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The Cricket on the Hearth

The Cricket on the Hearth is a novella by Charles Dickens, written in 1845. It is the third of Dickens' five Christmas books, the others being A Christmas Carol (1843), The Chimes (1844), The Battle of Life (1846), and The Haunted Man (1847). The original illustrations were by Daniel Maclise, John Leech, Richard Doyle, Clarkson Stanfield and Edward Landseer. It is sub-divided, not into chapters, but into three "Chirps".

Dickens began writing the book around October 17 and had finished it by December 1. Like all of Dickens' Christmas books, it was immediately published in book form, not as a serial.

Plot summary

John Peerybingle, a carrier, lives with his wife Dot (who is much younger than he), their baby, their nanny Tilly Slowboy, and a mysterious lodger. A cricket constantly chirps on the hearth and acts as a guardian angel to the family, at one point assuming a human voice to warn John that his suspicions that Dot is having an affair with the lodger are wrong.

The life of the Peerybingles frequently intersects with that of Caleb Plummer, a poor toymaker employed by the miser Mr. Tackleton. Caleb has a blind daughter Bertha, and a son Edward, who travelled to South America and seemingly never returned. Tackleton is now on the eve of marrying Edward's sweetheart, May.

In the end, the lodger is revealed to be none other than Edward. Tackleton's heart is melted by the Christmas season, like Ebenezer Scrooge, and surrenders May to marry her true love. It is suggested ambiguously that Bertha regains her sight at the end.

It has also been theorized that the ending paragraph is revealing the baby as the narrator of the story, which he would have been shown by the Cricket.

Characters in "The Cricket on the Hearth"

  • John Peerybingle - A carrier; a lumbering, slow, honest man.
  • Caleb Plummer - a poor old toymaker, in the employ of Tackleton.
  • Edward Plummer - son of the preceding.
  • Tackleton - (called "Gruff and Tackleton"), a stern, ill-natured, sarcastic toy-merchant.
  • May Fielding - a friend of Mrs. Peerybingle.
  • Mrs. Fielding - her mother; a little, peevish, querulous old lady.
  • Mrs. Mary Peerybingle - ("Dot"), John Peerybingle's wife
  • Bertha Plummer - the blind daughter of Caleb Plummer.
  • Tilly Slowboy - a great clumsy girl; Mrs. Peerybingle's nursemaid.

Literary significance & criticism

The book was a huge commercial success. It was the best-selling of all five of the Christmas books. Its sale at the outset doubled that of both its predecessors. However, critical reviews were mixed. The times of December 271845 said "We owe it to literature to protest against this last production of Mr. Dickens...Shades of Fielding and Scott! is it for such jargon as this that we have given your throne to one who cannot estimate his eminence?" However, William Makepeace Thackeray enjoyed the book immensely: "To us, it appears it is a good Christmas book, illuminated with extra gas, crammed with extra bonbons, French plums and sweetness... This story is no more a real story than Peerybingle is a real name!"

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

Dion Boucicault wrote a hugely successful adaptation of the tale for the stage, titled Dot, first performed at New York's Winter Garden in 1859. It launched the career of Joseph Jefferson.

The last play that V. I. Lenin ever saw was an adaptation of The Cricket on the Hearth, in 1922. He was so irritated by the sentimentality of the play that he walked out during the scene where Caleb and Bertha are introduced.

The great D.W. Griffith directed a silent version in 1909, starring Owen Moore. Another silent version was made in 1923.

The Italian composer Riccardo Zandonai wrote his opera Il grillo del focolare with a libretto by Cesare Hanau after The Cricket on the Hearth. It premiered in 1908.

Hungarian composer Karl Goldmark created the opera, Cricket on the Hearth (Das Heimchem am Herd). The American premiere was held in November 1912 in Philadelphia with American soprano Mabel Riegelman (1889 Cincinnati - 1967 Burlingame, California) singing the role of the cricket.

A 50-minute cartoon TV movie, featuring the voice of Roddy MacDowall as the Cricket, and father and daughter Danny and Marlo Thomas as Caleb and Bertha, was made in 1967.

Quotations

  • "The Kettle began it!" - Opening line
  • "To find a cricket on the hearth is the luckiest thing of all."
  • "But what is this! Even as I listen to them, blithely, and turn towards Dot, for one last glimpse of a little figure very pleasant to me, she and the rest have vanished into air, and I am left alone. A Cricket sings upon the Hearth; a broken child's toy lies on the ground; and nothing else remains. - Closing lines

External links

Online editions

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