NOTES ON ISSUE 2: HISTORICAL GLOSSARY
PART 4 OF 4
the West End of London, and May Fair, and
lords and ladies and honourables
May Fair (usually spelled Mayfair), a small part of the posh
West End, was one of the most fashionable and wealthy residential
areas of London by about 1800, and remains highly desirable
There was a library in Coketown, to which general access
was easy. Mr. Gradgrind greatly tormented his mind about what
the people read in this library—a point whereon little rivers
of tabular statements periodically flowed into the howling ocean
of tabular statements…
Dickens was a guest speaker at the opening of the Manchester
Free Library on September 2, 1852. Local libraries—firmly established
as a public concern by the Public Libraries Act of 1850—were
a popular means of providing reading material for the working
classes, and the Manchester Free Library was an unusually large
and heavily used one. These engravings depicting the Manchester
Free Library both appeared in the Illustrated London News.
The first, showing the exterior of the building as it was being
extended, appeared October 25, 1851; the interior view, which
appeared on September 11, 1852, depicts the opening of the library.
after fifteen hours' work
The Ten Hours Movement, a workers' movement advocating shorter
work hours, began in the early 1830s. When Hard Times
was published, the 1853 Factory Act, which mandated 10 ½-hour
workdays and shorter hours on Saturdays, had been in effect
for just a year.
They took Defoe to their bosoms instead of Euclid, and seemed
to be on the whole more comforted by Goldsmith than Cocker.
Dickens here is making the point that the working people who
used the free libraries were more interested in literature,
such as the novels of Daniel Defoe (1660-1731), author of Robinson
Crusoe (1719), and the poetry and fiction of Oliver Goldsmith
(ca. 1730-74), author of The Vicar of Wakefield (1764).
Euclid, on the other hand, was a Greek mathematician, best known
for his work on geometry, and Cocker was Edward Cocker (1631-75),
author of a standard text of arithmetic.
Utilitarians like Gradgrind were concerned about the reading
habits of the working class (evangelicals and other religious
workers also wished to influence their reading habits). A tabulation
of borrowing habits at the Manchester Free Library shows that
in the first year of its existence the literary books, including
poetry and fiction, was far and away the most popular section,
followed by theology and philosophy, history and biology, and
scientific works. The most popular book of all, according to
an article that appeared in Household Words five weeks
before Hard Times began publication, was the Arabian
Nights, alluded to several times in Hard Times.