About Charles Dickens' social-realist novel 'Hard Times'

Essay, 2005

7 Seiten, Note: 1,7


Charles Dickens’ social-realist novel Hard Times was his only novel published in weekly parts in his magazine Household Words in 1854. The serial publication was combined with the insertion of journalistic articles on themes which were discussed in the novel, so that “the journalism and the fiction nourished each other”[1]. In his novel Dickens depicts the life of men, women and children at the time of Industrial Revolution and points to themes like trade unions, political economy, education, marriage and divorce. Along with the changing political and economic structures, the role of women began to change in the middle of the 19th century. The so-called Women question was concerned with traditional roles of women who were valued for their tenderness and domestic affection, but who had no political rights. Since male writers of the Victorian period were often accused of inserting female characters “insignificant both in mind and body”[2], it is very interesting to have a closer look at the representation of Victorian women and the Women question in Charles Dickens’ novel.

Generally, women were seen as the “angels in the house”[3] submitted to their husbands without any rights. The birth of a girl was normally a disappointment in the 19th century[4] especially in the aristocracy where the wife’s first duty was to bear a male heir. But after fulfilling that duty, aristocratic women were also able to gain a certain amount of freedom in their private and public life. Since the reader of Hard Times sees the growing up and the development of female characters from childhood to adult life, a systematic approach to the female Victorian life will be helpful to analyse the characters. Women in the upper and upper middle class grew up in an authoritarian formal patriarchy without any affection[5]. While they lived separately from their parents and had more contact with nurses than with their mother, children in the lower middle class and the working class lived more intimately together with their parents. Although children were seen as wage owners in the lower classes, the family members lived “an emotional life dependent on each other”[6]. Nevertheless, children of all classes had very little freedom and were “ruthlessly suppressed by parents, schoolteachers and others in authority.”[7] While the suppression ceased for grown up men, it prevailed for many women throughout their life since women’s supposed life-plan was marriage which usually meant further submission to the husband. In the upper classes questions of dynastic alliances and property determined the future husband, and although parents wanted their daughter to consent to a marriage, women had no real choice. While financial aspects were of great importance in the upper and upper middle classes due to the fact that the husband owned the wife’s property after marriage[8], this was unimportant to working-class women who had no money but who had to work hard in order to support their family. They married men from the same background for reasons of support and affection[9] and in contrast to the upper classes, marriage normally meant spending your life together. The consequences of women’s submissive position differed: while upper-class women often suffered from mental diseases, the double burden of work inside and outside the house made working-class women physically ill. Although the traditional “unhealthy” role of women was already challenged in the middle of the 19th century[10], many women still believed in the naturalness of their submission so that changes proceeded only very slowly.


[1] Simpson, Margaret: The companion to `Hard Times`, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997, 5. (abbreviated: Simpson, 5).

[2] Perkin, Joan: Victorian women, London: Murray, 1993, 86. (abbreviated: Perkin, 86).

[3] Perkin, 73.

[4] Perkin, 8.

[5] Lady Dorothy Nevill, daughter of the Earl of Oxford, said: “ Children at that time were kept in great order, and generally forbidden to do anything they particularly liked - more, I think, on general principle than for any sufficient reason.“ (Perkin, 13.)

[6] Perkin, 18.

[7] Perkin, 11.

[8] Perkin, 74.

[9] Perkin, 81.

[10] John Stuart Mill postulated equal rights for women, e.g. the right to vote, already in the middle of the 19th century in On the subject of women. (Maurer, Michael: Kleine Geschichte Englands, Stuttgart: Reclam, 2002, 385)

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About Charles Dickens' social-realist novel 'Hard Times'
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
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dickens, hard times, social realism
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Johanna Wünsche (Autor), 2005, About Charles Dickens' social-realist novel 'Hard Times', München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/67498


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