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kev67
11-11-2013, 08:17 PM
I finished volume 2 a couple of days ago. The book still seems more an attack on a too factual based education system than the critique on working class working and living conditions that I had expected. The book makes out that the education of both of Mr Gradgrind's eldest children left them unprepared for life. Young Tom Gradgrind has not turned out well. One of the characters, Mr Harthouse, says that Tom's upbringing left him unprepared for the circles that he would have to move in. It is true that young Tom does lack polish, but that is not his main failing. Mr Harthouse's education was, no doubt, more humanities based than Tom's, but his character is hardly much better. At the end of volume 2, Louisa visits her father. In a rather unlikely sounding passage, she complains that her education had not prepared her for life. She made a bad mistake in marrying Mr Bounderby. Was it really the style of education that she received that led her to make this mistake? What syllabus would Dickens have suggested to prepare a child for life?

I wonder whether Victorian industrialists were actually dismissive of the arts. There is a pub in Reading called Great Expectations after Charles Dickens' book. Charles Dickens visited it when it was the Literary, Scientific and Mechanics Institute. iirc he read extracts from A Christmas Carol there. The Keighley Mechanics Institute had a library, from which I gather the Brontė sisters borrowed books. Their father delivered a lecture there in 1833 (linky (http://www.valendale.myby.co.uk/mechanics.html)). I would not mind betting these places were typical of mechanics institutes up and down the country.

Incidentally, I was listening to Jean Winterson (probably most famous for Oranges are Not the Only Fruit) on the radio this morning. She criticised the present minister for education, Michael Gove, for the utilitarian aspect of his education policies. She said education was not about utility, but allowing people to be human beings. Otherwise you are back with [Friedrich] Engels, lurking about the slums of Manchester, saying this is what happens men regard each other only as useful objects (not an exact quote).

kev67
11-13-2013, 04:38 PM
I was thinking that the sort of education that Tom Gradgrind devises for his children reflects the new class that was arising out of the Industrial Revolution. If I understand correctly, previous to the Industrial Revolution, most rich people were gentry or landowners. These people would send their sons to school where they would learn various subjects, but in particular Latin and Greek. A knowledge of Latin and Greek would appeal to them because it contains elements of history, language, literature, religion, oratory and a lot of fighting. It also would have the effect of differentiating you from the common herd. You would share a lot of esoteric references with members of your class, which those of a lower class would not.

Women of the same class would learn subjects such as foreign languages, art and music. Women of this class were economically useless, except according to George Gissing, as an aid to their husband's career. In New Grub Street, one of the characters complains that his working class wife hindered his career because she could not host dinner parties or accompany her husband to society meetings. In Pride and Prejudice, many of these skills were termed accomplishments (I think). These proficiencies seem to be mainly ways of filling in the time, entertaining and impressing each other. This upbringing would also differentiate upper class women from the lower classes.

There were schools for poor children. I gather many were supervised by the church. I gather than in general they concentrated on the three R's (reading, writing and arithmetic) and also a fourth R - religion. In many of them the standard of education was rather poor.

Tom Gradgrind was from a new class of people, self-made industrialists. Bounderby apparently underwent an apprenticeship, then had the go-do-it attitude to take advantage in the new advances in technology. Presumably, Mr Gradgrind had a similar background. They did not have a background of learning Greek and Latin. They had done very well for themselves through vocational training. So it is not really a surprise if someone like Gradgrind values mathematical, factual and scientific subjects over the arts and humanities.

mona amon
11-14-2013, 02:02 AM
I finished volume 2 a couple of days ago. The book still seems more an attack on a too factual based education system than the critique on working class working and living conditions that I had expected. The book makes out that the education of both of Mr Gradgrind's eldest children left them unprepared for life. Young Tom Gradgrind has not turned out well. One of the characters, Mr Harthouse says that Tom's upbringing left him unprepared for the circles that he would have to move in. It is true that young Tom does lack polish, but that is not his main failing. Mr Harthouse's education was, no doubt, more humanities based than Tom's, but his character is hardly much better. At the end of volume 2, Louisa visits her father. In a rather unlikely sounding passage, she complains that her education had not prepared her for life. She made a bad mistake in marrying Mr Bounderby. Was it really the style of education that she received that led her to make this mistake? What syllabus would Dickens have suggested to prepare a child for life?

