Roberta Writes: Dickens Novella Challenge – The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home #readingcommunity #Dickens

I am participating in the Dickens Novella Challenge which is being hosted by Marsha Ingrao from Always Write blog (this is her latest post for the challenge:; Trent McDonald from Trent’s world ( and Yvette Prior (

You can read my first post about A Christmas Carol here:

Today, I am chatting about the second novella I’ve read for this challenge called The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home.

You can read The Cricket on the Hearth here:

According to New York University: “The Cricket on the Hearth was the most popular of Dickens’s Christmas Books, which he wrote both to support his large family and to generate readers’ sympathy and charitable giving, often through characters who are poor, suffering, and/or physically disabled.”

This story is set within a small family comprising of John Peerybingle, a carrier, his much younger wife, Mary but called Dot, and their baby. The baby’s nanny, Tilly Slowboy, lives with them. A cricket chirps on the hearth and acts as a guardian angel to the family.

The story starts with with a setting of domesticity where the reader meets Dot who is filling the kettle in anticipating of her husband’s arrival home after a long days work. There is a lengthily and entertaining description of the kettle, which Dot struggles to fill, carry over to the hearth, and set it upon the fire.

The purpose of the scene would appear to be to demonstrate the happy character of Dot who is quickly restored to good humour despite her struggle with the cantankerous kettle. The kettle submits and starts to behave, entering into a singing challenge with the cricket as indicated by this quote:

“And here, if you like, the Cricket DID chime in! with a Chirrup, Chirrup, Chirrup of such magnitude, by way of chorus; with a voice so astoundingly disproportionate to its size, as compared with the kettle; (size! you couldn’t see it!) that if it had then and there burst itself like an overcharged gun, if it had fallen a victim on the spot, and chirruped its little body into fifty pieces, it would have seemed a natural and inevitable consequence, for which it had expressly laboured.”

John soon arrives home to this scene of domestic bliss, bringing with him a selection of parcels that he is either to deliver or which will be collected from his home. Dot soon comes across a spectacular wedding cake and learns that the local miser, Mr Tackleton, is to be married to her young and beautiful school friend, May.

Dot is clearly upset by this news and not long afterwards, John remembers and elderly man who travelled on his cart with him, and rushes out to bring him inside. The elderly gentleman asks if he can lodge with the Perrybingles for a few days. It quickly becomes evident that the elderly man’s presence had disturbed Dot greatly and her behaviour is quite unusual that evening.

The Perrybingle’s are also great friends with Caleb Plummer, a poor toymaker who works for Mr Tackleton, and Caleb’s blind daughter, Bertha. It is disclosed that Mr Plummer also had a son, Edward, who’d travelled to South America some years before and never returned. May was the sweetheart of Edward and is being compelled to marry Mr Tacklton by her overbearing and anxious mother.

The night before the wedding, Mr Tackleton tells John that his wife is cheating on him and manages to show him a secret scene in which Dot embraces the mysterious stranger.

The rest of the story is devoted to untangling these threads and restoring all parties to harmony and love.

This story is quite removed from Dickens’ usual stories filled with social criticism, current events, and other topical themes, and is, in his own words, it is “quiet and domestic […] innocent and pretty.”

The most interesting social theme in the story is Dickens’ description of Bertha, the blind daughter of Caleb Plummer. Caleb has mislead Bertha from birth, describing the hovel in which they live as being charming, and his selfish and tyrannical employer, Mr Tackleton, as being kind at heart. Poor misled Bertha has fallen in love with her father’s depiction of Mr Tackleton and is heartbroken by his engagement to May.

It is important to note that Bertha’s portrayal and love for Mr Tackleton are dependent on the assumption at the time of writing of this story that blind women did not marry. This belief arose due to the Victorian anxiety that disabilities like deafness and blindness were hereditary. Writers of the day liked to place blind women in courtship plots with the express intention that these courtships would not culminate in marriage.

According to New York University’s commentary on The Cricket on the Hearth: “Dickens’s representation of Bertha Plummer as tragically removed from the world of courtship participates in stereotypes about blindness and femininity that linger into the twentieth century. His extension of Bertha’s blindness to a cognitive dullness is an example of the sociological phenomenon of “spread,” in which one disability is assumed, without evidence, to produce impairment to other physical and mental functions.”

I did not know about this stereotyping of blind women, so this was new information to me.

