THIS WEEK IN HOUSEHOLD WORDS
The Quiet Poor
This article, which appeared in the April 15, 1854, issue of
Household Words with the third number of Hard Times,
discusses a poor neighborhood in London. Although we have not
yet met any laborers in Hard Times, Dickens makes the
difficult lives of the working poor a major theme in his novel.
This article does not discuss industrial laborers in the North,
but its relevance to the theme of the hardships endured by the
Victorian urban poor is obvious. The article describes the privations
of the poor and the unsanitary and difficult conditions in which
they are forced to live.
Download the article
Ground in the Mill
This article on industrial safety and child labor, which ran
in the April 22, 1854 issue of Household Words, is an
illuminating companion to Hard Times. The piece covers
the lack of adequate safety precautions in England's mills,
despite the passage of the Factory Act, the persistence of child
labor, and the "lamentable state of the factory schools." It
also mentions the series of strikes in Preston and other cities.
In urging improvements in industrial safety, the article notes:
"the great extension of the Factory system is a permanent fact,
and it must be made to bring good with it, not evil."
This focus on the abuses of the factory systems is particularly
interesting in that the April 22 number of Hard Times
deals mainly with the characters of the factory-owning class,
Bounderby and the Gradgrinds. The contrasting subject matter
serves to underscore the main themes of the novel and helps
Dickens to develop his major points, despite the constricted
space he had to work with in the installments of the novel.
The appearance of "Ground in the Mill" in this number illustrates
how Dickens used his editorship of Household Words to
keep the themes of his novel before the eyes of his readers,
even at times when he was not directly developing those themes
in the fictional text.