NOTES ON ISSUE 1: HISTORICAL GLOSSARY
PART 3 OF 4
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
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
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.