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.
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.