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In her bed at Stone Lodge, Louisa recuperates from her trauma. Her father remorsefully pledges his support but acknowledges that he does not really know how to help her because he himself has never learned “the wisdom of the Heart.” Sissy lovingly vows to help Louisa learn how to feel and how to find happiness.
The day after Louisa’s arrival, Sissy takes it upon herself to visit James Harthouse, who has been in a nervous state since Louisa’s failure to appear at their tryst in Coketown. Sissy tells Harthouse that he will never see Louisa again and that he must leave Coketown and swear never to return. Baffled and feeling very ridiculous, Harthouse is able to resist neither Sissy’s simple, persuasive honesty nor her beauty; he grudgingly agrees to leave Coketown forever.
At the same time, Mrs. Sparsit, now stricken with a bad cold caught from her drenching in the rain, tells Bounderby what she witnessed between Louisa and Harthouse. Bounderby furiously drags Mrs. Sparsit to Stone Lodge, where he confronts Gradgrind about Louisa’s perceived infidelity. Gradgrind tells Bounderby that he fears he has made a mistake in Louisa’s upbringing, and he asks Bounderby to allow Louisa to remain at Stone Lodge on an extended visit while she tries to recover. He reminds Bounderby that as Louisa’s husband, he should try to do what is best for her. Bounderby, enraged, threatens to send back all of Louisa’s property, effectively abandoning her and placing her back in her father’s hands if she is not home by noon the next day. Gradgrind does not budge, and Louisa remains at Stone Lodge. Bounderby makes good on his threat and resumes his life as a bachelor.
Bounderby diverts his rage into the continuing efforts to find Stephen Blackpool. Slackbridge gives a speech blaming Stephen for the robbery, and the Hands are roused to track him down. One day, Louisa is paid a visit by Bounderby, her brother, and a sobbing Rachael, who protests that Stephen will return to clear his good name. Although she is loath to suspect Louisa of deceit, Rachael fears that Louisa’s previous offer of money was merely a cover for her plan to frame Stephen for the robbery. Rachael has sent Stephen two letters explaining the charges against him, and she claims that he will return to Coketown in one or two days. But a week passes, and still he does not return. His continued absence only increases suspicion against him.
At the beginning of Book the Third, Louisa and Mr. Gradgrind begin a process of emotional healing and discovery. The title of Chapter 1, “Another Thing Needful,” echoes the title of the first chapter of Book the First, “The One Thing Needful,” revealing that Gradgrind has realized that fact alone cannot sustain a happy and fulfilling existence. However, the healing process is very slow. Because Louisa and her father are so accustomed to living their lives according to the philosophy of fact, learning how to change their mode of thinking is difficult at this point. Thus, Mr. Gradgrind declares to Louisa: “The ground on which I stand has ceased to be solid under my feet.” Although he no longer believes that fact alone is necessary, he does not know exactly what else is needed to make Louisa happy. Recognizing that he is not a fit teacher for his daughter, Gradgrind hopes that Sissy will be able to help her. While Louisa fears that Sissy must hate her for her former coldness, Sissy is understanding and forgiving, as usual. Together with Louisa’s loving younger sister Jane, Sissy undertakes to restore happiness to Louisa’s life.
The meeting between Harthouse and Sissy indicates the importance of a character who has remained in the background for much of the novel. Through this meeting we are reminded of the values that Sissy represents—compassion, forgiveness, and joy. The narrator establishes a contrast between these values and the sophisticated Harthouse’s self-centered manipulation of other people. Indeed, the narrator relates that Sissy’s good-natured reproach touches Harthouse “in the cavity where his heart should have been.” In suggesting that Harthouse has no heart, the narrator suggests that he has not been motivated by evil intentions but rather by a lack of good intentions—Harthouse is amoral rather than immoral. Harthouse himself acknowledges that he had “no evil intentions” toward Louisa but merely “glided from one step to another” without realizing the emotional havoc that his seduction might cause.
Like Bounderby, Tom, and Mrs. Sparsit, Harthouse is motivated only by his own interest and does not consider how his actions might impact other people. Through these characters, Dickens again illustrates the moral dangers of a society that values fact more than feeling. Ultimately, Harthouse, the worldly cynic, is completely overpowered by Sissy Jupe, the loving innocent; he is easily sent away from Coketown, never to threaten Louisa again.
In this section of the novel, Dickens returns to the issue of the Hands’ unionization, again suggesting that unionization does not in fact unite individuals, but divides them, turning one person against another. While Slackbridge repeatedly addresses the other Hands as “fellow-countrymen,” “fellow-brothers,” “fellow-workmen,” and “fellow-citizens,” he ironically encourages them to exclude Stephen from their fellowship. Rather than supporting their fellow worker in his time of need, they disown him. Rachael sums up Stephen’s predicament when she declares despairingly: “The masters against him on one hand, the men against him on the other, he only wantin’ to work hard in peace, and do what he felt right. Can a man have no soul of his own, no mind of his own?” In his unfailing integrity and his desire for peace and harmony, Stephen becomes a martyr. He suffers not only for what he believes in but also for another person’s crime.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Hard Times!