, as I style myself to be, can take a Charles Dicken's novel and tell you that it's <shudder> boring, or even not all that great. Unless the book lover in question happens to be a particularly honest one who doesn't mind the Dicken's squad clicking "unhelpful" over and over again...

Let's proceed.

Hard Times begins promisingly, as it slams the education system about as hard as I've ever seen (and almost as hard as it deserves), as teachers Gradgrind and Choakumchild (yeah, I know) try to throttle the imaginations of their charges and fill them instead with sand-dry "Facts." But then, Hard Times loses the trail of its narrative, following one of the school kids for a while, then another couple of kids, then another character, then another.... It skips around so often for so long, introducing one character or another (and pausing for social commentary) that it seems as though it might never develop a plot.

Near the end, it does take on a plot utilizing all of its developed characters, and the energy of the novel picks up considerably, but less-hearty readers will likely have given up long before then. One of the current "Spotlight Reviews" for this novel currently states: "[The] relative brevity, together with the youth of some of the central characters, make this book a good introduction to Dickens for young readers." No, no, no. A million times no! It's not that the novel is awful--it's decent, despite the dismal pacing of the first three quarters, and some of the comedy is gold (Josiah Bounderby of Coketown is precious!)--but this is *not* a good novel for children, most of whom won't have had enough experience with real-life Bounderbys or perspective on formal education to fully enjoy the satire. This is not the novel to use as an introduction to Dickens for just about anyone, let alone a young reader.

Unless, of course, you have sympathy with M. Choakumchild's pedagogical philosophy.

In the hands of a child, this novel will likely stifle any appreciation for classic literature, Charles Dickens, and perhaps reading, itself, that might otherwise develop. Start with A Christmas Carol--it has ghosts--and then move on to A Tale of Two Cities--all around better book (and it has decapitations!). Hard Times is for mature, well-read individuals who want to see "what else Charles Dickens wrote."

A decent novel with some genuinely great moments, but on the whole fairly dry. As with medication, a blessing and a boon to mankind, it's best to keep this out of the reach of young children.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Always concerned with issues of class, social injustice, and employment, Dickens shows in Hard Times, written in 1854, a broader concern with the philosophies and economic movements which underlie those issues. Three parallel story lines reflect a broad cross-section of society and its thinking.

Mr. Thomas Gradgrind runs a school founded upon the principles of rationalism, a belief in the importance of facts, the antithesis of romantic "fancy" and imagination. Basically a good man, he denies the importance of emotion--for himself, his children, and his students. Only Student #20, Sissy Jupe, the daughter of a circus clown, fails to conform to his notions, and in a hilarious, satiric scene at the beginning of the novel, Dickens shows the absurdity of Gradgrind's teachings.

Gradgrind's friend, Mr. Bounderby, is a banker and factory owner, aged fifty, who claims to have risen from the gutter to his present lofty position through hard work. Bounderby treats the employees of his Coketown factory as machines, rather than as humans, and his eventual marriage to the teenaged Louisa Gradgrind is seen by both as a marriage of "tangible fact," having nothing to do with affection.

The third story line involves Stephen Blackpool, a worker in Bounderby's factory, trapped in a marriage to an alcoholic who periodically appears and extorts money from him. Stephen is in love with Rachael, an adoring factory worker, but his appeal to Bounderby for help in ending his marriage is met with cold, rational pronouncements. Shortly after, Bounderby fires Stephen "for a novelty," forcing him to seek employment elsewhere.

As the story lines overlap and intersect, often with consummate irony, Dickens keeps a light enough hand to prevent the story from becoming a polemic, though his criticism of hypocrisy, corruption, and "progress" at the expense of humanity is clear. His humor, often dark, keeps the plot moving, and several of his characters, which are often caricatures, do grow and change. Characteristically, Dickens uses names symbolically-Gradgrind grinds the emotions from his graduates, hires Mr. M'Choakumchild as a teacher, and lives at Stone Lodge. Mr. Bounderby proves to be a bounder. Some of the circus performers, like Sissy, live at Pegasus Arms.

