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Reviewed by:
  • Hard Times by Charles Dickens, the 4th Norton Critical Edition ed. by Fred Kaplan,
  • Alan Shelston
Charles Dickens. Hard Times. Ed. Fred Kaplan. W. W. Norton: New York and London, 2017. Pp. x+496. $16.30.

This is the fourth time Hard Times has been published in a Norton Critical edition, and it embodies a number of innovations. Shorter than most Dickens novels, Hard Times is a popular text to introduce students to Dickens, and it might seem easier for the instructor also. But if it has the advantage of relative brevity it presents problems of its own, not least those of the reader's need to accept its moments of high rhetoric, together with its parodic effects and the comic names of the more villainous characters, which have entered popular memory. At the same time, these problems have tended to obscure questions arising from the novel's response to the specific issue of the new industrialism. Furthermore, Hard Times has a remarkable multiplicity of genre: high satire, romance, crime and popular tragedy are all mixed in with its social documentation. There is thus plenty of explaining to do.

In his introduction to this new edition Fred Kaplan pays generous tribute to his predecessors of the third edition, George Ford and Sylvere Monod. Like them, he takes the first edition of 1854 as his copy text. To it is appended a long list of textual notes to provide information about every aspect of the writing history and development of the text of Dickens's novel. Dickens's working plans are listed, as are the running headlines for the edition of 1867–68; here Kaplan again follows his predecessors. All this makes for extensive bibliographical information; and although Kaplan may be optimistic about the usefulness of this material to his target readership, it will certainly give them some idea of the processes of nineteenth century literary production.

Kaplan has assembled some forty extracts of contextual material, ranging from the novel's first appearance to the present day and divided into three sections: "Text," "Contexts" and "Criticism." The extent and range of material is too great to be noticed here in detail. He has incorporated a substantial sample from the past, much of it from Ford and Monod's edition, but in his introduction he takes the opportunity to update the usual critical approaches. His opening sentence establishes his priorities: "Hard Times sustains its lasting and ever-changing relevance to our modern world." This it achieves by dealing with "themes with overwhelming significance" such as the substitution of technology for human workers, revealing "the [End Page 262] replacement of workers by vast machines" and "the whole apparatus of the global industrial economy" (vii–ix).

The previous edition raised similar questions, but rather less ambitiously, and the familiarity of the novel's discourse–most obviously in the recurrent conflict between "fact" and "feeling"–has always had a more than local appeal. Dickens's contemporaries in this volume were often critical of his stance, most notably Harriet Martineau whose account of utilitarianism is both lucid and forceful. A more moderate reaction is John Stuart Mill's account of Jeremy Bentham, usually regarded as the founder of this dominant philosophy. Famous Victorians who also appear include John Ruskin, Thomas Carlyle and Charles Darwin.

There is thus some excellent contemporary material to introduce the newcomer to the novel, and to its contexts, but some of the material that Kaplan reprints raises questions about its specific reference to Hard Times itself, as indeed do the illustrations. These are an innovation for the series. One, for example, is of a Manchester iron-foundry and somewhat oddly the caption refers to a copper-factory. It is dominated by a mass of mill-chimneys, making the illustration apparently appropriate, but only if one ignores the caption. The cover illustration is a familiar one of an exhausted woman sitting in the street nursing a baby, but this is in fact a London image of 1877 and has no connection with the novel other than the dire poverty it shows. Such material can distract rather than inform. Further illustrations from the 1869 edition of the novel bring us closer to...


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