Hard Times (1854) by Charles Dickens

Read with The Literary Life Podcast!

Thomas Gradgrind loves his children and has given them a systematic, rigorous education in cold, hard facts in full confidence that this will prepare them for a successful life in modern England. He generously bestows the same education on the poor children of Coketown. Sissy Jupe clearly can’t get with the program despite her best efforts, and even Gradgrind’s own oldest children, Thomas and Louisa seem to lack something needful.

I was trying to pick cover art for this post and couldn’t even remember what my copy looks like. I read this with a combination of Librivox audiobook, Project Gutenberg (sent to my Kindle and iPhone), and physical book purchased at Half Price Books. Thank goodness for the Kindle! I read most of Hard Times while pat-patting Dan to sleep in the dark for an interminable length of time each night.

Hard Times, Dickens’ shortest novel, treats on education and parenting and how “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.” I probably wouldn’t have persevered without Cindy, Thomas, and Angelina helping me through it–a common case these days as I struggle to get my reading muscles back in shape–but I’m glad I persevered! Dickens’ popularity was well earned in his day and continues for good reason. Just when I thought I couldn’t take the dark and depressing situation a moment longer, the plot turned and a glimmer of hope broke through. I also gained courage to pursue a fewer facts, more fancy approach to education.

I aim to read a Dickens novel a year, and I don’t plan to reread until I’ve read a few more. Of his most popular works (according to Good Reads), I’ve read A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol, and Oliver Twist. I hope to tackle Great Expectations or David Copperfield next year.

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