A family scene with John, Dot, the baby, and Tilly Slowboy. Picture credit:

Relevant extract for this picture:

“It was pleasant to see Dot, with her little figure, and her baby in her arms: a very doll of a baby: glancing with a coquettish thoughtfulness at the fire, and inclining her delicate little head just enough on one side to let it rest in an odd, half-natural, half-affected, wholly nestling and agreeable manner, on the great rugged figure of the Carrier. It was pleasant to see him, with his tender awkwardness, endeavouring to adapt his rude support to her slight need, and make his burly middle-age a leaning-staff not inappropriate to her blooming youth. It was pleasant to observe how Tilly Slowboy, waiting inthe background for the baby, took special cognizance (though in her earliest teens) of this grouping; and stood with her mouth and eyes wide open, and her head thrust forward, taking it in as if it were air. Nor was it less agreeable to observe how John the Carrier, reference being made by Dot to the aforesaid baby, checked his hand when on the point of touching the infant, as if he thought he might crack it; and bending down, surveyed it from a safe distance, with a kind of puzzled pride, such as an amiable mastiff might be supposed to show, if he found himself, one day, the father of a young canary.”

The carrier’s cart – picture credit:
The kettle singing. Picture credit:

67 thoughts on “Roberta Writes: Dickens Novella Challenge – The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home #readingcommunity #Dickens

  1. I also have never read this story nor had I heard of it before your introduction, Robbie, which I enjoyed immensely. It might mean a trip to Amazon.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It does not surprise me that disabilities were misunderstood and punished–they still are, although perhaps not as harshly. It’s interesting that Dickens called the story a fairy tale, since it seems to reflect the realities of life in that era. Perhaps because of the happy ending? (K)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kerfe, I think it is a fairy tale because of the role of the cricket as a sort of guardian angel. A bit like the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio. The story does have a happy ending with all the issues resolved and even Mr Tackleton finds an element of happiness.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not going to devil’s advocate here but – 2 things. Squinting modifier alert – “The Perrybingle’s are also great friends with Caleb Plummer, a poor toymaker who works for Mr Tackleton, and his blind daughter, Bertha.” If one was unaware of the story they’d be left scratching their head as to who Bertha belonged.
    The whole blind issue at the time was much larger than a simple impediment but a literary and philosophical conversation. Anyone who believes this story devoid of Dickens’ usual social commentary misses the depth of it. “The element of blindness is wrought into The Cricket on the Hearth, not only because of Bertha’s physical impairment, but owing to its symbolic corollary, the multiple deceptions practised and suffered by almost all the characters in the story:” – Orestano.
    Dickens plucked Bertha directly from his “American Notes” published 3 years earlier – I’ll shut up and quote the author, hardly an indictment of blindness – It is strange to watch the faces of the blind, and see how free they are from all concealment of what is passing in their thoughts; observing which, a man with eyes may blush to contemplate the mask he wears. Allowing for one shade of anxious expression which is never absent from their countenances, and the like of which we may readily detect in our own faces if we try to feel our way in the dark, every idea, as it rises within them, is expressed with the lightning’s speed, and nature’s truth. If the company at a rout, or drawing-room at court, could only for one time be as unconscious of the eyes upon them as blind men and women are, what secrets would come out, and what a worker of hypocrisy this sight, the loss of which we so much pity, would appear to be!
    Now, you should be able to go here and get some “spread” on the literary uses of blindness in the late 19th and early 20th Century.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. HI Phil, thanks for pointing out my poor sentence structure. I shall fix it now. I had not idea about these views on disabilities and blindness and it is interesting and good to know. Than you for adding more information here and for the link. I will go there and find out more. Much appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not trying to be a smarty pants – I’ve said before that you have a large following and as such you owe it to readers if you’re going to step off book review go deep and get after it. You’re incredibly ambitious and curious. The reward for both is more than skin deep, even if clamoring through academic criticism isn’t the most fun thing in the world what we learn about contextuality makes the experience much richer.


  4. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this classic, Robbie. I never read this one, but it sounds like something I would enjoy. I love the name, Tilly Slowboy. 🙂 Dickens had quite the imagination.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was unfamiliar with this tale, Robbie, though the title somehow sounds familiar to me. What an interesting look into the story. I had no idea about blindness and deafness being considered heredity in earlier times. This was a most intriguing post!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree, Robbie, this novella was a departure from the more serious novels that Dickens had written in the past. Through its characters and its story, The Cricket on the Hearth offers a glimpse into the joys and struggles of family life and the importance of home. It also offered a message of hope and joy during the holiday season, which was a much-needed respite from the struggles of everyday life during the Victorian era. The novel was an important work for its time and continues to be relevant today. The discussion of blindness and other disabilities within Victorian society is a huge subject. The Cricket on the Hearth was a huge commercial success at the time. I believe that we can gain a greater understanding of the Victorian era through this story.

