“Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”
So begins Hard Times, and what an opening this is! We know instantly from this, some of what the novel will be about, and the character of the man who says these words. He is plain-speaking in his “inflexible, dry, and dictatorial” voice, direct and committed to his extreme view of teaching as instruction. His name is Mr. Thomas Gradgrind, “an eminently practical man”, and he has an ailing wife, and five children called Louisa, Tom, Jane – and revealingly – Adam Smith and Malthus. He has a misguided idea of Utilitarianism as an ideal in all things, only valuing facts and statistics, and ruthlessly suppressing the imaginative sides of his children’s nature.
Hard Times is like a little taste of Dickens. It doesn’t have his signature plot, but it is hugely enjoyable and could not be written by anyone else. Give it a try, but if it is your first Dickens, please make sure it is not the only one. You would miss out on so much.
“How could you give me life, and take from me all the inappreciable things that raise it from the state of conscious death? Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart? What have you done, oh, Father, What have you done with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here?” said Louisa as she touched her heart.