I wonder whether Victorian industrialists were actually dismissive of the arts. There is a pub in Reading called Great Expectations after Charles Dickens' book. Charles Dickens visited it when it was the Literary, Scientific and Mechanics Institute. iirc he read extracts from A Christmas Carol there. The Keighley Mechanics Institute had a library, from which I gather the Brontė sisters borrowed books. Their father delivered a lecture there in 1833 (linky (http://www.valendale.myby.co.uk/mechanics.html)). I would not mind betting these places were typical of mechanics institutes up and down the country.

Incidentally, I was listening to Jean Winterson (probably most famous for Oranges are Not the Only Fruit) on the radio this morning. She criticised the present minister for education, Michael Gove, for the utilitarian aspect of his education policies. She said education was not about utility, but allowing people to be human beings. Otherwise you are back with [Friedrich] Engels, lurking about the slums of Manchester, saying this is what happens men regard each other only as useful objects (not an exact quote).

Kev, what is a 'Mechanics Institute'? I used to wonder what it was when I read about the Bronte sisters borrowing books from the Keighley Mechanics Institute library.

As for Hard Times, unfortunately I don't remember anything much. I did think it was very different to Dickens' other novels, but interesting nevertheless.

kev67
11-14-2013, 05:50 AM
According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechanics%27_Institutes), Mechanics' Institutes were

"Educational establishments, originally formed to provide adult education, particularly in technical subjects, to working men. As such, they were often funded by local industrialists on the grounds that they would ultimately benefit from having more knowledgeable and skilled employees (such philanthropy was shown by, among others, Robert Stephenson, James Nasmyth, John Davis Barnett and Joseph Whitworth). The Mechanics' Institutes were used as 'libraries' for the adult working class, and provided them with an alternative pastime to gambling and drinking in pubs."

Sounds like the sort of establishment Tom Gradgrind may have had a hand in.

mal4mac
11-14-2013, 06:38 AM
I finished volume 2 a couple of days ago. The book still seems more an attack on a too factual based education system than the critique on working class working and living conditions that I had expected. The book makes out that the education of both of Mr Gradgrind's eldest children left them unprepared for life. Young Tom Gradgrind has not turned out well. One of the characters, Mr Harthouse says that Tom's upbringing left him unprepared for the circles that he would have to move in. It is true that young Tom does lack polish, but that is not his main failing. Mr Harthouse's education was, no doubt, more humanities based than Tom's, but his character is hardly much better. At the end of volume 2, Louisa visits her father. In a rather unlikely sounding passage, she complains that her education had not prepared her for life. She made a bad mistake in marrying Mr Bounderby. Was it really the style of education that she received that led her to make this mistake? What syllabus would Dickens have suggested to prepare a child for life?

He provides the syllabus in David Copperfield:

"My father had left a small collection of books in a little
room upstairs, to which I had access (for it adjoined my own) and which
nobody else in our house ever troubled. From that blessed little room,
Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, the
Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, and Robinson Crusoe, came
out, a glorious host, to keep me company. They kept alive my fancy, and
my hope of something beyond that place and time,--they, and the Arabian
Nights, and the Tales of the Genii,--and did me no harm; for whatever
harm was in some of them was not there for me; I knew nothing of it. It
is astonishing to me now, how I found time, in the midst of my porings
and blunderings over heavier themes, to read those books as I did. It
is curious to me how I could ever have consoled myself under my
small troubles (which were great troubles to me), by impersonating my
favourite characters in them--as I did--and by putting Mr. and Miss
Murdstone into all the bad ones--which I did too. I have been Tom Jones
(a child's Tom Jones, a harmless creature) for a week together. I have
sustained my own idea of Roderick Random for a month at a stretch, I
verily believe. I had a greedy relish for a few volumes of Voyages and
Travels--I forget what, now--that were on those shelves; and for days
and days I can remember to have gone about my region of our house,
armed with the centre-piece out of an old set of boot-trees--the perfect
realization of Captain Somebody, of the Royal British Navy, in danger of
being beset by savages, and resolved to sell his life at a great price.
The Captain never lost dignity, from having his ears boxed with the
Latin Grammar. I did; but the Captain was a Captain and a hero, in
despite of all the grammars of all the languages in the world, dead or
alive."

kev67
11-14-2013, 03:24 PM
I will have to get around to reading David Copperfield eventually. The Dickens books I still intend to read are David Copperfield, Bleak House, Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities, unless someone knows of another must-read. I have almost read Hard Times, and I have already read A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations.

Maybe this theme of education in Hard Times was an appeal to industrialists to include libraries in their Mechanics' Institutes.

