BOOK THE FIRST
Mrs. Sparsit is Bounderby's housekeeper. Connected to the local aristocracy, she married well, but her husband wasted his money and his life on drink, and died young. Now penniless, she is forced to work for Bounderby, who shows her off to the world as a great trophy, proof of how far he has come in the world. Having as housekeeper a woman so well-bred and highborn is a subject of great pride to him, and he is as vocal about the prestige of her past as he is about the poverty of his own upbringing.
Mrs. Sparsit (together with another character who appears later) represents the aristocracy in the allegorical design of the novel. Dickens held this class in great contempt for what he saw as their snobbery, laziness, and self-importance.
At breakfast, Bounderby thinks about Gradgrind's decision to take control of Sissy's future. For the moment Sissy is staying at the Bounderby house to prevent her from influencing Louisa in any harmful way. His thoughts turn to Louisa's brother Tom, whom Bounderby intends to take into the banking business after the youth's education has finished.
NOTE: Characters in Dickens novels are often highlighted by one or two physical features that become their trademarks. Mrs. Sparsit, for example has a "Coriolanian nose," named after Coriolanus, a Roman general of the fifth century B.C. A Roman nose might indicate nobility and power, but not necessarily beauty in Mrs. Sparsit's case. Other examples of these traits include Gradgrind's deep- set "cave-like" eyes, Bitzer's lack of color, Louisa's emotionless expression. See what others you can find as you read the character descriptions.
It's important to note the relationship between Bounderby and Mrs. Sparsit. Bounderby never tires of contrasting their pasts, and Mrs. Sparsit can only agree. Is Bounderby being cruel to remind her of how far she's fallen? Or is he unaware of her feelings, only concerned with boosting his own ego? Whatever point of view you choose, Bounderby does not come off favorably.
Louisa arrives with her father, who announces his decision to take Sissy into his household to look after the ailing Mrs. Gradgrind after school. He will use Sissy as an example of how one so badly raised can still be educated and "formed" into a respectable person. Bounderby repeats his objection to the plan, but as for Louisa, she has nothing to say, either in favor of Sissy or against her.
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