Study Guide

Hard Times Love

By Charles Dickens

Advertisement - Guide continues below


[Stephen] stood bareheaded in the road, watching her quick disappearance. As the shining stars were to the heavy candle in the window, so was Rachael, in the rugged fancy of this man, to the common experiences of his life. (1.13.63)

Awww. We are kind of melty and gooey inside.

'Father,' said Louisa, 'do you think I love Mr. Bounderby?' Mr. Gradgrind was extremely discomfited by this unexpected question. 'Well, my child,' he returned, 'I — really — cannot take upon myself to say.' 'Father,' pursued Louisa in exactly the same voice as before, 'do you ask me to love Mr. Bounderby?' 'My dear Louisa, no. No. I ask nothing.' 'Father,' she still pursued, 'does Mr. Bounderby ask me to love him?' 'Really, my dear,' said Mr. Gradgrind, 'it is difficult to answer your question — ' (1.15.13-18)

Gradgrind's surprise and shock over this question of love between Louisa and Bounderby makes us want to hear what his own proposal to Mrs. Gradgrind was like.

the marriage was appointed to be solemnized in eight weeks' time, and Mr. Bounderby went every evening to Stone Lodge as an accepted wooer. Love was made on these occasions in the form of bracelets; and, on all occasions during the period of betrothal, took a manufacturing aspect. Dresses were made, jewelry was made, cakes and gloves were made, settlements were made, and an extensive assortment of Facts did appropriate honour to the contract. The business was all Fact, from first to last. The Hours did not go through any of those rosy performances, which foolish poets have ascribed to them at such times; neither did the clocks go any faster, or any slower, than at other seasons. (1.16.29)

We just wanted to throw in the note that in the nineteenth century, the phrase "making love" didn't mean sex, but actually referred to wooing or courting. So, don't get any crazy ideas here about what Bounderby is doing with the bracelets.

'No, ma'am, no. They're true to one another, faithfo' to one another, fectionate to one another, e'en to death. Be poor amoong 'em, be sick amoong 'em, grieve amoong 'em for onny o' th' monny causes that carries grieve to the poor man's door, and they'll be tender wi' yo, gentle wi' yo, comfortable wi' yo, Chrisen wi' yo. Be sure o' that, ma'am. They'd be riven to bits, ere ever they'd be different.' (2.5.26)

Dickens is at pains to prove throughout the whole novel that the working classes are made up of individuals whose private emotional lives are just as epic and grand as anything experienced by their masters and bosses.

Herein, too, the sense of even thinking unselfishly aided [Stephen]. Before he had so much as closed Mr. Bounderby's door, he had reflected that at least his being obliged to go away was good for her, as it would save her from the chance of being brought into question for not withdrawing from him. Though it would cost him a hard pang to leave her, and though he could think of no similar place in which his condemnation would not pursue him, perhaps it was almost a relief to be forced away from the endurance of the last four days, even to unknown difficulties and distresses. (2.6.17)

Stephen draws on Rachael's own complete selflessness as inspiration for the way he conducts his life. It may also be less painful to think about her and the way she may be treated by the workers than to remember his own outcast status.

Mr. James Harthouse began to think it would be a new sensation, if the face which changed so beautifully for the whelp, would change for him. He was quick enough to observe; he had a good memory, and did not forget a word of the brother's revelations. He interwove them with everything he saw of the sister, and he began to understand her. To be sure, the better and profounder part of her character was not within his scope of perception; for in natures, as in seas, depth answers unto depth; but he soon began to read the rest with a student's eye. (2.7.6-7)

Harthouse's love can only be as deep as he himself is as a man. Here, the narrator tells us that he's pretty shallow, though a very good reader of the outside (in this case, of Louisa's face).

'You may be certain;' in the energy of her love [Louisa] took [Tom] to her bosom as if he were a child; 'that I will not reproach you. You may be certain that I will be compassionate and true to you. You may be certain that I will save you at whatever cost. O Tom, have you nothing to tell me? Whisper very softly. Say only ''yes,'' and I shall understand you!' […] Then the wretched boy looked cautiously up and found her gone, crept out of bed, fastened his door, and threw himself upon his pillow again: tearing his hair, morosely crying, grudgingly loving her, hatefully but impenitently spurning himself, and no less hatefully and unprofitably spurning all the good in the world. (2.8.75, 104)

Louisa and Tom are frequently transformed in the descriptive language from brother and sister to mother and son. Here she "takes him to her bosom as if he were a child" and he is "a boy" who ends up crying himself to sleep. What is sibling love like? What is maternal love like?

Mrs. Sparsit saw him detain her with his encircling arm, and heard him then and there, within her (Mrs. Sparsit's) greedy hearing, tell her how he loved her, and how she was the stake for which he ardently desired to play away all that he had in life. The objects he had lately pursued, turned worthless beside her; such success as was almost in his grasp, he flung away from him like the dirt it was, compared with her. Its pursuit, nevertheless, if it kept him near her, or its renunciation if it took him from her, or flight if she shared it, or secrecy if she commanded it, or any fate, or every fate, all was alike to him, so that she was true to him, — the man who had seen how cast away she was, whom she had inspired at their first meeting with an admiration, an interest, of which he had thought himself incapable, whom she had received into her confidence, who was devoted to her and adored her. (2.11.56)

Mrs. Sparsit is a character who is completely shallow, and yet is a very good interpreter of surface behavior (just as she changes her own surface behavior to mimic whatever she wants to get across). Here, she watches Harthouse, another shallow person and good surface reader, act the part of a man in love to perfection. Is he more believable to her because she is so used to feelings being mimicked and acted out rather than honestly felt?

'I am coming to it. Father, chance then threw into my way a new acquaintance; a man such as I had had no experience of; used to the world; light, polished, easy; making no pretences; avowing the low estimate of everything, that I was half afraid to form in secret; conveying to me almost immediately, though I don't know how or by what degrees, that he understood me, and read my thoughts. I could not find that he was worse than I. There seemed to be a near affinity between us. I only wondered it should be worth his while, who cared for nothing else, to care so much for me. […] I have done no worse, I have not disgraced you. But if you ask me whether I have loved him, or do love him, I tell you plainly, father, that it may be so. I don't know.' (2.12.36-41)

Harthouse wormed his way into her innermost secrets, but he is the only one who ever cared enough to do so. Underhanded or no, Louisa falls in love with him the same exact way that she married Bounderby – he's the only one who ever asked.

In the innocence of her brave affection, and the brimming up of her old devoted spirit, the once deserted girl shone like a beautiful light upon the darkness of the other. Louisa raised the hand that it might clasp her neck and join its fellow there. She fell upon her knees, and clinging to this stroller's child looked up at her almost with veneration. 'Forgive me, pity me, help me! Have compassion on my great need, and let me lay this head of mine upon a loving heart?' 'O lay it here!' cried Sissy. 'Lay it here, my dear.' (3.1.57-60)

Again, sibling love is transformed into maternal love, as Louisa puts her head on Sissy's shoulder. Are there any love relationships between equals in the novel?

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...