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 any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!’ Mr Thomas Gradgrind’s speech, the opening paragraph to Hard Times, is probably as famous as the novel itself. Published in 1854, Hard Times tells the story of a fictional Northern industrial town by the name of Coketown, and particularly of the Gradgrind family. Thomas Gradgrind brings up his children according to the strict precepts of Fact. But when Cecelia Jupe, the daughter of a circus performer, enters their lives, the Gradgrind children come into contact with a different, warmer, far more human world than the one they had thus far inhabited.
Hard Times was my first foray into Dickens’ novels proper – before I’d only read the odd short story and A Christmas Carol. The reason why I decided to read Hard Times for the Classics Circuit Duelling Authors tour is not because I’m #teamdickens rather than #teamausten, but because next month I’m going to see a stage adaptation of this novel by the same theatre company who did the production of A Christmas Carol I raved about last December. Hard Times will be performed at an old mill and will no doubt draw on Manchester’s industrial history. As I’m sure you can imagine, to say that I’m excited is an understatement.
But moving on to the novel itself: I quite enjoyed Hard Times for what it was, though while reading it I was well aware of what someone who is not a Dickens fan (or just not a fan of this novel) could take issue with. For example, the social commentary in the novel is obvious to the point of heavy-handedness, but then again what is now obvious did once did need to be said. Dickens’ points about the...
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