Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Hard Time - Charles Dickens

The people of Coketown are taught that pure facts is the only way to live. School teacher Mr Gradgrind is a firm believer in this and instills it not only in the classroom but also in his own home with his children. Eldest daughter Louisa is aware that her childhood was missing something and is therefore miserable with no happy thoughts of her future. Her brother is the only person to light up her life. It is for him that she marries Mr Bounderby who is at least thirty years her senior.

I am a huge Charles Dickens fan. I have been since a young age. I picked this one up because it was on my 'books I should have read by now' challenge list. The book is meant to be miserable (hence the title) but filled with wit. Maybe I missed something but for the first time I struggled with a Dickens book. The generic industrial town of Coketown was so flat. It seemed that it containted the school, the bank and the mill. All those living there worked for Mr Bounderby and no one else. It made for very dull reading.

The characters themselves were also dull and flat mirroring the town itself. There are two people in the book that the reader is supposed to sympathise with, Louisa and Stephen. I found this difficult since both characters were extremely boring. There wasn't much to them and so they came across as very one dimensional. Maybe if the book had been extended (I think this might be one of the shortest Dickens) the author could have built up the characters more and therefore I would have liked them better.

The one thing it did do was create characters that I found easy to dislike. Mr Bounderby was the pompous old man with something to hide. I think I disliked him as soon as he made an appearance in the book and I was supposed to. Mrs Sparsit, his housekeeper, was just as unlikeable. She's the typical spinster woman who wants to catch Louisa in a wrong as she feels she has been replaced. Lastly there is Tom. Whilst I didn't like him his character was just as flat as the others. He was supposed to be a drunk and a gambler. Yet there was only one drunken scene and the gambling was only hinted at with mention of his debts. I feel that I missed out on more drunken/gambling scenes.

In case you can't tell I was extremely disappointed with this book. Most of the other books I have read by Dickens have been large tomes. This makes me wonder if maybe Dickens needs the length to make his characters come alive (although this wasn't the case with A Christmas Carol). I think if this had been the first book I had read by him it would have put me off reading more. Thankfully that is not the case but the other Dickens I have on my TBR pile is now at the bottom.


  1. I've had a tough time getting into Dickens and have yet to finish a book. I can't seem to get past the silly/odd character names! I'll keep trying, though.

  2. The character names are funny. Most of Dickens books can be listed amongst my favourites. Which ones did you try?

  3. Most interesting. I have just begun reading Hard Times as well, being a major Dickens fan and having never read it either, and I was quite caught up in it from the first. I have an immense amount of sympathy for Louisa and Stephen both, and I even started crying while sitting on a bus reading about Stephen's fate.
    The one Dickens book that took me a very long time to get into was Dombey and Son. I didn't like it much until Edith came in.

  4. I did feel sorry for Louisa at first but then her character didn't grow on me at all after that. Her character seemed so flat as did most of the others. Sissy was actually the only character I felt had substance and sadly she wasn't in it enough. I haven't read that one. My next one is Tale of Two Cities but I've put that at the bottom of my pile for now. Need a break after Hard Times.