BTW, maybe stating in a previous post that upper/middle class women were economically useless was a bit harsh. I suppose they had households or estates to manage, children to bear, events to coordinate, all sorts of things that would have an economic value. Nevertheless, so far as I can tell, the only way a upper/middle woman could use their education to earn money was as a governess, teacher or author. Possibly nursing too; Florence Nightingale was a nurse after all. She recruited women to train as nurses, but were they middle class or working class? Plus Florence Nightingale was an exceptional woman.

kev67
11-17-2013, 12:10 PM
I think Dickens' attack on Utilitarian education is a bit confused. I think what he was really attacking was self-serving economic theories that were presented as 'fact', which allowed rich people, for example, factory bosses to ignore the plight of the poor. For example, at the end of the book, Bitzer has absorbed the teaching he received from Gradgrind's fact-based education syllabus so well, that he has worked out that it is more in his self interest to arrest young Tom Gradgrind and turn him in to the police than to accept money from the older Tom Gradgrind to let the lad escape the country. This philosophy that Bitzer has absorbed is not fact, but an economic theory. It seems rather similar to the theories promoted by Ayn Rand in her books, from what I hear.

I am not even sure that this philosophy is actually Utilitarianism. I think Utilitarianism is a useful concept when you are a public administrator and have to decide how best to spend the limited amount of money you have. When I was studying an Open University module, I read about the ALARP concept (As Low As Reasonably Possible). For example, for £100,000,000 you could afford to upgrade railway safety such that it would cut fatalities by 90%, but spending £200,000,000 might only cut fatalities by another 5%. In addition that money might only amount to twenty lives per year, when the same amount of money could save 2000 lives spent elsewhere. Likewise, I tend to agree with NICE's (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) criteria for selecting which drugs they will allow the NHS to prescribe. Dickens, and no doubt many other people, would say doctors should be allowed to prescribe the best drugs that are available, no matter what the cost, if they would extend life. Hovever, IMO there is a cut-off point, and NICE are right to balance cost against the years of life saved multiplied by the quality of life for each treatment.

In some student notes, I read that Louisa and young Tom had been left emotionally retarded by the fact-based education system, Bitzer too apparently. Only Sissy escaped the process because she was not receptive to this mode of teaching. To me, it seems not so much the teaching but that the children were allowed no opportunity to play or exercise their imagination in their free time that was the problem. When David Copperfield was reading all those books, it was outside school. Louisa and Tom were told off by their father for peeking under a circus tent early in the book. It seems they were allowed no fun at all. Not allowing children any free time to play or pursue their interests amounts to child abuse IMO, but that is a different issue to an unbalanced school curriculum.

mal4mac
11-17-2013, 01:39 PM
I will have to get around to reading David Copperfield eventually. The Dickens books I still intend to read are David Copperfield, Bleak House, Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities, unless someone knows of another must-read. I have almost read Hard Times, and I have already read A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations.

I've read all his major novels and all of them are must reads IMHO. David Copperfield, Bleak House, Oliver Twist are very good, but you really shouldn't miss Pickwick Papers, which is Dickens at his humorous best. I also think Nicholas Nickleby is up to the standard of David Copperfield and Oliver Twist. "Bleak House" is a difficult, deeper, more sombre, work; if you like it then there is no reason not to tackle Little Dorrit, The Old Curiosity Shop, Barnaby Rudge, Our Mutual Friend, Martin Chuzzlewit, and Dombey and Son. That leaves Edwin Drood, which is superb, not to be missed, it doesn't matter too much that it's unfinished. Dickens didn't write a bad novel, there is no reason not to read them all if you like one.

kev67
11-17-2013, 05:51 PM
Thinking about it a bit more, I think Gradgrind's educational system was a metaphor. The factories were scientific, productive and profit-oriented, but ugly, dispiriting and dehumanizing. Coketown was a scientific, productive and profit-oriented town, but ugly, dispiriting and dehumanizing. Thus the education system. I think Dickens might have used the word 'reductive' if it had been around then.

kev67
11-17-2013, 06:09 PM
I've read all his major novels and all of them are must reads IMHO. David Copperfield, Bleak House, Oliver Twist are very good, but you really shouldn't miss Pickwick Papers, which is Dickens at his humorous best. I also think Nicholas Nickleby is up to the standard of David Copperfield and Oliver Twist. "Bleak House" is a difficult, deeper, more sombre, work; if you like it then there is no reason not to tackle Little Dorrit, The Old Curiosity Shop, Barnaby Rudge, Our Mutual Friend, Martin Chuzzlewit, and Dombey and Son. That leaves Edwin Drood, which is superb, not to be missed, it doesn't matter too much that it's unfinished. Dickens didn't write a bad novel, there is no reason not to read them all if you like one.

