Hard Times by Charles Dickens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have been going back and reading all the Charles Dickens' books which I have either missed, or not read recently. I don't know how I missed this one, as some consider it one of his best.
The book begins with a speech by Thomas Gradgrind about, "facts, just plain facts," to "girl #20", a pupil in his school. She is a child of traveling horse riders, who move from place to place. He is upset that she can't define the word,"horse" by only using facts. (One can just hear Jack Webb in the background as he interviews a witness.) Grandgrind believes that children, in fact, everyone should learn to deal only with facts and ignore everything else. He not only teaches this, but deals with his own wife and children the same way.
Gradgrind lives in an industrial town in the north of England named Coketown. One of the people he associates with is Mr. Josiah Bounderby, a rich industrialist who sees the employees of his mill in exactly the same way. As the books proceeds, the results of Gradgrind's philosophy become apparent. He has married his daughter to Bounderby, a rich, pompous braggart 30 years her senior without any consideration of her feelings. She agrees without protest because she has barely any feelings left after a lifetime in his household and she thinks she can be of some help to her beloved brother, Tom. The marriage is a disaster, as is Tom's life.
As with all of Dickens books, there are a number of interesting subplots which revolve around the main action and eventually take their place in the solution. Eventually, everything unravels and in the end, Gradgrind is forced to see the damage he has wrought.
Dickens is a master at creating characters who seem to leap off the pages and become real. It is one of the things that I most love about his work. To me it seems as if Scrooge and Tiny Tim, Oliver Twist, the Artful Dodger and Fagan must have existed. It is hard to believe that they are only the product of paper and ink in a master's hand. This book also creates some characters that will stay with me forever. I look forward to continuing with my project.
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