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Hard Times was Dickens's shortest novel and the only one to be set in the industrial north of England. A fast moving story with a typical cast of larger than life characters, the novel is a vehicle for a humanist critique of both utilitarian education ('Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts', says Mr. Gradgrind in the opening paragraph) and the mutual antagonism between capital and the trade union. A humanist education system, it turns out, is Dickens's solution to the class struggle. Hard Times is set in the fictional Coketown and was partly inspired by a visit to Preston during the factory lockout that brought the town's industry to a standstill in 1853. This version is read as it appeared in 20 issues of Dickens's weekly Household Words from April to August 1854. It is followed by two earlier articles - Locked Out and On Strike - that describe Dickens' visit to Preston and do much to clarify his thinking on education and class conflict.
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