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Hardly a masterpiece, but brilliant at times
Peter Reeve | Thousand Oaks, CA USA | 02/21/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
""Hard Times" belongs to the second half of Dickens's writing career, in which his work becomes rather more somber and, by common critical assent, more mature and satisfying. Personally, I prefer his earlier work and his very first novel, "Pickwick Papers", is to my mind his greatest. Surprisingly, "Hard Times", despite its title and reputation, contains some brilliant flashes of Dickens humour, especially in the earlier part. The descriptions of Bounderby and Gradgrind, and the early dialogue with the circus folk, are genuinely hilarious.This is Dickens's shortest novel, about a third of the length of each of his previous four. Themes, subplots and characters are introduced without being fully explored. The author was perhaps feeling the constraints of writing in installments for a periodical, although he was well used to doing that. This relative brevity, together with the youth of some of the central characters, make this book a good introduction to Dickens for young readers.There are the large dollops of Victorian melodrama and the reliance on unlikely coincidences that mar much of Dickens's work. Also the usual tendency for characters to become caricatures and to have names that are a little too apt (a teacher called Mr. McChoakumchild?).The respected critic F.R. Leavis considered "Hard Times" to be Dickens's masterpiece and "only serious work of art". This seems to me wildly wrong, but such an extreme opinion may prompt you to read the book, just so that you can form your own opinion.I read it because I had just finished "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair, which deals with the plight of Chicago factory workers, and I wanted to compare the two. Sinclair's book has greater immediacy. It takes you much closer to the suffering of the workers. In the Dickens novel, the mill workers and their plight are distanced; they are relegated to being the background to a family drama, which is what really interests the author. A third, and still greater work, that examines the same themes, is Zola's "Germinal". I recommend all three. Together, they give real insight into the social conditions that led to the proletarian political and revolutionary movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries."
More Than Facts
oddsfish | Winters, TX | 03/31/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I initially lamented the fact that Hard Times was assigned to me in my British lit. class. I had read some of Dickens's melodramas like A Tale of Two Cities and Oliver Twist and enjoyed them, but everything I heard about Hard Times said this was nothing like those. This was supposedly just strictly social commentary. My interpretation of that: BORING. But then I read it.Hard Times isn't like Dickens's other novels, but I don't think that it has any less heart than those masterpieces. In fact, Dickens endured himself much further to me with this novel as he has his characters perform Thomas Carlyle's enduring philosophy. The novel follows the Gradgrind family who is raised adhering to FACTS and living in a society which worships the manufacturing machine. As the novel progresses, connections are made and broken, and the characters come to the realization that there is much more to reality than the material facts.Hard Times is told so compassionately. The reader cares for these people and their tragic lives. The story is also told with biting humor that still cuts at today's society (this novel feels really modern), and the underlying philosophy is one which is so needed in our post-modern world. I would certainly recommend this novel to fans of Dickens and to fans of the truly literary novel."
BEAUTIFUL, SORROWFUL, AND HONEST
oddsfish | 07/07/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Dickens creates a novel that virtually revolutionizes literature of the 1800's. At a time where most writers wrote in a stuffy prose full of unrealities and a jaded outlook, Dickens dares to tell with honesty what he sees through his window. Hard Times has yet a misleading title. It gives one ideas of harshness, depression, poverty, and social decline--although the actual reality of then-London, still not something you would choose to read. However, Hard Times has as much depression and poverty as any of Dickens' other works. It is just in this case that Dickens chooses to remind the world that in the deepest despair there is beauty yet to be seen. Dickens was a strange author. In his supposedly inspiring books, you get an overdose of sadness, and in his depressing books, you find beauty. It is this case with Hard Times. It is a poor, honest man's search for justice in a world where only the rich have merit. It is a girl's search for true love while battling the arranged marriage for money. And lastly, a woman's search for recognition against her favored, yet dishonest brother. It is these searches that at last come together and become fufilled. And, while at the same time telling a captivating story, it comments on the then--and still now--presence of greed and total dishonesty one has to go through for money. The title of this review sums up Hard Times. Its beauty comes from the pure searches for truth, the sorrow comes from the evil the characters most overcome to get there, and the honesty is both the truth with which Dickens portrays life and the the overwhelming truth that these protaganists create.Holly Burke, PhD.Clinical Psychologist, Abnormal Psych. ProfessorGeorgetown University, Johns Hopkins Inst."