A Personal Journey Part V: Hard Times for These Times

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens  (1812-1870)

This post is the fifth in the series to do with my journey to do with Age of Limits issues. I would like to say a few words about that great Victorian novelist, Charles Dickens, and one of his classic works.

Dickens lived in England during the Victorian era, so he was witness to the consequences of the fast-growing industries of his time, and the miseries that those industries can bring with them. He was an outspoken advocate for social justice, particularly justice for children.

He used a weapon that is rarely used now: satire.  For example, one of his books is Hard Times for These Times (later shortened to just Hard Times), published in the year 1843. The story is set in the fictional town of Coketown (based on the actual town of Preston in Lancashire). Here is how Dickens attacks the appalling lack of safety standards in the factories, and of the pollution that those factories cause.

It [ Coketown ] was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but, as matters stood it was a town of unnatural red and black . . . It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye . . .

An emphasis on the protection of children is a theme that runs through all of Dickens’ works.

They [ the industrialists ] were ruined when they were required to send labouring children to school; they were ruined when inspectors were appointed to look into their works; they were ruined, when such inspectors considered it doubtful whether they were quite justified in chopping people up with their machinery; they were utterly undone, when it was hinted that perhaps they need not always make quite so much smoke . . . 

Dickens has little sympathy for those who say that they cannot afford to take action.

Whenever a Coketowner felt he was ill-used-that is to say, whenever he was not left entirely alone, and it was proposed to hold him accountable for the consequences of any of his acts – he was sure to come out with the awful menace, that he would ‘sooner pitch his property into the Atlantic.’ This had terrified the Home Secretary within an inch of his life, on several occasions.

 However, the Coketowners were so patriotic after all, that they never had pitched their property into the Atlantic yet, but, on the contrary, had been kind enough to take mighty good care of it.

As we see in Chapter 4, human beings communicate best through stories. With few exceptions, the people who write about Age of Limits issues do not use stories to convey their message. This is something we probably all need to work on.

Hard Times for These Times