Plot[ edit ] The novella begins with a christening party at a farm, during the course of which a few of the guests in front of the house go for a walk. At her inquiry, the grandfather tells everyone the story of the post. First internal narrative[ edit ] The grandfather tells how a few centuries before, the village had been ruled by a Teutonic Knight named Hans von Stoffeln, who worked the farmers of the village very hard. Von Stoffeln, a strict and aggressive man, relentlessly collected on the tax obligations of his serfs. Von Stoffeln demanded ever more ludicrous tasks, the last of which was the replanting of trees from a distant mountain to form a shaded path on his estate. He demanded this job be done in such a short period, that the peasants could never complete it without abandoning their own harvest and going hungry.
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In a remote Swiss village, a grandfather tells a story during a christening, a tale that portends evil at large in society and provides a vision of cosmic horror. Jeremias Gotthelf was the pen name of Albert Bitzius, a Swiss pastor and writer who used his work to communicate his reformist concerns with regard to education and the plight of the poor.
I imagined spiders coming out of all the walls and creeping up on me. I stayed up all night reading and finished the story just before dawn, convinced I would never sleep again. The Black Spider is the kind of book that makes it hard for you to push aside your terror. My longstanding arachnophobia made me the perfect reader for this novel, and two decades later I was offered the opportunity to translate it. While I was working on the translation, wrestling with linguistic difficulties in sentence after sentence, the book lost its horror for me, and I could laugh about the skill with which its effects were created.
But now, five years later, the book has reclaimed its power over me. In exchange for his services, she promises an unbaptised child. In sudden terror she had flinched, almost dropping the child, and since that moment the pain had not relented but instead grew more acute from hour to hour. Once more a woman was expecting a child.
But Christine was not lighthearted. There was much talk, all sorts of different advice, but whatever this affliction might be, no one was sorry for Christine, whom they shunned, fleeing her presence at every turn. And the more they fled, the more she pursued them, hurrying from one house to the next; the devil was reminding her of the promised child, she knew, and she tried to prevail on the others to make this sacrifice, hounding them in her infernal terror.
No one promised a child, and no one is going to give one up. Like the others, he fled from her, and when he could flee no more, he spoke cold-bloodedly, saying soon it would get better, it was just a common mole; when it had finished growing, the pain would cease, and then they could tie it off. The spider in her face swelled up higher than ever, sending fiery barbs through her very bones.
Something was not right, they said, strange forces were at work. All celebration ceased, and everyone ran outside to look to the animals, whose bellowing resounded over mountain and valley, but they did not know what to do. They tried both worldly and spiritual arts against this curse, but in vain; before the day dawned, all the animals in the stable had died.
Used with permission of New York Review Books. English translation copyright by Susan Bernofsky. Previous Article.
The Black Spider
But his touch is a good deal lighter than that of his great, gloomy compatriot Ingmar Bergman. For him, the darker recesses of the mind hold monsters enough. The novel is an elegantly constructed psychiatric Gothic, all spires and gargoyles and ghostly echoes — the sort of vast, dread edifice we sometimes build around ourselves when the lights go out. Evil, however, abounds in this dire, bone-freezing short novel by a Swiss pastor, first published years ago and newly translated from the German by the able Susan Bernofsky. The writer — whose real name was Albert Bitzius — means to instruct his readers about the consequences of trafficking too casually with the Devil, here imagined as an unsavory character dressed in green, like the fearsome knight with whom Sir Gawain, once upon a time, made a really lousy deal.
The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf
In a remote Swiss village, a grandfather tells a story during a christening, a tale that portends evil at large in society and provides a vision of cosmic horror. Jeremias Gotthelf was the pen name of Albert Bitzius, a Swiss pastor and writer who used his work to communicate his reformist concerns with regard to education and the plight of the poor. I imagined spiders coming out of all the walls and creeping up on me. I stayed up all night reading and finished the story just before dawn, convinced I would never sleep again.