Discovering Dickens - A Community Reading Project

 Discovering Dickens

 Hard Times



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 Household Words


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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.

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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.

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