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Thread: Hard Times and the dangers of a utilitarian education

  1. #16
    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mal4mac View Post
    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.
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

  2. #17
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    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.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  3. #18
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    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.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  4. #19
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    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.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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