Hard Times = Hard Work: A Miserable Failure on the Classics Challenge

Today, I am feeling extremely disappointed with myself. I have made my now-annual attempt to convert myself to the cult of Charles Dickens, and, once again, failed miserably. With “miserably” being the key word.

I don’t know what my problem is with Dickens. I read Great Expectations at school and have vague memories of enjoying it; I was young and impressionable back then, and probably so excited to be reading ‘a classic’ that I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’ve also obviously read A Christmas Carol at some point, because I know all the bits in the Muppets’ version which deviate from the original (Bob Cratchit is not actually a frog! Did you know?). At university, on the infamous misogynistic Victorians course which I have mentioned about 78 times on my blog, I read Oliver Twist and was appalled by how boring it was; it was really long and nobody sang ‘Oom Pah Pah.’ After that, I gave up on Dickens for a very long time.


Then, last year, I became obsessed with the beautiful Penguin English Library series and started accumulating these lovely books with an almost religious fervour. I had to buy a new bookcase just to house them; it is next to my bed so they are the first thing I see when I wake up. I have a strong urge to collect all these books, which will mean procuring a large number of Dickens novels – of the 100 books in the series, I think about 15 are by Dickens.

So, in 2015, I read The Old Curiosity Shop, which was a massive fail on all counts; I didn’t really enjoy the book and, having foolishly bought it on eBay, I was saddled with a ropey-looking cover. Sad times all round. I was ready to give up. But then I remembered that  used to hate Hardy and, after reading most of his books last year, I now love him and want a life-size mural of his face in my lounge. So I persevered with Dickens, opting for the really cheerful and fun-sounding Hard Times this year.

There can’t be that many books with a title that accurately describes the experience of actually reading them, so, in this sense, Hard Times is a unique and impressive achievement. This book made me so sad. Not because of any Little Nell-type trauma, but just because I was so bored. I am fairly sure that nothing actually happened until about 220 pages in, by which time I had completely and wholeheartedly lost interest. None of the characters caught my attention and the story didn’t engage me. So that’s that.

But what does this say about me? As a complete nerd of English literature and devotee of the Victorian novel, why am I incapable of enjoying Dickens? I know that I put unhelpful amounts of pressure on myself to read and appreciate his work, because I worry what it means when I find myself cleaning my oven to avoid reading one of his books. I’m not put off by really long novels and it’s not like I don’t understand the language, so what is my problem? I don’t want to give up on Dickens, but, at the same time, I don’t want to keep reading long books which give me no pleasure at all. I also want more beautiful Penguin English Library books.

So, people of the internet, please help me. What Dickens should I be attempting next? Which is the one that will win me over, at least so I can say that there is one Charles Dickens novel that I like? I feel like I can only go so far in life by saying, “but I REALLY LOVE Hardy and would get all questions about him right on University Challenge.” I need you, bookish people. Don’t let me down.


4 thoughts on “Hard Times = Hard Work: A Miserable Failure on the Classics Challenge

  1. David N. says:

    I am with you. I love A Christmas Carol, but otherwise I have had to force myself through anything of his I’ve read. I stopped reading Oliver Twist, which takes a big sacrifice of pride for me to ever do with a book. I hear people talk about how straight-up enjoyable Dickens is to read, and I don’t get it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. curlygeek04 says:

    I haven’t read a lot of Dickens, but I’d say read David Copperfield. I hated Great Expectations, and didn’t finish Bleak House, but David Copperfield feels like it might be Dickens writing about himself. It just felt more real to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Cait @ Paper Fury says:

    Omg WHAT DO YOU MEAN BOB CRATCHITT IS NOT A FROG. My entire life has been a life. Thanks for nothing, Muppets. *collapses*
    Ahem. 😉
    I have only read a few Dickens?! And NONE recently. :O I read Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist for school. I vaguely recall liking Great Expectations? But Oliver twist was so random. 😛 I’m honestly not good with classics, nopity no. And I think pressuring oneself to like something is often a bad idea. xD But I DO hope you find a Dickens book that works for you seeing how you really really want to!!

    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wendy says:

    Ah. Well. Take this for what it’s worth coming from someone who loved both Oliver Twist and Hard Times, but my favorite Dickens is A Tale of Two Cities. I read it at 14, just after we finished studying the French Revolution in school, so I was SO BLOWN AWAY by the fact that I was reading about a historical even I knew something about, AND that it was written a long time ago BUT WAS STILL historical fiction even when it was written…I’m guessing if Dickens isn’t for you, it might just not be for you. I love Hardy too, and Dickens is far more melodramatic in his plots (well, okay, Tess’s plot is pretty melodramatic) and unsubtle in his characterizations, and overly reliant on crazy coincidences. His work just doesn’t read like modern fiction. But I love it. Which doesn’t mean you have to though! It’s okay! Plenty of fish in the sea of Victorian literature, right?

    Liked by 1 person

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