James Harthouse: Character Analysis in Hard Times

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Repulsive Character

      In the rank of most odious characters of Hard Times, James Harthouse’s number is three. He is after Bounderby and Mrs. Sparsit. Though his life is full of boredom yet he is quite shrewd. He understands human nature very well: In this novel, James Harthouse’s character is most villainous.

Idle, Weary, Indifferent yet very Crafty

      When Harthouse is first introduced, he is regarded as a well-dressed man, seemingly indifferent to everything around him, unaffected by what happens or by what people or anyone says. Dickens refers to him in a very ironical manner as “a thorough gentleman made to the model of the time—weary of everything and putting no more faith in anything than Lucifer.” In his talk with Mrs. Sparsit, whom he uses for getting information about the manufacturer and banker— Josiash Bounderby; he tries to fawn himself by paying customary compliments to Mrs. Sparsit, though he does not mean any of them. This conversation between Harthouse and Mrs. Sparsit reveals his capacity to extract information that he requires from those whom he visits. Dickens refers to the “lightness and smoothness” of his style of conversating which is very enticing. Without laying this impression that he is inquisitive, he learns from Mrs. Sparsit that Mrs. Bounderby is not forty or thirty-five years old but is just twenty.

A Novice for “Hard Facts”

      James Harthouse is not happy with his life. He has tried life in several different fields but found every life full of boredom. He has been in the army; he has gone to Jerusalem; he has gone on world tour but found nothing interesting. Eventually, his brother suggests him to join the group of “Hard Fact Fellows” who believe in statistics. Harthouse agrees to join. His brother knows Gradgrind and through Gradgrind’s introduction letter Harthouse reaches Coketown to meet Bounderby. Thus, he is apprenticed to the “Hard Fact”.

“What will be, will be”

      In his conversation with Louisa, Harthouse says that after going through various kinds of life and getting everything full of boredom, he has reached the conclusion that any idea will be just as useful as any other, or will be as harmful as others, because the only truth that he believes, is in this Italian motto: “What will be, will be.” This is the reason why he does not attach the least importance to his opinions. He repeats this Italian motto several times in the whole story of the novel.

“Assumed honesty in dishonesty”

      Another remarkable feature of Harthouse’s attitude to life is his “assumed honesty in dishonesty”. In other words, he believes that the world is governed by dishonesty and everyone should admit it. Dickens explains this attitude as the “most effective and most patronised of the polite deadly sins. In the prevailing atmosphere of the time, the not being troubled with earnestness was a grand point in his favor.” This is the cause why he considers the “Hard Fact” fellows with grace as if he had been born among them. Another significant observation in this regard, noticeable in his conversation with Louisa is: “The only difference between us (the Hard Fact fellows) and the professors of virtue or benevolence or philanthropy is that we know it is all meaningless and say so, while they know it equally and still never say so.” In other words, every member who does not belong to the group of Hard Fact is an imposter.

Clever dealing with Mrs. Sparsit and Tom

      Chief striking characteristics of Harthouse comes out mainly in his relations with Louisa. Dickens says that in the beginning Harthouse had no such ill plot in his mind for Louisa. But we start suspecting his design when he shrewdly tries to extract some information about the age and temperament of Louisa in his conversation with Mrs. Sparsit. It gets confirmed when after being familiar with Louisa just before few days, he starts thinking that it would be a new feeling if Louisa’s face were to be brightened at his sight just as it happens on seeing Tom, her brother. It is crystal clear that the idea of flirting with Louisa is going on in the mind of Harthouse if somehow he would succeed to get very close to her. As he sees that Louisa has soft come for her brother Tom, he immediately invites Tom to his hotel where he has been staying, and entertains him with liquor and tobacco. He tries to extract all the information to fulfill his personal motive and then packs him up out of his room. It suggests that he is most crafty and devious, and that he is cherishing some amorous plots with Louisa.

His Stratagem

      Next trick that he employs to pursue his plan is first to make Louisa aware of Tom’s ingratitude towards her in spite of her utter generosity and affection towards him in providing money whenever he asks for that. Thereafter, he persuades Tom to her sister feel that he is acknowledging her favors that she has been giving him in order to pay back his debts of gambling. This strategy straight hits its destination and acquires a soft corner in the heart of Louisa because Louisa has always been feeling that her brother is not grateful to her favors or has never reciprocated to it but when she sees Tom very affectionate, caring and loving for her, she easily locates who is behind it and she gives a smile to Harthouse.

His Declaration of Love

      Then the time comes when the intimacy between Harthouse and Louisa reaches to the point where he declares his love to her in a very ardent manner. It is amazing to see a weary and indifferent man confessing his love in front of a woman in eloquent manner. He tells her that he is the most devoted slave of his mistress and so is badly treated by her. Her bright presence always gives life to him. He has never been so fascinated by any other woman in the world. He wants to surrender himself completely in front of her. He regards her the most beautiful and domineering lady Now she has to decide his fate. He wants to take her away from home, he can live here as her secret lover, if she accepts. At this moment Harthouse is not conscious of the presence of Mrs. Sparsit who is overhearing his declaration of love to Loiusa.

“Not a Moral Sort of Fellow”

      Harthouse’s misfortune downs upon him. When he gets no message or indication from Louisa, whose heart he thinks to win completely; he decides to live in the hotel of Coketown in order to wait for any kind of answer or explanation given by Louisa. One day a young lady comes to meet him unexpectedly and she makes him conscious of his villainy and guilt. She tells him that his plan to deceive Louisa has failed and she has reached to her father’s home, ‘Stone Lodge’. Harthouse is clever enough to tackle the situation. He himself admits to the lady that he is ‘‘not a moral sort of fellow” and that he has never boasted of possessing moral principles. “I am as immoral as need be” Harthouse says. He says that originally he had no particular evil design against Louisa but he has been just proceeding smoothly and unknowingly He accepts his whole responsibility for the miserable condition of Louisa: “I am solely to blame for the thing having came to this.” He says that he does not hope to become a moral sort or fellow and he does not think that there lives any moral. When he is told that he should leave Coketown immediately if he does not want to harm Louisa, he instantly agrees to that.

His Sense of Humour

      Harthouse when, realizes that the young lady who has come to visit him is only a dependent on the Gradgrind family; he states a very humourous fact. When it is revealed to him that lady is the daughter of a circus-clown, he says, “The defeat may now be considered perfectly accomplished,” he tells to himself “only a poor girl—only a stroller—only James Harthouse made nothing of—only James Harthouse a great pyramid of failure.”


      James Harthouse is the target of satire. Only a girl No. 20, a poor girl of circus-clown, makes him to realize his guilt. His satirical treatment gives great entertainment and amuses the reader.

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