Hard Times

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Hard Times Book 2, Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mr. Bounderby informs Mrs. Sparsit that he will have to be away from home for three to four days on business. Mrs. Sparsit then invites Tom over to her place for lunch that day, and learns that Tom is to meet Mr. Harthouse at the train station that night. She asks him to tell Louisa that she will not pay her usual visit to the Bounderbys that night, as she feels ill. In truth, Mrs. Sparsit has been watching the relationship between Louisa and Mr. Harthouse progress (though nothing definitive has happened yet), and suspects that tonight, with Bounderby away, the two of them will have a rendezvous.
Mrs. Sparsit's craftiness reveals the other side of the spectrum of femininity: a jealous desire to revenge herself upon the woman who took her place at Mr. Bounderby's side. Mrs. Sparsit not only suspects Harthouse's intentions, she tries to push them along by not going to the house herself—she is trying to invisibly push Louisa down that staircase.
Themes
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That night, she spies on Tom at the train station, and seeing him waiting impatiently for Harthouse at the train station without Harthouse appearing, she instantly suspects that Tom's appointment is a ploy to keep him away from Bounderby's house, and rushes there.
As the night progresses, Sparsit seems to descend from the comical and mean-spirited to the ridiculous and almost demonic. Here she resorts to spying, then rushes off when she learns what she wants to know.
Themes
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Almost breathless with delight at the thought that this might be the night of Louisa's ruin, she creeps through the woods around the Bounderby house. Sure enough, she is rewarded by the sight of Mr. Harthouse passionately professing his love for Louisa. Louisa orders him to leave her; but he refuses. Finally, Louisa agrees to meet him elsewhere later that night—but Mrs. Sparsit can't quite hear the location because it has begun to rain heavily. She has also absolutely ruined her dress by lying in the woods while spying on them.
Louisa is not so unprincipled as Tom. Though she thinks she and Harthouse are alone, she steadfastly refuses to succumb to Harthouse's adulterous advances…at least for the present. Mrs. Sparsit, in her ruined dress and desperate desire to see Louisa ruined in order to regain her former position, cuts a vicious yet ridiculous figure.
Themes
Unhappy Marriages Theme Icon
Femininity Theme Icon
Mr. Harthouse leaves, and Louisa goes back to the house, only to set out again after a short time for the railroad. Mrs. Sparsit follows her and, guessing her destination to be Coketown, discretely boards the train after her. Both get out of the train at Coketown, but in a moment of distraction, Mrs. Sparsit loses sight of Louisa and cannot tell where she has gone. Weeping bitter tears of frustration, Mrs. Sparsit is left in the train station, absolutely soaked to the skin with all her clothes ruined from her adventures: a sorry sight indeed.
In her eagerness to see the downfall of a fellow woman (and one who ought to be pitied), Mrs. Sparsit loses all dignity. She is in this moment more clownish than Signore Jupe ever was. Meanwhile, Louisa appears to be headed toward her rendezvous with Harthouse, appears to be heading toward an encounter that will ruin her reputation and place in society…
Themes
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