Charles Dickens is known not only for his novels, but also for his short stories, particularly "A Christmas Carol." In the latter genre, interestingly, these stories had a powerful commercial impulse, for they were serialized in magazines at the Christmas season."The Cricket on the Hearth," "The Battle of Life" and "The Haunted Man" were written for the Christmas market, and all lay emphasis on family love and the delights of home. But there is more to these stories than surface sentimentality: their eager anticipation by a whole nation tells us much about the age Dickens lived in. And these stories never would have survived without roots and power.
Cricket on the Hearth
John Peerybingle, a carrier, lives with his wife Dot (who is much younger than he), their baby, their nanny Tilly Slowboy, and a mysterious lodger. A cricket constantly chirps on the hearth and acts as a guardian angel to the family, at one point assuming a human voice to warn John that his suspicions that Dot is having an affair with the lodger are wrong.
The life of the Peerybingles frequently intersects with that of Caleb Plummer, a poor toymaker employed by the miser Mr. Tackleton. Caleb has a blind daughter Bertha, and a son Edward, who travelled to South America and seemingly never returned. Tackleton is now on the eve of marrying Edward's sweetheart, May.
The Haunted Man
Redlaw is a teacher of chemistry who often broods over wrongs done him and grief from his past.
He is haunted by a spirit, who is not so much a ghost as Redlaw's phantom twin and is "an awful likeness of himself...with his features, and his bright eyes, and his grizzled hair, and dressed in the gloomy shadow of his dress..." This specter appears and proposes to Redlaw that he can allow him to "forget the sorrow, wrong, and trouble you have known...to cancel their remembrance..." Redlaw is hesitant at first, but finally agrees. However, before the spirit vanishes it imposes an additional consequence: "The gift that I have given you, you shall give again, go where you will."
Besides Redlaw, the book is populated with the people of Redlaw's life. Most of them are semi-comical characters such as the Tetterby family who rent a room to one of Redlaw's students and Swidger family who are Redlaw's servants. Milly Swidger, William Swidger's wife, is another of the absolutely and completely good females that frequent many of Dickens' stories.
As a consequence of the ghost's intervention Redlaw is without memories of the painful incidents from his past. He experiences a universal anger that he cannot explain. His bitterness spreads to the Swidgers, the Tetterbys and his student. All become as wrathful as Redlaw himself. The only one who is able to avoid the bitterness is Milly.
The narrative climaxes when Milly presents the moral of the tale: "It is important to remember past sorrows and wrongs so that you can then forgive those responsible and, in doing so, unburden your soul and mature as a human being." With this realization, the novel concludes with everyone back to normal and Redlaw, like Ebenezer Scrooge, a changed, more loving and whole person.
The Battle of Life
The story follows the fortunes of Dr Anthony Jeddler, who does not take the world or life seriously, as he puts it: "a gigantic practical joke." He has two daughters, Grace and Marion. Two young man of different personalities enter the lives of the girls - Alfred Heathfield, a lovable, honest young medical student, and the other, Michael Warden, a good-for-nothing who later changes his ways and reforms.
Minor characters to sweeten the plot are the worthy servant Clemency Newcombe, the sour servant "Little Britain," and Snitchey, the lawyer.
The narrative depicts a bramble bush love affairs of the two daughters being so interrelated, the perils of a developing love, and, the absence and return of their suitors. The story also hints to the reader the nobility of sacrifice in relationships, and how one should react or treat life.