Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hard Times

Genre: Literature & Fiction
Author: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 minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of of any service to them" ---from "The One Thing Needful", Chapter One, "Hard Times"

Reading this book for the first time, I found Charles Dickens 1853 novel "Hard Times" about a fictional northern English city of Coketown and its and its sterile and dark atmosphere an excellent read. It starts with a indictment of factory-based, facts-oriernted "model schools" for children. Then we meet the "Hands" workers with little life beyond work, and beauty and social amusement seen as a frivious luxury (Charity or justice is also frivilous to this doctrine of top-down industrial feudalism. ) And then we see the effect the doctrine has on the very people who promoted it. It is not a cheerful picture.

Dickens' indictment of misapplied utilitarianism,the factory-school system that existed to root out the hearts of the young and the hypocrisy that some of upper class and wealth, especially the loathsome "self-made man" Josiah Bounderby, try to foist on their factory "hands". The book succeeds as an entertainment with all the plot twists and come'upance you'd want from such a book. But also as a political novel in the same vein as John Steinbeck's humanistic "Grapes of Wrath" or his earlier novel about struggling workers in Depression-era California, "In Dubious Battle".

Mainly this is because it is not a political novel in the sense of a polemic, but one that serves as a dramatized plea for the better senses of human beings to be restored and put above base coinage, banks, and economic productivity. It does this by giving us characters and humor and changed minds of peole we can care about, not just straw characters and statistics.

And it speaks to our time as well, a plea to save human beings from the maw of simply being industrial (or, in our day) technological or retail/service industry cogs and tools to any of the masters of our community. There's a little Coketown wherever you go.

Humans need circuses in some form, time for drama and poetry and beauty and time to appreciate it all. We all have a divine spark that should be cherished. Those sparks shouldn't be starved of energy.

Below is an animated adaptation of the first part of the novel, from a graphic novel by Nick Ellis.


  1. Dickens was a genius in every sense of the word. While most thinking people point to Dickens' bleak vistas of Great Britain at the dawn of the Industrial Age as the nadir of bleakness, we appear to be running headlong down that path, today - which makes a book like "Hard Times" more important than ever - at least, to those of us who Stayed Awake in Class....

  2. Good one! I don't know that book. I vaguely remember Dickens from sixties.
    In early sixties I've read Oliver Twist and some more.
    I have DVD from Oliver Twist's movie directed by Roman Polanski - it's good one.
    I watched an adaptation of Great Expectations on movie from 1997, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, three times, an excellent adaptation.
    When I read Dickens, I was a child and don't liked much the climate of oppression and despair in many parts of the stories.
    But, whatever,,,
    At early seventies, I could understand Dickens, but my thoughts has lead me to another directions...
    Thanks for this tip.

  3. I agree Will. It's the enormous losses in public education both for higher tuitions for kids and young adults trying to get into college and for the layoffs in the primary and secondary schools, especially in the liberal arts, that makes this book even more relavant.

  4. You're welcome Jose. I didn't see the Polanski "Oliver Twist" when it came out--it seemed to not do well for some reason.

    The "Greta Expectations" movie you mention is a fine modernization. The David Lean film is a must-see in my book.

    Yes, I remember that sense of despair in reading Dickens myself. It made the settling of accounts with villians like Bill Sikes and Uriah Heep in Dickens earlier novels.

  5. Try to watch Polanski's "Oliver Twist" again.
    At first sight, you can't accept it, but after you can see the point I agreed...

  6. I guess you can Anne. Since it was written by Charles Dickens, I suppose I stole it myself. Just remember the quotation marks.