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Charles Dickens - Hard Times (1 Viewer)

Dickensian Coketown!

I first considered reading a Charles Dickens novel when a member of my Reading Group eulogised over 'Hard Times', expounding the fact that it would take him five years to explain the first page. So, on my 37th birthday, I got hold of a copy and set about reading it over a glass of coke in the public house where we meet to discuss the books we have read.

That first page, which represents the whole of the first chapter, is positively alive with a personal description of a character who may have appeared in our own lives, although the novel was written in 1854. The fact filled headmaster of a school who thought that fact was so important to a child’s education that the author spells the word ‘Fact’ with a capital ‘F’ throughout the book. I tend to reserve capital letters in my own writing to names and the Truth. Not that Charles Dickens or my own respected, memorable headmaster aren’t Truthful, as I hope that I may be in my own life.

From reading the short scan of Dickens’ life at the beginning of the book, it can be seen that he wrote the book after visiting Preston, an industrial town about 10 miles from where I live now. My last visit to this town was to see the Football Museum at Deepdale, Preston North End’s Football Ground, which may very well be in the area that he describes the living quarters and workplaces of some of the characters. I remember seeing a red bricked Church in the area amongst a myriad of terraced streets.

As I run my own business, and often find myself distributing leaflets, I noted the area for future reference. Now, seeing that I am opening a bookshop in my hometown I will pay the area a visit and also see if there is any commemoration of Charles Dickens’ visit in the city museum or University. Seeing as I will just publish this ‘essay’ as a leaflet, I will keep it to one side of A4 for efficiency.

The novel is divided into 3 books, the first book that I have just read and will try to tell you about, is called ‘Sowing’. Here, Dickens’ sets the scene and diverse characters of the story. Mr Gradgrind is the headmaster of the school, he has five children and he brings them up with ‘Fact’ allowing no ‘fancy’ or ‘wonder’, as he hopes his school will do the same with other children. His best friend, Mr Bounderby, is an Industrialist and well to do, having raised himself from the gutter as he had been abandoned by his mother when a child and become a runaway whilst under the ‘cruel care’ of his grandmother.

Sissy Jupe is a pupil at the school, and a Gypsy, the daughter of a clown. The two of them decide that a Gypsy girl will be averse to the running of the school, so they go to tell her father that she is not welcome to attend. On their way to the gypsy dwelling place, they meet Sissy, who has been to get her father some treatment for his ‘hurt’. When they get there, Sissy is desperate when she finds her father has gone away, the reason for his leaving was that he wasn’t making people laugh.

Mr Gradgrind, in his factual way, offers to take her in as long as she promises not to lower his own children by talking about her lifestyle. The Circus troupe are sad to see her go, but Sissy hopes that her father will return to the same place when he is over his ‘hurt’. Condition agreed, Sissy asks each day if there is a letter from her father in the post, to no avail.

Louisa, Mr Gradgrind’s eldest daughter, befriends Sissy and Sissy helps Louisa to ‘wonder’ and ‘fancy’, in opposition to her parent’s wishes. Tom, Louisa’s closest sibling, confides in his sister and together they grow and become involved in ‘what’s it matter!’ relationships, becoming embroiled with Mr Bounderby who is thirty years Louisa’s senior, and others.

Stephen Blackpool, a worker in Mr Bounderby’s Mill, his returning drunk wife, his true love Rachael, and a Mysterious old lady who he meets outside Mr Bounderby’s house, all add to the intrigue.