Hard Times was originally published in serial form, in a magazine called Household Words beginning on April 1, 1854. The last time that Dickens had published a work in serial form was in 1841 and when publication of Hard Times had begun, Dickens was barely halfway through the writing. In the end, Hard Times is among the shortest of Dickens's novels and the material was arranged so that it would "divide well"?prolonging suspense at all of the weekly conclusions.
Dickens had originally intended to take the year off, having written Bleak House the year previous but he was convinced to write Hard Times in part because the book was to improve the financial situation of the struggling magazine. The characters and major themes of the novel are little different from many of the others that are more famous. Some critics liken Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby to other "men of business" who populate Dickens's fiction: Ebenezer Scrooge, Ralph Nickleby and Mr. Dombey chief among them.
On another level, Hard Times is considered to be a revision of an earlier novella entitled The Chimes. The characters of Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby are more developed. While Coketown represents the typical manufacturing town of the English midlands, the Manchester aspects of the town come largely from the similarities between the utilitarianism espoused by Gradgrind and Bounderby and the utilitarianism expounded by the "Manchester" school of thought. Hard Times reveals Dickens' increased interest in class issues and social commentary. In contrast to the earliest work, like the more "playful" novel, The Pickwick Papers, Hard Times is seen by critics as being more in line with the novels published immediately before it: Martin Chuzzlewit, Dombey and Son, and Bleak House. While Hard Times does not have the epic proportions of some of Dickens's other work, the concern for the plight of the poor and the hypocrisy of the leisure class is more explicit than it had been previously.