Publication Date: March 1, 1981
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Written deliberately to increase the circulation of Dickens’s weekly magazine, Household Words, Hard Times was a huge and instantaneous success upon publication in 1854. Yet this novel is not the cheerful celebration of Victorian life one might have expected from the beloved author of The Pickwick Papers and The Old Curiosity Shop. Compressed, stark, allegorical, it is a bitter exposé of capitalist exploitation during the industrial revolution–and a fierce denunciation of the philosophy of materialism, which threatens the human imagination in all times and places. With a typically unforgettable cast of characters–including the heartless fact-worshipper
Mr. Gradgrind, the warmly endearing Sissy Jupe, and the eternally noble Stephen Blackpool–Hard Times carries a uniquely powerful message and remains one of the most widely read of Dickens’s major novels.
Charles Dickens was born in a little house in Landport, Portsea, England, on February 7th, 1812. At the age of eleven, Dickens was taken out of school and sent to work in a London blacking warehouse, where his job was to paste labels on bottles for six shillings a week. When the family fortunes improved, Charles went back to school, after which he became an office boy, a freelance reporter, and finally an author. With Pickwick Papers (1836-7) he achieved immediate fame; in a few years he was easily the most popular and respected writer of his time. It has been estimated that one out of every ten persons in Victorian England was a Dickens reader. Oliver Twist (1837), Nicholas Nickelby (1838-9), and The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-41) were huge successes. Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-4) was less so, but Dickens followed it with his unforgettable A Christmas Carol (1843). Bleak House (1852-3), Hard Times (1854), and Little Dorrit (1855-7) reveal his deepening concern for the injustices of British society. A Tale of Two Cities (1859), Great Expectations (1860-61) and Our Mutual Friend (1864-5) complete his major works.