Mrs. Peerybingle Receives a Shock by Luigi Rossi (45). 1912. 11 x 15.2 cm, exclusive of frame. Dickens's The Cricket on the Hearth. A Fairy Tale of Home (A and F Pears edition). Most of the plates have titles in the "List of Illustrations" (11-12) that do not correspond to the captions beneath the illustrations themselves. Here, for example, a quotation augments the short title, and points to the exact moment that Rossi has realised: "A loud cry from the Carrier's wife . . . made the room sing like a glass vessel" (repeating a passage from the facing page, 44).

Context of the Illustration: Dot sees through the Disguise

"Good night, my dear friend!’ said Tackleton. . . . What’s that!"

It was a loud cry from the Carrier’s wife: a loud, sharp, sudden cry, that made the room ring, like a glass vessel. She had risen from her seat, and stood like one transfixed by terror and surprise. The Stranger had advanced towards the fire to warm himself, and stood within a short stride of her chair. But quite still.

"Dot!" cried the Carrier. "Mary! Darling! What’s the matter?"

They were all about her in a moment. Caleb, who had been dozing on the cake-box, in the first imperfect recovery of his suspended presence of mind, seized Miss Slowboy by the hair of her head, but immediately apologised.

"Mary!" exclaimed the Carrier, supporting her in his arms. "Are you ill! What is it? Tell me, dear!" ["Chirp the First," 44]


Rossi tackles the plot secret vigorously by showing Dot unconscious as the elderly stranger, recently John's passenger in the carrier's van, stares into the fireplace, oblivious to Dot's having fainted. The illustrator thus underscores the the shock that Dot has received, the shock of recognizing the young man beneath the disguise as Edward Plummer. John Leech and his team in the original 1845 edition had offered no such visual commentary on this inexplicable scene which intensifies the suspense surrounding the stranger. In the 1878 Household Edition volume of the Christmas Books Fred Barnard offers no hint about stranger's real identity; rather, he shows us the youth beneath the disguise in the intimate scene of Dot and Edward in Tackleton's storeroom in Suffering him to clasp her round the waist, as they moved silently down the dim wooden gallery in "Chirp the Second." Furniss in his 1910 lithograph The Shadow on the Hearth (above), which merely hints at some sort of rupture about to occur, implies that the source of the discord will be John's elderly houseguest, but the effect is certainly more subtle, and more ominous.

Instead of merely emulating the focussed character studies of previous illustrators such as Barnard (1878) and Charles Green (1892-95), Rossi invests the moment realised with a heavy undertone of domestic melodrama. Against a highly realistic stage set full of domestic realia — china on the sideboard, crockery and knicknacks on the mantle, paintings and furniture, Rossi presents Dot's fainting as a set stage piece, possibly inspired by his having seen a dramatic adaptation of The Cricket on the Hearth such as Dion Boucicault's Dot. The overturned chair (a detail which Dickens does not mention) just behind the couple suggests the suddenness of Dot's attack. The others in the parlour (Tilly, off-right, and Caleb and Tackleton's baggage-carrier in a linen smock-frock in the rear, before the window) exhibit as yet only mild concern, as if what has befallen Dot had not yet registered with them. In the final analysis, the reader, who is left with the conundrum of the stranger's aloofness, must re-read the text for a clue as to the source of the shock that the carrier's young wife has just suffered.

Relevant Illustrations from the 1845​ and Household editions

Left: Leech's John and Dot offers no suggestion that the quiet domestic scene that Dot is about to suffer some sort of emotional breakdown. Right: Barnard's 1878 wood-engraving of John's comfortable parlour: John Peerybingle's Fireside, without any suggestion of either the supernatural dimension or the domestic melodrama about to unfold.

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

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

Related Materials: Dot, A Dramatic Adaptation

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.]


Boucicault, Dion. Dot, A Drama in Three Acts. The British Library: The Lord Chamberlain's Collection: licensed 11/04/1859 [unpublished manuscript MSS53013E].

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.

Created 28 March 2001

Last modified 23 May 2020