Background.

Hard Times
  • It is said that every life has its roses and thorns; there seemed, however, to have been a misadventure or mistake in Stephen’s case, whereby somebody else had become possessed of his roses, and he had become possessed of the same somebody else’s thorns in addition to his own” 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 quotation describes the downtrodden Stephen Blackpool, a mill worker in Coketown. Despite being aged just forty he is referred to as Old Stephen.

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, a mine-shaft on the outskirts of Coketown.

Character Profile: 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. He has a drunken wife who no longer lives with him but who appears from time to time. 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, he falls down a mine-shaft. He is rescued but dies of his injuries.

Source.

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

Stephen looked older, but he had had a hard life.  It is said that every life has its roses and thorns; there seemed, however, to have been a misadventure or mistake in Stephen’s case, whereby somebody else had become possessed of his roses, and he had become possessed of the same somebody else’s thorns in addition to his own.  He had known, to use his words, a peck of trouble.  He was usually called Old Stephen, in a kind of rough homage to the fact.

A rather stooping man, with a knitted brow, a pondering expression of face, and a hard-looking head sufficiently capacious, on which his iron-grey hair lay long and thin, Old Stephen might have passed for a particularly intelligent man in his condition.  Yet he was not.  He took no place among those remarkable ‘Hands,’ who, piecing together their broken intervals of leisure through many years, had mastered difficult sciences, and acquired a knowledge of most unlikely things.  He held no station among the Hands who could make speeches and carry on debates.  Thousands of his compeers could talk much better than he, at any time.  He was a good power-loom weaver, and a man of perfect integrity.  What more he was, or what else he had in him, if anything, let him show for himself.

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It is said that every life has its roses and thorns; there seemed, however, to have been a misadventure or mistake in Stephen’s case, whereby somebody else had become possessed of his roses, and he had become possessed of the same somebody else’s thorns in addition to his own.
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