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19 of the Best Books of 2021

hard times book 3 chapter 1

A bookworm is happiest when they’re surrounded by books — both old and new. Undoubtedly, 2021 was a great year for both fiction and nonfiction, with bestsellers like Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters and Second Place by Rachel Cusk. Whether you read memoirs or young-adult (YA) novels, 2021 was a fantastic year for book lovers. While we can’t squeeze in all of our favorites from 2021, we’ve rounded up a stellar sampling of must-reads. Here’s some of the year’s best books. 

“Crying in H Mart: A Memoir” by Michelle Zauner

hard times book 3 chapter 1

In her profound memoir Crying in H Mart , Michelle Zauner shares an unflinching view of growing up as a Korean American person — all while reflecting on losing her mother to terminal cancer. Author Dani Shapiro notes that the Japanese Breakfast musician “has created a gripping, sensuous portrait of an indelible mother-daughter bond that hits all the notes: love, friction, loyalty, grief.”

“The Prophets” by Robert Jones, Jr.

hard times book 3 chapter 1

In Robert Jones, Jr.’s lyrical debut novel, The Prophets , Isaiah and Samuel are two enslaved young men who find refuge in each other — and their love becomes both sustaining and heroic in the face of a vicious world. Entertainment Weekly writes that “While The Prophets’ dreamy realism recalls the work of Toni Morrison… Its penetrating focus on social dynamics stands out more singularly.” Now that’s a compliment.

“The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman

hard times book 3 chapter 1

At President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Amanda Gorman read her electrifying poem, “ The Hill We Climb .” Since then, it has been praised for its call for unity and healing. Vogue captures the feeling of reading the poem well, calling it “deeply rousing and uplifting.” 

“Beautiful World, Where Are You” by Sally Rooney

hard times book 3 chapter 1

New York Times bestselling author Sally Rooney has returned with a sharp, romantic drama, Beautiful World, Where Are You . Two separate relationships are in chaos, threatening to ruin friendships. Vogue  declares that the author has “invented a sensibility entirely of her own: Sunny and sharp.” 

“Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir” by Ashley C. Ford

hard times book 3 chapter 1

Ashley C. Ford’s coming-of-age memoir, Somebody’s Daughter , centers on her childhood. Ford, a Black girl who grew up poor in Indiana, recounts how her family was fragmented by her father’s incarceration. With rich, unflinching writing, Ford has penned a debut for the ages. The memoir’s publisher perhaps puts the core of the book best, noting that Ford “embarks on a powerful journey to find the threads between who she is and what she was born into, and the complicated familial love that often binds them.” 

“Last Night at the Telegraph Club” by Malinda Lo

hard times book 3 chapter 1

Everyone remembers their first all-consuming love — and for Lily Hu, the teenage protagonist of Malinda Lo’s queer YA novel, that love is Kathleen Miller. Set in the 1950s in San Francisco,  Last Night at the Telegraph Club  is not just one of the year’s best, but one of Lo’s best. O: The Oprah Magazine notes that the novel is “proof of Lo’s skill at creating darkly romantic tales of love in the face of danger.”

“¡Hola Papi!” by John Paul Brammer

hard times book 3 chapter 1

In his memoir, ¡H ola Papi!: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons , advice columnist John Paul Brammer delves into his experiences growing up as a queer, biracial person. The  Los Angeles Times  writes that “Brammer’s writing is incredibly funny, kind, and gracious to his readers, and deeply vulnerable in a way that makes it feel as if he’s talking to only you” — and we couldn’t agree more. 

“Honey Girl” by Morgan Rogers

hard times book 3 chapter 1

In Morgan Rogers’ novel Honey Girl , Grace Porter is an overachiever — and certainly not the type of person to marry a stranger in Las Vegas. Or, at least, she didn’t think she was that type of person. As Grace navigates the messiness of adulthood, Rogers takes us on a journey that’s both heartfelt and unflinching, illustrating that love is all about risks — even when it comes to loving ourselves. 

“Aftershocks: A Memoir” by Nadia Owusu

hard times book 3 chapter 1

Nadia Owusu’s memoir, Aftershocks , reflects on her experience of being abandoned by her parents at a young age. Entertainment Weekly notes that “Owusu dispatches all of this heartache with blistering honesty but does so with prose light enough that it never feels too much to bear.”

“Klara and the Sun” by Kazuo Ishiguro

hard times book 3 chapter 1

What if an artificial intelligence (AI) assistant had feelings? In Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel,  Klara and the Sun , Klara is an Artificial Friend who wonders if friendship is possible. The Financial Times called the Never Let Me Go author’s latest “a deft dystopian fable about the innocence of a robot that asks big questions about existence.”

“100 Boyfriends” by Brontez Purnell

hard times book 3 chapter 1

Brontez Purnell’s romantic, intoxicating book, 100 Boyfriends , is a look at the romantic lives of queer men who are striving to find out not just where they belong, but where they can shine. Author Bryan Washington praised the collection, writing that “Each story in 100 Boyfriends is a minor eclipse: stunning in scope, technically blinding, and entirely miraculous.”

“One Last Stop” by Casey McQuiston

hard times book 3 chapter 1

In Casey McQuiston’s big-hearted romance novel, One Last Stop , August meets Jane on a New York City subway — but she doesn’t realize just how fateful their chance encounter is at first. New York Magazine called the novel “an earnest reminder that home — whether that means a time, a place, or a person — is worth fighting for,” and we wouldn’t expect anything less from the  Red, White & Royal Blue author. 

“Afterparties: Stories” by Anthony Veasna So

hard times book 3 chapter 1

In Afterparties , Anthony Veasna So weaves together tenderhearted stories about the lives of several Cambodian American characters. Although the stories vary quite a bit in terms of content, author George Saunders writes that they are all “powered by So’s skill with the telling detail,” and are much like “…beams of wry, affectionate light, falling from different directions on a complicated, struggling, beloved American community.”

