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Word Count: 2,057
The shortest of Dickens novels Hard Times was also until quite recently the least regarded of them The comedy is savagely and scornfully sardonic to the virtual exclusion of the humour - that delighted apprehension of and rejoicing in idiosyncrasy and absurdity for their own sakes which often cuts right across moral considerations and which we normally take for granted in Dickens Then too the novel is curiously skeletal There are four separate plots or at least four separate centres of interest the re-education through suffering of Mr Gradgrind the exposure of Bounderby the life and death of Stephen Blackpool and the story of Sissy Jupe There are present in other words all the potentialities of an expansive discursive novel in the full Dickens manner But they are not and could not be realised because of the limitation of length Dickens imposed upon himself The novel was written as a weekly serial story to run through five months of his magazine Household Words during 1854 Dickens had to force his story to fit the exigencies of a Procrustean bed and in doing so sacrificed the abundance of life characteristic of his genius That at any rate was the general view of Hard Times until in 1948 FR Leavis in his book The Great Tradition suggested that it was a moral fable the hallmark of a moral fable being that the intention is peculiarly insistent so that the representative significance of everything in the fable - character episode and so on - is immediately apparent as we read By seeing it as a moral fable Dr Leavis produced a brilliant rereading of Hard Times that has changed almost every critics approach to the novel Yet a difficulty still remains the nature of the target of Dickens satire Both Gradgrind and Bounderby are emblematic to the point of caricature of representative early-nineteenth-century attitudes Dickens tells us that Gradgrind has an unbending utilitarian matter-of-fact face
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