The dramatic conclusion, which involves the pursuit of an innocent character widely believed to have committed a robbery, draws all the themes together, showing the parallels, contrasts, and ironies which connect these characters, regardless of their social level. Less epic in plot than some of Dickens's other novels, Hard Times provides an intimate look at a changing economy and an important commentary on the philosophies of the times. N Mary Whipple
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 1998
Dickens creates a novel that virtually revolutionizes literature of the 1800's. At a time where most writers wrote in a stuffy prose full of unrealities and a jaded outlook, Dickens dares to tell with honesty what he sees through his window.
Hard Times has yet a misleading title. It gives one ideas of harshness, depression, poverty, and social decline--although the actual reality of then-London, still not something you would choose to read. However, Hard Times has as much depression and poverty as any of Dickens' other works. It is just in this case that Dickens chooses to remind the world that in the deepest despair there is beauty yet to be seen.
Dickens was a strange author. In his supposedly inspiring books, you get an overdose of sadness, and in his depressing books, you find beauty. It is this case with Hard Times.
It is a poor, honest man's search for justice in a world where only the rich have merit. It is a girl's search for true love while battling the arranged marriage for money. And lastly, a woman's search for recognition against her favored, yet dishonest brother. It is these searches that at last come together and become fufilled. And, while at the same time telling a captivating story, it comments on the then--and still now--presence of greed and total dishonesty one has to go through for money.
The title of this review sums up Hard Times. Its beauty comes from the pure searches for truth, the sorrow comes from the evil the characters most overcome to get there, and the honesty is both the truth with which Dickens portrays life and the the overwhelming truth that these protaganists create.
Holly Burke, PhD.
Clinical Psychologist, Abnormal Psych. Professor
Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins Inst.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2000
HARD TIMES has its own special place in world literature, even as it does in Dickens's own oeuvre. Its brevity contrasts with the longer works for which Dickens is more famous, and its satiric skewering of rampant capitalism leaves an imprint on the reader's mind not soon forgotten.
Dickens holds up Thomas Gradgrind for us, Sir, a singular member of the industrial community of "Coketown," a man who is so obsessed with Facts that he never allows his children to Feel. They are to "discard the word Fancy altogether." To ensure this strict materialistic philosophy, the children are taught by a schoolmaster named "McChoakumchild." In Gradgrind's friend Josiah Bounderby Dickens gives us possibly the most layered, complete and abhorrent hypocrite in all of English literature. Moliere's Tartuffe is the height of sincerity compared with Bounderby, who seems really to have convinced himself of his own myth after many years of browbeating others with his pompous false modesty. The fact that he is a factory owner who mercilessly exploits his workers only makes him the less endearing. And this is the man Tom Gradgrind gives his daughter to in marriage!
The book's narrator clearly distinguishes the good guys from the bad guys, all in an effective effort to show that humans need to appreciate sentiment and sympathy much more than they need to worship dollars and cents. In 1854 HARD TIMES showed the triumphalist British industrialists their dark side. It stands today as a treasured statement against cost-benefit ratios and anti-intellectualism in a world where CEOs "earn" $10 million bonuses the same week 4,000 workers lose their jobs. It will stand tomorrow anywhere people are scorned for showing their feelings, beaten down in body and spirit, or victimized by rank injustice.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Always concerned with issues of class, social injustice, and employment, Dickens shows in Hard Times, written in 1854, a broader concern with the philosophies and economic movements which underlie those issues. Three parallel story lines reflect a broad cross-section of society and its thinking. Mr. Thomas Gradgrind runs a school founded upon the principles of rationalism, a belief in the importance of facts, the antithesis of romantic "fancy" and imagination. Basically a good man, he denies the importance of emotion--for himself, his children, and his students. Only Student #20, Sissy Jupe, the daughter of a circus clown, fails to conform to his notions, and in a hilarious, satiric scene at the beginning of the novel, Dickens shows the absurdity of Gradgrind's teachings.

Gradgrind's friend, Mr. Bounderby, is a banker and factory owner, aged fifty, who claims to have risen from the gutter to his present lofty position through hard work. Bounderby treats the employees of his Coketown factory as machines, rather than as humans, and his eventual marriage to the teenaged Louisa Gradgrind is seen by both as a marriage of "tangible fact," having nothing to do with affection.

The third story line involves Stephen Blackpool, a worker in Bounderby's factory, trapped in a marriage to an alcoholic who periodically appears and extorts money from him. Stephen is in love with Rachael, an adoring factory worker, but his appeal to Bounderby for help in ending his marriage is met with cold, rational pronouncements. Shortly after, Bounderby fires Stephen "for a novelty," forcing him to seek employment elsewhere.

As the story lines overlap and intersect, often with consummate irony, Dickens keeps a light enough hand to prevent the story from becoming a polemic, though his criticism of hypocrisy, corruption, and "progress" at the expense of humanity is clear. His humor, often dark, keeps the plot moving, and several of his characters, which are often caricatures, do grow and change. Characteristically, Dickens uses names symbolically-Gradgrind grinds the emotions from his graduates, hires Mr. M'Choakumchild as a teacher, and lives at Stone Lodge. Mr. Bounderby proves to be a bounder. Some of the circus performers, like Sissy, live at Pegasus Arms.

The dramatic conclusion, which involves the pursuit of an innocent character widely believed to have committed a robbery, draws all the themes together, showing the parallels, contrasts, and ironies which connect these characters, regardless of their social level. Less epic in plot than some of Dickens's other novels, Hard Times provides an intimate look at a changing economy and an important commentary on the philosophies of the times. Mary Whipple

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2003
Dickens was a great rhetorician, but not a very deep social thinker. _Hard Times_ is the novel in which he tries to tell us that there are a Whole lot O' Things Wrong with Britain in the nineteenth century. You've got people living in wage slavery! You've got educators who can't raise their own children! You've got amoral, rakish aristocrats! You've got unprincipled politicians and businessmen! When Dickens is taking on each of these subjects individually in his other works, he's wonderful; when he sews up his complaints against them into one big bundle and convinces himself that it's a Social Theory, he's a tiresomely shrill satirist and all of his characters turn as flat as paper before one's very eyes.
This doesn't, of course, mean that the book isn't worth reading - after all, it's Dickens. There are some very sweet and descriptively rich passages about a traveling circus and although one finds it difficult to give a hoot about any of the characters aside from Mr. Gradgrind (who might have been developed much more richly if Dickens had cut down on the windy deploring a little and worked harder to make him seem like less of a cipher) the plot thunders along at the usual absorbingly breathless pace. But if you haven't read _David Copperfield_ or _A Tale of Two Cities_ yet, then for God's sake don't start out with this relatively second-rate effort.
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