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blue book

"Blue books" was the Victorian term for Parliamentary reports, generally containing much statistical information, which had blue paper covers.

Mr. M'Choakumchild said he would try me again. And he said, This schoolroom is an immense town, and in it there are a million of inhabitants, and only five-and-twenty are starved to death in the streets in the course of a year. What is your remark on that proportion? And my remark was—for I couldn't think of a better one—that I thought it must be just as hard upon those who were starved, whether the others were a million, or a million million.

Sissy, as Dickens's representative of compassion and humanity in the novel, here takes the part of the small group who has starved. Her attitude implicitly criticizes the great principle of Benthamite Utilitarianism: that a rational society should have as its goal providing the greatest happiness to the greatest number of its members. Sissy's objection to M'Choakumchild's scenario points out the flaw in this reasoning: that the miserable remain just as miserable, whether others are happier or not.

In the hardest working part of Coketown; in the innermost fortifications of that ugly citadel, where Nature was as strongly bricked out as killing airs and gases were bricked in; at the heart of the labyrinth of narrow courts upon courts…

The centers of Victorian cities, lacking good sanitation and desperately overcrowded, were terribly unhealthy. "The Quiet Poor," an article that appeared in Household Words on April 8, describes a similar slum in the London area. (To download the article, see Issue 2.) These two pictures of such areas in Birmingham are taken from an 1880 work, Old and New Birmingham, by Robert Dent:

a good power-loom weaver

The power-loom was invented in 1787, and improved and refined over the years. More than a hundred thousand such looms were operating in the northern manufacturing regions by 1845, but most workers were younger than Stephen, and many were women. Operating the power-loom was physically debilitating and poorly paid, and older men (such as Stephen was, in his milieu, at age 40) often turned to other employment.

This engraving of "Harrison's Improved Power-Loom" is taken from the Illustrated London News of August 23, 1851:

Ten years before the composition of Hard Times, on May 18, 1844, the
Illustrated London News published this engraving of the interior of a
power-loom factory:

The lights in the great factories, which looked, when they were illuminated, like Fairy palaces—or the travelers by express-train said so…

Dickens's description of the lit-up factories ironically mixes the fancy he advocates in Hard Times with the utilitarian atmosphere of the factories. It is telling that only the travelers on the express train—rushing past the factories—can think they look like "Fairy palaces." As Dickens's descriptions make clear, conditions on the factory floor were generally quite different. Nevertheless, British industry's manufacturing prowess was a point of pride for the nation, and as such it was prominently featured at the 1851 Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace (itself sometimes referred to as a "fairy palace"). On August 23, 1851, the Illustrated London News devoted an entire page to an engraving depicting the "machinery department" at the exhibition.

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