WORK AND CONCLUSSIONS ABOUT CHARLES DICKENS' HARD TIMES
First of all, it would be necessary to make a short sum about Charles Dickens' Hard Times. Here Dickens has done an attack to industrial zones and to capitalist society in general. This is a touching tale of poverty and industry in Victorian society.
In the polluted and poverty-ridden Cokedown, Louisa and Tom Gradgrind endure a cold and loveless childhood at the hands of their self-satistied and unimaginative father Thomas. Louisa, starved of affection, is forced into a miserable marriage with a self-made industrialist, Josiah Bounderby. Tom descends to a secret life of theft.
But for some, even among the squalor there is the hope of redemption and eventual happiness.
Dickens' brilliant and moving satire on the Victorian family and the philosophies of a society which sought to turn men into machines was written at the height of both his popularity and creative powers.
In feeling Dickens as a lover we must never forget him as a fighter, and a fighter for a creed. The geniality which he spread over all his creations was geniality spread from one centre, from one flaming peak. There was never a more didactic writer: hence there was never one more amusing. He had no mean modern notion of keeping the moral doubtful. He would have regarded this as a mere piece of slovenliness, like leaving the last page illegible.
Dickens is always generous, he is generally kind-hearted, he is often sentimental, he is sometimes intolerably maudlin; but you never know when you will not come upon one of the convictions of Dickens; and when you do come upon it you do know it. It is as hard and as high as any precipice or peak of the mountains. The highest and hardest of these peaks is Hard Times.
The sternness of Dickens emerges as separate from his softness. This tale of Hard Times is in some way harsher than all these. For it is the expression of a righteous indignation which cannot condescend to humour and which cannot even condescend to pathos.
One cannot express the real value of this book without being irrelevant. But there are rather particular reasons why the value of the book called Hard Times should be referred back to great historic and theoretic matters with which it may appear superficially to have little or nothing to do. The chief reason can perhaps be stated thus that the English politics had for more than a hundred years been getting into more and more of a hopeless tangle and that Dickens did in some extraordinary way see what was wrong, even if he did not see what was right.
The Liberalism which Dickens and nearly all of his contemporaries professed had begun in the American and French revolution. The republican formula was that the State must consist of its citizens ruling equally, however unequally they may do anything else. In their capacity of members of the State they are all equally interested in its preservation. But the English soon began to be romantically restless about this eternal truism; they were perpetually trying to turn into something else, into something more pintoresque, progress perhaps, or anarchy.
The English people as a body went blind, as the saying is, for interpreting democracy entirely in terms of liberty. They said in substance that if they had more and more liberty it didn't matter whether they had any equality or any fraternity. But this was violating the sacred trinity of true politics; they confounded the persons and they divided the substance.
The man who kept his head kept a head full of fantastic nonsense; he was a writer of rowdy farces, a demagogue of fiction, a man without education in any serious sense whatever, a man whose whole business was to turn ordinary cockneys into extraordinary caricatures. Yet when all these other children of the revolution went wrong he, by a mystical something in his bones, went right. He knew nothing of the revolution; yet he struck the note of it. He returned to the original sentimental commonplace upon which it is forever founded, as the Church is founded on a rock. In an England gone mad about a minor theory he reasserted the original idea, the idea that no one in the State must be too weak to influence the State.
Dickens was a real liberal demanding the return of real Liberalism. Dickens was there to remind people that England had rubbed out two worde of the revolutionary motto, had left only liberty and destroyed Equality and Fraternity. In this book, Hard Times, he specially champions equality.
Macaulay's private comment on Hard Times runs, "one or two passages of exquisite pathos and the rest sullen Socialism".
Dickens wasn't a Socialist, but an unspoilt Liberal; he wasn't sullen; nay, rather, he had remained strangely hopeful. They called him a sullen Socialist only to disguise their astonishment at finding still loose about the London streets a happy republican.
Dickens is the one living link between the old kindness and the new, between the good will of the past and the good works of the future. And although this Hard Times is, as its name implies, the hardest of his works, although there is less in it perhaps than in any other of the abandon and the buffoonery of Dickens, this only emphasizes the more clearly the fact that he stood almost alone for a more humane and hilarious view of democracy. None of his great and much more highly-educated contemporaries could help him in this. It is the only place, perhaps, where Dickens, in defending happiness, for a moment forgets to be happy.
In Hard Times even his sympathy is hard. And the reason is again to be found in the political facts of the century. Dickens could be half genial with the older generation of oppressors because it was a dying generation.
For the first half of the century Dickens and all his friends were justified in feeling that the chains were falling from mankind. And when they fell from him he picked them up and put them upon the poor.