Literature Study GuidesHard TimesBook 1 Chapter 16 Summary

Hard Times | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Hard Times | Book 1, Chapter 16 : Sowing (Husband and Wife) | Summary

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Summary

Mr. Bounderby is nervous about breaking the news of his engagement to Mrs. Sparsit because his marriage means he will no longer require her services as a housekeeper. Expecting tears, anger, or some other emotional outburst, he prepares accordingly by purchasing smelling salts. However, she surprises and irritates him by responding to the news with something more akin to condescension and pity. He offers her a position at the bank that will preserve her salary and provide her with suitable accommodations and domestic help. Mrs. Sparsit accepts the new arrangement.

The courtship between Mr. Bounderby and Louisa Gradgrind lasts for eight weeks, and then the wedding takes place. At the wedding breakfast Mr. Bounderby gives a speech congratulating himself on finding such a good wife and congratulating Louisa on finding such a good husband. The couple honeymoon in Lyon, France, where Mr. Bounderby can see how factories run there. Tom thanks Louisa for being a good sister and in a sense a good sport by marrying Mr. Bounderby.

Analysis

Mr. Bounderby's preparations for his marriage to Louisa reflect the massive scope of his ego. He is convinced Mrs. Sparsit will be devastated by the loss of his daily company and therefore bound to lash out in some highly emotional manner. He is disappointed, even insulted, when she does not make a scene. That she seems to pity his choice, regarding it from her position of superiority, compounds the insult. Mrs. Sparsit sees the difference in Mr. Bounderby's and Louisa's ages, which leads her to believe the union is a mistake, as she draws upon her own marital experience. She also knows Louisa will not be as competent a caretaker as she is because she knows Louisa understands facts and figures better than the experience of running a household.

Mr. Bounderby's ego finds an outlet again in his wedding breakfast speech. His lack of sentimentality is on display, as he makes no mention of the love or affection that typically drives people to marry. Instead the speech is largely self-congratulatory. He considers himself very wise and fortunate to boast of a wife with Louisa's youth, beauty, and status in the town. He considers Louisa lucky to boast of a husband with his status and wealth. Either way the credit goes to him.

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