Local MP and schoolmaster Thomas Gradgrind raises his children, Louisa and Tom, in the utilitarian fashion, stressing reason and fact and dismissing imagination and emotion. Under his influence, Louisa grows cold while Tom turns to a secret life of drinking and gambling. To be nearer her brother, Louisa accepts an offer of marriage from his boss, the self-mad, self-important banker Josiah Bounderby, though she does not love him. But soon finds herself succumbing to the attentions of the lothario James Harthouse. All the while, Mrs. Sparsit, a former aristocrat who now works for Bounderby, obsessively watches as the drama unfolds, longing for Louisa's downfall.