Mrs. Sparsit: Character Analysis in Hard Times

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A Highly Connected Elderly Lady

      We get introduced to Mrs. Sparsit as an elderly woman working as Mr. Bounderby’s housekeeper and getting a certain amount of annual stipend. She regards it as “annual compliment”. The woman has once seen better days and she was highly connected with the society. She has a noble aunt Lady Scadgers, a badly fat woman with excessive appetite for butcher’s flesh. Mrs. Sparsit feels dignified over the matter that her husband was a “Powler” on the side of his mother. Her husband died very early only at the age of twenty-four, leaving her in no prosperous condition.

Her Physical Appearance

      Mrs. Sparsit’s eyebrows are dense, black Coriolanian. She has a Roman nose also (various references are made to Mrs. Sparsit’s Coriolanian eyebrows and Roman nose in the novel). Mr. Bounderby feels proud of it that his housekeeper has an aristocratic background. He mentions to it whenever he gets an opportunity.

Her Unsympathetic Attitude to Workmen

      Dickens has made Mrs. Sparsit the target of satire throughout the story. Besides frequent references to her Coriolanian eyebrows and Roman nose, she is subjected to excessive hate and disgust of Dickens. With Mrs. Sparsit, Bounderby shares his contempt and resentment for the workers. Due to this disdainful attitude towards workers, she expresses complete lack of sympathy for Stephen when he comes to visit Bounderby with the purpose to ask his advice on his unhappy married life. In place of being sympathetic to Stephen, she regards him as the representative of “the impiety of the people.”

Her Response on Learning Bounderby’s Decision to Marry Louisa

      Bounderby thinks that Mr. Sparsit will not appreciate his act of marrying Louisa and she will strongly disapprove that. Thus Mr. Bounderby goes home with a bottle of smelling - salts because if she may faint he can recover her consciousness. But he is amazed to see Mrs. Sparsit listening the unpleasant news without any agitation or mental disturbance. She says to Bounderby after hearing his intention of marrying Louisa that she hopes he would be happy after becoming the husband of Louisa. Bounderby is wondered to see Mrs. Sparsit’s coldness because he had not thought about this kind of her response in regard to his marriage with Louisa. She even does not disapprove rather easily gets ready to be shifted to the apartments of bank building because she may not feel comfortable after Louisa’s entry as a wife in the home of Bounderby who is expected to look after the homely jobs.

      Mrs. Sparsit’s response is particularly sympathetic to Mr. Bounderby who according to her, is going to meet misfortune in the shape of marrying Louisa. She says to Bounderby, “I fondly hope that Miss Gradgrind may be all your desire and deserve”. It seems Mrs. Sparsit has decided to show sympathy for Bounderby as ‘victim. Though she was polite, cheerful and optimistic towards him all the time yet this time she shows more because she thinks her employer is going to be a victim of marriage.

The “Bank Fairy” and “Bank Dragon”

      After Bounderby’s marriage, Mrs. Sparsit starts living in the apartments of bank building provided with all the amenities she is entitled to. Her utter sympathy for employer if still continued: “He had been married now a year, and Mrs. Sparsit had never released him from her determined pity a moment.” Her behavior at the bank lays this impression that she is the lady from aristocratic family. She moves and behaves gracefully at the office: “Seated, with her needle-work or knitting apparatus, at the window, she had a self-laudatory sense of correcting, by her lady - like deportment, the rude business aspect of the place.” She imagins herself as “the bank fairy’’ though the people outside look upon her as “the bank dragon: keeping a watch over her employer’s treasure.

Bitzer’s Service to Mrs. Sparsit

      Bitzer serves Mrs. Sparsit as a spy. He informs her about the activities of workers. At the bank Bitzer’s job is of porter and his duties include taking care of Mrs. Sparsit also. Being a clever and cunning lady she likes to listen what is happening in the bank. Thus she is well acquainted with what is going on in the bank and its day-to-day development through Bitzer’s report. One day when she is informed by Bitzer that workers are organizing themselves and making their union, Mrs. Sparsit says that employers should also be united to defeat any challenge by workers.

