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Hard Times, A Longman Cultural Edition

Hard Times, A Longman Cultural Edition - Charles Dickens
"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 mind of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them."
Mr. Gradgrind, Hard Times

"We don't need no education
We dont need no thought control"

Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) - Roger Waters, Pink Floyd
Roger Waters' lyrics could almost be a direct response to Mr. Gradgrind's ridiculous world view.

The worst thing about Hard Times is the title, very off putting. You get the feeling that the book will indeed give you a hard time and should be avoided like the plague; particularly if you have never read Dickens before and assume that his books are hard to read. As it turned out Hard Times is one of the easiest Dickens books to follow, neither the plot or the prose is particularly convoluted. It is also one of his shortest and most concise, clocking in at a measly 350 or so pages instead of 1000+ like most of his novels.

The major theme, as far as I can discern, is the effect of stifling upbringing and overly rigid fact-based education at the expense of allowing children to cultivate their imagination. Facts and figures are essential for development of the intellect but they need to be balanced with fanciful stories and leisurely pastime. The novel’s protagonist Louisa was raised and homeschooled by her father to only be concerned with “facts facts facts!” and tales of fantasy, circuses etc, are boycotted. This has the effect of turning an innately decent loving girl into a living refrigerator. The effect on her brother is even worse, as he grows up to be a dissipated, deceitful and generally useless individual.

This being a Dickens novel the plight of the poor and the injustice society inflicts on them is depicted with a fierce passion. Both “the masters” (factory owners) and trade unionists are portrayed in very poor light. To balance the unsavory characters Dickens also introduces us to his stock “nice”, simple and honest characters and several eccentric ones. Also, even with the serious issues Dickens wants to bring to your attention in this book, he never forgets his story telling duties, Hard Times is well paced, sometime funny, sometime sad, and never drags.

The reason I enjoy reading about Dickens’ characters is the reason his detractors criticize him for. His supporting characters tend to be colorful in appearance, behavior and speech. However, they are also frequently cartoonish and unbelievable as real people. This is perfectly acceptable to me because I don’t think Dickens’ intention is to write ultra-real gritty fiction. The crazy characters are there to entertain and also function as caricatures of certain types of people for metaphorical purposes. For example Josiah Bounderby one of the antagonists seems like some kind of angry red balloon, all bluster and extreme arrogance. His housekeeper Mrs. Sparsit is super aristocratic and a real nasty piece of work. James Harthouse, a total cad with seduction of Louisa in mind. His slick patter is very amusing and brings to mind one of [a:Oscar Wilde|3565|Oscar Wilde|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1357460488p2/3565.jpg]’s more outrageous “motormouth” characters.

Dickens also gets a lot of flak for his melodramatic sentimental plots and “deus ex machina”. All true but without writing a tedious defence of the great man I would simply say that I am OK with it all. I always find his fiction to be accessible, entertaining and poignant. His prose is also a work of art, sometime sardonic sometime lyrical. Again the haters find him verbose, and again I enjoy his verbosity.

My audiobook version is superbly performed by actor Martin Jarvis, definitely not just a narration, but an actual dramatic vocal performance with tons of different voices and accents.

In conclusion this alleged review seems more like an exercise in Dickens fanboying (now that's something you don't see everyday!) than a proper review. Ah well, it’s the best I can do at this time of night.

Last words go to Mr. Sleary, circus manager extraordinaire (who speaks with a lisp)
"People mutht be amuthed. They can’t be alwayth a learning, nor yet they can’t be alwayth a working, they an’t made for it. You mutht have uth, Thquire. Do the withe thing and the kind thing too, and make the betht of uth; not the wurtht!"