In the name of wonder, idleness, and folly!


Hard Times
  • 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.


Quotation said by the character Thomas Gradgrind.

Whilst walking home, Thomas Gradgrind passes the circus, where he finds his two oldest children, Louisa and Thomas, watching it. He rebukes them, seen here in this quotation. Gradgrind views this as a waste of time. He believes that children’s education should be through learning facts.

Illustration from a 1876 American edition of Hard Times showing Thomas Gradgrind
Illustration from a 1876 American edition of Hard Times showing Thomas Gradgrind

Character Profile: Thomas Gradgrind.

Thomas Gradgrind is the notorious school board Superintendent in Dickens’s novel Hard Times who is dedicated to the pursuit of profitable enterprise. His name is now used generically to refer to someone who is hard and only concerned with cold facts and numbers. He is an intense follower of Utilitarian ideas. He soon sees the error of these beliefs however, when his children’s lives fall into disarray.

Theme Analysis: Utilitarianism.

In his portrayal of Thomas Gradgrind, Charles Dickens was parodying followers of utilitarian ideas. Utilitarianism had been pioneered by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832). In Gradgrind, Dickens highlights his belief that utilitarianism can be seen as selfish, with its rather mechanical approach to weighing up actions. When the lives of two of his own children fall apart, Thomas Gradgrind sees the error of this philosophy. As a result of the characteristics of Thomas Gradgrind, the term Gradgrindian has entered the English language to describe someone having a soulless devotion to facts and figures.


Taken from the following passage in Book 1, Chapter 3 (A Loophole) of Hard Times:

Dumb with amazement, Mr. Gradgrind crossed to the spot where his family was thus disgraced, laid his hand upon each erring child, and said:

‘Louisa!!  Thomas!!’

Both rose, red and disconcerted.  But, Louisa looked at her father with more boldness than Thomas did.  Indeed, Thomas did not look at him, but gave himself up to be taken home like a machine.

In the name of wonder, idleness, and folly!’ said Mr. Gradgrind, leading each away by a hand; ‘what do you do here?’

‘Wanted to see what it was like,’ returned Louisa, shortly.

‘What it was like?’

‘Yes, father.’

There was an air of jaded sullenness in them both, and particularly in the girl: yet, struggling through the dissatisfaction of her face, there was a light with nothing to rest upon, a fire with nothing to burn, a starved imagination keeping life in itself somehow, which brightened its expression.  Not with the brightness natural to cheerful youth, but with uncertain, eager, doubtful flashes, which had something painful in them, analogous to the changes on a blind face groping its way.

She was a child now, of fifteen or sixteen; but at no distant day would seem to become a woman all at once.  Her father thought so as he looked at her.  She was pretty.  Would have been self-willed (he thought in his eminently practical way) but for her bringing-up.

‘Thomas, though I have the fact before me, I find it difficult to believe that you, with your education and resources, should have brought your sister to a scene like this.’

‘I brought him, father,’ said Louisa, quickly.  ‘I asked him to come.’

‘I am sorry to hear it.  I am very sorry indeed to hear it.  It makes Thomas no better, and it makes you worse, Louisa.’

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In the name of wonder, idleness, and folly!
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2019-02-01T22:26:33+00:00Categories: Hard Times|Tags: |

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