Discovering Dickens - A Community Reading Project

 Discovering Dickens

 Hard Times



 Historical Glossary


 Household Words


 Biographical Context


 Historical Context

 Archived Novels







Not being Mrs. Grundy, who was Mr. Bounderby?…. He was a rich man: banker, merchant, manufacturer, and what not. A big, loud man, with a stare, and a metallic laugh. A man made out of a coarse material, which seemed to have been stretched to make so much of him…. A man who could never sufficiently vaunt himself a self-made man…

Mr. Bounderby—"banker, merchant, manufacturer, and what not"—is Dickens's representative in Hard Times of the wealthy industrialists of the northern manufacturing towns of England. Many of the manufacturers of the era were involved in a number of ventures, including banking, as a way to consolidate their wealth and improve their business. Bounderby's very name, incorporating as it does the suggestion that he is a "bounder" or man on the make, is indicative of his character.

Despite Bounderby's wealth, it would have been well understood by Victorian readers that he ought not to be considered a gentleman—even before they were to see the depiction of him bragging of his humble origins. Manufacturers, being "in trade" rather than university-educated men who practiced a profession (or had no need to do so), were not seen as particularly genteel. (This point also comes up in Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, another of many industrial novels of the 1840s and 1850s.) Nevertheless, the idea of the self-made man, which Bounderby exploits in his bragging, was an important Victorian myth, famously expressed in Samuel Smiles's Self-Help, published in 1857. Although Bounderby has climbed the social and economic ladder far above his self-proclaimed origins, Dickens's depiction leaves readers in no doubt as to his vulgarity.

that brassy speaking-trumpet of a voice of his

A speaking-trumpet was a megaphone, used to increase the sound of the voice. It was often used on board ships.

"She kept a chandler's shop," pursued Bounderby, "and kept me in an egg-box."

Chandler's shops were originally places that sold candles, but had gradually become small general grocers, usually kept by women and found especially in poorer areas.

studying the steeple clock of St. Giles's Church, London, under the direction of a drunken cripple

In the early nineteenth century—the period of Bounderby's youth—the district surrounding St. Giles's Church in London, near Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue, was a criminal haunt and slum. (St. Giles is the patron saint of the poor and crippled.) Much of the parish was demolished between 1844 and 1847, and the infamous Seven Dials area was reconstructed as New Oxford Street. Bounderby is thus using a reference to this notoriously disreputable area to underscore his reverse pedigree.

Mrs. Gradgrind's stock of facts in general was woefully defective; but Mr. Gradgrind, in raising her to her high matrimonial position, had been influenced by two reasons. Firstly, she was most satisfactory as a question of figures…

Dickens is here implying that Mrs. Gradgrind comes from a wealthy background, and brought plenty of money to her marriage with Mr. Gradgrind. Under Victorian law, all of the wife's property automatically became the husband's upon marriage. (Under some circumstances, the family of a wealthy bride could and did skirt this law by creating trusts that provided some financial security for the wife or her children in case of the husband's death.) A wife could not legally own any property, retain money for her own use, or keep wages she earned until after the passage of the Married Women's Property Act in 1870.



Copyright © 2005 Stanford University. All rights reserved. Stanford, CA 94305, (650)723-2300. Terms of Use