“Malibu Rising” by Taylor Jenkins Reid

hard times book 3 chapter 1

In Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel Malibu Rising , readers meet four famous siblings as they throw their annual end-of-summer party in Malibu. However, over the course of 24 hours, family drama ensues. The Washington Post calls this read “a fast-paced, engaging novel that smoothly transports readers.”

“Let Me Tell You What I Mean” by Joan Didion

hard times book 3 chapter 1

Between 1968 and 2000, award-winning journalist and essayist Joan Didion wrote 12 pieces about a variety of well-known figures, ranging from Ernest Hemingway and Nancy Reagan to Martha Stewart. Now, these works have been gathered in the essay collection Let Me Tell You What I Mean . Bret Easton Ellis writes that Didion’s “prose remains peerless,” so, if you’re a fan of the iconic writer, this is a must-read. 

“Intimacies” by Katie Kitamura

hard times book 3 chapter 1

Intimacies is Katie Kitamura’s fourth novel, following 2017’s critically acclaimed A Separation . In it, an interpreter for the International Court at the Hague gets drawn into a political scandal after agreeing to translate for a former world leader and potential criminal. The novel is a fascinating investigation into the instability of language and how it influences identity. Dana Spiotta describes Intimacies as “a haunting, precise, and morally astute novel that reads like a psychological thriller.”

“Detransition, Baby” by Torrey Peters

hard times book 3 chapter 1

In Detransition, Baby , Torrey Peters tells a witty and nuanced story about partnership, parenthood and identity. About the novel, Ginny Hogan from the New York Times states “[Detransition, Baby upends] our traditional, gendered notions of what parenthood can look like.”

“Second Place” by Rachel Cusk

hard times book 3 chapter 1

In Rachel Cusk’s novel Second Place , a follow up to her brilliant Outline trilogy, a woman invites an artist she admires to live in her remote guesthouse for the summer. As the stay unfolds, a series of unexpected events spurs revelations about womanhood, marriage and security. About Second Place , Jenny Singer from Glamour writes “there is mayhem; surprising sweetness and brilliant observations tumble from every page.”

“Sellout: The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo, and Hardcore ” by Dan Ozzi

hard times book 3 chapter 1

In Sellout: The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo, and Hardcore , rock critic Dan Ozzi traces the stories of eleven separate bands that transitioned from the indie scene to achieve mainstream success in the ‘90s. Including interviews and anecdotes from bands like Green Day, Jimmy Eat World and Blink-182, this is a must-read for any music lover.


hard times book 3 chapter 1


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Charles Dickens

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Book the Third: Garnering: Chapters 1–4

Summary — chapter 1: another thing needful.

In her bed at Stone Lodge, Louisa recuperates from her trauma. Her father remorsefully pledges his support but acknowledges that he does not really know how to help her because he himself has never learned “the wisdom of the Heart.” Sissy lovingly vows to help Louisa learn how to feel and how to find happiness.

Summary — Chapter 2: Very Ridiculous

The day after Louisa’s arrival, Sissy takes it upon herself to visit James Harthouse, who has been in a nervous state since Louisa’s failure to appear at their tryst in Coketown. Sissy tells Harthouse that he will never see Louisa again and that he must leave Coketown and swear never to return. Baffled and feeling very ridiculous, Harthouse is able to resist neither Sissy’s simple, persuasive honesty nor her beauty; he grudgingly agrees to leave Coketown forever.

Summary — Chapter 3: Very Decided

At the same time, Mrs. Sparsit, now stricken with a bad cold caught from her drenching in the rain, tells Bounderby what she witnessed between Louisa and Harthouse. Bounderby furiously drags Mrs. Sparsit to Stone Lodge, where he confronts Gradgrind about Louisa’s perceived infidelity. Gradgrind tells Bounderby that he fears he has made a mistake in Louisa’s upbringing, and he asks Bounderby to allow Louisa to remain at Stone Lodge on an extended visit while she tries to recover. He reminds Bounderby that as Louisa’s husband, he should try to do what is best for her. Bounderby, enraged, threatens to send back all of Louisa’s property, effectively abandoning her and placing her back in her father’s hands if she is not home by noon the next day. Gradgrind does not budge, and Louisa remains at Stone Lodge. Bounderby makes good on his threat and resumes his life as a bachelor.

Summary — Chapter 4: Lost

Bounderby diverts his rage into the continuing efforts to find Stephen Blackpool. Slackbridge gives a speech blaming Stephen for the robbery, and the Hands are roused to track him down. One day, Louisa is paid a visit by Bounderby, her brother, and a sobbing Rachael, who protests that Stephen will return to clear his good name. Although she is loath to suspect Louisa of deceit, Rachael fears that Louisa’s previous offer of money was merely a cover for her plan to frame Stephen for the robbery. Rachael has sent Stephen two letters explaining the charges against him, and she claims that he will return to Coketown in one or two days. But a week passes, and still he does not return. His continued absence only increases suspicion against him.

Analysis — Book the Third: Garnering: Chapters 1–4

At the beginning of Book the Third, Louisa and Mr. Gradgrind begin a process of emotional healing and discovery. The title of Chapter 1 , “Another Thing Needful,” echoes the title of the first chapter of Book the First, “The One Thing Needful,” revealing that Gradgrind has realized that fact alone cannot sustain a happy and fulfilling existence. However, the healing process is very slow. Because Louisa and her father are so accustomed to living their lives according to the philosophy of fact, learning how to change their mode of thinking is difficult at this point. Thus, Mr. Gradgrind declares to Louisa: “The ground on which I stand has ceased to be solid under my feet.” Although he no longer believes that fact alone is necessary, he does not know exactly what else is needed to make Louisa happy. Recognizing that he is not a fit teacher for his daughter, Gradgrind hopes that Sissy will be able to help her. While Louisa fears that Sissy must hate her for her former coldness, Sissy is understanding and forgiving, as usual. Together with Louisa’s loving younger sister Jane, Sissy undertakes to restore happiness to Louisa’s life.

