Dear Big Readers,

Our final Chat on Hard Times is scheduled for November 16 at 2:00 PM in the Hinckley Chapel. At this upcoming Chat we plan to announce the winner of our essay contest on Hard Times. See the contest rules below. The deadline for submissions is coming up soon (we have extended it to this Friday, November 10). There is a $100 first prize. At the last Chat, I'll share a few remarks about the third part of Hard Times; the title of my presentation is "The Philosophy of 'Mere Love and Gratitude' in Hard Times."

I want to begin to develop some of the themes introduced in the first chapter of Book the Third. The 1st chapter, titled "Another Thing Needful," opens the morning after Louisa Bounderby's dramatic return home to her father, Thomas Gradgrind. Louisa is confused by James Harthouse, the first man who has ever shown Louisa personal affection. Harthouse is trying to seduce Louisa into entering an adulterous pact, but in a moment of panic, she returns to her father's house. Though Louisa blames her father for her crisis, she also pleads for help. She says, "All I know is, your philosophy and your teaching will not save me. Now, Father, you have brought me to this. Save me by some other means!" After her plea, Louisa collapses on the floor, and her father observes her: "the pride of his heart and the triumph of his system, lying an insensible heap, at his feet" (211-12).

Thus ends Book the Second. But the beginning of the 3rd book is set the following morning. After Louisa awakens, her father comes to her to discuss her plight. His world has been turned upside by his daughter's emotional breakdown, and he wants to help. But he also doubts whether he has the "wisdom" or the "right instinct-supposing it for the moment to be some quality of that nature-knowing how to help [her]" (217).

Gradgrind is a well-intentioned but misguided parent who has tried to raise is daughter according to purely rational and Utilitarian principles, but his daughter's unhappiness has led him, for the first time in his life, to "mistrust" himself and his principles. His new-found humility leads to one of the most important insight of the novel as he confesses the following to Louisa:

     "Some persons hold," he pursued, still hesitating, "that there is a wisdom of the Head, and that there is a wisdom of the Heart. I have not supposed so; but, as I have said, I mistrust myself now. I have supposed the Head to be all-sufficient. It may not be all-sufficient; how can I venture this morning to say it is! If that other kind of wisdom should be what I have neglected, and should be the instinct that is wanted." (217-18)

Here again we see the word "instinct;" it is a concept important to Hard Times' conclusion. "Instinct" will feature prominently in the penultimate chapter, "Philosophical."

Gradgrind continues his interview with his daughter, noting that Louisa's younger sister, Jane, has had her "training" "modified by daily associations" (218) with the daughter of a circus clown, Sissy Jupe, whom Gradgrind has invited into his home to educate. Gradgrind asks Louisa if she thinks Jane's association with the selfless Sissy has been "for the better." Louisa agrees that Sissy's presence has most certainly been a blessing to Jane. Gradgrind concludes his interview with his daughter by whispering the following  question to his daughter: "Louisa, I have a misgiving that some change may have been slowly working about me in this house, by mere love and gratitude; that what the Head had left undone and could not do, the Heart may have been doing silently. Can it be so?" (218).

Louisa does not answer her father's question, but we will try to understand this mystery during our chat on November 16. I believe Dickens is looking into the heart of a Christian mystery that would seem to link the wisdom of the heart with a human "instinct" to love. Can "mere love and gratitude" be linked to some kind of human instinct? And if so, can a person lose this instinct? Is it possible such a positive instinct might be schooled out of one?

These are some of the questions Dickens grapples with in Hard Times. Come join us as we search for answers.  

All the best,

Dan Pearce

Essay Contest for the Big Read of Hard Times

As part of our second Big Read, focusing on Charles Dickens' Hard Times, the College of Language and Letters is excited to announce an essay contest for BYU-Idaho students. We are looking for essays that respond to the following prompt: How is Hard Times relevant to our times? And how has reading Hard Times helped prepare you to more wisely navigate your times?   Submissions must adhere to the following guidelines: (1) Essays must be 4 to 5 pages, double-spaced, and must follow MLA formatting conventions. (2) Essays should incorporate direct quotes from Hard Times that illustrate transformative ideas and wisdom that you expect will help you in your life. (3) The deadline for submissions is November 10. We will accept print copies only. Contest submissions should be turned into Denise Merrill in Smith 296. Please attach to the back of your submission a paper that includes your name and phone number. Winners will be announced on November 15, 2017. (4) Top prize is $100. Additional prizes to be determined. (Previous 1st Prize winners are not eligible to repeat as top winner.) Some prize winners will be asked to share their essays at our last Chat on Hard Times on November 16.

Free copies of Hard Times by Charles Dickens!!  College of Language and Letters has six copies that they are giving away for free!  First come, first serve!  Come to Smith 296 and claim your free copy of our Big Read book.

Big Read Chats:

Thursday, November 16

2:00 p.m.

Hinckley Chapel


Dan Pearce
(208) 496-4395