Hard Times is Dickens's most political novel. Set in the industrial north of England, in Coketown, he examines the lives of working people, who are taught by the capitalists Gradgrind and Bounderby to think only of the facts of life and not to indulge in imagination. Gradgrind’s own children have been so educated and as a result are dysfunctional and disconnected from their feelings. Only the travelling circus company of Sleary seems to offer any hope of humanity in Coketown. Hard Times is a deeply moving story written in anger to strike a blow for the victims of the dehumanising processes of industry.
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The least typical Dickens novel
I would definitely recommend this to a friend - it is short so that even if you aren't a regular Dickens reader you will get through it and see if you like his style.
It is a fascinating story and quite unlike most of Dickens novels (all of which I like very much). It is the least melodramatic and has the least emotional stereotypes. It has a crisp punchy message that feels very relevant even now. As always Dickens is very concerned about social problems. In this novel, while there are some great character portraits, it is the social message about the gulf between mill workers and mill owners that comes clearly across. For any one who likes Lowry paintings (and especially anyone who went to the recent Lowry exhibition in London) it transports you straight into the world of his paintings - an experience not to be missed. It is also one of Dickens best attempts to portray an accent other than that of London or his beloved Kent. He has clearly researched the Lancashire accent very well and it adds another great dimension to the book.
Anton Lesser is a superb reader. Each character is distinct in a very appropriate way and the pace of the various parts is beautifully pitched. He clearly understands what he is reading. He enriches the whole experience of the novel.
Both laughed and almost cried. Great moments of pathos and bathos, also spiced with comedy. Perhaps one of Dickens most emotionally balanced books, without too much melodrama.
For any Dickens fan who does not know this title it is a must read book.
Dickens made easy