Dickens Champions: Manchester discuss Hard Times
8 October 2012 / 0 Comments
The Manchester Dickens Champions recently got together to discuss the novel Hard Times. Here's what they thought:
More enjoyable than Barnaby Rudge
In general many of the group (though not all) found this a much more enjoyable read than our previous title, Barnaby Rudge. For some this was simply because of its length, it was a much more manageable read in busy lives. But some of us also felt that by being shorter in length, Dickens had concentrated on the essence of plot and character, to create a more successful novel for contemporary times.
Maeve notices Biblical references
Maeve began the discussion by pointing out that the titles of the different sections of the book were based upon the biblical quotation "for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" Galations 6/7. It was used to highlight the difference between industrial and rural life. The plot was clear and concise and by having fewer characters it was a better book than the long and rambling Barnaby Rudge.
A little disappointing for Donna
Donna said that she had not enjoyed it as much as she had expected. She felt that Dickens was writing under pressure in order to meet a deadline and that the plot had a complex double standard. Dickens was trying to show two sides of the same coin. The question was whether industrialisation benefited the working class or whether it dehumanised them.
Industrialisation at the heart of this novel
Clare said she thought that this was a book of controversial attitudes and contradictory argument, which prompted Maeve to ask whether Dickens was indeed guilty of sitting on the fence. He appeared to be very strongly against industrialisation and the men who profited from it although he was not much more complimentary about Slackbridge, the union man who turned the workers against Stephen Blackpool. Whilst Dickens was against the dehumanising effect of industrialisation he did not want to be seen to be supporting militancy in the workforce.
Geoffrey remarked that Stephen's position would have been most unusual at that time and that his promise to Rachael being given as the reason for his stance seemed rather a weak one. Both Harriet and Donna felt that an even greater weakness lay in Dickens' attempt to write Lancashire dialect speech which they both found too difficult to understand. This also applied to the lisping of Sleary. Steven agreed. He felt that it undermined the importance of Sleary's philosophy and that the need for amusement was paramount.
Brian said that it was not only Sleary who had no interest in the mechanizing effect of industrialisation. The two positive women in the story, Sissy and Rachael, not only went some way to oppose the characters of the feeble Mrs Gradgrind and the horrendous Mrs Sparsit, but also showed through the imagination and emotion of Sissy and the loving, compassionate and caring Rachael that society needed to be based upon the concepts and principles of happy family life. Dickens could see no other solution to the problems of society that surrounded and disturbed him. Or could he?
Opinions flowed fast and furiously and it became obvious that the novel was not just meant for light reading but that Dickens was examining very important social issues.
Everyone agreed that there was a lot of unhappiness in the book but that Dickens lightened the tone through the humour of his memorable characters, the most outstanding one being Bounderby. The scene where his mother turns up and refutes all his stories of a dreadful childhood was one of the highlights of the book.
Read what the Mitchell Classics Dickens Champions thought of Hard Times.
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Remember to watch out for our Dickens Champions' blog posts as they read and review their way through Dickens during 2012.