We first meet the Peerybingles in their home, made cheerful by a bustling wife and a cricket on the hearth. John Peerybingle is an honest carter, quite a few years older than his wife. They have a baby and a clumsy maid named Miss Slowboy.
The plot is simple. It is the eve of the marriage of Mr. Tackleton to a much younger bride, May. He comes to invite the Peerybingles to the wedding as an example of a happy May-December union. But the wedding is set for the couple’s anniversary, and they have plans to spend it alone. Still, they include May in a visit to the house of their friend Caleb Plummer and his blind daughter Bertha. An unexpected visitor is with them—a deaf old man who accepted a ride in John’s cart but seems to have nowhere to go.
Mr. Tackleton is not a nice man. He’s been a grasping employer and landlord to Caleb, and it is clear that May is reluctant to marry him. At a point in the evening, Mr. Tackleton takes John aside and shows him something that makes him think his wife has deceived him.
This story is not one of Dickens’ best. Its pleasures are in its scenes of idealized domestic happiness in the Peerybingle home. But since we can’t reconcile our first glimpses of the Peerybingles with any such betrayal as alleged, we’re not in much doubt that everything will turn out to be a misunderstanding. Most of the characters are mere sketches, the only ones even slightly developed are the Peerybingles and Caleb and Bertha Plummer.
Since I recently read Dickens’ biography, though, I was interested in his little fantasy about marriage, particularly it being between two people so disparate in age, years before his affair with Nelly Ternan but only a few years after his wife’s younger sister, Georgina, moved in to live with them.