Title to be discussed: First half of Hard Times by Charles Dickens.  Date of meeting: Monday, April 18, at 6:30 PM. Summary: Hard Times was a huge and immediate success upon publication in 1854. Yet this novel is not the cheerful celebration of Victorian life one might have expected from the beloved author of The Pickwick Papers and The Old Curiosity Shop.  Compressed, stark, allegorical, it is a bitter expose of capitalist exploitation during the industrial revolution --and a fierce denunciation of the philosophy of materialism, which threatens the human imagination in all times and places. With a typically unforgettable cast of characters--including the heartless fact-worshipper Mr. Gradgrind, the warmly endearing Sissy Jupe, and the eternally noble Stephen Blackpool--Hard Times carries a uniquely powerful message and remains one of the most widely read of Dickens’s major novels.