Hard Times

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Hard Times Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Charles Dickens's Hard Times. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Charles Dickens
Born to a navy clerk, Charles Dickens spent his early childhood in Kent. When Dickens was ten, the family moved to London and his father was thrown in debtors' prison. Dickens left school and worked in a boot-blacking warehouse to help support his household. He later returned to school but left at fifteen to work as a law clerk, a court reporter, and a political journalist before devoting himself to writing full-time. His books were wildly successful both in England and in the United States, and include classics like Hard Times, Great Expectations, Bleak House, and Oliver Twist, still popular today. Dickens also founded a theater company and a magazine, All the Year Round. He was unhappily married to Catherine Hogarth, with whom he had ten children. Dickens was still writing when he died in 1870 and is buried in Westminster Abbey's Poets' Corner.
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Historical Context of Hard Times
The technological innovations that gave rise to the Industrial Revolution of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century introduced the first capitalist economy, opening social and financial opportunities to people who had never had the chance to gain status or wealth under the rigid hereditary class hierarchy of the past. These opportunities enabled people born into lower classes to raise their standing in society by making money and acquiring education—this is apparently what happens to Mr. Bounderby (although he isn't quite as self-made as he claims). In many cases, however, it furthered the poverty of the working class, as the factory owners took advantage of their own success and the demand for labor and mistreated their factory workers. Unions were formed, but weren't always effective in fighting the abuses of the manufacturers, and sometimes were more of an evil than the evils they were originally created to combat. This is the case at Stephen Blackpool's mill.
Other Books Related to Hard Times
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, which also was serialized in Household Words, examines the delicate relationship between master and worker in industrial northern England. Mr. Robert Thornton in that book, however, is a far better and more just master than Mr. Bounderby, though the problems of their workers are virtually the same.
Key Facts about Hard Times
  • Full Title: Hard Times – For These Times
  • When Written: 1854
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: Serialized between April 1, 1854 – August 12, 1854
  • Literary Period: Victorian Era
  • Genre: Novel, Social Criticism
  • Setting: Coketown, England
  • Climax: Louisa, instead of eloping with James Harthouse, runs away from her husband to her father's home.
  • Point of View: Third person, omniscient