Dickens was the first great novelist in English to make the pleasures and (especially) the pains of childhood central to his fiction. When we think of Hard Times, the sufferings of the factory workers are indistinct, but those of the children taught by Mr Gradgrind are wholly vivid.
Watch the films above to see John Mullan discussing childhood in Dickens's novels; and Simon Callow reading from Hard Times - 'Now, what I want is facts'. Filmed at the Dickens Museum, London.
Then explore the historical and literary sources to find out more.
Historical & Literary Sources
These pages are from The Railway Alphabet, an educational book for children. The book marries images from the industrial world with the simplicity of a lesson on ABC.
Shockheaded Peter was an immensely popular set of moral tales for children, first translated into English from the German in 1848.
Songs of Innocence and of Experience is as much a work of art as a collection of poems, produced laboriously from etched copper-plates.
This image shows children working in coal mines. It is taken from a government report compiled by the Children's Employment Commission in 1842.
Just as Dickens had worked in a blacking factory from the age of 12, many families living in poverty were forced to send their children to work. This newspaper article discusses the issues.