Title: Hard Times
Author: Charles Dickens
Favorite quote: “Make the betht of uth; not the wurtht!”
Hard Times was a recommendation that my Victorian Literature professor had for our reading list this semester. While I was reluctant to read another Dickens novel after having been thoroughly put off from him as a sophomore in high school (thanks, A Tale of Two Cities), I accepted her recommendation and we set the due date for today at noon. It’s been eight hours since we finished our discussion on my thoughts and concerns about the characters, the writing, the story, and the concepts that Dickens presents us with in his novel. For the sake of avoiding spoilers for those of you who are interested in reading it, I’ll stick to the main topics that don’t go too much into detail about the plot and its ending.
Much like A Tale of Two Cities, the Industrial Revolution was the best of times and the worst of times in England. Many prospered and industry blossomed, but the separation of classes and the ever-present prejudice between the rich and poor heightened during this period. Dickens characters not only reflect the two contrasting ideas of rationale versus human emotions but also both the rich and poor in a regular industrious city called Coketown. Dickens laid on the satire and symbolism pretty thick in the novel, juxtaposing the two extremes of both social and economic classes to show the positives and negatives of both, as well as the tension between the two.
I read no romance in this novel. Some may say that there is a love story present, but I interpreted the relationship between Louisa and Harthouse to be more of a symbolic relationship that represented what she could have had if she had listened to her heart at the beginning of the novel and trusted in herself to become her own person and really “live” as she wanted to – as a feeling person, not just a rational being.
This is not a typical read for me. I know that there are many who prefer novels that have too many layers to ever really fully understand the meaning of the text, but those just aren’t what I gravitate towards. That being said, I did enjoy this novel for what it was.
What I want to touch on briefly is that this is not a happy book. By no means is there a happy ending. Anyone who does not enjoy satire on the brink of ridiculousness should not read this novel. It certainly it not something that I would pick up for my own pleasure, but having had to read it, I was able to appreciate his craft and the interesting story that Dickens developed to criticize an England who was moving from valuing humanity to worshiping machine. For those interested in reading on social problems or historical events from a unique perspective (since the majority of the novel does reflect the “hardships” of the upper-class, only showing the poor’s point of view through the eyes of characters such as Sissy Jupe, Stephen Blackpool, and Rachael on rare occasions, though that is ironically the meat of the story), this novel is definitely for you. I recommend it only on those grounds and similar.
If anyone has any specific questions or would like to discuss a topic or contradict an opinion, feel free to comment below!