BOOK THE FIRST
At Stone Lodge, Josiah Bounderby is talking to Mrs. Gradgrind. He is a rich, loud, balding balloon of a man, a "Bully of humility," and Gradgrind's best friend. Bounderby is telling Mrs. Gradgrind a story she has undoubtedly heard countless times before- the story of his early life. It's a tale of hardship and cruelty. Bounderby was deserted by his mother, raised by a wicked grandmother, and forced to support himself in a variety of odd jobs. The position he has achieved- and it's a lofty one, he'll be the first to tell you- is entirely due to his own perseverance.
NOTE: Bounderby is another of the novel's major characters. Our first clue to Dickens's opinion of him is in Bounderby's name: a "bounder" is British slang for an ill-bred, pushy person.
Dickens's description of Bounderby reveals one of the writer's famous stylistic traits- the repetition of words or phrases. In this paragraph he repeats the word "man" and phrases such as "a man who" and "a man with." The repetition creates a rhythm that accelerates and reaches a climax with the final line: "A man who was the Bully of humility." The "music" created by these rhythms is particularly Dickensian. Try reading this passage aloud (or similar passages) to appreciate the full flavor of Dickens's prose.
Gradgrind arrives home with Tom and Louisa. He immediately criticizes his wife for allowing them to leave their studies. The perpetually sickly Mrs. Gradgrind can only sigh and ineffectively scold her children.
Mrs. Gradgrind is both comic and pathetic in her attempts to raise her children by her husband's principles. She can do little more than parrot his orders when she tells them to "go and be somethingological directly," a reference to the vast number of subjects (whose titles end in "ology," or "the study of") they are forced to learn. Scolding her children seems to rob her of what little energy she has, and she soon fades from the scene.
Gradgrind and Bounderby are mystified. How could Thomas and Louisa be tempted to go to the circus when they have never been allowed anything that might have spurred their imaginations? Bounderby suggests that it might be Sissy Jupe who's responsible. Louisa met her when Sissy applied for entrance to the school at the Gradgrind home.
The two men decide to see Sissy and her father to try to nip in the bud their influence on Louisa. While Gradgrind searches for their address, Bounderby slips into the children's study. There he finds Louisa, Tom, and their sister Jane and brothers Adam Smith and Malthus.
NOTE: The two youngest Gradgrind boys are named after famous eighteenth-century economists. Adam Smith was the author of an influential book, The Wealth of Nations (1776), and Malthus wrote the Essay on Population (1798), which argued that war and medical epidemics were necessary to curb the growing world population. Dickens found both writers to be harmful influences.
Bounderby offers his and Gradgrind's forgiveness for the children's "crime" and asks Louisa for a kiss. She passively allows him to kiss her, but when he leaves she vigorously rubs the spot. She tells Tom that she wouldn't cry if he were to take a knife and cut the spot from her face.
Louisa's behavior may make you think of her as a spoiled brat. But from what you have seen of her upbringing, do you understand her attitude? Yet why is she so hostile to Bounderby? The reasons for her coldness toward him will become clearer as the story unfolds.
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© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.