Hard Times by Charles Dickens is one of the many Victorian Era classics that I had never gotten around to reading. But thanks to an audio version new on the shelf of my library branch, it made it to the top of my TBR pile.
In equal parts good old fashioned storytelling and outdated social criticism, Hard Times is the tale of the Gradgrind family and their struggle to reconcile the rational, fact-based side of life with the emotional and imaginative side. Thomas Gradgrind, Sr. is proud of his “system” of raising children – his own and those in the school he runs – to know and depend only on facts, with no “wondering” or amusement. The ultimate failure of his system leads to the final showdown and resolution of the story.
Dickens packed the book (first published in installments in 1854) full of his usual extraordinary characters. These really came to life in the audio version. Along with some Victorian moralizing, he mixed in plenty of humor and even a little intrigue and adventure. None of the characters are particularly likeable, perhaps especially to a modern reader with less sympathy for the outmoded social constraints under which the characters labor, but they all get their just deserts – for good or ill – in the end. Despite its age, Hard Times remains thoroughly entertaining.