Completist author reading, Old School

10. Hard Times – Charles Dickens – 1/10

I hope not all Dickens is like this. If it
is, this is going to be a long project, as I keep reading anything other than
the next one!

The tale
of the Gradgrinds
– father, a schoolmaster with a very rigid idea of
how children ought to be raised, free of fancy and full of “ologisms”, a mother
racked with nerves, a daughter Louisa, who comes to doubt the prosaic quality
of her life, Thomas, a lost and petulant gambler, and the adopted daughter
Sissy Jupe, whose father abandoned her to their circus colleagues and who was
subsequently taken in by the Gradgrind family – had some semblance of a plot,
but not much of one.

The majority of page-space was occupied
with long and convoluted character descriptions, often highly entertaining, but
all the book’s characters are caricatures. Dickens gives us too many
opportunities to mock, and the humour rapidly wears thin. One might say that
this is a book of redemption – all characters have come to see the error of
their ways by the end – but the constant cynicism and ridicule leaves a bitter
taste. There was also a superfluity of allusions to contemporary matters, which
meant I spent the first twenty pages leaving back and forth to the notes and
then giving up, after which I clearly missed at least a third of the jokes.

Please let not all Dickens be like this.


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