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In Hard Times, Dickens illustrates the condition of England through the fictional city of Coketown. Among its inhabitants are Thomas Gradgrind, the utilitarian headmaster who attempts to impose his rigid worldview on his family circle, and the uncaring businessman Mr Bounderby. Their materialist philosophies, as opposed to the world of fancy or imagination, are tested throughout the novel, which also explores workers’ conditions, trade unions and the spurious use of statistics.
Perhaps the most polemical of his novels – in which hard-biting satire, moving drama and exuberant comedy find a very succinct and powerful expression – Hard Times is the ideal introduction to the world of Dickens.