    A great review, Robbie – thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Jan, that is true, although people can have nice times even in unpleasant surroundings. Things like a warm fire are pleasant I think. Dickens has an extraordinary and powerful way of describing things which I am enjoying in these short novellas.


  7. Almost all of Dickens’ novellas are available through my library on Hoopla. I really should give them a try. Wonderful post Robbie, this definitely sounds like a realistic look at Victorian life.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Roberta, I have never ever heard of this novella or “The Cricket on the Hearth” and I thank your very much for your presentation, making me aware also of the fact that in those times blindness was another factor for being excluded from society and considered degenerated!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Martina, I didn’t know Dickens had five Christmas novellas and I was interested when I learned of them. Dickens’ depiction of Bertha, her disability, and all the characters reactions to her were intriguing which is why I investigated Bertha more extensively. This story is worth reading.


  9. what a great post, robbie
    I skimmed this book and was excited about the topic of disabilities and the social perceptions of the time. Your review was enjoyable and esp this:
    “…belief arose due to the Victorian anxiety that disabilities, like deafness and blindness, were hereditary. Writers of the day liked to place blind women in courtship plots with the express intention that these courtships would not culminate in marriage.”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’d never heard of this novella, Robbie, and it’s interesting that Dickens called it “quiet and pretty.” Not for Bertha, I guess. The information about Victorian beliefs regarding her disability (disabilities in general) was sad. Dickens was so compassionate toward the poor that I was a little surprised that he missed the boat and went with the stereotype. Great review of the read.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow, Robbie. You are moving at warp speed compared to me. I have yet to finish this novella (which is my first of three), and it was your second. And you work and are taking care of a family – I feel like such a slug 😉

    I agree with your insights. I am enjoying this novella very much, and this is the first time I’ve read it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Dan, I am enjoying these stories and they are short so I can read them quickly. It was also my first time reading this particular story and I found it very fascinating. On the surface, it was different from Dickens’ usual fare, but there are some deep themes even in this novella.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lauren, four of the five novella’s in this collection are new to me. I enjoyed this story and the information about blind women was interesting and sad. I loved the opening scene to The Battle of Life which I’ve just finished. The best battle scene I’ve ever read and read a lot of war books.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you for your lovely, thorough review of this novella – which is one that I haven’t read. And after reading your review, I think I should:)). I particularly enjoyed your explanation of the perception of blind women within Victorian society, which I hadn’t appreciated, either. I wonder if that social stigma meant the blinding of Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre gave it a weight that we no longer understand? I know he’s a man – but I always thought it seemed an unusually harsh outcome for the romantic hero.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Robbie, I agree with Dan, you move at warp speed. I’m just finishing my second review of The Battle of Life. I’m linking both of your reviews to that post. I did not know about the stigma about blindness, though it doesn’t surprise me. Even when I was a child, doctors warned me not to have children because they might have a harelip. Heredity was of great consideration for many generations. I think that’s why eugenics caught on with such a frenzy until the Nazis took it to its ultimate disgrace during World War II. Very interesting review. I’ll put it on my list for my next read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Marsha, that element of this book was new to me and I found it very interesting. There was a girl in my high school class at school who was born with a harelip. She had a family and her children were fine. My sons both have chronic illnesses and neither I nor my husband have either of their issues. I don’t think life necessarily works like that, but people knew a lot less in the Victorian era and they were very judgmental and hypocritical.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t know if you could call their ignorance hypocritical, but it was all they knew at the time. Modern medicine and the study of genetics was it is infancy. My first husband and his sister both had genetic issues – a rare enzyme deficiency that cause an early death for both of them. Neither parent had the disease, but both carried it. It was a recessive gene and they could have had 100 children and none would have been healthy. His mother lived to be 90.

        I’ve been reading the rules of the Old Testament. There was a definite trend to wipe out everything unclean and get rid of it. Three-day old meat was burned. People were also unclean and dealt with accordingly. Health issues, genetic, mental illness are all still mysteries of life.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi Marsha, yes, your words make perfect sense. People fear that which they don’t understand. Mental illness, in particular, has always been greatly misunderstood and yet, it is so prevalent. More now than ever before. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, they are enlightening.

          Liked by 1 person

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