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!