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I once took a class on Dickens and this was the best book I read for the class. I actually wrote a paper about it called "Fire and the Absence of Fancy" that focused mainly on the character Louisa Gradgrind, who spends a great deal of her time gazing into fires. In this book Dickens shows the disturbing effects industrialization and human mechanization can have on the lives of workers and children. The world the characters inhabit is very bleak; the air is polluted with smoke because the fires keeping the machines going are never extinguished, the imaginations of children are crushed in the name of progress, and there is no time for pleasure. While the tone of the book can be very dark, there are also truly hilarious moments—especially the bit about the horses on the wallpaper (in school the children are told that a wallpaper covered in horses is unrealistic because horses can't live on wallpaper). I think this book contains some of the most fascinating characters Dickens ever wrote (except for Miss Havisham) and some of the most scathing economic and social commentary to be found in any of his books. A lot of people in the Dickens class disagreed with me and said that Hard Times couldn't possibly be as good as Bleak House because Bleak House was a very longggg book and Hard Times is too short to be considered amongst his best work. Huh? It didn’t seem like a legitimate argument to me but they used it just the same. It has long been rumored that Dickens was paid a penny for each word he penned, which, in my opinion, is the only rational explanation for why Bleak House is as long as it is.
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