Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Classics Circuit Dueling Authors Tour: Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Welcome to A Literary Odyssey for the Classics Circuit Tour of the dueling authors! If you are unfamiliar with the Classics Circuit and this particular tour, the Classics Circuit hosts tours of various classic authors on different blogs. On particular days, bloggers write posts on the featured author and one of their works.

What makes this tour so fascinating is that we are focusing on two authors and having a mini-duel of sorts. It is Dickens vs. Austen, and I know that I am interested to see who wins.

For those of you familiar with my blog, you might be surprised by the fact that I chose Dickens over Austen as my featured author. I view Dickens as my arch-nemesis in the literary world, and Austen as a great friend of mine, but I really wanted to push myself into reading something I was not so excited about.

Looking at titles by Dickens I have yet to read (and their length), I decided on Hard Times, a novel that defeated me back in college. It was the ONLY novel I was assigned in college that I didn’t read (thankfully, on the exam I was allowed to write about one of the other choices we read in class, so I wasn’t penalized). Back then, I read the first three pages and gave up.

My rivalry with Dickens has lasted from even earlier-to the ninth grade when I had to read Great Expectations. I hated it then, and I hated it in the fall of 2009 when I read it as Book #10 for my project list. The only other Dickens novels I have read include Oliver Twist (which I really came to LOVE) and Bleak House (which made me hate Dickens all the more). I am in a dead heat in whether I love or hate him, and I viewed Hard Times as the make it or break it. If I hated it, the score would be 3-1, and I would be tempted to give Dickens up for good. But if I loved it, well, Dickens would have another go round with ME before I considered our duel over.

Turns out, I loved it. As I began reading, I couldn’t remember what it was about the first three pages that made me so despise it in college. From the beginning this time, I was enthralled in Dickens’ world. I loved these opening lines,

“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of service to them."

The story moves steadily from there. We are introduced to two distinguished gentlemen-Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby (I should mention that whenever I read his name I pictured a giant rabbit bounding around. It kept me very amused). I love Dickens’ description of Mr. Bounderby as well,

"A year or two younger than his eminently practical friend, Mr. Bounderby looked older; his seven or eight and forty might have had the seven or eight added to it again, without surprising anybody. He had not much hair. One might have fancied he had talked it off; and that what was left, all standing up in disorder, was in that condition from being constantly blown about by his windy boastfulness."

Both of these men truly believe that children shouldn’t learn to use their imagination and should only be taught the truth. To think beyond, to imagine, would be false and unapproved.

Mr. Gradgrind’s children, however, are truly the stars of the novel. On one hand you have Tom, a seemingly put-together kind of individual who appears to be following in his father’s footsteps. There is also the lovely Louisa, a girl who does her father’s bidding to make him happy. This scene truly touched me and really captures the sense of despair I sensed in Louisa throughout the novel,

“Confining yourself rigidly to Fact, the question of Fact you state to yourself is: Does Mr. Bounderby as me to marry him? Yes, he does. The sole remaining question then is: Shall I marry him? I think nothing can be plainer than that?”

I love Louisa’s sense of despair, and it slowly worsens throughout the novel. But Tom, who seemed to upright and outstanding-sticking solidly to Fact in the beginning, also has a slow spiral downward.

The resulting conclusion is one that truly made me appreciate Dickens’ skill in storycrafting.

So yes, I loved this little novel of Dickens (the length was perfect-any longer and I probably would have struggled more than I did). The contrasts to the working class, the characters of Stephen Blackpool and Rachael, the descent of Tom into stupidity, and yes, the obnoxious Mr. Bounderby all made this novel come alive. It was a pleasure to read and has pushed me to continue trying Dickens’ novels.

Who knows, perhaps he will eventually become an author I can say I like. :)

Please make sure you check out some of the other stops for this Classics Circuit Tour! Lots of wonderful things to read!


  1. Hm, this does sound interesting. I intend to read it (eventually.) I both love and don't care for Dickens. One of my favorite books is A Christmas Carol. It's because of that one, that I love him. :-)

    I'll probably read David Copperfield with you, if it wins the vote. (I think I remember that one's up for a possible readalong...)

  2. I'm flabbergasted -- I truly disliked this novel! I thought the plot was dull and there weren't any fun or interesting characters to root for. In fact, I barely remember this novel at all and I read it only about two years ago. But I also loved Bleak House and Great Expectations, so there you are. I felt as if it was so short, he left the best stuff out.

    There's a lot of great stuff in David Copperfield, though I found the middle rathe slow going. I'll be interested to read your comments if you read it this summer.

  3. I've struggled with Dickens. I feel like I ought to like him or at least appreciate his work more, but it's just not my thing. It takes me months to read one of his novels because I can't bear to have it be the only thing I read.

  4. I really like Hard Times. I finally read A Christmas Carol last year and loved it. Of course, we all know the story so I was surprised how much it moved me.

  5. I can honestly say I knew nothing about Hard Times before reading this post--Dickens just wrote too many novels. Without knowing more than what you say, it sounds a little bleak--not allowed to have imagination?! I may have to read this just to know how things turn out for Louisa.

  6. It seems like everyone was put off Dickens after reading Great Expectations. That is the only book of his I own but I'm starting to think it's not a great place to start. Glad you're kind of coming around to him!

  7. Dickens is a mixed bag for me. I think that A Tale of Two Cities would be in my top ten of all time faves, but sometimes I think Dickens is kind of an insufferable bore. I'm really glad you liked Hard Times though!!

  8. Now that I've posted my own review of Hard Times, I feel that I can read what others thought of it. I was surprised so many people chose to read it, so there are a number of HT reviews on the tour.

    All I can say is "wow--you liked it??!!" I'm in the loathe category myself, and only chose it because I wanted to contrast it to Gaskell's North and South.

    I will admit that Louisa was the one character that intrigued me, though I thought with the vitality Dickens gave her I had a hard time believing she could actually be catatonic enough to actually marry Bounderby. In a way, she kind of reminded me of Maria Bertram in Mansfield Park, marrying for all the wrong reasons and running away from the marriage--interestingly, Austen let Maria ruin herself with Henry Crawford but Dickens saved Louisa from the same fate.

    I've a mixed relationship with Dickens, having read him a lot as a teenager and in college. I love Oliver Twist Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby and David Copperfield, liked Bleak House in college but didn't care for it when I reread it a few years ago, and absolutely detested The Old Curiosity Shop.

    Now on to the next Hard Times review!

  9. I quite like Dickens - I don't know what puts people of Great Expectations though. I didn't read it in school, which seems to be a large factor in why people end up not liking GE!

    I love the way Dickens uses language and the characters. I've only read Bleak House, GE and A Christmas Carol. I did NOT like A Tale of Two Cities, that seemed to lack all of Dickens' magic and charm I don't know how he wrote that one.

    Hard Times will probably be my next Dickens, I'm curious because of North and South. He and Gaskell were friends I think... well I'm not sure about that. Apparently he found her infuriating.

  10. I've for the most part liked every Dickens I've read. I'm eager to read this one (and oh so many others, this classics circuit is not helping me whittle down the list!!)

  11. Huuumm, I wonder if I'd also get over my issues with Dickens with this one. You've made me wonder :) I've tried Great Expectations and Oliver Twist and none did the trick.