The Shadow on the Hearth
14.4 x 9.1 cm framed
Second illustration for The Cricket on the Hearth in Christmas Books, Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910), vol. 8, facing page 176.
Reading the illustration and caption proleptically — for the passage realised occurs some ten pages after the illustration — one is utterly misled as to the relationship that Dickens will obliquely reveal between the young stranger (disguised as an elderly traveller) and the young wife. [Commentary continued below.]
[Click on image to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
[You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
And as he soberly and thoughtfully puffed at his old pipe, and as the Dutch clock ticked, and as the red fire gleamed, and as the Cricket chirped; that Genius of his Hearth and Home (for such the Cricket was) came out, in fairy shape, into the room, and summoned many forms of Home about him. Dots of all ages, and all sizes, filled the chamber. Dots who were merry children, running on before him gathering flowers, in the fields; coy Dots, half shrinking from, half yielding to, the pleading of his own rough image; newly-married Dots, alighting at the door, and taking wondering possession of the household keys; motherly little Dots, attended by fictitious Slowboys, bearing babies to be christened; matronly Dots, still young and blooming, watching Dots of daughters, as they danced at rustic balls; fat Dots, encircled and beset by troops of rosy grandchildren; withered Dots, who leaned on sticks, and tottered as they crept along. Old Carriers too, appeared, with blind old Boxers lying at their feet; and newer carts with younger drivers ('Peerybingle Brothers' on the tilt); and sick old Carriers, tended by the gentlest hands; and graves of dead and gone old Carriers, green in the churchyard. And as the Cricket showed him all these things — he saw them plainly, though his eyes were fixed upon the fire — the Carrier's heart grew light and happy, and he thanked his Household Gods with all his might, and cared no more for Gruff and Tackleton than you do.
But, what was that young figure of a man, which the same Fairy Cricket set so near Her stool, and which remained there, singly and alone? Why did it linger still, so near her, with its arm upon the chimney-piece, ever repeating "Married! and not to me!"
O Dot! O failing Dot! There is no place for it in all your husband's visions; why has its shadow fallen on his hearth! ["Chirp the First," p. 184-185; caption emphasized]
Detail from Title-page Border
Reading or rather misreading this illustration and its caption, one concludes that the pair are about to initiate an adulterous affair, when they are merely school friends.
In the ornamental title-page, Furniss prepares the reader for Cricket illustrations involving four sets of characters: John's reception by his young wife as he arrives home (top); Tilly Slowboy in her rocker; Caleb Plummer in his burlap coat and Bertha working on toys; Tackleton's acknowledging the marriage of May and Philip (bottom). These vignettes are ordered in terms of their sequence in the story, but also suggest a hierarchy of importance. The original novella highlighted the significance of John Peerybingle's hearth by placing Daniel Maclise's ornate frontispiece first, juxtaposing the fairy-cricket's visions of the future in the top register with the domestic bliss of the bottom register, in which the couple quietly enjoy each other's company as fairies attend them and rock the baby's cradle. However, other depictions of the Peerybingles in the 1845 novella minimze or entirely eliminate the fairy dimension, elevating the rural, lower-middle-class home as a subject worthy of literary investigation without the supernatural apparatus of the previous Christmas Books.
Instead of the charming details of the carrier's parlour, including the kettle on the hob, Furniss has focused on the closeness of the couple, who, despite the disparity in their ages (as signified by John's white hair) share their reverie before the fire. What matters is their thoughtful response, not the circumstances, so that Furniss — unlike his predecessors — provides just one significant background element, the Dutch clock, and offers no sentimental fairies, no faithful Boxer sleeping at their feet, and no infant in his cradle. A brilliant Impressionistic touch is the shadow which Dickens mentions, but which Furniss projects as if the shadow is in the back if the couple's minds, the shadow of a young man leaning on the angle, and transforms it into a symbol of anxiety, of adultery and disloyalty. Furniss conceives of John and Dot in contemporary terms, modelled and physically close — and looking like figures drawn from the fin de siecle illustrated magazines; moreover, this John Peerybingle is solidly middle-class, in jacket and cravat rather than a Dorset labourer's linen smock-frock, and this Dot is not so diminutive or immature, although her hair style is identical to that of Dot in the original, 1845 illustrations.
The corporate approach to illustration in the 1845 novella meant that each illustrator had a slightly different conception of John Peerybingle, and even Leech's illustrations show differences, so that John is slender and largely bald in "John and Dot" but a long- haired, rugged giant in "The Dance". And of course the Johns of Richard Doyle and Daniel Maclise are quite different again: respectably-clad bourgeois businessmen (as in Doyle's "Chirp the First") rather than rugged rustics. Furniss received additional guidance from Household Edition illustrator Fred Barnard, whose solidly-framed, middle-aged carrier in "John Peerybingle's Fireside" is rather more robust and outgoing than Furniss's contemplative philosopher, but is dressed in a manner very similar to Furniss's, including fustian jacket, gaiters, and boots. But the mood in Furniss's dual character is somber rather than joyful as John's pipe goes untasted, and his wife is far more serious as she considers the implications of Philip Plummer's unexpected return from the sea just as his childhood sweetheart is about to marry the richest man in the village.
Images of The Peerbingles in the Original and Household Editions
Left: John Leech's "John and Dot" (1845); left of centre: Leech's "The Dance"; right of centre: E. A. Abbey's "'Ain't he beautiful, John?" (1876); right: Fred Barnard's "John Peerybingle's Fireside" (1878). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Bolton, H. Philip. "The Cricket on the Hearth." Dickens Dramatized. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. Pp. 273-295.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio U. P., 1980.
Dickens, Charles. The Cricket on the Hearth. A Fairy Tale of Home. Il. John Leech, Richard Doyle, Daniel Maclise, Edwin Landseer, and Clarkson Stanfield. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1845 [dated 1846].
Dickens, Charles. The Christmas Books. Il. Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Co., 1910. Vol. 8.
Dickens, Charles. The Christmas Books. Il. Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. 16 vols. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books. Il. Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
Kurata, Marilyn J. "Fantasy and Realism: A Defense of The Chimes."Dickens Studies Annual 13 (1984): 19-34.
Morley, Malcolm. "'The Cricket' on the Stage."Dickensian 48 (1952): 17-24.
Solberg, Sarah A. "'Text Dropped into the Woodcuts': Dickens' Christmas Books." Dickens Studies Annual 8 (1980): 103-118.
Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and The Short Story. Philadelphia: U. Pennsylvania Press, 1987.
Last modified 27 June 2013