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The Cricket on the Hearth. A Fairy Tale of Home 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 and the Ghost’s Bargain (1847). The original illustrations were by Daniel Maclise, John Leech, Richard Doyle, Clarkson Stanfield and Edwin Henry Landseer. It is sub-divided into chapters which Dickens calls "Chirps", similar to the "Chimes" of The Chimes or the "Staves" of A Christmas Carol.

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. It was first published on December 20 by Bradbury and Evans. Dickens described the novel as "quiet and domestic .. innocent and pretty."

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 old stranger with a long white beard. 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 mysterious 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 traveled to South America and was thought dead. The miser Tackleton is now on the eve of marrying Edward's sweetheart, May, but she does not love Tackleton.

In the end, the mysterious lodger is revealed to be none other than Edward who has returned home in disguise. He marries May hours before she is scheduled to marry Tackleton. However Tackleton's heart is melted by the Christmas season, like Ebenezer Scrooge, and he surrenders May to her true love.

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 quickly going through two editions. Reviews were generally favorable, although some were critical. The Times of December 27, 1845 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!"

Dickens portrayal of the blind girl Bertha is significant. Victorians believed disabilities were inherited, and thus it was not socially acceptable for the blind to marry (although they often did in reality). In fiction courtship plots, the blind were often used to build tension since it was assumed they must be kept from marrying. The fictional portrayal of Bertha is similar to Dickens' description in American Notes (1842) of the deaf and blind girl Laura Bridgman, whom he saw on a visit to the Perkins Institution for the Blindmarker in Boston.

Modern scholars have given the story little attention, but Andrew Sangers has argued it contains similarities to Shakespeare's comedies and should be seen "both as a significant indication of the tastes of the 1840s and of Dickens himself."

It is suggested ambiguously that Bertha is the narrator and speaker in the last paragraph, and regains her sight at the end. It has also been theorized that the ending paragraph is revealing the baby as the narrator, the story revealed to it by the Cricket.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

An adaptation of The Cricket on the Hearth by Albert Richard Smith was produced with success at the Surrey Theatremarker in 1845.

Dion Boucicault wrote a hugely successful adaptation of the tale for the stage, titled Dot, A Drama in Three Acts (or simply Dot), first performed at New Yorkmarker's Winter Garden in 1859. It was produced repeatedly in Britain and America for the remainder of the 19th century starring at times John Toole, Henry Irving, and Jean Davenport. It helped launched the career of American actor Joseph Jefferson (1829-1905).

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 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.

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

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

A 25-min NBC radio play adaption aired on December 24, 1945. It mangled the original plot, contains no original Dickens text or dialogue, and abridged most of the characters and scenes out.

A 50-minute cartoon TV movie adaption, 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 by Rankin-Bass in association with Thomas/Spelling Productions. It begins with a live-action introduction by Danny himself, which gives us a brief history of the making of the story, then segues into cel animation. It deviates from the original story and is one of the lesser quality works by Rankin-Bass.

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


Notes

  1. Paul Schlicke, Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens, OUP, 1999. ISBN 0-19-866253-x
  2. Holmes, Martha Stoddard. Dickens, Charles: The Cricket on the Hearth. Web page sourced from Christmas Books (The New Oxford Illustrated Dickens) (1954)


External links

Online editions Adaptions


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