The meeting between Harthouse and Sissy indicates the importance of a character who has remained in the background for much of the novel. Through this meeting we are reminded of the values that Sissy represents—compassion, forgiveness, and joy. The narrator establishes a contrast between these values and the sophisticated Harthouse’s self-centered manipulation of other people. Indeed, the narrator relates that Sissy’s good-natured reproach touches Harthouse “in the cavity where his heart should have been.” In suggesting that Harthouse has no heart, the narrator suggests that he has not been motivated by evil intentions but rather by a lack of good intentions—Harthouse is amoral rather than immoral. Harthouse himself acknowledges that he had “no evil intentions” toward Louisa but merely “glided from one step to another” without realizing the emotional havoc that his seduction might cause.

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hard times book 3 chapter 1

Charles Dickens

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Hard Times

by Charles Dickens

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Hard Times Full Text: Book 3, Chapter 1 : Page 1



LOUISA awoke from a torpor, and her eyes languidly opened on her old bed at home, and her old room. It seemed, at first, as if all that had happened since the days when these objects were familiar to her were the shadows of a dream, but gradually, as the objects became more real to her sight, the events became more real to her mind.

She could scarcely move her head for pain and heaviness, her eyes were strained and sore, and she was very weak. A curious passive inattention had such possession of her, that the presence of her little sister in the room did not attract her notice for some time. Even when their eyes had met, and her sister had approached the bed, Louisa lay for minutes looking at her in silence, and suffering her timidly to hold her passive hand, before she asked:

‘When was I brought to this room?’

‘Last night, Louisa.’

‘Who brought me here?’

‘Sissy, I believe.’

‘Why do you believe so?’

‘Because I found her here this morning. She didn’t come to my bedside to wake me, as she always does; and I went to look for her. She was not in her own room either; and I went looking for her all over the house, until I found her here taking care of you and cooling your head. Will you see father? Sissy said I was to tell him when you woke.’

‘What a beaming face you have, Jane!’ said Louisa, as her young sister—timidly still—bent down to kiss her.

‘Have I? I am very glad you think so. I am sure it must be Sissy’s doing.’

The arm Louisa had begun to twine around her neck, unbent itself. ‘You can tell father if you will.’ Then, staying her for a moment, she said, ‘It was you who made my room so cheerful, and gave it this look of welcome?’

‘Oh no, Louisa, it was done before I came. It was—’

Louisa turned upon her pillow, and heard no more. When her sister had withdrawn, she turned her head back again, and lay with her face towards the door, until it opened and her father entered.

He had a jaded anxious look upon him, and his hand, usually steady, trembled in hers. He sat down at the side of the bed, tenderly asking how she was, and dwelling on the necessity of her keeping very quiet after her agitation and exposure to the weather last night. He spoke in a subdued and troubled voice, very different from his usual dictatorial manner; and was often at a loss for words.

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W hy's T his F unny?

hard times book 3 chapter 1

Charles Dickens

Summary and Analysis Book Three: Chapters 1-3

Just as the biblical Ruth garnered in the fields of Boaz picking up the wheat dropped by the reapers, so do the characters garner or pick up what the grim reapers of experience have left behind. Thomas Gradgrind, after realizing the failure of his system, tries to help his children to pick up the pieces of his and their shattered lives. Returning to bachelorhood, Bounderby, exposed as a fraud, garners a life of loneliness, dying perhaps in the streets of Coketown. As they sowed, as they reaped, so must they reassemble what is left.

The first three chapters — "Another Thing Needful," "Very Ridiculous," and "Very Decided" — primarily concern Louisa's fight for self-understanding. Here Thomas Gradgrind reverses the thing needed; he bears out Dickens' beliefs that people's emotions cannot be measured in statistics. In the first chapter of the novel, the thing needed was a factual education, a concern of the head; in the first chapter of the final book of the novel, the thing needed is understanding and compassion, a concern of the heart. In this chapter, too, the reader learns that Jane Gradgrind, the younger daughter, is leading and will continue to lead a life quite different from that which her older sister has led. Facts mixed with Fancy, statistics mixed with compassion, love, and understanding will shape her life. Under the influence of Sissy, she will grow into another Sissy, but a better-educated Sissy.

Even though Gradgrind blames himself for the unhappiness that has come to Louisa, she does not blame him. Rather, in the conclusion of the chapter, she — bewildered and lost with no consolation from her education of Facts — turns to Sissy, begging for help.

In the second chapter, the reader finds Sissy — modest, shy, gentle Sissy — taking into her own hands matters concerning Louisa. This chapter also depicts the ridiculous situation in which Harthouse finds himself. Harthouse, who spends an anxious and uneasy twenty-four hours after Louisa leaves him, is taken aback at the appearance of Sissy at his quarters. Although he argues with her, he bows to her command that he leave Coketown, never to see Louisa again. Had any person other than the innocent Sissy gone to him, he might have reacted differently.

After Sissy takes her leave of him, he writes three letters: one to his brother declaring his boredom with Coketown, one to Bounderby announcing his departure, and one to Gradgrind stating that he is leaving his position. Calling himself the "Great Pyramid of Failure," he proves himself to be a very shallow and selfish man: he is concerned only with what the "fellows" will think if they learn of his failure.

"Very Decided," the title of the third chapter, could describe Bounderby, Thomas Gradgrind, and Louisa. Having lost Louisa in the dark and rain and being anxious to bear the tidings to Bounderby, Mrs. Sparsit goes to London and seeks him out at his hotel in St. James' Street. Although she has a sore throat from her drenching and is barely able to talk, Mrs. Sparsit relates the news of Louisa's supposed elopement and faints at the feet of the great "self-made man." Later she and Bounderby rush back to Coketown to inform Gradgrind of his daughter's disgrace. When Bounderby learns that Louisa is at Stone Lodge and that her father proposes to keep her for a while, he becomes furious. He delivers his ultimatum: if Louisa has not returned to his house by noon the next day, he will send her clothing and conclude that she prefers to stay with her family. Should she decide not to return, he will no longer be responsible for her.

