Literature Study GuidesHard TimesBook 2 Chapter 10 Summary

Hard Times | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Hard Times | Book 2, Chapter 10 : Reaping (Mrs. Sparsit's Staircase) | Summary

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Summary

Mrs. Sparsit remains at the country house, appearing polite to Mr. Bounderby while shaking her fist and calling his portrait "Noodle" behind his back. She has taken to spying about the house, seemingly getting from one place to another in no time at all. Mr. Bounderby is happy to keep Mrs. Sparsit around; Mrs. Sparsit observes Louisa's activities with Mr. Harthouse and dreams of Louisa's downfall and shame, represented by her descent of a staircase to an abyss.

No news has arrived about the robbery, but Mr. Bounderby remains hopeful about finding Stephen Blackpool and the old woman he was seen with before the robbery. Mrs. Sparsit observes Louisa and James Harthouse sitting in the garden together side by side. She doesn't hear their conversation, but Harthouse assures Louisa of Stephen's probable role in the crime. Louisa is sorry for Stephen but comforted by Harhouse's thoughts.

Analysis

Mrs. Sparsit's resentment toward Louisa shifts into malice as she dreams of Louisa's downfall, which she believes (correctly) will be precipitated by her relationship with James Harthouse. These developments do little to confirm the reason for her feelings. She may simply be angry with Louisa for disrupting her routine and status as Mr. Bounderby's housekeeper, although it is possible Mrs. Sparsit has had a romantic interest in Mr. Bounderby. Or she is simply malicious and would like the marriage destroyed, possibly because of the age difference, a discrepancy she seems to resent as a reminder of her own short-lived and unhappy marriage, in which she was 15 years older than her husband. Furthermore she most likely would be pleased to see her employer get what he deserves, as she wished him at the time of his marriage. So she takes to careful spying around the house and awaiting the disaster she hopes will come.

Louisa's suspicions of her brother's role in the bank robbery persist on a low level. She talks to James Harthouse about his suspicions of Stephen Blackpool and finds herself oddly relieved when Harthouse says he thinks it possible Stephen did do it. Her relief indicates she does not yet believe Stephen is guilty, but she prefers that possibility to her own brother's guilt. In a sense Harthouse's opinion gives her permission to stop suspecting Tom.

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