ecause the wiseman (or wisdom speaker) has historically held a respected position in many cultures, both Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy adopted this role. In Dickens's novel Hard Times, he emphasizes the negative effects of the Industrial Revolution, especially as these pertain to children. In The Mayor of Casterbridge thirty years later, Thomas Hardy examines the structure of the nuclear family, the importance and value of Victorian women, and the need for honesty and truth in social relationships.
Dickens and Hardy use similar means to convey their opinions about these and other issues, using female characters to illustrate the plight of English society's prime sufferers (Louisa Gradgrind in Dickens, Elizabeth-Jane Newson in Hardy). Furthermore, both authors place emphasis on the importance of good parenting, for mistakes made by parents have consequences for their children, as Hardy and Dickens show in the inadequate child-rearing by Thomas Gradgrind and the abandonment of parental responsibility by Michael Henchard. Hardy avoids metaphorical language in describing his social and physical worlds, but Dickens constantly compares the sordid, dreary world of Coketown to the fantastical world of fairytales, with their fairy palaces and giant monsters.
Dickens's Hard Times tries to make comfortable, complacent middle-class readers aware that children cannot be expected to work all the time, and that play, a sense of wonder, and imagination are all very important to the development of healthy human beings. With Sissy Jupe Dickens demonstrates that one's heart is often more important thanone's head. Dickens teaches by example, using opposing pairs of female characters (Louisa and Mrs. Sparsit, Sissy Jupe and Louisa Gradgrind, and Rachel and Mrs. Blackpool) to contrast moral and immoral actions and attitudes and to link directly right moral action and "the wisdom of the heart."
Hardy does not so much compare as make examples of his characters. Henchard, for example, is not compared to Elizabeth-Jane's stepfather, Richard Newson; rather, he is punished for his drunken rage by the loss of his wife and child. Later, he is punished by circumstances (financial hardship engendered by bad investments surrounding the harvest) for his rashness of judgment and irascibility in his treatment of Elizabeth-Jane after he finds out that she is not his natural daughter. He is punished again by circumstances of his own making when he is angry towards Farfrae, for loses his customers, his business, his prosperity, and the mayoralty.
Dickens and Hardy were both regarded in their own times as both wise men and great authors, even though they used different methods to point out social ills and fatal flaws in society. Dickens's use of dualism in characterization and metaphor in the imagery of Hard Times provides readers with insight into the importance of play and imagination. Hardy uses Michael Henchard in The Mayor of Casterbridge to show society that what goes around comes around and that each person will be punished or rewarded in some way for their behaviour; in particular, a social crime, such as wife-selling, will not go unpunished. These two very different authors, urban Dickens and rural Hardy, tell very different tales but have the same essential purpose: to offer moral guidance to society. Thus, their attitudes anticipated attitudes that the Victorian public would gradually develop, making them wise men in their times.
Last modified 11 July 2006