Hard Times

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An old widow with a Roman nose and a classical countenance, Mrs. Sparsit keeps Mr. Bounderby company before he is married. Jealous at being driven out by Louisa, she watches with glee as the inappropriate friendship between Louisa and James Harthouse progresses. However, just at the moment of her greatest triumph (when she thinks that Louisa has ruined herself by running off with Mr. Harthouse), Mrs. Sparsit is foiled when Louisa turns to her father instead of eloping. She furthermore earns Mr. Bounderby's unceasing enmity when she accidentally reveals Mr. Bounderby's mother to be alive, well, and a very good mother and that he had not, therefore, built himself up from poverty.

Mrs. Sparsit Quotes in Hard Times

The Hard Times quotes below are all either spoken by Mrs. Sparsit or refer to Mrs. Sparsit. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of Hard Times published in 2001.
Book 1, Chapter 7 Quotes

‘You are quite another father to Louisa, sir.' Mrs Sparsit took a little more tea; and, as she bent her again contracted eyebrows over her steaming cup, rather looked as if her classical countenance were invoking the infernal gods.

Related Characters: Mrs. Sparsit (speaker), Louisa Gradgrind, Josiah Bounderby
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

Josiah Bounderby is a powerful factory owner who lives with a widow named Mrs. Sparsit. Mrs. Sparsit and Bounderby discuss Gradgrind's decision to take in Sissy. At first, Mrs. Sparsit says that she dislikes the idea of Louisa, Gradgrind's daughter, associating with a "dirty," poor girl like Sissy. As the conversation goes on, though, Bounderby claims that he thinks of Louisa like another daughter--a statement that Sparsit claims to agree with, despite the fact that she clearly is jealous of Bounderby's interest in Louisa.

At this point in the novel, it's not clear that Mr. Bounderby is going to marry Louisa one day--and yet Dickens already gives us hints of their relationship. Sparsit seems jealous of Bounderby's closeness with Louisa, which is why, despite agreeing with him, she glares into her cup with the utmost severity. In all, Sparsit is presented as the rather flat, negative caricature of femininity--the spiteful, jilted lover who is jealous of other women and even demonic ("invoking the infernal gods") in her nature.

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Book 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

‘An individual, ma'am,' said Bitzer, ‘has never been what he ought to have been, since he first came into the place. He is a dissipated, extravagant idler. He is not worth his salt, ma'am. He wouldn't get it either, if he hadn't a friend and relation at court, ma'am!'

Related Characters: Bitzer (speaker), Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom), Mrs. Sparsit
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Bitzer (whom we met at the beginning of Book One, when he was still a kid) has turned out to be an obsequious, gossiping porter for a factory bank. Bitzer tells Mrs. Sparsit that Tom Gradgrind has turned out to be a lazy, useless employee of the bank. We can surmise that Tom has continued to work for Bounderby because he's now Bounderby's brother-in-law (Louisa has married Bounderby after all).

The passage suggests that nobody who passed through Gradgrind's fingers turned out right. Bitzer seems to be harder-working than Tom, but he's just as heartless in the way he critiques Tom and gossips to anyone who'll listen. He's hardly a likable character; like many of the factory employees, he's more interested in money than people, a clear reflection of the education he received from Gradgrind and the general industrialization of English society.

Book 2, Chapter 9 Quotes

But from this day, the Sparsit action upon Mr Bounderby threw Louisa and James Harthouse more together, and strengthened the dangerous alienation from her husband and confidence against him with another, into which she had fallen by degrees so fine that she could not retrace them if she tried.

Related Characters: Louisa Gradgrind, Josiah Bounderby, Mrs. Sparsit, James Harthouse
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, a comical, tertiary character becomes villainous and critical to the plot of the novel. Mrs. Sparsit is jealous of the relationship between Louisa and Mr. Bounderby, and she resents the fact that she was kicked out of the house as soon as Bounderby married Louisa. To retaliate, Mrs. Sparsit tries to draw Louisa and Bounderby apart--thus, she tries to flatter Mr. Bounderby excessively, making him more conscious of Louisa's coldness. By the same token, Sparsit's flattery draws Louisa closer to James Harthouse.

The passage shows Mrs. Sparsit engaging in manipulation that's pretty obvious, at least from our perspective. Perhaps it's because Louisa is so unfamiliar with emotional matters that she can't see through what Mrs. Sparsit is trying to do, and thus falls for James.

