Hard Times, by Charles Dickens – Part 2



Last week I promised a passage from Hard Times that places Dickens’ descriptive skills at center stage. Similarly to his character depictions, such narrative could stand alone as an indictment of industrialization, empire, and the subverting of many human values in order to make such a society work. Here’s my choice of such a sample, from Book Three, Chapter Six:

THE Sunday was a bright Sunday in autumn, clear and cool, when early in the morning Sissy and Rachael met, to walk in the country.
As Coketown cast ashes not only on its own head but on the neighbourhood's too-after the manner of those pious persons who do penance for their own sins by putting other people into sackcloth-it was customary for those who now and then thirsted for a draught of pure air, which is not absolutely the most wicked among the vanities of life, to get a few miles away by the railroad, and then begin their walk, or their lounge in the fields. Sissy and Rachael helped themselves out of the smoke by the usual means, and were put down at a station about midway between the town and Mr. Bounderby's retreat.
Though the green landscape was blotted here and there with heaps of coal, it was green elsewhere, and there were trees to see, and there were larks singing (though it was Sunday), and there were pleasant scents in the air, and all was over-arched by a bright blue sky. In the distance one way, Coketown showed as a black mist; in another distance hills began to rise; in a third, there was a faint change in the light of the horizon where it shone upon the far-off sea. Under their feet, the grass was fresh; beautiful shadows of branches flickered upon it, and speckled it; hedgerows were luxuriant; everything was at peace. Engines at pits' mouths, and lean old horses that had worn the circle of their daily labour into the ground, were alike quiet; wheels had ceased for a short space to turn; and the great wheel of earth seemed to revolve without the shocks and noises of another time.
They walked on across the fields and down the shady lanes, sometimes getting over a fragment of a fence so rotten that it dropped at a touch of the foot, sometimes passing near a wreck of bricks and beams overgrown with grass, marking the site of deserted works. They followed paths and tracks, however slight. Mounds where the grass was rank and high, and where brambles, dock-weed, and such-like vegetation, were confusedly heaped together, they always avoided; for dismal stories were told in that country of the old pits hidden beneath such indications.

Throughout Hard Times, such narrative is tautly drawn. And it’s as metaphorical and all encompassing as Wordsworth’s poetry.
Next week a shift of gears to a bit of professional criticism (and my own amaterurish version) as it might apply to Hard Times.

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