Hard Times


Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Hard Times is primarily the story of the conflict between fact and fancy. Thomas Gradgrind is a schoolmaster living in the grim town of Coketown. He is firm on the idea that what should be taught in the home and the schoolroom is facts, nothing but facts. Fancy of any kind is to be discouraged in the strongest possible terms, and it is with this philosophy that he runs his school and raises his children.

It is only as the years go by and his muddled children – Louisa and Thomas make a mess of their lives that he realizes the consequences of their upbringing.

Hard Times is also the story of how industrialization has made Coketown a grim place to live and it highlights the differences between the haves and the have-nots, and the increasing distrust between the two classes of people. It also chronicles the rise of unionism – probably one of the earliest fictional books I have read that covers these issues.

My Review

This is probably the most “modern” Dickens novel I have read. It is much shorter than most of his books and extremely bleak. Unlike his other books that are peppered with numerous characters and that sometimes overdose on the sentimentality, this book is very bleak and very focused. There are only a handful of characters but they are drawn well. The plot is predictable, but it is paced very well. And his writing, as usual, is first class.

The book starts extremely slowly taking the time to set the scene, but once that is done, Dickens moves his story very fast. I ended up reading the second half of the book in a single setting. Anyone who has read Dickens will realize this is a pretty remarkable state of affairs :D. In fact, I wouldn’t have minded too much if the book had gone on a bit longer even.

For some reason this book is not a favorite of most reviewers, but I liked it a lot. I”ll even go so far as to say that Hard Times has now replaced Bleak House as my favorite Dickens and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for an easy start to Dickens’ work.

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  • Chinoiseries

    Can you believe that I’ve managed to circumvent Dickens so far? He’s a writer that I managed to skip during high school and I’ve just never gotten around to reading his books. I really should, I know :s Some of my friends who are English majors were not very positive about Bleak House. Which book wold you recommend for a Dickens newbie? 🙂

  • I like the way you have reviewed the book. I read “Hard Times” as a teenager and did not like it very much. Maybe it is time to read the book now.

  • Dickens has a knack of giving the most depressing names to his books- hard Times, Bleak House.. I remember being afraid to start these books for fear that they would be dreary.
    Great review 🙂

    • @Amritorupa: I know, the titles are so uninviting. But, I did not find Bleak House very depressing at all.

      Hard Times though is a sad story for the most part, but I have read worse tear-jerkers.

  • I love Dickens, but haven’t read this one (or Bleak House). Sounds like I should go for Hard Times over Bleak House if I have to choose between them (but of course, I should read both, eventually).

    • @Leeswammes: It really depends on the amount of time you have on hand. I would recommend Hard Times if you want a short, quick read. Read Bleak House if you want the complete Dickens experience.

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