Hard Times was first published in Household Words, Dickens’s own weekly magazine, between 1 April and 12 August 1854, and then, shortly afterwards, as a 352-page book. These proofs form part of that process.
Besides close editing of his text to correct mistakes and make minor changes to expressions, the major changes we can see here involve the attention paid to the redivision of chapters, and the addition of chapter titles, which had not been present in the magazine edition. The three-book structure was also an introduction at this stage.
Comparatively short for a Dickens novel, and disappointing to many of its initial readers, Hard Times – subtitled For These Times in book form – takes on the miserable conditions faced by the growing class of factory workers in Victorian Britain. It is set in Coketown, which most readers interpreted as the northern industrial town of Preston, and opens with the harsh utilitarian philosophy of Thomas Gradgrind, a schoolmaster who insists on his pupils learning only ‘Facts’, and ‘nothing else.’ As Dickens wrote to his friend Charles Knight later in 1854, ‘my satire is against those who see figures and averages, and nothing else’, and the contemporary critic and reformer John Ruskin thought that the book ‘should be studied with close and earnest care by people interested in social questions’. With permission, it is dedicated to the author, biographer and historian Thomas Carlyle.