Well, here I am, reading again Hard Times. I’ve been put in the third year again due to an administrative mistake (it will count as the last year anyway). I was assigned that novel two years ago and here is what I remember before reading it (again!):
- Didn’t like it. In fact, I think it’s the worst novel by Dickens. By a wide margin. It turns out that he had to improve a social magazine’s sales, so he wrote a story about the evils of capitalism… to sell more numbers of said magazine. Of such a ludicrous paradox came an awful novel.
- Scene I remember better: children being taught in the first episodes what I would call ‘science’ and the novel calls ‘facts’. I actually liked this beginning when I was in high school and I was discovering I had no head for numbers, physics, etc. Now, it comes out as preaching to the choir. But given Dickens’ original readers, that was probably the point. And yes, I began it in high school, but didn’t go too far with it.
- Characters: I hated them all. Mr Gradgrind is the only one who is slightly likable and maybe Louisa. And both of them loved a prissy little creature by the name of… Sissy Jupe. Hate! I vaguely remember her always surrounded by children and being generous and good and, well, incorruptible pure pureness in its basest form. And she is probably supposed to represent perfect womanhood. And she’s boring. Like pretty much everybody else in this book (someone should have told Dickens that when he wrote this kind of ‘lovable’ heroines he was creating someone his readers would hate forever. And another ludicrous paradox here. Not the kind Oscar Wilde liked, those were cool).
- Message: something to do with factories and progress being a bad thing. I’m sorry, but that message is totally lost on me. I know industrialisation was probably horrible in the beginning, but I’ve always felt that now that it’s passed, it’s not such a bad thing. I mean, there has to be a balance and all that, but what Dickens seems to be proposing (or Ruskin, Carlyle, and the like) is more in the lines of: ‘let’s go back in time, when we didn’t have to suffer seeing the poor people suffer for working long hours in factories. Or worse, the precious English countryside destroyed’. To give credit where credit is due, at least Dickens actually worked in a factory when he was a child. But he does not understand the working-class actual problems. He is all whimsical about the middle-class children not having fun at school, but when he introduces a working-class character with real problems, well then he is incapable of seeing that this situation makes those children’s problems seem very frivolous by comparison. Maybe that’s why he’s so melodramatic about the fate of the boy (not really sure what happened to him, but I’m pretty sure he dies at the end). I guess that’s the last paradox; he wrote about the effects of industrialisation in a poor town, but he had only a slightly better idea of what they were that his contemporaries, and ultimately he shows some fear and contempt toward his working-class characters and only really sympathises with some of his middle-class characters.
And that this message is not subtle, but constantly hammered on the reader’s head only makes it worse. That happens a lot actually, especially with environmental movies.
It is a pity, because I like some of his novels a lot. We could have read Great Expectations or Bleak House or something really challenging by Dickens. But, alas! I’m in my third year again. It seems I’m not gonna learn anything this year. Well, maybe I’ll like Hard Times better this time. That was what I could remember. It will be nice to compare.
(And thanks to Dickens we got Christmas! So I won’t hate him while reading the novel. I just couldn’t).