Book: Hard Times by Charles Dickens  

Review by Lesley Finlay

Hard Times by Charles Dickens

If you were to ask anyone about Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, the chances are they will quote the memorable first line – ‘Now what I want is Facts…’ But there is, of course, so much more than a polemic about education in this 1854 novel.
Dickens leapt onto the new bandwagon of fiction as social commentary and none more so than with this novel, which looks at education in particular and the changes in society in general. Yet this is a marvellous story too – the heartbreaking tale of Stephen Blackpool and how he is duped by the villainous Tom, sad Louisa who is sacrificed in marriage to the preposterous businessman Josiah Bounderby, and the lives of the downtrodden working class.
Ultimately, this is a novel about education and the effects of the Industrial Revolution on a society that began to have blurred social classes. As a result, the tale will resonate with the thoughtful student of today. Our schools and attitude to learning are in a state of flux, and we are living in a new, digital age that is changing the face of society as we know it.
Hard Times is not considered one of Dickens’ greatest works but this might be because it is dark, and tough. The novel introduces two wonderfully-drawn characters in Bounderby and his companion Mrs Sparsit, and also the horrific depiction of Coketown as a place to live. Described with characteristic hyperbolic comedy, this is a gruesome depiction of a town in flux.
As for what we learn about how not to educate – we trust that our dear Mr Gove has read this?