Background.

Hard Times
  • A creature so foul to look at, in her tatters, stains and splashes, but so much fouler than that in her moral infamy, that it was a shameful thing even to see her” is a quotation from Hard Times (Book 1, Chapter 10).
  • Hard Times – For These Times (more commonly now known as Hard Times) is the tenth novel by Charles Dickens. It first appeared in weekly parts, published in Household Words, from April to August 1854. The shortest of Dickens’ novels, the story is set in the fictitious northern English industrial mill-town of Coketown.

Context.

This quote describes the wife of Stephen Blackpool, the downtrodden mill worker in Coketown. Stephen is estranged from his wife due to her severe alcoholism, although she occasionally reappears in his life.

Illustration from a later edition of Hard Times showing Stephen Blackpool being cared for after his fall into a mine-shaft.
Illustration from a later edition of Hard Times showing Stephen Blackpool being cared for after his fall into Old Hell Shaft, an abandoned mine-shaft on the outskirts of Coketown.

Stephen Blackpool.

One of Charles Dickens’s more tragic characters, Stephen Blackpool is a worker at one of Josiah Bounderby’s factories in the filthy mill-town of Coketown. Stephen is aged 40 but is nicknamed ‘old Stephen’ due to his looks from a hard life. He married 19 years previously but is now estranged from his wife due to her drunken behaviour, although she reappears in his life from time to time. Stephen is unable to divorce his wife due to the cost involved, despite being the burden she brings to him. He forms a close bond with Rachael, a co-worker, whom he wishes to marry. After a dispute with Bounderby, he is dismissed from his work and, shunned by his former fellow workers, is forced to look for work elsewhere. While absent from Coketown, he is wrongly accused of robbing Bounderby’s bank. On his way back to vindicate himself, a fall down an abandoned mine-shaft has tragic consequences.

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Book 1, Chapter 10 (Stephen Blackpool) of Hard Times:

His home, in such another street as the first, saving that it was narrower, was over a little shop. How it came to pass that any people found it worth their while to sell or buy the wretched little toys, mixed up in its window with cheap newspapers and pork (there was a leg to be raffled for to-morrow-night), matters not here. He took his end of candle from a shelf, lighted it at another end of candle on the counter, without disturbing the mistress of the shop who was asleep in her little room, and went upstairs into his lodging.

It was a room, not unacquainted with the black ladder under various tenants; but as neat, at present, as such a room could be. A few books and writings were on an old bureau in a corner, the furniture was decent and sufficient, and, though the atmosphere was tainted, the room was clean.

Going to the hearth to set the candle down upon a round three-legged table standing there, he stumbled against something. As he recoiled, looking down at it, it raised itself up into the form of a woman in a sitting attitude.

‘Heaven’s mercy, woman!’ he cried, falling farther off from the figure. ‘Hast thou come back again!’

Such a woman! A disabled, drunken creature, barely able to preserve her sitting posture by steadying herself with one begrimed hand on the floor, while the other was so purposeless in trying to push away her tangled hair from her face, that it only blinded her the more with the dirt upon it. A creature so foul to look at, in her tatters, stains and splashes, but so much fouler than that in her moral infamy, that it was a shameful thing even to see her.

After an impatient oath or two, and some stupid clawing of herself with the hand not necessary to her support, she got her hair away from her eyes sufficiently to obtain a sight of him. Then she sat swaying her body to and fro, and making gestures with her unnerved arm, which seemed intended as the accompaniment to a fit of laughter, though her face was stolid and drowsy.

Have Your Say.

Give your view on “A creature so foul to look at, in her tatters, stains and splashes, but so much fouler than that in her moral infamy, that it was a shameful thing even to see her” with a rating and help us compile the very best Charles Dickens quotations.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars6 Stars7 Stars8 Stars9 Stars10 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading...

A creature so foul to look at, in her tatters, stains and splashes, but so much fouler than that in her moral infamy, that it was a shameful thing even to see her.
  • If you like this, we think you might also be interested in these related quotations:

Discover more.

Read Hard Times.

Discover more quotations from Hard Times.

Learn more about Charles Dickens, his works,