There are many unhappy marriages in Hard Times and none of them are resolved happily by the end. Mr. Gradgrind's marriage to his feeble, complaining wife is not exactly a source of misery for either of them, but neither are they or their children happy. The Gradgrind family is not a loving or affectionate one. The main unhappy marriage showcased by the novel is between Louisa Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby. Louisa marries him not out of love but out of a sense of duty to her brother, Tom, the only person in the world she loves and who wheedles her into saying "yes" because he works for Bounderby and wants to improve his chances at rising in the world. Bounderby's intentions regarding Louisa seem a bit creepy at first, but he turns out to mean no harm to her (except that he deprives her of any marital affection). The only solution to this bad marriage, once Louisa has escaped the hands of Jem Harthouse, is for Louisa to live at home the rest of her days. She will never be happy with another man or have the joy of children, though Dickens hints she will find joy in playing with Sissy's future children.
Stephen Blackpool, too, is damned to unhappiness in this life as a result of his marriage. The girl who seemed so sweet when he married her many years ago becomes, by a gradual process, a depraved drunk who is the misery of his life. She periodically returns to Coketown to haunt Stephen and is, as he sees it, the sole barrier to the happiness he might have had in marrying Rachael. Mrs. Sparsit (an elderly lady who lives with Mr. Bounderby for some time) was also unhappily married, which is how she came to be Mr. Bounderby's companion before he marries Louisa.
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Unhappy Marriages Quotes in Hard Times
No word of a new marriage had ever passed between them; but Rachael had taken great pity on him years ago, and to her alone he had opened his closed heart all this time, on the subject of his miseries; and he knew very well that if he were free to ask her, she would take him.
‘Father,' said Louisa, ‘do you think I love Mr Bounderby?'
Mr. Gradgrind was extremely discomfited by this unexpected question. ‘Well, my child,' he returned, ‘I — really — cannot take upon myself to say.'
‘Your brother. My young friend Tom — '
Her colour brightened, and she turned to him with a look of interest. ‘I never in my life,' he thought, ‘saw anything so remarkable and so captivating as the lighting of those features!'
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.
‘This night, my husband being away, he has been with me, declaring himself my lover. This minute he expects me, for I could release myself of his presence by no other means. I do not know that I am sorry, I do not know that I am ashamed, I do not know that I am degraded in my own esteem. All that I know is, your philosophy and your teaching will not save me. Now, father, you have brought me to this. Save me by some other means!'