"Hard Times" by Charles Dickens
"The next morning was too bright a morning for sleep, and James Harthouse rose early, and sat in the pleasant bay window of his dressing-room, smoking the rare tobacco that had had so wholesome an influence on his young friend. Reposing in the sunlight, with the fragrance of his eastern pipe about him, and the dreamy smoke vanishing into the air, so rich and soft with summer odours, he reckoned up his advantages as an idle winner might count his gains. He was not at all bored for the time, and could give his mind to it."
Charles Dickens wrote "Hard Times" in 1854, when he was 42 years old. One of the motivations for his writing it was the falling sales of his magazine, which he sought to boost by including an original story in this periodical. "Hard Times" is one of his later works, written 16 years before his death in 1870.
The plot revolves around the Gradgrinds - of whom the patriarch, Tom Gradgrind, is both an educational reformer and a member of Parliament - and their relationship with Josiah Bounderby, a self-professed, self-made man who wields power as a banker in the fictional Coketown. Tom Grandgrind encourages his daughter Louisa to marry Bounderby as a way of cementing their relations, though the robbery of Bounderby's bank complicates matters considerably.
"Hard Times" is among the preachiest of Dickens' books. Dickens uses this novel as a platform from which to rail against the evils of a greedy, soulless, corrupt society. This in itself isn't a bad thing, though I had trouble defining what it was exactly that Dickens was railing against. In the beginning of the novel, he seems to be railing against the educational system, and possibly also the philosophy of Utilitarianism, while in the middle he seems to be railing against the greed of industrialists like Bounderby. The end of this book is a foregone conclusion, without a clear purpose or dramatic effect.
I really wanted to like "Hard Times," but it was a real chore to get through. Those looking for a better side of Dickens might seek out "Oliver Twist" if they haven't read it already. Even "Great Expectations" and "David Copperfield," with all their improbabilities, were much better.