Book2 Chapters 9-12
Book the Second: Reaping
Mrs. Sparsit shows great interest in Harthouse's attempts to get to know Louisa. She also shows great solicitude to Bounderby, which has the effect of alienating him from his wife, and pushing Louisa closer to Harthouse. This is an effect that Mrs. Sparsit intends, since she has goodwill neither to Bounderby nor his wife.
Louisa returns to Stone Lodge, her father's home, to attend to her mother at the old woman's death.
Following the bank robbery, Mrs. Sparsit stays temporarily at Bounderby's country house. She takes pleasure in contemplating what she anticipates will be Louisa's fall. She observes Louisa and Harthouse from her window, talking together in the garden, and she continues to observe them day by day as their relationship develops.
When Bounderby goes away on business for a few days, Mrs. Sparsit spies on Louisa and Harthouse, who are alone together at Bounderby's country house. Mrs. Sparsit believes that Harthouse has deliberately arranged for Tom to be out of the house. She eavesdrops on the conversation between Louisa and Harthouse, listening as Harthouse tries to arrange a place for the two of them to meet in private, since Louisa has not welcomed him to the house. Putting his arm around her, he declares that he loves her.
When it starts to rain, Louisa goes into the house, soon to reemerge and leave. Mrs. Sparsit assumes Louisa is going to a secret meeting somewhere with Harthouse, and she follows her. Louisa takes a train to Coketown and Mrs. Sparsit does likewise. She expects that Louisa will wait for Harthouse, who will be riding back to Coketown on his horse. But at the railway station Mrs. Sparsit loses track of Louisa.
Louisa arrives at her father's house. Gradgrind is at home, since parliament is on vacation. Louisa pours out her feelings to him. She expresses regrets for the narrow way in which she was raised, without being allowed to cultivate any of the emotions, feelings or sensibilities that would have made her life worth living. She confesses that she hates her husband. Gradgrind is distressed at her words, since he had no idea that she was so unhappy. Louisa then confesses that she may be in love with Harthouse, although since she is inexperienced in such matters, she does not know for sure. She tells her father that Harthouse is expecting her at that very moment. She agreed to go somewhere to meet him because that was the only way she could get out of his presence. She begs her father to save her. Then she faints, falling at his feet.
This section is dominated by the crisis into which Louisa sinks, for which Dickens has been carefully laying the groundwork since the start of Book Two. The cause of the predicament in which Louisa finds herself is clear from the explanations she gives to her father, even though she does not wish to blame him. Everything goes back to the narrow principles on which she was raised. This upbringing has blighted her life and now everything has come to a head. It was probably inevitable that at some point in Louisa's life, someone would come along who would speak to the emptiness inside her and call up long buried dreams and emotions.
The incident in which Louisa confesses everything to her father is also the start of Gradgrind's rehabilitation. He must be given credit for the receptive, sympathetic way he listens to Louisa. From the beginning of the novel, Gradgrind has been presented as a less hard man than Bounderby. He is not unkind. His mistake was to adopt a foolish set of principles to live by.