The Hearth Cricket

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The typical British home will have three things: A black pudding, a hearth cricket and a hole in the wall punched by Jason Statham during one of his famous benders. Now, black puddings are too disgusting to talk about; and, I hear Statham gets pretty nuts when people make fun of him, so I’ll confine my remarks to the hearth cricket…

Crickets have long been considered to bring good fortune, although torturing one until your luck changes has never really worked. The song of the cricket is a symbol of leisure and happiness and also a good indicator that you left a window open. The Chinese felt this way as did many Native Americans. In China, crickets were kept in little cages to keep them from running away and giving good luck to the guy down the block. American Indians, on the other hand, would set the crickets up in little apartments and pay their utility bills under an assumed name. Note that historically, neither the Chinese nor the American Indians have had a lot of what you might call “luck”, but I think it is unfair to put all the blame on the crickets.

It took Charles Dickens to bring this bit of supernatural insect worship to England with his novella The Cricket on the Hearth. It is the story of John Peerybingle, his wife Dot and a mysterious lodger in their home. Mysterious lodgers were essential to most Victorian writing because they represented people who lived in your home and who you didn’t know anything about. Central to the story is a cricket that acts as a guardian angel for all who live in the home. Also, essential to the plot is a miser who wants to marry the couple’s daughter. There were a lot of misers in Dickens’ works because of their strong union at the time. The story contains many plot-twists and misunderstandings and more noble acts than you’ll find in a dozen Lassie movies. All turns out well in the end until the cricket burns down the family home for the insurance money…

The publication of this novella started a fad in England of people placing cricket effigies near their fireplace. These crickets could be made of brass or bronze or iron… you could even make one out of a bunch of cricket parts, although that would be more sad than ironic. The effect of a cricket just near enough to the flames to give it a glow, gives one a warm feeling that everything will be alright. It mixes the safe feeling one gets from the hearth with the feeling of good fortune one gets from a large metal insect staring at you from the flames. These little fireplace idols can still be purchased, today. And, if they don’t bring good luck, at least they don’t kill you instantly, either. Sometimes a superstition can be a wonderful decorating idea: A horseshoe over a door, mistletoe… even the skeleton of a leprechaun can make a comfortable family room even more inviting…

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4 thoughts on “The Hearth Cricket

  1. The Cricket on The Hearth is my favourite Dickens novella. The BBC did a great adaptation back in 1996 starring a young Statham as the mysterious lodger. I believe he was nominated for a BAFTA

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    1. Well, anyone who likes Dickens can’t be all bad. My favorite is The Pickwick Papers.

      That little essay was written in response to an ad asking for a humorous take on hearth crickets. I finished the essay but never submitted.

      Before you ask, my favorite Jason Statham movie is Revolver…

      Liked by 1 person

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