The Cricket on the Hearth. Charles Dickens. 1845. 84 pages. [Source: Bought]
First sentence: The kettle began it! Don’t tell me what Mrs. Peerybingle said. I know better. Mrs. Peerybingle may leave it on record to the end of time that she couldn’t say which of them began it; but, I say the kettle did. I ought to know, I hope! The kettle began it, full five minutes by the little waxy-faced Dutch clock in the corner, before the Cricket uttered a chirp.
Premise/plot: This novella doesn't have chapters, it has chirps. Readers meet a happily married couple with a baby: Mr. and Mrs. Peerybingle. (His name is John. Her name is Dot). The couple's wedding anniversary is nearing, and an acquaintance of theirs is soon to be wed. But Tackleton, the groom-to-be is nothing like John. And the bride-to-be, May, is not in love. Tackleton knows this, and is rather proud. He feels Mr. Peerybingle is foolish for loving his wife as he does, and plants seeds of doubt in his mind. Does Dot really truly love him? Or is he blinded by his own love for her? Could his wife even be carrying on with another man behind his back?!
Mr. Peerybingle is not quite as bad as Othello in terms of jealousy. But is that because he's got a Cricket in the hearth watching over his home and preventing the worst of it?! Perhaps. His wife is keeping a secret from her husband, but, it's a good secret. One concerning a friend. She isn't the only one with a secret that's a burden.
Caleb Plummer has been lying to his blind daughter, Bertha, for YEARS. The biggest lie of all is that the man who employs them to make toys--Tackleton--is a kind, good, pleasant man. The problem is, he's mean, inconsiderate, and extremely UNpleasant. She's fallen in love with a lie--a man of her father's creation. Her heart is breaking that Tackleton is marrying.
With Dot's help, Caleb is going to tell her the truth. John will learn the truth as well; some details come from his wife, but others come from the Cricket and the household fairies.
Will May and Tackleton marry? Or does the day hold surprises of its own?
My thoughts: This was my first time to read The Cricket on the Hearth. It had its worrying moments. In the hand of Thomas Hardy, I don't think I could have gone on. John has to walk down a dark valley and be sorely tempted. This one could easily have gone the way of Othello. Fortunately, Dickens did not go that route! Perhaps because this one provides such a contrast of human emotion, the happy ending was all the more joyful.
- The kettle had had the last of its solo performance. It persevered with undiminished ardour; but the Cricket took first fiddle and kept it. Good Heaven, how it chirped! Its shrill, sharp, piercing voice resounded through the house, and seemed to twinkle in the outer darkness like a star. There was an indescribable little trill and tremble in it, at its loudest, which suggested its being carried off its legs, and made to leap again, by its own intense enthusiasm. Yet they went very well together, the Cricket and the kettle. The burden of the song was still the same; and louder, louder, louder still, they sang it in their emulation.
- When she came back, and sat down in her former seat, the Cricket and the kettle were still keeping it up, with a perfect fury of competition. The kettle’s weak side clearly being, that he didn’t know when he was beat. There was all the excitement of a race about it. Chirp, chirp, chirp! Cricket a mile ahead. Hum, hum, hum — m — m! Kettle making play in the distance, like a great top. Chirp, chirp, chirp! Cricket round the corner. Hum, hum, hum — m — m! Kettle sticking to him in his own way; no idea of giving in. Chirp, chirp, chirp! Cricket fresher than ever. Hum, hum, hum — m — m! Kettle slow and steady. Chirp, chirp, chirp! Cricket going in to finish him. Hum, hum, hum — m — m! Kettle not to be finished. Until at last they got so jumbled together, in the hurry-skurry, helter-skelter, of the match, that whether the kettle chirped and the Cricket hummed, or the Cricket chirped and the kettle hummed, or they both chirped and both hummed, it would have taken a clearer head than yours or mine to have decided with anything like certainty.
- Tackleton the Toy-merchant, pretty generally known as Gruff and Tackleton — for that was the firm, though Gruff had been bought out long ago; only leaving his name, and as some said his nature, according to its Dictionary meaning, in the business — Tackleton the Toy-merchant, was a man whose vocation had been quite misunderstood by his Parents and Guardians.
- ‘We have arranged to keep our Wedding-Day (as far as that goes) at home,’ said John. ‘We have made the promise to ourselves these six months. We think, you see, that home —’ ‘Bah! what’s home?’ cried Tackleton. ‘Four walls and a ceiling! (why don’t you kill that Cricket? I would! I always do. I hate their noise.) There are four walls and a ceiling at my house. Come to me!’ ‘You kill your Crickets, eh?’ said John. ‘Scrunch ’em, sir,’ returned the other, setting his heel heavily on the floor. ‘You’ll say you’ll come? it’s as much your interest as mine, you know, that the women should persuade each other that they’re quiet and contented, and couldn’t be better off. I know their way. Whatever one woman says, another woman is determined to clinch, always. There’s that spirit of emulation among ’em, sir, that if your wife says to my wife, “I’m the happiest woman in the world, and mine’s the best husband in the world, and I dote on him,” my wife will say the same to yours, or more, and half believe it.’
- Caleb and his daughter were at work together in their usual working-room, which served them for their ordinary living-room as well; and a strange place it was. There were houses in it, finished and unfinished, for Dolls of all stations in life. Suburban tenements for Dolls of moderate means; kitchens and single apartments for Dolls of the lower classes; capital town residences for Dolls of high estate. Some of these establishments were already furnished according to estimate, with a view to the convenience of Dolls of limited income; others could be fitted on the most expensive scale, at a moment’s notice, from whole shelves of chairs and tables, sofas, bedsteads, and upholstery. The nobility and gentry, and public in general, for whose accommodation these tenements were designed, lay, here and there, in baskets, staring straight up at the ceiling; but, in denoting their degrees in society, and confining them to their respective stations (which experience shows to be lamentably difficult in real life), the makers of these Dolls had far improved on Nature, who is often froward and perverse; for, they, not resting on such arbitrary marks as satin, cotton-print, and bits of rag, had superadded striking personal differences which allowed of no mistake.
- When, suddenly, the struggling fire illumined the whole chimney with a glow of light; and the Cricket on the Hearth began to Chirp! No sound he could have heard, no human voice, not even hers, could so have moved and softened him. The artless words in which she had told him of her love for this same Cricket, were once more freshly spoken; her trembling, earnest manner at the moment, was again before him; her pleasant voice — O what a voice it was, for making household music at the fireside of an honest man! — thrilled through and through his better nature, and awoke it into life and action.
- ‘All things that speak the language of your hearth and home, must plead for her!’ returned the Cricket. ‘For they speak the truth.’
- Friends, one and all, my house is very lonely to-night. I have not so much as a Cricket on my Hearth. I have scared them all away. Be gracious to me; let me join this happy party!’ He was at home in five minutes. You never saw such a fellow. What HAD he been doing with himself all his life, never to have known, before, his great capacity of being jovial! Or what had the Fairies been doing with him, to have effected such a change!
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