"Frauds on the Fairies" (Household Words, 1853) and Hard Times For These Times (1854)

Among recent attempts to justify Dickens's social criticism in the novel, Joseph Butwin takes an approach which dissolves the border between fiction and non-fiction, and seeks to re-integrate Hard Times as specifically a "novel of social reform." Butwin argues that the difficulties modern readers have with the novel. ..result from our reading it in detachment from its original and intended context in Household Words. For readers of that journal, correspondences between Dickens's fictional world and the social world of argument and debate would be made and substantiated by constant reference to the factual and editorial articles which appeared alongside installments of the novel . . . . . Dickens' rather terse addresses to the reader on the need for "Fancy" in all forms of education could be amplified by a knowledge of the journal's full-length pieces on the subject, including "Amusements of the People" (on popular theatre), "Frauds on the Fairies" ([text] against bowdlerization of fairy tales), and "Shakespeare and Newgate." (Nicholas Coles, "The Politics of Hard Times." Dickens Studies Annual15: 147-8)

1. To "bowdlerize" is to expurgate a book, as the English physician Thomas Bowdler removed the 'improprieties' from Shakespeare's works so that these might "be read aloud in a family." Explain how Dickens criticizes his friend and illustrator George Cruikshank for bowdlerizing fairy tales. What else is Dickens satirizing in "Frauds on the Fairies"?

2. What is the relationship that a regular reader of Household Words in 1854 would have seen between "Frauds on the Fairies" and the following (Norton edition) passages?

a. "He went to work . . . and distort him?" (p. 12)

b. "The first object . . .dens by the hair." (p. 13)

c. "No little Gradgrind . . . several stomachs." (p. 13)

d. "She looked at her father. . . Mrs. Grundy." (p. 16)

e. "You saw nothing . . .without end, Amen." (p. 22-3)

f. "There was an old woman . . .were repealed?" (p. 24)

g. "Tho be it . . . not the wurth!" (p. 36).

3. How might the chapter titles "The One Thing Needful" and "Murdering the Innocents" be taken as allusions to "Frauds on the Fairies" as well as to the Bible?

4. In "A Preliminary Word" to the first issue of Household Words (30 March 1850) Dickens wrote:

No mere utilitarian spirit, no iron binding of the mind to trim realities, will give a harsh tone to our Household Words. In the bosoms of the young and old, of the well-to-do and of the poor, we would tenderly cherish that light of Fancy which is inherent in the human breast . . . .

Why does Dickens feel that Cruikshank's fairy tales, like the writings of the "Utilitarians" Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, are opposed to the spirit of Fancy?

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