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Hard Times


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If you asked someone to name three Dickens novels off the top of their head, the chances are that Hard Times would not be one of them. People would tend to go for Great Expectations and David Copperfield (or whichever one had been serialised on the telly most recently). But it is certainly one of the easiest of the novels to read.


I mentioned in my review of Little Dorrit here that I found Dickens distinctly uneven, and I would maintain this position. It is true from novel to novel, and also within a particular novel. But Hard Times, stylistic unevenness aside, is a highly unified piece of writing, and the unity is contained in the way it throws into conflict the wisdom of the head and the wisdom of the heart, the way in which the ferociously, fanatically utilitarian Mr Gradrind has to face the consequences of his "philosophy" when his own children make disastrous messes of their lives.


I originally struggled through Hard Times when I was too young to cope with it, but reading it today I am struck by how relevant its themes remain today, just over 150 years since it was originally published. Presumably some of the people being blamed right now for the state the economy is in would easily recognise Mr Gradgrind and Mr Bounderby as their forbears.


Always supposing they were ever likely to open a "serious" novel in the first place, of course.

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  • 9 months later...

I'm currently listening to an audiobook of the BBC's dramatisation of Hard Times which is excellent. I haven't read the book but may due now. I have found Dickens hard to read in the past. Have you read any Victor Hugo? I started The Hunchback of Notre Dame but gave up (I was ill at the time!). I have Les Miserables out of the library. I listened to the BBC's dramatisation on audiobook which was riveting but the book is SO long!! It is a fabulous story. Love the musical too!!

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Have you read any Victor Hugo? I started The Hunchback of Notre Dame but gave up (I was ill at the time!). I have Les Miserables out of the library.
Hello, The Maid! I found The Hunchback... impossible to put down, but gave up after three volumes (out of five) of Les Mis... It is much, much too long...
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I think that I gave up with Les Mis, the book, thinking it was so long simply because I already knew the basic story thro' the BBC dramatisation and the musical. More fool me, I admit but I was ill at the time. I may try and read it again when I have finished my "to read" list. It is a cracking story and to experience it fully would be a good idea. I am currently reading and listening to North & South having seen the DVD first. I am realising that, although knowing the basic story helps, the book is SO much better and the portraits drawn of the main characters more vivid. I feel very sorry for Captain Lennox now whereas in the series I didn't give him a seconds thought. My resolve now is to pick a novel which I haven't seen adapted to the small or big screen and read it first then see it.

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With respect... is that a serious question?
Yes, but I'm just curious and didn't mean any disrespect. I'm in the habit of reading books that are 500 + pages long and picking one up that's more than a thousand doesn't concern me at all - indeed, it's the shortness of the book that bothers me - so I was wondering why the length of a book would put somebody off. You can't tell just by looking at it if the entire length is necessary.
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Yes, but I'm just curious and didn't mean any disrespect.
LBMC, the expression "with respect" here means that I'm the one stressing that I don't wish to appear disrespectful...
so I was wondering why the length of a book would put somebody off.
It didn't put me off initially. I've read Proust twice and I'll read it again hopefully...

In a nutshell, I waded through I can't remember how many hundreds of pages and, quite simply, got bored... and because Les Mis is conveniently divided into five volumes (subdivided into books, subdivided into chapters, of which there are 365...), the end of the third volume seemed like a good place to cut my losses... (I hate giving up, but Les Mis joined the ranks of War and Peace and The Lord of The Rings Oh, and The Bible... Now that really is too long...)

You can't tell just by looking at it if the entire length is necessary.
As one actress said to another...


Sorry... I'm being frivolous :o I'm behind with tomorrow's lessons... (God I hate George Orwell...) :o


Erm, the thread was on Hard Times anyway...

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  • 5 years later...

I listened to hard times as an unabridged audiobook earlier this year.

I knew nothing about it in advance, and was surprised how short it was, but found it quite engrossing.

As jfp says in his OP, the themes of the book remain relevant today - in fact our education system seems to get more and more utilitarian with each passing year.

At least Gradgrind saw the error of his ways by the end of the novel, but not until he had caused much unhappiness, even to his own children

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