That's quite a reading list and I still have not read any Gaskell, Elliot, Thackeray, Trollop or Collins yet. Plus I want to read perhaps another Hardy, Austen, Kipling, Gissing, Conrad and Chesterton. I haven't even started any French or Russians yet.

I am undecided on Dickens now. I thought Great Expectations was the most moving book I have read in my life. I liked parts of A Christmas Carol. I am not sure whether we read all of A Christmas Carol at school or just bits of it. The bits I liked when I read it last year were the bits I remember liking at school, in particular the visit by Marlow's ghost. On the whole, I did not like Dickens at school. If I had read Hard Times instead of Great Expectations a couple of years ago, it would have confirmed my schoolboy impression and I would not want to read any of his other books.

mona amon
11-18-2013, 07:37 AM
Great Expectations really is one of his best books, I feel. My three favourites are Great Expectations, Little Dorrit and Bleak House, and I feel these are all equally good. Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield and Pickwick Papers come next, and Tale of Two Cities was not up to the mark until the very end, when it suddenly became fantastic. But I too haven't read quite a few of his books including Old Curiosity Shop, A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist.

mal4mac
11-18-2013, 10:29 AM
That's quite a reading list and I still have not read any Gaskell, Elliot, Thackeray, Trollop or Collins yet. Plus I want to read perhaps another Hardy, Austen, Kipling, Gissing, Conrad and Chesterton. I haven't even started any French or Russians yet.

I've read all of these authors except for Gissing and Chesterton. Thanks for reminding me, my library has "The Man Who was Thursday" and "New Grub Street". I must get round to reading them soon. I recently read, "The Woman in White" by Wilkie Collins, which is a superb mystery novel. I think the best by the other authors you are "yet to read" stand comparison with Dickens, especially:

Middlemarch - George Eliot
Kim - Kipling
Trollope - The way we live now
Thackery - Vanity Fair
Austen - Pride & Prejudice, Emma....
Conrad - Victory
Hardy - Tess, Jude...

I recently re-read Middlemarch, War & Peace and Anna Karenina, and, for me, they are "on the heights" with David Copperfield and Bleak House. Those would be my desert island novels if I was limited to five.

I think Hard Times is a bit problematic, I plan to re-read it, but it's quite low down on my "must re-read" list. A Christmas Carol is quite a slight work, apart from the wonderful characters, and is also low on my must re-read list. I also admire Great Expectations, but it ties with several others in my estimation. It's interesting that Dickens wrote two novels that cover the same "boy to man" experience, without repeating any material. In fact, he worked very hard to make sure that Great Expectations didn't repeat material from David Copperfield.

The only other problematic ones for me are A Tale of Two Cities and Dombey & Son. The former suffers, I feel, from Dickens being out of his stamping ground of London (like Hard Times), and the latter is too dour and drawn out, and lacks memorable characters. But give some of the lesser known ones a try - Barnaby Rudge was an amazing discovery for me! It has superb characters, notably Barnaby himself, and the best bird in fiction.

mal4mac
11-18-2013, 10:52 AM
Great Expectations really is one of his best books, I feel. My three favourites are Great Expectations, Little Dorrit and Bleak House, and I feel these are all equally good. Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield and Pickwick Papers come next, and Tale of Two Cities was not up to the mark until the very end, when it suddenly became fantastic. But I too haven't read quite a few of his books including Old Curiosity Shop, A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist.

Maybe your first group scores high for "social commentary" and "depth", but I think your second group scores higher for "energy" and "humour". Why doesn't David Copperfield make it into your first group? I think it shows all the qualities I mentioned, and it would be my desert island choice if I had to pick one novel to go along with Shakespeare and the Bible.

kev67
11-18-2013, 12:27 PM
Another thought that occurred to me was that wouldn't all the children at the Gradgrind school also go to church or Sunday school? The books says there were a lot of chapels in Coketown, but no one went to them. However, wouldn't Gradgrind's children, as members of one of the leading families in Coketown be expected to attend church? When Mr M'Choakemchild asks what is the Golden Rule, Sissy responds with Jesus' second commandment: do unto others what you would have them do to you. Bitzer responds with the correct reply, which was always follow your self-interest. Gradgrind may have faith in Utilitarianism, but would he also be an atheist? Later on in the century, he may well have been, but before The Origin of the Species came out?

