Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Cricket on the Hearth, by Charles Dickens

Turns out I am quite a Dickens ignoramus. I had never heard of The Cricket on the Hearth until Audible offered a recorded version free for Christmas. Then I learned that it was one of Dickens's five Christmas novellas--never knew there were others besides A Christmas Carol.  It has a few passing resemblances to that better-known work: there's a character with a physical disability ("the blind girl"), poverty, a slightly magical element (the cricket of the title is a guardian angel of sorts), and a curmudgeon who is converted to cheerfulness. Overall, however, it's more of a romantic comedy, complete with a disguised lover and a mistaken assumption about who is in love with the young man pretending to be an old vagabond. I hate that kind of plot device meant to create suspense and comedy but only (for me) sparking irritation. I realize Shakespeare used such ploys often in his comedies, but I don't care . . . I remain unmoved.

The only part of the story that I found at all interesting was the dilemma faced by Caleb Plummer, an impoverished toymaker who loves his daughter Bertha  (the blind girl) so much that he paints their world and the people in it in glowing terms. To his horror, his prevarications cause her to fall in love with his boss, the mean-spirited Mr. Tackleton. He faces the dilemma of whether to allow her to pine for an unworthy man or to tell her the truth. Of course, everything is resolved pleasantly, in this conflict and the entire story.

The Cricket on the Hearth was evidently quite popular (and ergo profitable) at the time of its publication in 1845. It didn't work for me, but it and a Nick Hornby book I'm reading in which he goes into raptures about Dickens are making me think I ought to read some of the more substantial novels--I'm actually not sure if I've read anything other than Tale of Two Cities. Such a philistine!

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