BOOK THE SECOND
Gradgrind, home for vacation, watches the storm wondering if the lightning outside will strike one of the Coketown chimneys.
NOTE: You are reminded by Gradgrind's musing of Louisa's identification with fire throughout the novel. It was in Book the First, Chapter 15, that she looked to the chimneys and noted the fire within them. Gradgrind's concern that the chimneys might be struck by lightning immediately foreshadows Louisa's entrance with news that will appall him.
As the thunder booms and the rain pours, Louisa enters, drenched and breathless. She wastes no time in telling him why she is there. She denounces her upbringing, accusing her father of taking from her everything that made life more than a "conscious death."
She asks him if he remembers the last time they spoke in this room (when he told her of Bounderby's proposal). If he had given her one bit of encouragement at the time, she would have told him what she is telling him now, of her fears and dreams and hopes. Could he then have allowed her to marry such a man as Bounderby? Gradgrind, shaken, answers that he could not.
She tells him that Harthouse is the first person to understand her. She isn't sure if she loves him, but he loves her and waits for her now. She begs her father for his help now, since all his past teaching and philosophy have proved useless to her. What can he offer her now? As she pleads with him, she falls to the ground in a faint.
Book the Second thus ends with Louisa, a prime product of the Gradgrind/Bounderby school of thought, miserable and wretchedly unhappy. This is the "reaping," or harvest, of the seeds sown in the first book. Gradgrind has come face to face with the failure of his daughter's upbringing (and has yet to discover that his son is a thief. Bounderby has been deserted by his wife. Think back to the ending of the first book. Both men were smug about this marriage, but now they must reap what they have sown and are both the worse for it. As for Stephen, he has been forced to leave his home, and by doing so is falsely accused of a crime.
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