The reader learns from the conversation and manner of the two men that Gradgrind has undergone some change of philosophy. Bounderby becomes infuriated, probably because Gradgrind uses words almost identical to those spoken by Bounderby to Stephen in discussing Stephen's responsibilities toward his wife. He reacts in a manner in keeping with Josiah Bounderby, the "self-made man" of Coketown. According to Bounderby, the incompatibility is that of Loo Bounderby, who might have been better left Loo Gradgrind. True to his expected pattern, he comments that she wants "turtle soup and venison, with a gold spoon."

When Louisa does not return to Bounderby's house the next day, he sends her clothing and personal belongings to her, begins negotiations to sell the country house, returns to his town house in Coketown, and reassumes his life as a bachelor.

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by Charles Dickens

Hard times summary and analysis of book iii, chapters 1-5.

Book III: Garnering

Chapter One: Another Thing Needful

When she wakes up, Louisa is slightly disoriented. She does not immediately remember what has happened the night before. Sissy has brought her to her old room and she sees her younger sister, Jane. It is very clear to Louisa that Sissy has had a positive effect on the family for her sister's face is far more radiant than would have been expected. Mr. Gradgrind comes into the room to see Louisa and he is not at all like his old self. He is, instead, full of sorrow, humility and apology. He assures Louisa that he never meant to hurt her and that he has honestly only done those things which he thought would be best for her.

Louisa asks her father for advice but he replies that he does not really trust himself to give her the correct advice. To be honest, he simply does not know enough about emotion to offer proper counsel. He considers his youngest daughter, Jane, and points out that she is a happier case and that despite the rigorous education, she has had daily associations with Sissy and this has made all the difference. Even Mr. Gradgrind admits that he has also undergone a sort of change in large part thanks to Sissy. It seems then, that Sissy might have some advice or counsel for Louisa and later on, after Mr. Gradgrind leaves Louisa's room, Sissy enters.

Louisa apologizes for her unpleasant attitude and she insists that Sissy must be disgusted by her. But throughout the conversation, Sissy only extends the kindest emotions towards Louisa who eventually ends up sobbing in Sissy's arms.

Book Three is entitled "Garnering" and the narrative structure of this final section, reflects the author's efforts to conclude and organize the action and the dispersed characters. One of the dominant symbols of the chapter is the unstable, no longer solid "ground" upon which Gradgrind's system once stood. The not-solid ground is literally the floor upon which Louisa has collapsed. The shakiness is echoed in Gradgrind's trembling voice and his overall re-characterization as a humbled man who has been brought down low. Dickens' characterization is not as entirely negative as it might have been. Gradgrind's good intentions are taken into account, and it is true that he has only sought to improve his children and never meant to cause them pain.

After an extended absence from the story, Sissy reappears as the archetypal heroine. We can fully expect that in Book Three, Sissy will play a savior-like role for the Gradgrind family and she will care for them as best as she possibly can. There is an intense contrast and reversal of fate for Sissy is the "once deserted" girl but now she is the one who towers over Louisa and cares for the young woman who described as a metaphorical shipwreck. The shipwreck image is furthered by Sissy's depiction as a lighthouse or beacon for she "shone like a beautiful light upon the darkness of the other."

Chapter Two: Very Ridiculous

James Harthouse has been restless for the last day and a half for he has received no word from Louisa. He is Coketown, where he expected to see her again after their encounter in the garden. He finds Louisa's brother, Tom, and interrogates him but Tom has not seen Louisa. Also, Tom is more than a little upset about waiting in the rain for Mr. Harthouse to show up‹and of course, Harthouse was up to other things at the time. Harthouse spends the hours in his hotel room and after a certain point, he is convinced that Mr. Bounderby must be aware of his relationship with Louisa.

He considers his options and it occurs to him that he might have to box Mr. Bounderby. He entertains himself with the ridiculous idea of training and having the hotel waiters and staff assist him. He receives a message that there is a young lady waiting to see him. It is Sissy and she has arrived to inform Harthouse that he is no longer to see Louisa and that he must depart Coketown and never return. Harthouse tries to impose his authority but to little avail. Sissy is firm in her demands and she yields nothing. At the end of the chapter, Harthouse is astonished that he could be so easily manipulated by a younger woman. His surprise reaches its peak when he learns of Sissy's lowly upbringing amongst horse trainers. Discontinuing his relations with Louisa before they amounted to fidelity is "about the very best passage in his life" but Harthouse is incredibly ashamed of what he perceives as a weakness.

This chapter pits Sissy against James Harthouse and even as this scene could hardly have been predicted, Sissy's victory is also a surprise that we would not have expected. Dickens takes great effort to continue the portrayal of the poor and the reversals of fortune that he began earlier in the novel. The irony of the scene is demonstrated in Sissy's rhetorical abilities in spite of her upbringing. Harthouse is reduced to the paradox of a "Great Pyramid of failure." Harthouse is great, whether he fails or succeeds, if only because of his noble birth. Dickens presents an opportunity for Harthouse to show humility and grace, but Harthouse goes as far as to renounce the good deeds that he has grudgingly agreed to carry out. His self-image and characterization as a Pyramid somehow leads to the idea of escaping the scene altogether and heading for Egypt. In contrast to men like Stephen Blackpool , Harthouse has plenty of loopholes and opportunities for escape.

The imagery that surrounds Harthouse is largely negative. His hotel is described as a symbolic hell, a "region of blackness." And Harthouse's idleness and inconsistency is described as a moral weakness that is worse than more deliberate evils. The sharpest metaphor for Harthouse's moral condition can be found in Dickens explanation of the man's rhetoric: it was the "polishing of but an ugly surface." Harthouse seeks to polish his appearance and justify his actions, but he is both guilty (ugly) and superficial (surface). Even his wrongdoing is shallow and incomplete, it seems.

