Publication Date: April 29, 2003
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The 'terrible mistake' was the contemporary utilitarian philosophy, expounded in Hard Times (1854) as the Philosophy of Fact by the hard-headed disciplinarian Thomas Gradgrind. But the novel, Dickens's shortest, is more than a polemical tract for the times; the tragic story of Louisa Gradgrind and her father is one of Dickens's triumphs. When Louisa, trapped in a loveless marriage, falls prey to an idle seducer, the crisis forces her father to reconsider his cherished system. Yet even as the development of the story reflects Dickens's growing pessimism about human nature and society, Hard Times marks his return to the theme which had made his early works so popular: the amusements of the people. Sleary's circus represents Dickens's most considered defence of the necessity of entertainment, and infuses the novel with the good humour which has ensured its appeal to generations of readers.
Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, in Landport, Portsea, England. He died in Kent on June 9, 1870. The second of eight children of a family continually plagued by debt, the young Dickens came to know not only hunger and privation,but also the horror of the infamous debtors’ prison and the evils of child labor. A turn of fortune in the shape of a legacy brought release from the nightmare of prison and “slave” factories and afforded Dickens the opportunity of two years’ formal schooling at Wellington House Academy. He worked as an attorney’s clerk and newspaper reporter until his Sketches by Boz (1836) and The Pickwick Papers (1837) brought him the amazing and instant success that was to be his for the remainder of his life. In later years, the pressure of serial writing, editorial duties, lectures, and social commitments led to his separation from Catherine Hogarth after twenty-three years of marriage. It also hastened his death at the age of fifty-eight, when he was characteristically engaged in a multitude of work.