Book 2, Chapter 11 Quotes

Wet through and through: with her feet squelching and squashing in her shoes whenever she moved; with a rash of rain upon her classical visage; with a bonnet like an over-ripe fig; with all her clothes spoiled; with damp impressions of every button, string, and hook-and-eye she wore, printed off upon her highly connected back; with stagnant verdure on her general exterior, such as accumulates on an old park fence in a mouldy lane; Mrs Sparsit had no resource but to burst into tears of bitterness and say, ‘I have lost her!'

Related Characters: Mrs. Sparsit
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

In this half-serious, half-comic scene, Mrs. Sparsit tries to track down Louisa. Mrs. Sparsit has been manipulating Louisa into falling hard for James Harthouse--now, Louisa seems to be going to meet Harthouse, though it's not clear where. Sparsit follows Louisa; she's been trying to get revenge on Louisa for having her kicked out of Bounderby's house. Tonight, Sparsit thinks, she'll finally see evidence of a romance between Louisa and Harthouse--enough evidence to disgrace Louisa and get Bounderby to divorce her. Sparsit walks in the rain for a long time to ensure that she sees Louisa's supposed infidelity, but at the last minute she loses sight of Louisa. Sparsit was so desperate for revenge that she bursts into tears. It's hard to have much sympathy for her, though--she's a petty, vindictive person, although extremely limited by the restrictions placed upon her gender.

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Mrs. Sparsit Character Timeline in Hard Times

The timeline below shows where the character Mrs. Sparsit appears in Hard Times. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1, Chapter 7
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...to his own home, where he lives with a previously well-connected and elderly widow named Mrs. Sparsit . As the two breakfast, Bounderby expresses his disapproval of Louisa associating with the likes... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 11
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...the factory owner, Mr. Bounderby. Bounderby is home, eating a rich lunch and accompanied by Mrs. Sparsit . (full context)
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Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
...and that the sanctity of marriage must be preserved. As Stephen unhappily protests, he scandalizes Mrs. Sparsit . Bounderby refuses to give Stephen any help in what he describes as Stephen's unlawful... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 16
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Back at Mr. Bounderby's house, Bounderby is rather nervous as to how Mrs. Sparsit will take the news of his engagement (knowing she has never reacted favorably in the... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 1
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On a sunny day in Coketown, Mrs. Sparsit sits in her new living quarters attached to the Bank of Bounderby's factory, and chats... (full context)
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...door to admit a languid, well-dressed young gentleman who is trying to find Mr. Bounderby. Mrs. Sparsit is impressed by the man's manners and his flattery, and upon questioning, disdainfully reveals that... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 2
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...only one she loves. Tom, for his part, behaves slovenly and disrespectfully at dinner, proving Mrs. Sparsit 's and Bitzer's gossip right. (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 8
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...it had been all of his holdings. As they talk, the two men meet Louisa, Mrs. Sparsit , and Bitzer on the path. Harthouse and Louisa both instantly suspect Tom, though neither... (full context)
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Mrs. Sparsit claims that her nerves have been shocked by this event, and moves temporarily back in... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 9
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Mrs. Sparsit stretches the few days she was supposed to spend in Bounderby's house quite a while... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 10
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Mrs. Sparsit continues to show excessive pity to Mr. Bounderby when he is present, and excessive contempt... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 11
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Mr. Bounderby informs Mrs. Sparsit that he will have to be away from home for three to four days on... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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.... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 12
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Mrs. Sparsit was wrong: Louisa has not gone to Coketown to meet Mr. Harthouse, but rather to... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 3
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After losing track of Louisa the night before, Mrs. Sparsit , filthy wet clothes and all, rushes to London, finds Mr. Bounderby, and tells him... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 4
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Meanwhile, the robber of Bounderby's bank has not been found. Due to Mrs. Sparsit 's and Bitzer's testimony, Stephen is the main suspect and his picture is put up... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 5
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...walk around the town, and as they pass Mr. Bounderby's house, they see an excited Mrs. Sparsit pull up in a coach, accompanied by a distraught Mrs. Pegler. Mrs. Sparsit drags the... (full context)
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But Mrs. Sparsit and the gathered crowd are all excited when Mr. Bounderby reluctantly reveals that this lady... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 9
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Back at Mr. Bounderby's home, things have come to a head between him and Mrs. Sparsit . Over lunch, they insult each other while managing to remain "dignified," but grow increasingly... (full context)
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Mrs. Sparsit spends the rest of her days taking care of a miserly old lady. Mr. Bounderby... (full context)