Chapter Three: Very Decided

Mrs. Sparsit is still stirring up trouble. All of her running back and forth in the nighttime rain has caused her to get a violent cold but this does not stop her from completing her mission. She went as far as London to find Mr. Bounderby and confront him with the news of Louisa's conversation in the garden, and her flight from the country house‹presumably, to continue her romantic affair. After giving the news, Mrs. Sparsit collapses in an incredibly theatrical display. Bounderby brings her back to Coketown and he carries her along with him to Stone Lodge, where he intends to confront Mr. Gradgrind (unaware that Louisa is also at Stone Lodge).

Mrs. Sparsit's story is presented and Mr. Gradgrind confesses that he is already aware of these details and that Louisa has preserved her honor by returning to her father's house when she did not know how to defend herself from temptation on her own. Mrs. Sparsit is now considered in the worst light for she has cast aspersions and criticized Louisa without due cause. She can do little more than utter an apology and begin crying profusely as she is sent back to town.

Gradgrind and Bounderby continue their conversation and Gradgrind makes it clear that he feels that his daughter has been wronged‹both by his actions and Bounderby's as well. In a partial retraction from his earlier positions, Gradgrind looks at Louisa's age and her upbringing and he thinks that she would do well to have a few weeks to emotionally recuperate at Stone Lodge, under Sissy's care. Sissy understands Louisa and Louisa trusts Sissy. Bounderby is no less pleased by this than by the rumored infidelity and he demands to have his wife back at his house by noon the next day. Otherwise: the marriage will be annulled. Mr. Gradgrind insists that a marital union is not so casual a thing to be rejected and Bounderby is irritated by the repetition of words with which he once abused Stephen Blackpool. When Louisa does not arrive the next day, Bounderby makes good on his threat.

The narrative structure of this chapter works towards the plot coming "full circle." In the most dramatic sense, Bounderby is frustrated in his conversation with Mr. Gradgrind for he hears the repetition of the words that he once spoke to Stephen Blackpool. The heavily foreshadowed collapse of the Bounderby marriage has finally come about. With the dissolution of the marriage comes the imagery of loss and ruin and Mrs. Sparsit, who is at the root of this unraveling, is characterized as a "classical ruin." Just as her unraveling physical appearance reflects ruin, anguish and haste, she has brought all of these negative conditions to life‹but in the lives of the people around her.

We can fully expect that Mrs. Sparsit will continue her nosiness and her surveillance, and the theme of surveillance suggests that just as Mr. Gradgrind was a faulty instructor, haughty individuals like Mrs. Sparsit are bound to fail in their attempts to be God-like judges. In fact, the climax of Mrs. Sparsit's rise and fall will come as a result of her own undoing. The use of the word "refuge" is a sarcastic pun, referring to Bounderby's speedy dismissal of Mrs. Sparsit by coach. When her snooping eventually creates a greater embarrassment for Mr. Bounderby, he will be even harsher in his offering of "refuge."

Chapter Four: Lost

With his marriage dissolved, Bounderby takes a renewed interest in his bank. He is especially interested in solving the robbery‹for the case remains unresolved. Stephen Blackpool remains under heavy suspicion for he has disappeared entirely. The surrounding mystery is further amplified by "the mysterious old woman [who] remained a mystery"‹Blackpool has been seen with her. Bounderby eventually takes the law into his own hands, making up for his lack of evidence with his abundance of power in excess. He has posters placed all over town demanding the apprehension of Blackpool and offering a reward.

Slackbridge , the leader of the United Aggregate Tribunal, takes advantage of the situation and relishes the news of Blackpool's alleged crime as further evidence that the dissenter was a true traitor and a true thief. There are a few voices that cry out against Slackbridge's slander but the response is overwhelmingly in the speaker's favor. Rachael is worried about Stephen and she cannot bear to see his reputation tarnished. She goes to see Mr. Bounderby and relays her story. Rachael, Mr. Bounderby and Tom then go to Stone Lodge to see Louisa.

Rachael politely interrogates Louisa about the night when she and Tom arrived at Stephen's room. Louisa confesses that she did see Stephen, Rachael and the old woman and that while she offered Stephen money, he was very honest and forthright and refused the offer and would only accept two pounds. Rachael's story is verified before Mr. Bounderby but the question of Stephen's whereabouts remains. Louisa is sorry to hear that Stephen has been branded as a thief but Rachael remains highly suspicious for it seems that Stephen's alleged guilt bears some connection to the visit that Louisa and Tom made that night.

Rachael is so confident in Stephen's innocence that she has written to him, informing him of the charges leveled against him. When Bounderby interrupts that he has word from the post office that no letters have been sent to anyone named Stephen Blackpool, Rachael replies that Stephen is living under an assumed name because he cannot get work as Stephen Blackpool‹thanks to Mr. Bounderby and Mr. Slackbridge. Rachael is confident that Stephen will arrive and Sissy is very supportive. She mentions that suspicion has fallen on Stephen because he was seen lingering around the bank, but Rachael does not understand why Stephen would have done this.

For his part, Tom shadows Mr. Bounderby as if he is very eager to apprehend the thief. He follows the banker everywhere that he goes and he continually maintains Stephen's guilt. For if Stephen is innocent, why doesn't he come back and defend himself? Messengers report the news that Stephen did receive Rachael's letter and he departed within the hour‹still, he should have arrived at Coketown but there is no trace of him.

