ABSTRACT

Near the beginning of Dickens’s Hard Times (1854), Thomas Gradgrind, a retired hardware merchant who acts as school governor, asks Sissy Jupe, one of the students at his school, to define a horse. Sissy has lived with horses all her life since her father “belongs to the horse-riding” (4), as she tells Mr. Gradgrind, a man so full of facts that he would presumably not fail to know a horse from his elbow. Yet, Sissy is unable to produce an adequate answer. Bitzer, one of Sissy’s classmates who is trained in facts, facts, facts, defines it thus: “Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, shed hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth” (5). Satisfied with this answer, Gradgrind goes on to ask the school children if one ought to paper a room with representations of horses. Horses do not “in fact” walk up and down the sides of rooms and therefore, he says, pictures of horses must not be used to paper walls. On his way home, he is surprised to find his children, the “metallurgical Louise” and the “mathematical Tom,” trying to catch a glimpse of the equestrian spectacle staged by “Sleary’s Horse-riding,” the circus where the Jupes work. Louisa, who is “tired of everything,” says that they just wanted to know what it was like. They too are trying to define a horse.