Harthouse Dines at the Bounderbys

Walker's 1868 wood engraving appears opposite the title page in Dickens's Hard Times for These Times

Walker alerts the reader unfamiliar with the plot of Hard Times to Louisa's romantic interest in the phlegmatic aristocrat and Tory politician who has made common cause with the industrialists Josiah Bounderby and Thomas Gradgrind.The illustrator is pointing towards a moment in the second chapter of Book Two, after Bounderby has paraded his new ally before "the voting and interesting nobilities of Coketown and its vicinity." Walker has shortened the table (set for four, but with only three seated, as in the text) considerably to include all four figures: Louisa (left, at the head of the table, as in the letter-press), Tom revealed to us principally through Louisa' s gaze, Bounderby seated next to him, and at the foot of the table, scrutinizing the others, James ("Jem") Harthouse.

The precise instant that Walker has chosen to capture is when Louisa reaches for Tom's hand, a gesture repeated by Mrs. Blackpool and the bottle in the next plate. Supposedly having worked overtime at the bank, Tom (back towards us) has arrived late for dinner. The artist focuses the viewer' s attention on the beautiful, young wife in fashionable dress. He accentuates the vivifying elements of the scene: Louisa's small hand; graceful neck; enchanting smile; and large, oval eyes, full of adoration for her wastrel brother, back towards us. The bearded diner, centre, is likely her husband, who is about to chastise his brother-in-law for his tardiness (this is Bounderby's only appearance in Walker' s programme of illustration, whereas the others will each appear once again). The diner at the far right is presumably Harthouse, whose mutton-chop whiskers (not described by Dickens, and therefore Walker's invention) are repeated in "Mr. Harthouse and Tom Bounderby [sic] in the Garden." (opposite p. 97). While Bounderby speculates on the vittles before him in salvers and tureens (although Dickens indicates the soup and fish courses have already been served), the impassive Harthouse shrewdly appraises the relationship between "The Whelp" and his attractive sister. Everything else in the scene is Walker's invention: the lack of servants, the candelabrum, the inverted tumbler (suggestive of abstemiousness) and upright wineglasses, the portrait of a middle-aged, fashionably dressed man grasping a document (suggestive of Bounderby's proprietary rights to Louisa, perhaps), the wainscotting, the ever-so-slightly patterned carpet (consonant with friend and father-in-law Thomas Gradgrind' s tastes in interior design), and the Ottoman filling the immediate foreground. This last object seems curiously in Tom' s way, as if it will trip him up when he turns; perhaps it is the artist' s symbol for Tom's ultimate fate in the story.

Related Materials

Reference List

Dickens, Charles. Hard Times and Pictures from Italy. One vol. London: Chapman and Hall [1875?].

Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book. London: Educational Book [1910].

Last modified March 12, 2002