This chapter is entitled "Lost" and indeed, very much has been lost. The narrative structure comes to rely upon the suspense and indefinite aspect of the title word. What precisely has been lost? Just as the chapter entitled "Down" offered a departure from the trajectory established with "Mrs. Sparsit's Staircase" and "Lower and Lower," whatever is "Lost" in this chapter is not necessarily what will be "Found" in the next chapter. One thing that has been lost is the Bounderby marriage; this will not return in Chapter Five. Indeed, there is an allusion to the Roman goddess of love, Venus, describing Bounderby's new found love for his bank as a replacement, rebirth and re-direction of the love he was incapable of sustaining in his marital union.

The image is a corrupted one though, for just as the love of a bank is a dirtier idea than marital bliss, Venus's birth out of the sea foam of Cythera is likened to Bounderby's birth out of the mud. The contrast between Venus's sea foam and Bounderby's foul mud is enough to invert the image. Symbolically, this re-birth is not a true birth and what is lost (Bounderby's soul) will remain that way. Just as Harthouse could not polish his dirt, Bounderby cannot nobly rise out of the mud with any newfound loves.

The motif of cleanliness and dirt extends the themes of fidelity and honesty. In the most dramatic sense, Louisa's fidelity and Bounderby's annulment reflect two opposites capacities for devotion. In this chapter, we find another example of dishonesty in Tom's false efforts to "assist" Bounderby locate the thief. Of course, Tom is the true thief and his assistance is simply his form of surveillance: he figures that as long as he is aware of the investigation's progress, he is in the clear.

Chapter Five: Found

Two days pass and there is still no trace of Stephen. Sissy goes to visit Rachael to comfort her and to see if there is any news. Rachael still works her long hours in the factory, in spite of her anxieties. She confesses to Sissy that there are hardly any individuals who still believe in Stephen's innocence. She adds that she is afraid that perhaps Stephen has been a victim of some violence‹deliberate or accidental, for he would have done his best to arrive in Coketown as soon as possible. She is afraid that he has been murdered. Sissy offers some hope and suggests that perhaps he has fallen ill and had to stop along the road. But Rachael replies that all of the stops along the way have been searched and Stephen has not turned up in any of them. Sissy reassures Rachael that everything will work for the best in the end. It is Friday and she decides that if no news arrives on Saturday, they will walk into the country on Sunday morning and the calm will strengthen Rachael for the week ahead. Rachael agrees with the plan.

As Rachael and Sissy are walking in the street they observe a commotion taking place outside of Mr. Bounderby's house. Mrs. Sparsit is at the center of the scene and she is dragging the "mysterious old woman" behind her. Sparsit has been continuing her investigations and has located the woman who calls herself Mrs. Pegler. About twenty-five neighbors and other bystanders follow Sparsit into the house and of course, Rachael and Sissy enter as well. Sparsit has Mr. Bounderby sent for and the old woman makes an unsuccessful attempt to escape.

Mr. Bounderby arrives with Mr. Gradgrind and Tom and he is astonished when he sees the old woman. He demands to know why Mrs. Sparsit has brought this woman into his house. Mrs. Pegler pleads that she tried very hard to escape and insisted that Mr. Bounderby would not want to see her but to no avail. She calls Mr. Bounderby "my dear Josiah" and "my own boy." Bounderby suggests that Mrs. Pegler ought to have overpowered Sparsit but the old lady replies that Sparsit had threatened to call the constables and she no choice but to come quietly.

Pegler maintains her decency, saying: "I have always lived quite and secret, Josiah, my dear. I have never broken the condition once. I have never said I was your motherŠ" This mortifies Mr. Bounderby‹for in her defense, Pegler has‹for better or worse‹uncovered her secret. Mr. Gradgrind suggests that Pegler ought to be ashamed of herself for arriving at the scene after deserting her son in his youth and leaving him in the care of his drunken grandmother. Pegler is furious at the attack and she wonders, aloud, how Mr. Gradgrind would dare to attack her as a cruel mother when her son is present and would surely defend her honor. Furthermore, her mother died in her arms before Josiah was even born.

Gradgrind is the one who is astonished and when he asks Pegler is she denies leaving her son in the gutter, she most wholeheartedly denies the accusation and explains that her house was a humble one but she and her husband cared for their son. They were proud of how he worked hard and they made sacrifices to afford him opportunities. After she was widowed, Mrs. Pegler had Josiah set up as an apprentice and when he became wealthy she agreed to his conditions: He did not want to be embarrassed or hampered by his humble upbringings so Pegler agreed to conceal the secret of his family background and in return Josiah gave her (a measly) thirty pounds a year. But she has only been grateful and proud from a distance. Still, her love is strong and she assures Mr. Gradgrind that Mr. Bounderby will attest to her story.

The bystanders all have sympathy for Mrs. Pegler and also for Mr. Gradgrind who was simply repeating the story they had all heard countless times. Bounderby makes no apology or explanation and he orders everyone out of his house though he is hardly the bully he once was. He has lost all respect. The robbery remains unsolved and it is now Louisa who worries not only that her brother is guilty but she also fears that something might have been done to Stephen and that Tom might be involved in this as well.

Indeed, the person who is "found" in this chapter is not at all the person that anyone had in mind. Part of the irony of what has been lost and found comes in Mrs. Pegler having found her son even as she was once of the suspects, presumed "lost." There is also the contrast of Mrs. Sparsit's victorious exclamation here: "She belongs to me" and her dismay at the end of "Lower and Lower" when she admits of Louisa: "I've lost her." Mrs. Sparsit fully intends to use this situation to get back in Mr. Bounderby's good graces but her plans backfire.

Earlier in the novel, Dickens made an allusion to Bunyan's work, Pilgrim's Progress. Again, Dickens alludes to the work when he describes Mrs. Sparsit as being in the "Slough of Despond." The climax of the chapter comes when Bounderby suffers his own fall‹for pride goes before the fall. All of his stories about being "in the gutter" become a metaphorically truth made out of a literal lie, for Bounderby was never living "in the gutter"‹but the crowd agrees that morally, he is certainly in the gutter. Bounderby's stinginess is especially loathsome when we compare the thirty pounds that he gives his mother each year to the one hundred and fifty pounds that is being so vigorously pursued.

