Is perhaps the archetypal Dickens novel, full as it is with family difficulties, estrangement, rotten values and unhappiness. It was published in 1854 and it is the story of the family of Thomas Gradgrind (perhaps the archetypal Dickens name) and occurs in the imaginary Coketown, an industrial city inspired by Preston.
Gradgrind is a man obsessed with misguided ‘Utilitarian’ values that make him trust facts, statistics and practicality more than emotion and is based upon James Mill (the Utilitarian leader). He directs his own children, Louisa and Tom, in this same way: enforcing an artless existence upon them. For instance, he makes Louisa marry Josiah Bounderby who is three decades her elder. Her only love is really for her brother who is in Bounderby’s employ.
The cynical James Harthouse arrives and attempts to seduce her but she is inspired by the experience to escape her constricted life and her imagination takes over. Her father becomes aware of the nonsense of his own schemes and he protects his daughter from her husband. Not everything is cleared up, though, and Tom steals from the bank and dishonestly tries to shift the blame. He does so successfully for a time but eventually gets found out and must leave the country.
Contemporary critics such as Macaulay savaged the book for its supposed ‘sullen socialism’ but has become well thought-of in since the favour of George Bernard Shaw (this is true also of Bleak House and Little Dorrit).