This essay confronts an impasse in criticism of Charles Dickens's Hard Times (1854) by working to take the novel's principal weakness—its tediousness—seriously, not only as a matter of sociohistorical concern, but also as a strategy for literary representation. I situate the novel within a cultural history of boredom that originates in the eighteenth century, arguing that Hard Times represents an important moment in the synthetic development of a democratic conceptualization of this situated psychological condition. As such, the novel forges similarities across differences in class, professional, and gender identity, and models a form of collectivizing sympathetic attention that works against novelistic teleology to productively frustrate readerly pleasure. The essay works to challenge the factory/circus binary that so often dominates critical accounts of the novel, instead illuminating Dickens's ambivalent interest in this unlikely (because anti-energetic) source of textual energy. In locating boredom as the novel's guiding heuristic, I argue, we can better account for the affordances and limits of Hard Times' antiutilitarian critique as well as its politics of reading.

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