Background.

Hard Times
  • A man made out of a coarse material, which seemed to have been stretched to make so much of him‘ is a quotation from Hard Times (Book 1, Chapter 4).
  • Hard Times – For These Times (more commonly now known as Hard Times) is the tenth novel by Charles Dickens. It first appeared in weekly parts, published in Household Words, from April to August 1854. The shortest of Dickens’ novels, the story is set in the fictitious northern English industrial mill-town of Coketown.

Context.

This quotation is a description of Josiah Bounderby in Hard Times. Bounderby, an uncaring businessman, is a best friend of Thomas Gradgrind.

Illustration from a later edition of Hard Times showing Stephen Blackpool being cared for after his fall into a mine-shaft.
Illustration from a later edition of Hard Times showing Stephen Blackpool being cared for after his fall into Old Hell Shaft, an abandoned mine-shaft on the outskirts of Coketown.

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Book 1, Chapter 4 (Mr. Bounderby) of Hard Times:

Not being Mrs. Grundy, who was Mr. Bounderby?

Why, Mr. Bounderby was as near being Mr. Gradgrind’s bosom friend, as a man perfectly devoid of sentiment can approach that spiritual relationship towards another man perfectly devoid of sentiment.  So near was Mr. Bounderby—or, if the reader should prefer it, so far off.

He was a rich man: banker, merchant, manufacturer, and what not.  A big, loud man, with a stare, and a metallic laugh.  A man made out of a coarse material, which seemed to have been stretched to make so much of him.  A man with a great puffed head and forehead, swelled veins in his temples, and such a strained skin to his face that it seemed to hold his eyes open, and lift his eyebrows up.  A man with a pervading appearance on him of being inflated like a balloon, and ready to start.  A man who could never sufficiently vaunt himself a self-made man.  A man who was always proclaiming, through that brassy speaking-trumpet of a voice of his, his old ignorance and his old poverty.  A man who was the Bully of humility.

A year or two younger than his eminently practical friend, Mr. Bounderby looked older; his seven or eight and forty might have had the seven or eight added to it again, without surprising anybody.  He had not much hair.  One might have fancied he had talked it off; and that what was left, all standing up in disorder, was in that condition from being constantly blown about by his windy boastfulness.

Characters.

Josiah Bounderby.

Factory-owner Josiah Bounderby is a business associate of Mr. Gradgrind. Given to boasting about being a self-made man, he employs many of the other central characters of the novel. He has risen to a position of power and wealth from humble origins (though not as humble as he claims). Bounderby marries Mr. Gradgrind’s daughter Louisa, some 30 years his junior, in what turns out to be a loveless marriage. They have no children. Bounderby is callous, self-centred and ultimately revealed to be a liar and fraud.

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A man made out of a coarse material, which seemed to have been stretched to make so much of him.
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