Background.

Hard Times
  • The innermost fortifications of that ugly citadel, where Nature was as strongly bricked out as killing airs and gases were bricked in” 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 is a description of the worst part of Coketown in Hard Times. Coketown was a fictional place, based on the industrial mill towns of northern England at the time. The character Stephen Blackpool lives in this impoverished, dirty area.

Hard Times is set in the fictitious Victorian industrial Coketown, a generic Northern English mill-town, in some ways similar to Manchester, though smaller. Coketown is believed to be partially based on the town of Preston.

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.

Source.

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

In the hardest working part of Coketown; in the innermost fortifications of that ugly citadel, where Nature was as strongly bricked out as killing airs and gases were bricked in; at the heart of the labyrinth of narrow courts upon courts, and close streets upon streets, which had come into existence piecemeal, every piece in a violent hurry for some one man’s purpose, and the whole an unnatural family, shouldering, and trampling, and pressing one another to death; in the last close nook of this great exhausted receiver, where the chimneys, for want of air to make a draught, were built in an immense variety of stunted and crooked shapes, as though every house put out a sign of the kind of people who might be expected to be born in it; among the multitude of Coketown, generically called ‘the Hands,’—a race who would have found more favour with some people, if Providence had seen fit to make them only hands, or, like the lower creatures of the seashore, only hands and stomachs—lived a certain Stephen Blackpool, forty years of age.

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The innermost fortifications of that ugly citadel, where Nature was as strongly bricked out as killing airs and gases were bricked in.
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