Book Review: Hard Times by Charles Dickens (Four Stars)


Book Review: Hard Times by Charles Dickens

(Four Stars)

“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls noting but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.”

Stinging indictment of the what-you-see-is-what-you-get materialists of his time and ours. Though he wrote it a century and a half ago, Dickens’ critique of hard-nosed realists  true today.

“The only difference between us and the professors of virtue or benevolence, or philanthropy—never mind the name—is, that we know it is all meaningless, and say so; while they know it equally and will never say so.”

Probably not Dicken’ best story–it lacks the clear central character, the redeeming (if not sticky sweet) ending and the sentimentality of other tales–but Hard Times may be the most–dare I say–Christian of Dicken’s stories. Beyond the numerous references and allusions to the Bible, Hard Times is also a story of redemption offered but not always taken.

“… always proclaiming, through that brassy speaking-trumpet of a voice of his, his old ignorance and his old poverty. A man who was a bully of humility.” As today we are bullies of righteousness.

Whether industry mogul or labor organizer, the self-righteous, self-made men shun the very Facts they champion in favor of what suits their preconceived notions.

“The red sparks dropping out of the fire, and whitening and dying. It made me think, after all, how short my life would be, and how little I could hope to do in it.”

Children raised in that environment lack compassion and integrity, just as they do today. The wonder is that more don’t become sociopaths.

“Set anywhere, side by side, the work of God and the work of man; and the former, even though it be a troop of Hands of very small account, will gain dignity from the comparison.”

Beyond his usual insightful criticism of his day, Dickens holds his characters accountable for their actions, even when they repent of them. Sin has consequences that even repentance and forgiveness may not avert.

“If you had only neglected me, what a much better and much happier creature I should have been this day!” “I never knew you were unhappy, my child.” “Father, I always knew it.”

Not a fun read, but a good one. Harsh words, few sympathetic characters, and painful dialect.

“I ha’ seen more clear, and ha’ made it my dyin’ prayer that aw the world may on’y coom together more, an’ get a better unnerstan’in o’ one another, than when I were in ‘t my own weak seln.”

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