Hard Times | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Hard Times | Book 3, Chapter 3 : Garnering (Very Decided) | Summary

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Summary

Mrs. Sparsit follows Mr. Bounderby to London and tells him about her observations of Louisa and James Harthouse. Mr. Bounderby returns to Coketown and goes straight to Mr. Gradgrind's house. Mr. Gradgrind explains to Mr. Bounderby that Louisa is in his home. She has not had an affair with James Harthouse but is in a fragile state. He tells Mr. Bounderby they have never really understood Louisa.

Mr. Bounderby counters with his rage, expressing his belief Louisa has never respected or appreciated him as he deserves. He demands Louisa return to his house immediately, although Mr. Gradgrind suggests Louisa remain at home while she recovers. Mr. Bounderby, as is typical for him, believes Louisa wants to be fed turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon. He decides if she does not return to him by noon the next day, the marriage is over. He refuses to reconsider this decision. Louisa does not return, and Bounderby resumes "a bachelor life."

Analysis

Mrs. Sparsit's malice toward Louisa and her determination to see Louisa finished off lead her to extraordinary lengths. She is not content to wait for Mr. Bounderby to return so she can tell him everything she has seen. She travels the long distance to London—in the rain—to inform him of Louisa's activities.

Mr. Bounderby is a man driven by his anger and desire to bend other people to his will, so it makes sense for him to return to Coketown to berate his old friend, Mr. Gradgrind. Their friendship is effectively destroyed by Mr. Bounderby's tirade and unwillingness to relent and consider Louisa's needs. The two men have been "friends" for years, but Bounderby is willing to destroy that relationship in an instant. Like his factory workers, friends are disposable commodities.

Wives, too, are also disposable for Bounderby. He makes the decision in an instant to end his marriage if he does not get his way. Neither he nor Louisa has been happy in the union, but he makes wild accusations about Louisa's sense of entitlement because she is unhappy. Mr. Bounderby does not recognize the verbal irony of his accusations of entitlement. He expects Louisa to do his bidding; he feels entitled to her obedience without hesitation or consideration for her own wellbeing, yet he does not recognize how this demand reflects his own sense of entitlement. It is unreasonable for other people, but it is an inalienable right, a given, for Mr. Bounderby and his ego.

The hypocrisy of Mr. Bounderby's demand that Louisa return right away or the marriage is over lies in how completely it contradicts the advice Bounderby gives Stephen Blackpool in Book 1. When Stephen Blackpool wants to divorce his drunk and abusive wife, Mr. Bounderby reminds him he took her for better or worse and implies Stephen may have made her worse. Louisa is neither drunk nor abusive, simply confused, but Mr. Bounderby believes he is justified in leaving her. His blustering and vulgar behavior have made Louisa unhappy in a marriage that might have been merely neutral, so he has in fact made her "worse," but he does not recognize his role in her problems.

Interestingly the narrative never makes clear whether or not Mr. Bounderby officially divorces Louisa or whether they simply live apart for the remainder of his life. On the basis of their situation, most likely they live separate lives, remaining legally married, as neither has a compelling reason to seek a legal divorce. In Book 1, Chapter 11 Mr. Bounderby makes clear the extreme complication and expense of obtaining a divorce. The process would have cost thousands of pounds and required Parliamentary approval. Furthermore, the only acceptable grounds for divorce would have been infidelity, which Mr. Bounderby could allege based on Louisa's relationship with James Harthouse. Even though Mr. Gradgrind publicly refutes a physical relationship between his daughter and James Harthouse, Mr. Bounderby would be able to present a case in favor of adultery if he chose to do so. The fact that Louisa lives a respectable life after she and Bounderby separate indicates he chooses not to mark her publicly as an adulteress. Furthermore, Mr. Bounderby seems to want out of the marriage as much as Louisa does because he could legally compel her to return home but chooses not to do so.

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