By the end of the chapter, Dickens' thematic concern regarding "surveillance" is largely complete. Here at the end of the chapter called "Found," all of the efforts to find the missing individuals and money have been unsuccessful and those most under watch have frustrated the efforts of would-be spies and snoopers. Yet again, the chapter ends with the ever-pressing concern for Stephen Blackpool. The sad reality of the scene is that the characters are able to find everything and everyone that they are not looking for.

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Hard Times Questions and Answers

The Question and Answer section for Hard Times is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.

What is the literary technique/s used in the expression "Would you have doomed me, at any time, to the frost and blight that have hardened and spoiled me"

I'd say it was a metaphor.

What is the name of Slack Bridge labor movement?

I believe the movement is called the "Brotherhood".

What does Mrs. Sparsit's staircase represent?

When Mrs. Sparsit notices that Louisa and Harthouse are spending a lot of time together, she imagines that Louisa is running down a long staircase into a “dark pit of shame and ruin at the bottom.” This imaginary staircase represents her belief...

Study Guide for Hard Times

Hard Times study guide contains a biography of Charles Dickens, literature essays, a complete e-text, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.

Essays for Hard Times

Hard Times literature essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of Hard Times.

E-Text of Hard Times

Hard Times E-Text contains the full text of Hard Times

hard times book 3 chapter 1

Hard Times Book 3 Chapter 1.

Another thing needful..

Louisa awoke from a torpor, and her eyes languidly opened on her old bed at home, and her old room.  It seemed, at first, as if all that had happened since the days when these objects were familiar to her were the shadows of a dream, but gradually, as the objects became more real to her sight, the events became more real to her mind.

She could scarcely move her head for pain and heaviness, her eyes were strained and sore, and she was very weak.  A curious passive inattention had such possession of her, that the presence of her little sister in the room did not attract her notice for some time.  Even when their eyes had met, and her sister had approached the bed, Louisa lay for minutes looking at her in silence, and suffering her timidly to hold her passive hand, before she asked:

‘When was I brought to this room?’

‘Last night, Louisa.’

‘Who brought me here?’

‘Sissy, I believe.’

‘Why do you believe so?’

‘Because I found her here this morning.  She didn’t come to my bedside to wake me, as she always does; and I went to look for her.  She was not in her own room either; and I went looking for her all over the house, until I found her here taking care of you and cooling your head.  Will you see father? Sissy said I was to tell him when you woke.’

‘What a beaming face you have, Jane!’ said Louisa, as her young sister—timidly still—bent down to kiss her.

‘Have I?  I am very glad you think so.  I am sure it must be Sissy’s doing.’

The arm Louisa had begun to twine around her neck, unbent itself.  ‘You can tell father if you will.’  Then, staying her for a moment, she said, ‘It was you who made my room so cheerful, and gave it this look of welcome?’

‘Oh no, Louisa, it was done before I came.  It was—’

Louisa turned upon her pillow, and heard no more.  When her sister had withdrawn, she turned her head back again, and lay with her face towards the door, until it opened and her father entered.

He had a jaded anxious look upon him, and his hand, usually steady, trembled in hers.  He sat down at the side of the bed, tenderly asking how she was, and dwelling on the necessity of her keeping very quiet after her agitation and exposure to the weather last night.  He spoke in a subdued and troubled voice, very different from his usual dictatorial manner; and was often at a loss for words.

‘My dear Louisa.  My poor daughter.’  He was so much at a loss at that place, that he stopped altogether.  He tried again.

‘My unfortunate child.’  The place was so difficult to get over, that he tried again.

‘It would be hopeless for me, Louisa, to endeavour to tell you how overwhelmed I have been, and still am, by what broke upon me last night.  The ground on which I stand has ceased to be solid under my feet.  The only support on which I leaned, and the strength of which it seemed, and still does seem, impossible to question, has given way in an instant.  I am stunned by these discoveries.  I have no selfish meaning in what I say; but I find the shock of what broke upon me last night, to be very heavy indeed.’

She could give him no comfort herein.  She had suffered the wreck of her whole life upon the rock.

‘I will not say, Louisa, that if you had by any happy chance undeceived me some time ago, it would have been better for us both; better for your peace, and better for mine.  For I am sensible that it may not have been a part of my system to invite any confidence of that kind.  I had proved my—my system to myself, and I have rigidly administered it; and I must bear the responsibility of its failures.  I only entreat you to believe, my favourite child, that I have meant to do right.’

He said it earnestly, and to do him justice he had.  In gauging fathomless deeps with his little mean excise-rod, and in staggering over the universe with his rusty stiff-legged compasses, he had meant to do great things.  Within the limits of his short tether he had tumbled about, annihilating the flowers of existence with greater singleness of purpose than many of the blatant personages whose company he kept.

‘I am well assured of what you say, father.  I know I have been your favourite child.  I know you have intended to make me happy.  I have never blamed you, and I never shall.’

He took her outstretched hand, and retained it in his.

‘My dear, I have remained all night at my table, pondering again and again on what has so painfully passed between us.  When I consider your character; when I consider that what has been known to me for hours, has been concealed by you for years; when I consider under what immediate pressure it has been forced from you at last; I come to the conclusion that I cannot but mistrust myself.’

He might have added more than all, when he saw the face now looking at him.  He did add it in effect, perhaps, as he softly moved her scattered hair from her forehead with his hand.  Such little actions, slight in another man, were very noticeable in him; and his daughter received them as if they had been words of contrition.

‘But,’ said Mr. Gradgrind, slowly, and with hesitation, as well as with a wretched sense of happiness, ‘if I see reason to mistrust myself for the past, Louisa, I should also mistrust myself for the present and the future.  To speak unreservedly to you, I do.  I am far from feeling convinced now, however differently I might have felt only this time yesterday, that I am fit for the trust you repose in me; that I know how to respond to the appeal you have come home to make to me; that I have the right instinct—supposing it for the moment to be some quality of that nature—how to help you, and to set you right, my child.’

