In Hard Times, Dickens illustrates the condition of England through the fictional city of Coketown. Among its inhabitants are Thomas Gradgrind, the utilitarian headmaster who attempts to impose his rigid worldview on his family circle, and the uncaring businessman Mr Bounderby. Their materialist philosophies, as opposed to the world of fancy or imagination, are tested throughout the novel, which also explores workers’ conditions, trade unions and the spurious use of statistics.
Perhaps the most polemical of his novels – in which hard-biting satire, moving drama and exuberant comedy find a very succinct and powerful expression – Hard Times is the ideal introduction to the world of Dickens.
He belongs to that brilliant school of English novelists whose finely sketched and eloquent portrayal of the world have revealed more political and social truths than all the professional politicians, journalists and moralists put together.
A literary phenomenon in his lifetime and renowned as much for his journalism and public speaking as for his novels, Charles Dickens (1812–70) now ranks as the most important Victorian writer and one of the most influential and popular authors in the English language. His memorable and vividly rendered characters and his combination of humour, trenchant satire and compassion have left an indelible mark on our collective imagination.