Chapter 23 of Peter Ackroyd's Dickens (London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990): 686-711.

1. What indications do we have early in this chapter of Dickens's authoritative, domineering, demanding nature?

2. Why did Dickens in the 1854 novel Hard Times connect a want of "Fancy" with "the horrors experienced by the urban poor" (p. 689)?


The Combination Acts of 1799-1800 had outlawed both trade unions and strikes, which were punishable by summary imprisonment. A flurry of strike activity greeted the repeal of these acts in 1824. Legislation enacted in 1824-5 permitted workers to organize, but prohibited breach of contract and "molestation" or "obstruction" of employers. The sentencing of the six Tolpuddle (Dorsetshire) Martyrs to seven years' transportation to Australia for organizing the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers (1834) shows the suspicion with which such organizations were regarded when Dickens began his career as a writer. That same year Matthew Arnold called the Trades' Unions "a fearful engine of mischief, ready to riot or to assassinate." The first listing in the Oxford English Dictionary for "striker" (a workman who is 'on strike') is 7 Dec. 1850.

3. Explain how Dickens could admire "the labouring poor" (690) and be "by no means unsympathetic to the workers' case," yet be utterly opposed to industrial strikes.

4. Why did James Kay-Shuttleworth's "abstract truths" (692) and Richard Redgrave's "acknowledged principles" for commercial ("Practical") art raise Dickens's ire?

5. Why was Dickens upset with the Illustrated London News's reporting "that the novel was based upon the Preston action" (see page 693 in Ackroyd)?

6. How, contends Peter Ackroyd, do Dickens's novels, in their heroes and their structures, reflect the character of their author (see p. 695-6 in Ackroyd)?

7. Although "fabular" and "closer to the tone of his Christmas stories" (696), how is Hard Times also immensely "topical" (697)?

8. Why did Dickens choose to make the tawdry performers of Sleary's travelling circus the champions of Fancy? (See page 698 in Ackroyd.)


In the matter of divorce, how does Stephen Blackpool's situation mirror Dickens's own in the 1850s? Remember that, until 1857, each civil divorce action in the United Kingdom was, in fact, a separate act of Parliament, and therefore prohibitively expensive for the working and middle classes. The only grounds were adultery and desertion, and neither party could re-marry afterward. From 1800 to 1857 only ten such bills passed annually, and only three divorces over these six decades were awarded to female petitioners. An "a vinculo" (Latin: "from chains") annulment could be obtained on the grounds of age, incompetence, impotence, or fraud.

The Exercises

  1. A New Critical Approach
  2. The Textual-Biographical Approach
  3. The New Historicist Contextual Approach
  4. Cinematic Adaptation and Illustration
  5. Close-Reading a Passage
  6. Intertextuality: Hard Times and Charles Perrault "Bluebeard"

Last modified 21 May 2003