Arcadia LBC – Hard Times Write Up

Arcadia LBC

Venue: Arcadia Bar
Date:  Sunday, 18th of November 2012
Time:  5pm – 7pm


* * * * * S P O I L E R S * * * * *
* * * * * S P O I L E R S * * * * *
 * * * * * S P O I L E R S * * * * * 
Due to the length of this novel, it is frequently regarded as the ‘easy’ Dickens option. In our opinion – this is a mistake.
Despite its brevity, we found this to be a dense read, one that took considerably more time than expected and felt even longer as there were few of us that were enthusiastic to complete it!*
It had all started so well though. As a whole, we tended to quite enjoy the opening volley – especially as the educational models were broken down. FACT and FANCY – or practical versus creative – as ideals for child rearing fascinated us and had the book continued in this vein – we might have had a very different conversation about it!
Those familiar with other Dickens stories immediately noticed that this novel contains very few of the recognisable Dickensian motifs. It’s far less gothic in tone – though this is at least in part down to the storyline. Flashes of gothic would indicate creativity, not a feature of the society created here. The action is set in a fictitious northern town – not in London. There is a strong industrial setting, rather than the social focus that we have come to expect. As noted previously, the length of novel is also a break from his norm; considerably shorter than one might expect. Finally, love does not redeem or restore or improve anything throughout this book – a very unusual feature for Dickens.
This might be the angriest book that Dickens ever wrote. It’s a shame that it inspired so little emotion from any of us.
More importantly, we missed passion. We didn’t care about the characters – whose structured, practical and emotionless lives left us cold. We felt pity for Stephen – but more for his ‘lunatic’ wife. Rachel seemed decent enough but her piety turned us off. The use of phonetic dialect was just painful to read throughout – particularly for the character with a speech impediment (and for those who know I hate this writing affection particularly – this was something more than one person raised!! Honest!!). Many of us had copies with blurbs on the back labelling this as an uplifting read – a description that we couldn’t understand at all!!
We also speculated on the state of the authors romantic life at the time as the book is near pathologically anti-wedlock. As is typical of the author, the wealthy are depicted as less moral than their poverty stricken counterparts and have opportunities available denied to others (as demonstrated in Stephen’s inability to divorce, but Louise being able to separate from Josiah).
We discussed whether politics was the most meaningful element of the novel, especially as a commentary of the time. While we acknowledged that we are less well informed of it today; we couldn’t help but think of other Dickens novels that introduced concepts less familiar today that just gripped us. A Christmas carol and A Tale of Two Cities can be read and enjoyed by a wide swathe of society regardless of the century that the readers lives in. Dickens was usually excels at creating that near unobtainable writing goal – timeless fiction – however he missed the mark here for us.**
We chatted for a bit about how this is a moral tale yet how we felt it utterly failed as one. None of the characters end up happy by the end of the book – regardless of their upbringing, philosophical beliefs or the social structures that they were raised in. So, what exactly was the message supposed to be? A life without creativity is one without spark, but even if you have a tiny bit of a spark or a good heart; you’ll still end up miserable? It felt a little bit like the author was furious at the world around him and wrote this as a sulky rant – if you take on board these elements, society is doomed. No one can be redeemed during it. Such pessimism was very off-putting for us.  We pondered on whether he was trying to pull the ultimate reverse psychological argument on an epic scale, however not enough counter to normal viewpoints were included to allow us to think of this as a serious option.
Many of us thought that this might work better in a visual medium and were surprised to realise how few adaptations there are of this book as opposed to of Dickens other works. This appears to sit uneasily with the rest of his tremendous output. We tried to visualise the action as a BBC drama (yes, others do period dramas, however rarely ever so well!), wondering if the details would stick better; the characters appeal more; the ending jar less. If anyone does watch a version – do let us know how you got on with it!
Those of us who have read and enjoyed Dickens previously have been inspired to seek out old favourites or other unread novels to give them a try after reading this book – even though we didn’t wholly enjoy it. So the Dickens appeal lives on!
However, those amongst us who read this as their first Dickens novel felt no great need to ever try one of his books again. Don’t worry – we totally tried to talk them round! There is far too much goodness oozing out of Dahl’s Chickens to not encourage people to try the rest and The Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations came highly recommended.
And that was that! Our final Arcadia LBC meeting of the year!
* Three of our regulars who LOVED the book were unable to attend the meeting at Arcadia for various reasons. Each has spoken to me briefly about what they loved about the book – from the political intrigue to the philosophical underpinnings, to important social observations to the near dystopian elements especially towards the end of the novel.
We really missed having an enthusiastic defender or two for the book – always leads to a more rounded discussion than when only one opinion holds sway – and wanted to reflect that there were those amongst us who enjoyed this immensely! 
**A member did express the view that in their opinion, Charles Dickens did not seem to have fully grasped the political concepts that he was writing about – especially obvious in this treatment of trade unions as depicted by the entirely vicious and wholly unrealistic Slackbridge. However, as the rest of the group were less interested in the political element, this wasn’t really explored in too much detail.
Other Books Mentioned
North and South – Elizabeth Gaskill

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte 

For further details, please email me at or tweet me @LeedsBookClub!

Contact the bar on @ArcadiaBar

And feel free to let us know your thoughts using #ArcadiaLBC!

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