I haven't yet read Hard Times but it's coming up soon so I was particularly intrigued with the write up of this summer's Dickens Universe at UC/Santa Cruz in which the featured books were Hard Times and Mary Barton. I'm not sure why Mary Barton was chosen over North and South, but the review of the meeting at The Literature Compass Blog is very interesting, and this was my favorite part:
Tuesday morning’s lecture was delivered by Priti Joshi of the University of Puget Sound. With apologies to Helena Michie for not referring to “novels of poverty,” she explained that her title, “Synching Dickens with the Industrial Novel,” was derived from her recent foray into the technical revolution and the limitation of being able to “synch” her iPod to just one computer. The pressure to limit the ability to “synch” iPods, she explained, came from the music industry. With the ideas of “industry” and “pressure” in mind, why, she asked, did Dickens not write his industrial novel until 1854, after the popularity of such “social problem novels,” or “condition of England” novels, had passed? Disraeli, Kingsley, Eliot, Gaskell, Frances Trollope, and Charlotte Brontë had all written their social problem novels by 1849. In fact, Joshi argued, Hard Times marks the death of the industrial novel. And it is not a terribly good industrial novel at that. Dickens “addresses workers lopsidedly,” Joshi said. We learn nothing about the condition of Bounderby’s mill; in fact, the “fairy palaces” of the factories are merely a backdrop for the novel. But while Hard Times signals the death of the industrial novel, Gaskell’s North and South, which followed, is the culminating work of the genre.”
Judging from the rest of the review of the Dickens Universe, Dickensians are not all that appreciative of the surging tide of Gaskellians so it's nice to hear that North and South is recognized for the powerful work that it is. I can't wait to read Hard Times so that I can compare the two myself.