4 of Earth - Josiah Bounderby
with Tom & Louisa Gradgrind
Tom Gradgrind; Josiah Bounderby;
Louisa Bounderby née Gradgrind.
Josiah Bounderby cares nothing for human emotions, not because like his friend Thomas Gradgrind he believes is fact and mechanics over feeling, but because he cares for nothing other than money and power. As a self-made man who owns a bank and employs almost everyone in Coketown at his factory, Bounderby represents a capitalist and industrialist – a kind of new man created by the Industrial Revolution and the British Empire of Dickens' era. As such, Bounderby is a coarse, vain, self-interested hypocrite and fraud, whose ambitions verge into criminality.
With Bounderby as a boss, it's no wonder his workers want to strike. When Stephen Blackpool refuses to participate in strike action and is thrown out of the union, Bounderby approaches him to spy on his former workmates. When Stephen refuses this too and instead leaves town, Bounderby jumps to the conclusion that it was Blackpool who stole money from him, even though Stephen was his most loyal employee. And, as almost everyone in Hard Times but him knows, the thief was the man who framed Stephen - Bounderby's own brother-in-law, Tom Gradgrind.
That he is no judge of character is indication of how removed Bounderby is from anything human in nature. Having married Louisa Gradgrind, the daughter of his MP friend Thomas Gradgrind and 30 years his younger, Josiah Bounderby not only knows nothing about being a husband, he doesn't care to - openly bragging his wife is nothing more or less than property to him. This is why the loveless, childless Louisa is drawn to the disingenuous attentions of James Harthouse, a cad not unlike her brother Tom, who uses nihilism to justify his own perfidious lack of morals.
Because of her father's heartlessness and her brother's emotional blackmail, Louisa is trapped in a marriage with a man physically, emotionally, and spiritually repulsive. Bounderby is aware of this only inasmuch as he takes advantage of it. As a good woman surrounded by recreant men, poor Louisa is afforded an opinion and frankness denied most other Dickens heroines. She is possibly Dickens' first foray into a realistic woman having to deal with passionate and practical problems – a foray which, sadly, never went any further.
Josiah, meantime, turns out to be a complete bounder. For years, Bounderby – the so-called devotee of fact - has been promulgating a lie. Rather than the poor, deprived, abandoned waif he claims to have been, who worked his way painstakingly up from nothing by the sweat of his brow, Bounderby's mother reveals that her son had a decent, loving childhood and a good education. In this way, Dickens explodes the myth of the self-made man, the Protestant work ethic, and the capitalist fallacy of social Darwinism.
Shorthand : covetous cad - stable materially - mentally stale - monetary problems are over - deeper problems just beginning - the establishment of a financial empire - the establishment of a commercial empire - a human disconnect - centralization of power - possessions used to bolster one's ego - holding so tightly to the letter of the law it chokes to death the spirit - in the end: counterfeit and forged.