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Gradgrind tells his daughter that she is the subject of a marriage proposaland Louisa does not respond. Gradgrind expects Louisa to convey some emotion, but she is entirely stoic and reminds Gradgrind that her upbringing has prevented her from knowing what emotions to express.
Gradgrind explains that it is Mr. Bounderby who has made the marriage proposal and Louisa refrains from registering any emotional response. When her father asks her what she intends to do, Louisa turns the question back to him and asks him what he thinks she ought to do. Gradgrind looks at the situation analytically and dismisses the fact of Bounderby being fifty years old. The marriage has little to do with love and is simply a matter of "tangible Fact." In the end, the decision is for Louisa to make. But as she does not see that any opportunity will bring her happiness she realizes that it does not matter what she does. She continually repeats the phrase "what does it matter?" and this frustrates Mr. Gradgrind.
In the end, Louisa is still emotionless and she replies: "I am satisfied to accept his proposal." Mr. Gradgrind is very pleased and he kisses his daughter on the forehead. When Mrs. Gradgrind hears the news she is happy but then she works herself into a fit and soon passes out. Sissy Jupe is present and she is, perhaps, the only one who is able to sense the difference in Louisa. Louisa keeps herself at a distance and is "impassive, proud and cold." Sissy feels a mixture of wonder, pity and sorrow for Louisa.
Mr Bounderby’s proposal to Louisa, in Hard Times, is not a direct proposal. Louisa’s father is used to relay the offer of marriage to his daughter. Although it was typical in Victorian England for the man to ask his future father-in-law’s permission for the hand of his daughter, this is a step further. It is very likely this happened in the time in which the novel was written, but it does appear to be a deliberate device applied by Dickens. Any sense of this being a spontaneous and romantic proposition is lost.
Louisa Gradgrind appears to want to please her father. Having been proposed to by Mr Bounderby—through her father—Louisa is willing to accept, despite the most obvious benefits of such a union being for Mr Gradgrind. Having Mr Bounderby, an aging politician of “in round numbers, fifty” for a son-in-law would have been an advantage for a manufacturer.
Her father, Mr Grandgrind’s, utilitarianism means that he will quite happily forsake his daughter’s matrimonial happiness, or as he puts it, “anything fanciful, fantastic, or … sentimental,” for the good of his business. Although in hindsight we could say that he knows his daughter well enough to suppose her as statistically minded as him. The obvious lack of romance between Louisa and Mr Bounderby amounts to little importance for Mr Gradgrind, who tries to justify the impending marriage with the “statistics of marriage … in England and Wales.” This renders the machine-minded Mr Grandgrind and his opinions comically ridiculous, because statistics can be manipulated to validate any point, and it shows that he is only able to think in terms of profit and loss—probably the reason for his financial success, but not necessarily the ingredients for successful relationships. It is shown to be even more ridiculous by the narrator, who is almost a secondary character, chipping in with witty asides.
Louisa dupes us. At the beginning of the extract, when she asks of her father a series of straightforward questions, it is as though her intention is to belittle her father’s cold ideas on marriage. Mr Gradgrind’s response to her “unexpected question” of whether he thinks she loves Mr Bounderby is panicked, because his mind doesn’t think in the currency of love. The reader is thus led to believe that Louisa is cleverly winning an argument against her father, by highlighting just how preposterous his sentiments are. Only towards the end of the extract do we realise that Louisa in fact trying to deduce the facts from her father, because the proposal of marriage, to her, is the proposal of a business transaction.