HomeLiterature Study GuidesHard TimesBook 2 Chapter 11 Summary

Hard Times | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Hard Times | Book 2, Chapter 11 : Reaping (Lower and Lower) | Summary

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Summary

Mrs. Sparsit's spying and hopes for Louisa's downfall appear ready to pay off. On Friday Mr. Bounderby is called away on business, so Mrs. Sparsit sends word to Louisa she will not be coming to the country house for the weekend. She learns from Tom that James Harthouse is scheduled to return from a trip to Yorkshire that evening.

On Saturday Mrs. Sparsit watches Tom wait at the train station until she is satisfied Harthouse is not returning to Coketown. She rushes to the country house and hides in the bushes while Louisa and Harthouse meet in the garden. He professes his love for her and begs her to meet him elsewhere if they can't be together here. He leaves on his horse; a short while later Louisa leaves for the train station, with Mrs. Sparsit in pursuit. Louisa disembarks in Coketown, but Mrs. Sparsit loses sight of her in the crowd outside the station.

Analysis

Mrs. Sparsit is not content to dream and wish for Louisa's downfall; rather she takes an active role in attempting to bring it about. She skips her planned excursion to the country house to ensure that Louisa will be alone there, available to meet with James Harthouse. She then goes there secretly to spy and catch Louisa in the act, setting up Louisa for the inevitable fall.

Harthouse presents a convincing speech to profess his love for Louisa, but his actions before and after the evening he meets her call his sincerity into question. His attempt to seduce a married woman, knowing it will ruin her reputation, points to a lack of concern for her well-being. In contrast Stephen Blackpool and Rachael are working-class people whose reputations are less valuable than Louisa's is as a member of the upper class. Stephen is aware of Rachael's honor and reputation within their community and loves her only from afar because he is unable to marry her. Harthouse does not possess the same integrity Stephen shows, even though he doubtlessly considers himself superior to him.

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