Sunday, September 23, 2007

Charles Dickens, Hard Times

Hard Times is the closest Dickens ever came to writing poetry. Despite his difficulties working within the medium of a weekly periodical (something he hadn't done since Barnaby Rudge, written some dozen years earlier), the prose sings with metaphor and imagery, puns and parallelism. It's his least "happy" novel, but stylistically it shimmers like a blade in the sun.

The novel is Dickens's examination of various social concerns during the mid-1850s: Utilitarian educational practices, labor disputes, marital conventions, social reform, etc. Coming on the heels of Bleak House, Hard Times is bleaker. Marriages end, "villains" go unpunished, and innocents die. But somehow the notion of "hope" is rendered plausible within the stark, gray landscape of Coketown, thanks in no small part to a young girl and the circus from which she comes. And Dickens's prose -- magical and musical in its melancholy -- seems perfectly suited to a story "for these times."

It was fun re-reading this novel for my upcoming Newberry class!

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