well I am hoping that Dickens’ core message about the ailments plaguing 19thC England and about his vision of a cure, are becoming clearer to you now that we have listened hard to voice of Mt Thleary and have heard what poor Louisa had to endure under her father’s care. Now we begin to see what a completely unfeeling, inhumane world was created by the likes of Mr Gradgrind and Mr Bounderby. And it took the likes of a diminutive, unlettered circus girl by the name of Sissy Jupe to bring some healing and transformation into the damaged Gradgrind family. Dickens prophetically announces at the end of the novel “Dear Reader! It rests with you me, whether, in our two fields of action, similar things shall be or not. Let them be!” And by this final call for action, our action (“Let them be!”), Dickens is exhorting us NOT TO BE like Gradgrinds, Bounderbys, McChoakumchilds, Bitzers, Harthouses… of the world. He is inviting us to have sensitivity, compassion to others, empathy for their situations and a realization that every human being- regardless of their circumstances or difficulties- has an immense unknown, unknowable capacity for BEING; the human BEING cannot, argues Dickens, be reduced to mere numbers by calculations (in the way Parliament is always calculating human experience):
It is known, to the force of a single pound weight, what the engine will do; but, not all the calculators of the National Debt can tell me the capacity for good or evil, for love or hatred, for patriotism or discontent, for the decomposition of virtue into vice, or the reverse, at any single moment in the soul of one of these its quiet servants, with the composed faces and the regulated actions. There is no mystery in it; there is an unfathomable mystery in the meanest of them, for ever.
Dickens is here, like Shakespeare (in Hamlet) , displaying his awe and wonder at the Being known as a Human – with all his or her highs and lows, but irreducible by any calculations or machinery:
What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me. No, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.
And of course it is ultimately through the lithping voithe of Mr Thleary that Dickenth givthe out his strongetht recommendation for the so-called, uneducated clatheth of thothiety:
You muth have uth, Thquire. Do the withe thing and the kind thing too and make the betht of uth; not the wurtht!
So what questions can I cook up for your Blogs this week:
CREATIVE Write a letter to Mr Gradgrind telling him what you think about the way he treated his own daughter, particularly with reference to the marriage arrangements he has created.
CRITICAL Take an passage from Hard Times (a paragraph long) and explain why and how this paragraph is important to the key themes of the novel.
CREATIVE You are Sissy Jupe. In a short paragraph tell Louisa what it has been like living in a circus for most of your life. Tell her what you have enjoyed and what your relationships have been like with other people in the circus.
CRITICAL Explore The Victorian Web: http://victorianweb.org/ and give a brief account of how valuable this site can be for a comprehensive study of all aspects of Charles Dickens’ work. Provide links to some of the most important things you found there.
CREATIVE Write a song, sung by Mr Thleary, about how he thinks people should lead their lives.
CRITICAL Explore the meaning of the catch phrase “The Condition of England”. Can you say how this phrase applies to the novel Hard Times.