Wednesday, February 17, 2016

"Hard Times" is some good times

I read about Hard Times somewhere and it sounded good, so I borrowed it from the library. I don't think I've ever read an entire Charles Dickens' novel-- or if so, it's been a long time! 

Wikipedia provides a nice summary. But in a word, it's Dickens' attempt to mess with utilitarians, materialists, adherents to scientism, and literalists-- all fundamentalists of one stripe or another. I enjoyed it well enough. But I cannot recommend the book, unless you've enjoyed Dickens in the past or you're looking for a short intro to Dickens (it's much smaller than his usual works). 

There are a number of lines worth sharing: 

As an aside, I learned about the origins of "pleased as punch" in a footnote on p. 22. Punch and Judy were puppets in a show and the former was always smiling in a manner that indicated he was overly pleased with himself. 

I enjoyed this little nugget on both idolatry and silliness about facts-- and a bogus concept of teaching (p. 1): “In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!” The speaker, and the schoolmaster, and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.

There were some LOL moments for me to open chapter 4, as we're thoroughly introduced to Mr. Bounderby (p. 9-10a): Why, Mr Bounderby was as near being Mr Gradgrind’s bosom friend, as a man perfectly devoid of sentiment can approach that spiritual relationship towards another man perfectly devoid of sentiment. So near was Mr Bounderby — or, if the reader should prefer it, so far off. He was a rich man: banker, merchant, manufacturer, and what not...A man who could never sufficiently vaunt himself a self-made man...A man who was the Bully of humility.

That last sentence is probably my favorite. Among other painfully funny things, Bounderby often brags about the deprivations of his childhood. He goes on and on and on about it, but here's a tiny nugget to give you an idea: 
‘I hadn’t a shoe to my foot. As to a stocking, I didn’t know such a thing by name. I passed the day in a ditch, and the night in a pigsty. That’s the way I spent my tenth birthday. Not that a ditch was new to me, for I was born in a ditch.’

As a child, Louisa had been chastised never to "wonder" (31), including some wonderful instruction by her teacher, Mr. M'Choakumchild!
Herein lay the spring of the mechanical art and mystery of educating the reason without stooping to the cultivation of the sentiments and affections. Never wonder. By means of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, settle everything somehow, and never wonder. Bring to me, says M‘Choakumchild, yonder baby just able to walk, and I will engage that it shall never wonder.

Chapter 15 is wonderful stuff, spoofing his targets' views, with an application to love and marriage. In the middle of the dialogue between Louisa and her father, she's asking whether she should marry her much older suitor. And all the father can do is offer statistics about the likelihood of successful marriages with a large age differential. 


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