Edit: Louisa is clearly a Christian. There is a passage where she implores her brother to confess if he had committed the theft for the sake of his immortal soul.

kev67
11-18-2013, 12:34 PM
I've read all of these authors except for Gissing and Chesterton. Thanks for reminding me, my library has "The Man Who was Thursday" and "New Grub Street". I must get round to reading them soon. I recently read, "The Woman in White" by Wilkie Collins, which is a superb mystery novel. I think the best by the other authors you are "yet to read" stand comparison with Dickens, especially:

Middlemarch - George Eliot
Kim - Kipling
Trollope - The way we live now
Thackery - Vanity Fair
Austen - Pride & Prejudice, Emma....
Conrad - Victory
Hardy - Tess, Jude...

Barnaby Rudge was an amazing discovery for me! It has superb characters, notably Barnaby himself, and the best bird in fiction.

I have Middlemarch and Kim on my bookcase waiting to be read. I plan to read Vanity Fair, and probably Emma. I have read Tess, but I will give Jude a miss. I will read Far From the Madding Crowd instead. I have read several of Conrad's books, but I have not heard of Victory before. I have Nostromo of his waiting to be read. I hope to read Woman in White and The Way We Live Now too eventually.

Barnaby Rudge sounds interesting. I assumed, because it never seems to be televised, filmed, or even referred to, that it was not very good. Perhaps I will put that on the list too.

mona amon
11-21-2013, 07:32 AM
Maybe your first group scores high for "social commentary" and "depth", but I think your second group scores higher for "energy" and "humour". Why doesn't David Copperfield make it into your first group? I think it shows all the qualities I mentioned, and it would be my desert island choice if I had to pick one novel to go along with Shakespeare and the Bible.

I agree with you about the humour - both Nicholas Nickleby and Pickwick Papers have some of the funniest passages I've ever read in my life! I don't think it's about social commentary - that's not so important for me in a book, but Little Dorrit and Bleak House are just packed with all sorts of good stuff - Little Dorrit especially has such a grand cast of characters, so humanely and lovingly drawn. I love David Copperfield, but not as much as these other three, but unfortunately I've forgotten why. Perhaps it might have ranked with Great Expectations if GE hadn't been my first Dickens novel, so first love.

kev67
12-04-2013, 05:25 AM
Interestingly, the speaker, on the religious Thought for the Day slot on the news radio programme this morning, referred to Hard Times with reference to the Pisa educational school rankings. He thought it was a league not worth winning. Also, just read another opinion piece that said that Far East countries were over-doing education, and that apart from a lower than replacement fertility rate, a result was delayed or incomplete psychological development. Maybe Dickens had a point.

kev67
12-09-2013, 03:59 PM
This bit in the Wikipedia entry for Hard Times is interesting:

John Stuart Mill had a similar, rigorous education to that of Louisa Gradgrind, consisting of analytical, logical, mathematical, and statistical exercises. In his twenties, Mill had a nervous breakdown, believing his capacity for emotion had been enervated by his father's stringent emphasis on analysis and mathematics in his education. In the book, Louisa herself follows a parallel course, being unable to express herself and falling into a temporary depression as a result of her dry education.

He seemed to have recovered. I thought John Stuart Mill was a promoter of utilitarianism, but maybe it was his father, James. I was reading about John Stuart Mill this morning in a book about the history of economics. He believed in laisser-faire economics but with five major exceptions when he thought state intervention was justifiable. The exceptions were so big, that some considered his outlook to be close to socialism.

kev67
05-25-2014, 12:26 PM
I have started to read a book called The Body Economic: Life, Death and Sensation in Political Economy and the Victorian Novel by Catherine Gallagher. It's the sort of book you rarely find outside an academic library. There is a chapter on Hard Times. I got the impression while reading Hard Times that Dickens was a bit confused about what Utilitarianism was. That confusion seems to have lasted to this day, or perhaps it is me who is confused. However, Jeremy Bentham, who invented Utilitarianism was interested in happiness. Whatever policy resulted in the highest net amount of happiness was the best. Dickens' favourite thinker was Thomas Carlyle, and his outlook was that work was good in itself; that one should strive for more than idle contentment. Gallagher says that in Hard Times, the people are unhappy because everyone is oppressed by continuous, monotonous work. Dickens would appear to be agreeing more with Bentham than Carlyle. Gallagher then says that because it was so difficult to quantify happiness, and relatively easy to quantify wealth, wealth is what economists concentrated on.

Interestingly, there are some economists/social scientists who are trying to square economics with happiness. I read a book called The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, who argued that once material needs were satisfied, greater wealth was less important than equality in wealth distribution in regards to general happiness.