Hard Times Dickens – Notes –

Really good annotations and illustrations at:   http://dickens.stanford.edu/dickens/archive/hard/issue1_gloss.html


“Book the First:  Sowing”
**  Chapter 1 – “One Needful Thing” –

The reader is introduced to a classroom of Dickens’ day-   heavy satire.  Utilitarian ideas  (from Jeremy Bentham, et al) was,  as the name “utilitarian” implies,  to teach and raise children using only the useful facts.  Dickens was clearly opposed to that idea.   Three unnamed adults in the room –  “the speaker,  the schoolmaster,  and another grown person.”   –  Apparently “Facts”  are the one needful thing.  –  Jeremiah Bentham is never mentioned in the book but “utilitarianism” is – in Book 2.

**  Chapter 2 –  “Another Thing Needful”
Thomas Mr Gradgrind –  the school superintendent is a well-to-do, retired merchant of Coketown.   He dislikes imagination and belittles students like Sissy (Cecilia) who use it.    He praises students who are “facts only”  as seems to be the case with Bitzer.    The “third gentleman” is a government officer – he questions Sissy the same way – “Facts only, please.”

M’Choakumchild is the unpleasant teacher at Gradgrind’s school.  He’s been trained like a piece of machinery – pre-fab – with a bunch of other teachers who can’t think for themselves.

This facts only business comes from the popular “utilitarian” schooling of the day.

**  Chapter 3 – “A Loophole” –
Gradgrind’s family – trained in facts and via statistically best methods.   Gradgrind thinks of himself as “eminently practical.”   On his way home from the school he sees the circus (where Sissy’s father works with the horses) and his own children,  Louisa, age about 15,  and Thomas (named for his father),  younger,  are there!  It’s Sissy’s fault and she must be kicked out of the school.    What would Bounderby say??? –

**  Chapter 4 –  “Mr Bounderby” –
Mr Gradgrind’s best friend is Josiah Bounderby, a very rich and self-made banker, merchant,  manufacturer who is of no sentiment at all.  He was raised in abject poverty and hardship and regularly reports on those dire circumstances.

Boundarby and Gradgrind  brings the two Gradgrind children home  where Mrs Gradgrind defends her child-raising methods.  Mrs Gradgrind also mentions that one Cecelia Jupe,  a child of a circus player,  was asking to be admitted to the school.  Bounderby and Gradagrind leave to go see Sissy’s father.  Bounderby kisses Louisa on the cheek and she feels befouled – scrubs at the place for awhile.  The two men leave to take Sissy back to her father and tell him she’s not fit for school.
Gradgrind’s other three children are named Adam Smith,  Malthus – famous utilitarians and a girl named Jane – a very “utilitarian” sort of name.   Grad grind himself may be modeled after John Mills who tried to raise perfect sons using utilitarian ideas and facts only.

**  Chapter 5 – “The Keynote”
Bounderby and Gradgrind walk through the small community of Coketown which is described as being made of brick and machinery and work oriented – very boring and strict but the workers don’t attend church.  The workers crave a little holiday –  The men find Sissy being chased  by Bitzer (from Chap 2) and ask Sissy where she lives.  She’s bringing her father “oils” for his bruises –

**  Chapter 6 –  “Sleary’s Horsemanship” –
Gradgrind  and Bounderby follow Sissy into the house but Signor Jupe,  her father,  is not there.  Sissy goes to get him but according to the other performers,  the bottom line is he’s not fit for riding anymore and has left out of shame.
Sissy returns having been unable to find her father and they tell her he’s abandoned her.  She is to go with Gradgrind and Bounderby because her father wanted her to go to school. She takes the oils with her and departs permanently.

**  Chapter 7 –  “Mrs Sparsit”
Mrs Sparsit,  Boundarby’s housekeeper, a widow and a “lady” of diminished financial means,  discusses Gradgrind’s children,  Louisa and Tom,  with Bounderby.   Tom will come into the business,  but Louisa will be his bride.  (!)  Sissy will stay in Boundarby’s school but will live with Gradgrinds.

**  Chapter 8 –  “Never Wonder” –
Sissy is living at the Gradgrinds and not enjoying school or life at all.  She is never to wonder about anything –  like Louisa (Loo).  Tom looks forward to working for Boundarby thinks he can get around him by referring to Loo.  Loo  is presented as a really wonderful young lady.

**  Chapter 9 Sissy’s Progress
Sissy misses her father dreadfully and talks about him and how he went missing.  Has school pretty messed up – but Dickens is making some sly ironic points here.

**  Chapter 10 Stephen Blackpool
A new character is introduced –  Stephen Blackpool is a down and out worker whose wife is a demented alcoholic. But he has a good friend in Rachael who appears to love him as he does her.   He wants to leave his wife and be with Rachael.

**  Chapter 11 – No Way Out
Stephen Blackpool and his wife have a miserable discussion and then Stephen goes to talk to his boss Boundarby who essentially tells him tough luck – do what you are supposed to do.

**  Chapter 12 – The Old Woman –  Blackpool meets a wonderful old woman at the gates of his employment – she has traveled to see Boundarby and seems rather smitten by him – maybe his mother?

From Blackpool’s point of view:   “What harmony, besides her age and her simplicity, surrounded her, he did not know, but even in this fantastic action there was a something neither out of time nor place: a something which it seemed as if nobody else could have made as serious, or done with such a natural and touching air.”

When Stephen leaves work he’s very sad.

**  Chapter 13
Stephen goes home and finds Rachael with his passed out and apparently injured wife.  There are bottles of poison (?) next to her bed.   HE falls asleep and has a strange dream – (really strange – death wish of a sort).  Wife wakes up and tries to take poison and Stephen is going to let her until Rachael interferes.  Stephen loves Rachael.

**  Chapter 14
Gradgrind, newly elected to Parliament,  is ready to send Tom to Boundarby.  Sissy is not doing so well in classes but she is “affectionate, ernest, good.”  (A Dickens heroine – Angel of the house potential.)  Louisa is also really wonderful.   Tom figures out that their father wants Louisa to marry Boundarby.  Tom tells Louisa how much he will miss her when he is at Boundaryby’s without her –  emotional blackmail imo.

**  Chapter 15
Louisa and Gradgrind talk about her marriage to Boundarby and he convinces her that it’s the logical and statistically correct thing to do –  what difference to ages make in the scheme of  things? –  (50 to 20 –  not much different from Dickens and Ellen Ternan but a whole different point.)   He’s completely baffled by talk of love.   She seems to want more from life than facts and figures.   But Gradgrind finally grinds Louisa down – she’ll marry him because there is no one else – how could there have been?   They announce it and Louisa changes her attitude and is even cold to Sissy.

**  Chapter 16
Boundarby has to tell Mrs Sparsit about upcoming marriage –  she thinks it less than worthy of him but agrees and also agrees to go live in an apartment above the bank where everything will be provided for her at Mr Boundarby’s expense.