The Black spider by Jeremias Gotthelf A Halloween german lit month treat

the black spider

The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf

German Gothic Fiction

Original title Die Schwarze spinne

Translator – H M Waidson

Source personnel copy

Jeremias Gotthelf was a swiss pastor and writer ,His actual name was Albert Bitzius ,he was educated in Bern wre he founded the second oldest Swiss fraternity ,before becoming a pastor and then in his thirties he took up writing .He used the Bernese countryside and his strong religious beliefs in his books .

Christine had been gleefully watching everything outside in the field .The sun might burn hot as she worked at the heavy labour ,but the spider hardly burned any more at all .

The devil made his mark  on her .

The book focus on the people in a Bernese village ,we start at a farm where a baptism is in full swing ,then we get an unbaptized baby that  is kissed by a hunter and this kiss cause a black mark to appear and she is touched by the devil this Christine .So there is now a pact between the village and the devil that leads to years and years of godless behaviour ,when at some point this falls apart a plague of spiders swarms around the village  and they now need god to come back and save them .That is the barest bones of this tale it is a real quest between good and evil between god and the devil in tit many faces .

Next to the church was the inn , for these two institutions so often stand close to one another , sharing joy and suffering together , and what is more , in all honour .

But are they hand in hand

Well that is it in part this book has a really twisted narrative style one could almost say it has an old testament feel to it selling pone soul to the devil and it having a bad outcome all sounds like the wrathful god of the old testament  .This at times seems like a Sunday sermon that he may have told round Halloween to scare the kids and adults into god fearing Christians ,But that said Robert Johnson was said to have sold his soul to the devil and he did make some great music ,.But we also get a feel of traditional Germanic folk tales with figure like the hunter and a knight appearing in the story ,also the selling of a soul to a devil has been a recurring motif in a lot of German fiction around this time and before even Faust for Example .Then there is also the way Gotthelf describes the village the church and the inn next to one another has a slight feel of temperance movement and is the godless behaviour connected to the drink .This has been a great read for Halloween one for a dark evening and a quick check to see if there isn’t a spider about to jump on me like Robert smith in the video .I read the Oneworld classic copy of this book with a 1958 translation ,I know NYRB classics has just issued a new translation which I hope to read and compare as I felt the choice of words and way the story unfold was a little stayed at times .

Have you a favourite Halloween read ?


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Oct 31, 2013 @ 18:58:48

    Oooh, I have this very volume on my shelves – must dig it out soon, it sounds good. I always find Poe is a good bet for Halloween, even if it’s only The Raven – lovely reading by Basil Rathbone here:


  2. heatherdpear
    Nov 01, 2013 @ 01:46:54

    I don’t really have a Halloween read, though I have bought specific Halloween fabrics for some quilts and wallhangings that I’ll get to some day.


  3. Tony
    Nov 01, 2013 @ 08:22:22

    I loved this when I read it. Its starts off in such an idyllic, classic way, and then… well, it just goes psycho from there! I loved the false ending too. You think you’ve got rid of the spider? Think again, suckers 😉


  4. Brian Joseph
    Nov 01, 2013 @ 09:44:48

    You seemed to have covered both seasonal reading as well as German Literature month in one swoop Stu!

    This sounds really atmospheric. The Old Testament comparison that you made intrigues me. I may give this one a try.


  5. Caroline
    Nov 02, 2013 @ 14:14:01

    I loved this too, when I read it. Perfect Halloween reading.


  6. Max Cairnduff
    Nov 04, 2013 @ 15:35:57

    I covered this one at mine. Fun, but I had an issue with the gender politics where basically everything bad that happens happens because a woman doesn’t “know her place” as it were.

    The bits with the devil are lots of fun, the contemporary scenes of pious life came across to me as incredibly smug – people assured of their own salvation which always seems to partake a bit of the sin of pride to me (not that I’m religious, but I do dislike people who’re achingly proud about how humble they are).


  7. Nicola
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 22:49:23

    Oh I love the Cure. Thanks for posting the link!


  8. Trackback: if they had fooled the green huntsman once… | Pechorin's Journal
  9. Trackback: Translation Duel: The Black Spider – Jeremias Gotthelf | Lizzy's Literary Life
  10. Trackback: German Literature Month III – Author Index | Lizzy's Literary Life

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October 2013


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