In "Hard Times", Dickens illustrates the condition of England through his depiction of the fictional northern city of Coketown. Among its inhabitants are Thomas Gradgrind, the utilitarian headmaster who attempts to impose his rigid worldview on his family circle, and the uncaring businessman Mr Bounderby. Their materialist philosophies, as opposed to the world of 'fancy', or imagination, are tested throughout the novel, which also explores workers' conditions in factories, trade unions and the spurious use of statistics. Perhaps the most polemical of his major novels - in which hard-biting satire, moving drama and exuberant comedy find a very succinct and powerful expression - "Hard Times" is possibly the best introduction to the world of Charles Dickens.
A literary phenomenon in his lifetime and renowned as much for his journalism and public speaking as for his novels, Charles Dickens now ranks as the most important Victorian writer and one of the most influential and popular authors in the English language. His memorable and vividly rendered characters and his combination of humour, trenchant satire and compassion have left an indelible mark on our collective imagination.