Mrs. Sparsit’s Shrewdness

      Mrs. Sparsit is so careful and clever that she has given strict instruction to Bitzer never to mention any name in the course of informing her about the bank affairs or other things. She says to him that factually Mr. Bounderby recognizes her family background completely and she will always remain loyal to him.

Her meeting with Harthouse

      When James Harthouse arrives in Coketown and searches for Mr. Bounderby, he meets Mrs. Sparsit at the bank. Here, Mrs. Sparsit finds opportunity to inform him that her husband was a “Powler”. She also informs him that she is the slave of circumstances and has adjusted herself to the ruling power of life. When Harthouse shows his eagerness to know about the wife of Bounderby, Mrs. Sparsit refers her as a “Chit not twenty when she was married.” It is very clear that she has no liking for Mrs. Bounderby. When Harthouse leaves her, she keeps on sitting at the window even after sunset. When Bitzer comes and says that her favorite sweet-bread is ready; Mrs. Sparsit awakens from her mediation and says, “Oh you fool!” But it is not clear whom she has subjected to it. Probably this is the most appropriate interpretation that she has missed the chance of winning the love of Harthouse.

A Comic Figure

      Mrs. Sparsit produces lots of comedies in the novel. Her behavior seems quite amusing on various occasions. For instance, she appears very soft and polite to Mr. Bounderby whenever he is present in front of her but becomes contemptuous to him and calls him a “noodle” while standing in front of his portrait. Thus she expresses excessive respect to him in his presence, but she makes fun of him in his absence. She is like the embodiment of hypocrisy. She pretends to be faithful to Mr. Bounderby but actually delightfully waiting for the coming misfortune in the shape of Louisa. In her imagination, she has built up a grand staircase and sees Mrs. Bounderby descending step by step towards the pit at the bottom. She closely observes each and every movement of Louisa like a hawk. Like a spy, she overhears the confession of Harthouse’s love made by him to Louisa. Immediately she reaches the conclusion that Louisa is going to elope with him. She immediately sets on for London to inform Bounderby that Louisa has eloped. She feels greatly embarrassed when Louisa is found in the house of her father Gradgrind, not eloped with Harthouse. She finds no way to escape except through tears. She starts shedding tears badly She finds her strategy failed and circumstances has defeated her.

Her Hypocrisy and Cool Temperament

      After the bank robbery when Mrs. Sparsit again starts living with Bounderby’s family in order to recover her normal state, all the time she keeps close watch over Mrs. Bounderby and does her best to please Mr. Bounderby through flattery and looking for his needs. Dickens says, She was a most wonderful woman for prowling about the house.” Another remarkable feature of Mrs. Sparsit is her cool-headedness in all kinds of circumstances. She never looses her breath and dignity in any condition. She is regarded by Dickens as “a pattern of consistency continuing to take such pity on Mr. Bounderby to his face as is rarely taken on man, and to call his portrait a noodle to its face with the greatest acrimony and contempt.”

Her I’ll-thoughts about Bounderby

      The greatest misfortune and defeat of Mrs. Sparsit’s life is seen in her efforts to drag Mrs. Pegler from her country-home to Bounderby’s house. She does it with the purpose of gaining special favor from Bounderby. Mrs. Pegler is suspected to be the helper of the robber. But the consequence of Mrs. Sparsit’s action proves too drastic for her. Mr. Bounderby is exposed as an imposter. Immediately he dismisses her (Mrs. Sparsit) but at the time of leaving after dismissal, Mrs. Spar sit’s reaction is quite noteworthy. She neither gets surprised nor shows the least sign of ally mental trouble. She remains cool as usual. This time she finds no reason any longer to keep her hatred for Mr. Bounderby a secret. At this time, she makes fun of him and says that everyone knows how wrong his judgment is, and now it has become the central point of discussion in the town. Just before leaving, Mrs. Sparsit, “with her Roman features like a medal stuck to common orate her scorn of Mr. Bounderby” examines him fixedly from top to toe and says she has the habit of addressing his portrait as a “noodle”. She further says, “Nothing that a noddle does can awaken surprise or indignation. The proceedings of a noodle can only inspire contempt.” Mr. Bounderby finds nothing to answer her.

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