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Tony Grist

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Beginning Hard Times [Jan. 5th, 2010|11:15 am]
Tony Grist
Hard Times reads like it was hard work- for Dickens I mean. Its opening doesn't flow.  It's laboured, contrived, more than usually intent on making a point. There's a whiff of the tract about it. The fact that Dickens is off his native heath- in a part of the world he doesn't know well-  is part of the problem. Coketown is a stage set- an agglomeration of hastily constructed theatrical flats. His characters walk through it and we see and experience very little. It's not at all like Dickens' London- which he so intensely loved and detested.

Tom Gradgrind is a hard man- with a hard, utilitarian philosophy- but he adopts a little travelling girl on a whim, going clean against everything we've been told about him- and the little travelling girl- who had a perfectly secure future among her own kind-  accepts without demur. All this counter-intuitive stuff happens simply to set up the plot and the moral.  Dickens novels often end in grindingly implausible contrivance, but I can't think of another one that begins that way.

Still, this is Dickens- and he's brilliant. The people, when they're not behaving out of character, are delicious.  Remember Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen- with their increasingly lurid tales of childhood deprivation? Well, they learned everything they ever knew from Josiah Bounderby of Coketown, sir!