Literature Annotations


Dickens, Charles
The Cricket on the Hearth


On-Line Text
Genre Novella (75 pp.)
KeywordsBlindness, Disability, Empathy, Family Relationships, Father-Daughter Relationship, Loneliness, Love, Marital Discord, Poverty, Sexuality, Suffering
Summary

Blind dolls' dressmaker Bertha Plummer is the center of a significant subplot to this story of marriage and deception. Bertha and her toymaker father, Caleb, live in squalor in a "little cracked nutshell" house and work for hardhearted Tackleton. Caleb has convinced Bertha that their cottage and their employer are both charming. She falls in love with Tackleton and is traumatized by his engagement to another.

Caleb's confession of his well-meaning deceit compounds her suffering. Bertha's literal blindness parallels the figurative blindness in the main plot, in which Dot Peerybingle's innocent secrets make her husband John suspect she loves another. The story ends in reconciliation and happiness all around; Bertha plays the harp while the others dance.

Commentary

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 fictional portrayal is similar to Dickens's 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 Blind in Boston. The pathos of Bertha Plummer's love for Tackleton depends on the assumption that blind women do not marry. Non-fiction of the time documents both the fact that blind women did marry, and the severity of Victorian anxiety about hereditary transmission of disabilities. These fears made it both exciting to place blind women in courtship plots and imperative to keep them from achieving marriage.

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.

SourceChristmas Books (The New Oxford Illustrated Dickens)
PublisherOxford Univ. Press
Edition1954
Place PublishedOxford
Alternate SourceThe Christmas Books: Vol. 2
Alternate PublisherViking
Alternate Edition1971
Alternate EditorsMichael Slater
Place PublishedNew York
MiscellaneousFirst published separately 1845; published in 1852 with four other stories as Christmas Books.
Annotated by Holmes, Martha Stoddard
Date of Entry 05/18/98