‘There is a wisdom of the head, and… there is a wisdom of the heart.’
Hard Times is Charles Dickins’ 10th novel and features Thomas Gradgrind as a central character. The book itself is both hard and a grind. If I had been reading Dickins’ celebrated work for fun and without time restraints then I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more, in the end though I found it a laborious trudge to the end albeit interspersed with some genuinely inspired passages and moments.
Hard Times is a social commentary about the vast gulf between the rich and the poor and their respective attitudes towards life and each other. That wordy synopsis probably describes around 10% of the actual plot however, which becomes so convoluted and stodgy by the end that each new character that is introduced resulted in a single tear running down my chubby cheek.
The problem with Hard Times is that it is brilliant. And the problem with me is that I am not. This resulted in a reading experience that was a constant struggle, akin to unhappy memories of desperately gulping for air in the deep end of a Doncaster swimming pool as a fat child. Happily, I am not a complete imbecile so there were parts of Hard Times that I enjoyed as much as anything I have read elsewhere, it’s just those sections were somewhat diluted by Dickins’ endless descriptions of seemingly mundane and unimportant places and characters. Apparently, Hard Times is Dickins’ shortest novel. A thought that had me shuddering faster than you can say ‘the boy was so light-eyed and light-haired that the self-same rays appeared to draw out of what little colour he ever possessed. His cold eyes would hardly have been eyes, but for the short ends of lashes which, by bringing them into immediate contact with something paler… etc etc’
Hard Times was perhaps the wrong choice for my first foray into Charles Dickins but some men read Dickins and others have Dickins thrust upon them. I fall squarely into the latter camp and this set of circumstances probably meant that Hard Times and I were doomed from the very start. Hard times indeed.