Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Notes On Hard Times

Hard Times is a bad book. For one thing it's peremptory- and Dickens is a writer who needs space to sprawl in. For another it's a novel of ideas by a man who doesn't know how to think.

Utilitarianism is a bad thing; we're told this on the first page and told it again on the last; and on every page in between. There's no attempt to dramatize the argument. A writer more at home with ideas- Dostoevsky for instance- or Shaw-  would have known that the trick is to give the devil the best lines- and let him hang himself.

Dickens is a tory radical. He wants to change society, but without unsettling the hierarchy. Trade unionism gives him the heebie-jeebies, though he can't exactly tell us why.  He champions the poor- but he wants them to be passive, grateful and forelock touching- like the insufferably drippy Stephen Blackpool. His solution to the problem of labour relations is that the employers must be nicer and kinder- and he never met a paternalist he didn't love.

But then there's the wonderful comedy of Sparsit and Bounderby- the snob and the inverted snob- which tells you all you need to know about the crawling pettiness of the English class system- and the drawling rakishness of the political professional James Harthouse- which tells you almost all you need to know about why the English are so badly governed.  Even in his worst books- and this probably is his very worst book- Dickens can't help but be a genius.

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