Hard Times

James Harthouse, the Utilitarian Romantic

Though many have argued that Dickens used the character of James Harthouse to criticize Romanticism in his novel Hard Times, it is his utilitarianism that makes him such a danger. Harthouse himself notes early in the novel that there are many similarities between himself and the utilitarian Tom Gradgrind—for though Harthouse might in theory live his life for sensation, his disappointment in what he’s found has led him to look at things with a blandly unperturbed eye. “I have seen a little, here and there,” he says, “up and down: I have found it all to be very worthless…and I am going in for your respected father’s opinions—really because I have no choice of opinions, and may as well back them as anything else.” (100) Yet unlike the utilitarians, Harthouse cannot be redeemed by even the illusion of social purpose or responsibility. Dickens is able to illustrate this paucity of feeling by setting Harthouse, in his final scene, against the character of Sissy Jupe-- whose earnest modesty and goodwill, coupled with a more elastic kind of sense, brings his own lack of character into sharp relief. It is Sissy, not Harthouse, whom Dickens puts forward as a model worth following—and it is Harthouse, not Sissy, who proves that...

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