Friday, 24 December 2010

Bah! Humbug!

'Bah! Humbug!', the retort of the miserly seam bowler Ebeneezer Scrooge when told by his nephew of the excitements of Christmas in Charles Dickens classic tale, A Christmas Carol, comes to Fantasy' Bob's mind with the season.

Dickens - what about the cricket?
Fantasy Bob has long been an admirer of the works of Charles Dickens, a master of line and length.  He has however been frustrated in his search for cricketing material within the works of this great writer. Dickens started well - there is a celebrated match in the Pickwick Papers but after that he gave up. What happened to his bowling arm?  Did he lose his bat?  

The average Dickens novel is not short, in fact many would say extreme length is their chief characteristic, but despite all this opportunity Dickens fails to depict any cricketing incidents or even use cricketing terms or metaphors.  It is as if cricket did not exist in the world he describes.  Indeed there is very little sport of any sort – the simple minded kite flying of Mr Dick in David Copperfield being an isolated example.  The words of Scrooge may therefore be well chosen, ‘Bah! Humbug!’

What is particularly perplexing is that Dickens created so many opportunities where the reasonable reader would expect cricket to appear.  For example, it would have taken only a little imagination for Nicholas Nickelby to have schooled the unfortunate boys at Dotheboys hall in seam bowling thereby improving their lot considerably.  Instead Nicholas sticks one on Wackford Squeers and leaves with the wretched Smike, a batter of limited potential.  Or, not much effort would have been required in Great Expectations to have Pip, Herbert Pocket and Jo Gargery rig up a net next to the forge to allow Pip to perfect his forward defensive shot which could have served him well when facing Miss Havisham’s deceptive spin bowling.  But Dickens bottled it.  

FB suspects that Dickens had intended his tale about the French Revolution to be entitled A Tale of Two Wickets.  His opening lines promises a strong cricket theme 'It was the best of overs, it was the worst of overs.'  But tragically he was dissuaded by his publisher that A Tale of Two Cities was more historically accurate, Test cricket having been curtailed during the French Revolution. 
So it was with considerable expectation that Fantasy Bob came recently to Dickens’ small work The Cricket on the Hearth.  This is one of his Christmas books, which also included A Christmas Carol referred to above, and which in many ways have contributed much to our modern conception of Christmas.   Here at last, thought FB, is the opportunity for Dickens to redeem his reputation.  There seemed to FB many possibilities in the title.  Perhaps it would represent an account of how the Ashes were originally taken from a down at heel family who would end up triumphant through their recognition by a long lost uncle returned from the colonies.  Or perhaps it would describe in Dickens’ best comic fashion the attempts by a series of exaggerated characters to play cricket indoors by the fireside so exposing the injustices of the day such as putting children up the chimney to field at long on.

But instead FB discovers it is a charming if sentimental tale of the Peerybingle family where a cricket, ie a grasshopper, chirps on the hearth and acts as their guardian angel.  Various adventures take place which are fairly converntional as far as Victorian fiction goes, before the miser Tackleton’s heart is eventually melted by the Christmas season.  Despite not having played or been exposed to any cricket, the Peerybingles and their friends all live happily ever after. 

So FB says be warned – Charles Dickens is one of cricket’s great lost opportunities.  Bah! Humbug! indeed.


  1. Merry Christmas. Perhaps Santa will be kind and leave a copy of The Pickwick Papers in Fantasy Bob's stocking this year.

  2. FB wishes you a Merry Christmas too. He may have to comment on Santa's generosity or otherwise in a future post.

  3. I wonder if FB has missed the story that Dickens settled on the name Scrooge for the miserly seam bowler after misreading a gravestone in the Canongate Cemetery.

    The grave was that of one Ebenezer Scroggie who was described as a "meal man", as he was a corn merchant. Dickens, so the story goes, read this as "mean man" and so decided to endow his character with an almost identical name. Ironically, Scroggie was, by all accounts, a generous man.

  4. Iain - thanks - yes FB saw that story. He doesn't think meal man is a recognised fielding position so Dickens may be excused his misreading of the gravestone.