Study Guide

Hard Times Wealth

By Charles Dickens

Wealth

'You see, my friend,' Mr. Bounderby put in, 'we are the kind of people who know the value of time, and you are the kind of people who don't know the value of time.' 'I have not,' retorted Mr. Childers, after surveying him from head to foot, 'the honour of knowing you, — but if you mean that you can make more money of your time than I can of mine, I should judge from your appearance, that you are about right.' (1.6.13-14)

Bounderby cannot think of anything – even time – except as it relates to money. Childers, on the other hand, apparently does not think that time can only be expressed in terms of its financial value.

If Bounderby had been a Conqueror, and Mrs. Sparsit a captive Princess whom he took about as a feature in his state-processions, he could not have made a greater flourish with her than he habitually did. Just as it belonged to his boastfulness to depreciate his own extraction, so it belonged to it to exalt Mrs. Sparsit's. In the measure that he would not allow his own youth to have been attended by a single favourable circumstance, he brightened Mrs. Sparsit's juvenile career with every possible advantage, and showered wagon-loads of early roses all over that lady's path. (1.7.4)

We love the image of Bounderby in a toga, parading through the streets of Rome with Mrs. Sparsit pulled along behind him.

'we have never had any difficulty with you, and you have never been one of the unreasonable ones. You don't expect to be set up in a coach and six, and to be fed on turtle soup and venison, with a gold spoon, as a good many of 'em do!' Mr. Bounderby always represented this to be the sole, immediate, and direct object of any Hand who was not entirely satisfied (1.11.11)

Bounderby always imagines that the workers want to jump over middle-class status (his own status) right into the aristocracy.

This, again, was among the fictions of Coketown. Any capitalist there, who had made sixty thousand pounds out of sixpence, always professed to wonder why the sixty thousand nearest Hands didn't each make sixty thousand pounds out of sixpence, and more or less reproached them every one for not accomplishing the little feat. What I did you can do. Why don't you go and do it? (2.1.52)

This turns out to be even more of a fiction when we find out that Bounderby had a very good, supportive start from his family. Compare this to the American idea of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps. Is this really viable advice, according to the novel?

Tom blew his smoke aside, after he had been smoking a little while, and took an observation of his friend. '[Harthouse] don't seem to care about his dress,"' thought Tom, 'and yet how capitally he does it. What an easy swell he is!' […] There was something so very agreeable in being so intimate with such a waistcoat; in being called Tom, in such an intimate way, by such a voice; in being on such off-hand terms so soon, with such a pair of whiskers; that Tom was uncommonly pleased with himself. (2.3.5,14)

Tom can't help but be the kind of dissecting scientist he was brought up to be – chopping Harthouse up into little analytical pieces. Harthouse is made out of an "easy" way of dressing, "a waistcoat," "a voice," and "a pair of whiskers" rather than a whole person.

'I hadn't a shoe to my foot. As to a stocking, I didn't know such a thing by name. I passed the day in a ditch, and the night in a pigsty. That's the way I spent my tenth birthday. Not that a ditch was new to me, for I was born in a ditch […] For years, ma'am, I was one of the most miserable little wretches ever seen. I was so sickly, that I was always moaning and groaning. I was so ragged and dirty, that you wouldn't have touched me with a pair of tongs […] Then I became a young vagabond; and instead of one old woman knocking me about and starving me, everybody of all ages knocked me about and starved me. They were right; they had no business to do anything else. I was a nuisance, an encumbrance, and a pest […] I pulled through it, though nobody threw me out a rope. Vagabond, errand-boy, vagabond, labourer, porter, clerk, chief manager, small partner, Josiah Bounderby of Coketown. Those are the antecedents, and the culmination.' (1.4.6-19)

Bounderby lives in a rags-to-riches myth of his own making. This is almost a plot outline of a novel, or at least of a morality tale, in and of itself.

''Deed we are in a muddle, sir. Look round town — so rich as 'tis — and see the numbers o' people as has been broughten into bein heer, fur to weave, an to card, an to piece out a livin', aw the same one way, somehows, twixt their cradles and their graves. Look how we live, and wheer we live, an in what numbers, an by what chances, and wi' what sameness; and look how the mills is awlus a goin, and how they never works us no nigher to ony dis'ant object — ceptin awlus, Death. Look how you considers of us, and writes of us, and talks of us, and goes up wi' yor deputations to Secretaries o' State 'bout us, and how yo are awlus right, and how we are awlus wrong, and never had'n no reason in us sin ever we were born. Look how this ha growen an growen, sir, bigger an bigger, broader an broader, harder an harder, fro year to year, fro generation unto generation. Who can look on 't, sir, and fairly tell a man 'tis not a muddle?' (2.5.37)

Because of the way his accent is written, we necessarily take much longer to read whatever Stephen says (because we have to make out the words rather than just the meaning). This makes everything he says carry a lot more weight, just because of how much effort is spent in deciphering it.

The bank had foreclosed a mortgage effected on the property thus pleasantly situated, by one of the Coketown magnates, who, in his determination to make a shorter cut than usual to an enormous fortune, overspeculated himself by about two hundred thousand pounds. These accidents did sometimes happen in the best regulated families of Coketown, but the bankrupts had no connection whatever with the improvident classes. (2.7.8)

This is the one mention in the novel of the new stock market system and the way suddenly people were able to lose huge fortunes very, very quickly. Losing money so quickly was a novelty at this time.

'My dear boy knows, and will give you to know, that though he come of humble parents, [Bounderby] come of parents that loved him as dear as the best could, and never thought it hardship on themselves to pinch a bit that he might write and cipher beautiful, and I've his books at home to show it! Aye, have I!' said Mrs. Pegler, with indignant pride. 'And my dear boy knows, and will give you to know, sir, that after his beloved father died, when he was eight years old, his mother, too, could pinch a bit, as it was her duty and her pleasure and her pride to do it, to help him out in life, and put him 'prentice. And a steady lad he was, and a kind master he had to lend him a hand, and well he worked his own way forward to be rich and thriving.' (3.5.54)

Dickens makes the same argument that is still made by liberals today. The ability to succeed financially in life is very much determined by context and can never be achieved without the help of others. This is the reason we live in a system with welfare and other government programs. These programs are trying to provide people with the kind of boost Mrs. Pegler is talking about here.

Did he see any faint reflection of his own image making a vainglorious will, whereby five-and-twenty Humbugs, past five-and- fifty years of age, each taking upon himself the name, Josiah Bounderby of Coketown, should for ever dine in Bounderby Hall, for ever lodge in Bounderby Buildings, for ever attend a Bounderby chapel, for ever go to sleep under a Bounderby chaplain, for ever be supported out of a Bounderby estate, and for ever nauseate all healthy stomachs, with a vast amount of Bounderby balderdash and bluster? (3.9.27)

Bounderby is allowed to "reproduce" via his wealth. His will sets up a retirement community for men, each of whom must be renamed Josiah Bounderby to live there. Seems fitting that his "children" are 55-year-old men.