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North And South And Hard Times

3080 words - 13 pages

North and South and Hard Times

  In  "Industrial" H Sussman states that "one of the most significant shifts created  by industrialism" was that of the "separation of the workplace from the home".  This "shift" created "new gender roles" with the "husband as breadwinner [and  the] wife as childcare giver" and led ultimately to the "19th century  ideology of the two separate spheres -  the masculine public sphere of work [and]  the private female sphere of domesticity". Is, however, this "shift" one which  Elizabeth Gaskell in North and South and Charles Dickens in Hard Times not only reflect but one which they endorse?


If the public  sphere is masculine then the ...view middle of the document...

In R Williams words, however, if the circus is  "instinctive" it is also "anarchic". To return to such a system, whether in the  public or private realm, is impossible.


Dickens other  major example of the public sphere is Bounderby, a caricature of the successful  factory owner, who contrasts sharply with Gaskell's Thornton. Dickens condemns  Bounderby from the start of the novel with his description of him as "A man with  a great puffed head and forehead, swelled veins in his temples, and such  strained skin to his face that it seemed to hold his eyes open and lift his  eyebrows up". Bounderby refuses to help Stephen Blackpool to gain a divorce and  responds to the threat of rebellion amongst his workers with the claim that he  will transport Slackbridge and his fellow protestors. Bounderby is a totally  unsympathetic character who fittingly dies in the gutter, but this is  one of the major failings of Hard Times. Bounderby is nothing more than  an occasionally amusing, if repulsive, caricature who the reader cannot possible  relate to on any real terms. There is the possibility that a character such as  Thornton could exist, and this gives Gaskell's portrayal of the public realm  (and therefore her message behind it) some sense of reality but there is no such  possibility of Bounderby's existence. This would not be such a failure for  Dickens if it was not for the fact that there is quite obviously a message  (though admittedly a different one to Gaskell) behind Hard Times, namely  that, in Carlyle's words, the internal and spiritual should not be "managed by  machinery". Any critique of such a philosophy (and indeed of the masculine  dominated public sphere) is lost in the anti-bourgeois propaganda of Bounderby.  This is not however to suggest that Dickens portrayal of the proletariat within  the public sphere is any more believable  -  Slackbridge's "mongrel dress" and  "sour expression" are exaggerated to the same extent as the features of  Bounderby. They both also share the fact that they make Stephen Blackpool a  martyr, and almost feminine in the extent to which he is oppressed. Dickens  regards the rest of the workers gathered at the union meeting as a "mass",  unindividualised and nameless. It should be noted, however, that Gaskell also  treats the workers as a "mass" when they stand outside Thornton's house, so  Dickens was not alone in his misunderstanding of the urban workers and the role  of the unions.


In North  and South it is Thornton who is representative of the public, masculine,  sphere. His initial contempt for his workers is obvious:


"I believe that this but  the natural punishment of dishonesty - enjoyed pleasure at some former period of  their lives. I do not look on self-indulgent, sensual people as worthy of my  hatred; I simply look upon them with contempt for their poorness of character".


Thornton  has, initially money, and...

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