The Royal Holloway Victorian MA Blog

Hard Times


Tomorrow’s novel class (the last before reading week) is on Hard Times, of which novel it is probably fair to say: CD’s contemporaries thought little of it, though Leavis and later critics have loved it! To quote Grahame Smith:

Even in the general climate of disappointment generated by the later, so-called ‘dark’ novels, Hard Times stands out in the meagre response it elicited from Victorian reviewers and in the lack of serious consdieration it had received until the middle of the twentieth-century. It was admired by a great contemporary, John Ruskin, and found a passionate advocate in George Bernard Shaw at a later stage, but it had to wait until 1948 for a full-scale rehabilitation, although of a qualified kind, by F R Leavis in The Great Tradition. Leavis praise the novel for the absence of those very qualities which to many readers have seemed most Dickensian: that is, richness of detail, comic exuberance and an apparently cavalier attitude to the more rigorous aspects of literary form. … Leavis’s revaluation paved the way for later appreciations which have grasped that the intense seriousness of the novel’s critique of its social world is not, in fact, incompatible with the linguistic energy and comic verve that seem so central to Dickens’s achievement. There is exuberance here, too, and although its brevity precludes the large-scale structural complexity of Bleak House and Little Dorrit, the brilliance of Hard Times‘s pared-down language is hardly less impressive in its wit and variety.

Here are a few links that you might find useful, in terms of getting a handle on the novel: you’re not required to read them before class, but they might help. Utilitarianism is usually seen as an important context for Hard Times; as is Industrialism. Dickens claimed he conceived and started writing the novel before the Preston Lock-out, but it’s good to have a sense of what that example of loggerheads industrial relations entailed. Some interesting articles:

Philip Collins ‘Dickens and Industrialism’, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 (20:4, Autumn, 1980), pp. 651-673

Patricia Ingham, ‘Realism’: Hard Times and the Industrial Novel, Review of English Studies (n.s. 37: 148; Nov., 1986), pp. 518-527

K. J. Fielding and Anne Smith ‘Hard Times and the Factory Controversy: Dickens vs. Harriet Martineau’, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 24, No. 4, The Charles Dickens Centennial (March 1970), pp. 404-427

Stephen J. Spector, ‘Monsters of Metonymy: Hard Times and Knowing the Working Class’, ELH (51: 2; Summer, 1984), pp. 365-384

That last one picks up on what we were saying in last week’s core course class about metaphor and metonomy … [AR]