Hard Times is a novel that I am currently teaching to my BA (1st) year students. The important characters are Thomas Gradgrind, Josiah Bounderby, Sissy Jupe, Stephen Blackpool, Tom Gradgrind, Louisa Gradgrind... also Slackbridge to some extent.
You can find a good study guide along with the text at Bibliomania.com and you can find another copy of the complete text at Project Gutenberg. The novel is divided into three parts, Sowing, Reaping and Garnering, which are to some extent self-evident. The first chapter is titled "The One Thing Needful", while the second chapter is titled, "Murdering the Innocents".
The novel begins with this memorable paragraph:
'NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!' (The emphasis is mine)
and on the first page itself, you have another very interesting insight:
The speaker, and the schoolmaster, and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim. (The emphasis is mine)
I'll continue with my thoughts and notes about the novel in small instalments, so that you would enjoy reading it.