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Charles Dickens: a writing lifetime

Hard Times 1854

Title page of vol.9 of Household WordsTitle page of vol.IX of Household Words Original part-publication in Household Words: a weekly journal conducted by Charles Dickens. London: Bradbury and Evans, printers, vol.9, 1854 [Rare Journals Collection]

Hard Times tells the story of the Gradgrind family of Coketown, raised by their father to prize facts and rationality, and to avoid imagination: a recipe for disaster all round. During the course of the book, individuals (especially Mr Gradgrind himself) learn the error of their ways, and change for the better. The subplot includes industrial unrest, an unhappy marriage and a tragic love story, as well as the hideous Mr Bounderby, and a circus girl.

First page of issue of Household Words including first weekly part of Hard TimesFirst weekly part of Hard Times, published in Household Words on Saturday, April 1, 1854Hard Times first appeared in weekly instalments in Dickens’s own journal, Household Words. The Foyle Special Collections Library holds a copy of this journal containing the original weekly parts of the novel. The text has no illustrations at all, and appears in double-columns, along with the rest of the journal's content.

Advertisement announcing the forthcoming publication of the next part of Hard Times on 8 AprilAdvertisement from the same issue announcing the publication of the next weekly part of Hard Times It was usually only when the serial publication of a Dickens novel was nearing its end that a bound volume edition appeared, with accompanying images. In the case of Hard Times, Dickens chose to publish the novel first in his own journal in weekly parts because the journal's circulation was flagging, and he knew that a novel from himself would mend matters. Having written his four previous novels in monthly instalments, weekly publication imposed a stringent task upon Dickens, and he did not enjoy the confinement he experienced in the pages of the journal.

We are so familiar with the illustrations from Dickens's books that we forget that in several cases they first appeared like this – the first images his original readers saw were in their own imaginations.

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