John Peerybingle and the Household Spirits by Luigi Rossi (103). 1912. 11 x 13.2 cm, exclusive of frame. Dickens's The Cricket on the Hearth, A and F Pears. This is one of just three plates whose titles in the "List of Illustrations" (11-12) do not correspond to the captions beneath the illustrations themselves. Here, a quotation augments the short title, and points to the exact moment that Rossi has realised: "They never showed her otherwise than beautiful and bright, for they were Household Spirits to whom Falsehood is annihilation" (repeating a passage from the following page, 104). The picture in essence introduces the Carrier's vision.

Context of the Illustration

And while the Carrier, with his head upon his hands, continued to sit meditating in his chair, the Presence stood beside him, suggesting his reflections by its power, and presenting them before him, as in a glass or picture. It was not a solitary Presence. From the hearthstone, from the chimney, from the clock, the pipe, the kettle, and the cradle; from the floor, the walls, the ceiling, and the stairs; from the cart without, and the cupboard within, and the household implements; from every thing and every place with which she had ever been familiar, and with which she had ever entwined one recollection of herself in her unhappy husband’s mind; Fairies came trooping forth. Not to stand beside him as the Cricket did, but to busy and bestir themselves. To do all honour to her image. To pull him by the skirts, and point to it when it appeared. To cluster round it, and embrace it, and strew flowers for it to tread on. To try to crown its fair head with their tiny hands. To show that they were fond of it and loved it; and that there was not one ugly, wicked or accusatory creature to claim knowledge of it — none but their playful and approving selves. [Chapter Three, "Chirp the Third," 101-2]

Although the shadow of the Stranger fell at intervals upon the glass — always distinct, and big, and thoroughly defined — it never fell so darkly as at first. Whenever it appeared, the Fairies uttered a general cry of consternation, and plied their little arms and legs, with inconceivable activity, to rub it out. And whenever they got at Dot again, and showed her to him once more, bright and beautiful, they cheered in the most inspiring manner.

They never showed her, otherwise than beautiful and bright, for they were Household Spirits to whom falsehood is annihilation; and being so, what Dot was there for them, but the one active, beaming, pleasant little creature who had been the light and sun of the Carrier's Home! [Chapter Three, "Chirp the Third," 104-58]


Like Richard Doyle in 1845 and C. E. Brock in in 1905 Rossi responds to John Perrybingle's anguish by turning to the well-established Victorian fairy painting and illustration. Like them he depicts a fantasy element entering realistic picture space. As a relative newcomer to both London and British book-illustration, Rossi may not have been aware of the theatrical history of this discovery scene. In Dion Boucicault's celebrated adaptation of the novella, Dot! (first produced in 1859), for instance, the Queen of the Fairies, Home, serves as a chorus, and appears in a spectacular "reveal" or pantomime transformation through the opening of the fireplace at this point in the drama.

Left: Richard Doyle’s Chirp the Third (1845). Centre: Fred Barnard's title-page vignette for The Cricket on the Hearth. Right: C. E. Brock's headpiece for “Chirp the Third.”

In contrast, John Leech, one of the 1845 illustrators, had created a realistic scene emphasizing the middle-aged carrier's wrestling with the revellation of adultery as did Harry Furniss.

John Leech’s John's Reverie (1845). Right: Harry Furniss's 1910 pen-and-ink drawing transferred to lithograph, The Vacant Stool (1910).

Although the British Household Edition illustrator, Barnard, had provided later illustrators such as C. E. Brock (1905), Furniss (1910), and Rossi (1912) with an image of Tackleton's showing the supposed lovers together in the gallery of his counting-house, he offered no realisation of this fairy-vision. In the 1848 edition, Richard Doyle shows John in despair, a visual melodrama with his shotgun at his knee as fairies swirl about him. In the same volume, John Leech treats the scene more realistically and more atmospherically, with John in the darkness of doubt as he contemplates using firearm propped against the fireplace. Rossi's image of the carrier here is consistent with his previous appearances, which are also consistent with Doyle's John, who wears britches and a fustian coat. Unlike Leech and Brock, Rossi omits the symbol of the vacant stool, but includes Dot, opposite John, before an illuminated rather than darkened fireplace grate. Nowhere before Rossi's series had an illustrator captured the metaphysical dimensions of John's long night of emotional agony so fully. Rossi's interpretation of this fairy revelation could have drawn on both visual and dramatic traditions, but he offers no embedded clues as to his having done so. Rossi's theatrical interpretation in the Pears Centenary Edition, in contrast to previous interpretations of the overwrought scene early in "Chirp the Third," spectacularly realizes John's vision of a solid Dot, knitting by the fire and surrounded by at least eight diaphanous, swirling fairies.

Rossi uses the backdrop, the fireplace, for visual continuity, establishing that this is the same happy domestic space we have seen in the frontispiece, The Song of the Kettle (17), Mrs. Peerybingle Receives a Shock (45), and, in particular, The Apparition that the Carrier did not see (50). Rossi focuses upon the solid, hunched figure of the anguished figure of the husband, the grate beside his knee, and the leader of the fairy visitors. What is unclear (aside from the shapes swirling about John and Dot) is where or to what the chief fairy is pointing. Apparently, this leader is directing the reader's gaze (rather than John's) to the Carrier himself and two etherial figures behind him. But these young female forms do not represent the disguised or genuine image of the Stranger. Perhaps Rossi intends the figure wearing the flowers to represent the imminent bridge, May Fielding, and the other, leaning in towards John, Dot. The illustration, therefore, raises questions rather than simply reifies the text. Rossi seems to be intending that the reader interrogate the illustration, and, by implication, Dot's supposed infidelity.

Illustrations for the Other Volumes of the Pears' Centenary Christmas Books (1912)

Each contains about thirty illustrations from original drawings by Charles Green, R. I. — Clement Shorter [1912]

Related Materials

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Bolton, H. Philip. "The Cricket on the Hearth (1845)."Dickens Dramatized. London & Boston: Mansell & G. K. Hall, 1987. 273-95.

Boucicault, Dion. "Dot: A Drama in Three Acts. 10 April 1862. Add. MS. 53013 (E). Licensed 11/04/1859. The Lord Chamberlain's Manuscript Collection, The British Library, London.

Dickens, Charles. The Cricket on the Hearth. A Fairy Tale of Home. Illustrated by John Leech, Daniel Maclise, Richard Doyle, Clarkson Stanfield, and Edwin Landseer. Engraved by George Dalziel, Edward Dalziel, T. Williams, J. Thompson, R. Graves, and Joseph Swain. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1846 [December 1845].

_____. The Cricket on the Hearth. Illustrated by L. Rossi. London: A & F Pears, 1912.

Morley, Malcolm. "The Cricket on the Stage." Dickensian 48 (1952): 17-24.

Created 28 March 2001

Last modified 18 July 2020