She had turned upon her pillow, and lay with her face upon her arm, so that he could not see it.  All her wildness and passion had subsided; but, though softened, she was not in tears.  Her father was changed in nothing so much as in the respect that he would have been glad to see her in tears.

‘ Some persons hold ,’ he pursued, still hesitating, ‘ that there is a wisdom of the Head, and that there is a wisdom of the Heart . I have not supposed so; but, as I have said, I mistrust myself now.  I have supposed the head to be all-sufficient.  It may not be all-sufficient; how can I venture this morning to say it is!  If that other kind of wisdom should be what I have neglected, and should be the instinct that is wanted, Louisa—’

He suggested it very doubtfully, as if he were half unwilling to admit it even now.  She made him no answer, lying before him on her bed, still half-dressed, much as he had seen her lying on the floor of his room last night.

‘Louisa,’ and his hand rested on her hair again, ‘I have been absent from here, my dear, a good deal of late; and though your sister’s training has been pursued according to—the system,’ he appeared to come to that word with great reluctance always, ‘it has necessarily been modified by daily associations begun, in her case, at an early age.  I ask you—ignorantly and humbly, my daughter—for the better, do you think?’

‘Father,’ she replied, without stirring, ‘if any harmony has been awakened in her young breast that was mute in mine until it turned to discord, let her thank Heaven for it, and go upon her happier way, taking it as her greatest blessing that she has avoided my way.’

‘O my child, my child!’ he said, in a forlorn manner, ‘I am an unhappy man to see you thus!  What avails it to me that you do not reproach me, if I so bitterly reproach myself!’  He bent his head, and spoke low to her.  ‘Louisa, I have a misgiving that some change may have been slowly working about me in this house, by mere love and gratitude: that what the Head had left undone and could not do, the Heart may have been doing silently.  Can it be so?’

She made him no reply.

‘I am not too proud to believe it, Louisa.  How could I be arrogant, and you before me!  Can it be so?  Is it so, my dear?’  He looked upon her once more, lying cast away there; and without another word went out of the room.  He had not been long gone, when she heard a light tread near the door, and knew that some one stood beside her.

She did not raise her head.  A dull anger that she should be seen in her distress, and that the involuntary look she had so resented should come to this fulfilment, smouldered within her like an unwholesome fire.  All closely imprisoned forces rend and destroy.  The air that would be healthful to the earth, the water that would enrich it, the heat that would ripen it, tear it when caged up.  So in her bosom even now; the strongest qualities she possessed, long turned upon themselves, became a heap of obduracy, that rose against a friend.

It was well that soft touch came upon her neck, and that she understood herself to be supposed to have fallen asleep.  The sympathetic hand did not claim her resentment.  Let it lie there, let it lie.

It lay there, warming into life a crowd of gentler thoughts; and she rested.  As she softened with the quiet, and the consciousness of being so watched, some tears made their way into her eyes.  The face touched hers, and she knew that there were tears upon it too, and she the cause of them.

As Louisa feigned to rouse herself, and sat up, Sissy retired, so that she stood placidly near the bedside.

‘I hope I have not disturbed you.  I have come to ask if you would let me stay with you?’

‘Why should you stay with me?  My sister will miss you.  You are everything to her.’

‘Am I?’ returned Sissy, shaking her head.  ‘I would be something to you, if I might.’

‘What?’ said Louisa, almost sternly.

‘Whatever you want most, if I could be that.  At all events, I would like to try to be as near it as I can.  And however far off that may be, I will never tire of trying.  Will you let me?’

‘My father sent you to ask me.’

‘No indeed,’ replied Sissy.  ‘He told me that I might come in now, but he sent me away from the room this morning—or at least—’

She hesitated and stopped.

‘At least, what?’ said Louisa, with her searching eyes upon her.

‘I thought it best myself that I should be sent away, for I felt very uncertain whether you would like to find me here.’

‘Have I always hated you so much?’

‘I hope not, for I have always loved you, and have always wished that you should know it.  But you changed to me a little, shortly before you left home.  Not that I wondered at it.  You knew so much, and I knew so little, and it was so natural in many ways, going as you were among other friends, that I had nothing to complain of, and was not at all hurt.’

Her colour rose as she said it modestly and hurriedly.  Louisa understood the loving pretence, and her heart smote her.

‘May I try?’ said Sissy, emboldened to raise her hand to the neck that was insensibly drooping towards her.

Louisa, taking down the hand that would have embraced her in another moment, held it in one of hers, and answered:

‘First, Sissy, do you know what I am?  I am so proud and so hardened, so confused and troubled, so resentful and unjust to every one and to myself, that everything is stormy, dark, and wicked to me.  Does not that repel you?’

‘I am so unhappy, and all that should have made me otherwise is so laid waste, that if I had been bereft of sense to this hour, and instead of being as learned as you think me, had to begin to acquire the simplest truths, I could not want a guide to peace, contentment, honour, all the good of which I am quite devoid, more abjectly than I do.  Does not that repel you?’

In the innocence of her brave affection, and the brimming up of her old devoted spirit, the once deserted girl shone like a beautiful light upon the darkness of the other.

Louisa raised the hand that it might clasp her neck and join its fellow there.  She fell upon her knees, and clinging to this stroller’s child looked up at her almost with veneration.

‘Forgive me, pity me, help me!  Have compassion on my great need, and let me lay this head of mine upon a loving heart!’

‘O lay it here!’ cried Sissy.  ‘Lay it here, my dear.’


  1. Hard Times Analysis- Book the Third- Chapter 7

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    Gradgrind emphasizes the importance of facts. In this first chapter of Book 3, he recognizes, finally, the importance of emotional understanding. He tells

  11. Summary and Analysis Book Three: Chapters 1-3

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