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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Friday, 8 June 2012

"The Black Spider" by Jeremias Gotthelf

This bucolic allegory was written by a Bernese pastor. A charming rural farming community are celebrating a baptism. Much is made of the celebration: it revolves around multiple meals of vast proportions and everyone politely urging everyone else to gluttony. At considerable length, after lunch, the grandfather tells a tale of the village in mediaeval times when the peasantry were oppressed by the knights in the castle on the hill. Impossible demands led them to despair and then to making a pact with the devil. But then they try to trick the devil out of his side of the bargain (an unbaptised child) and he visits a spidery scourge upon them.

This novella is flawed in two ways. Morally it is horrible that so many people should die as a result of one person making an agreement with the devil, especially when that person was under tremendous pressure. Admittedly the rest of the village (except the priest, who also died, but his was a good death) went along with the satanic bargain but the multiple death sentence seems vastly out of proportion even for a smug Vistorian pastor. The second flaw is literary. Apart from the jolly godmother who is repeatedly obliged to eat more than she professes to want and is deadly scared of forgetting the baptismal name all the other characters are two dimensional goodies or baddies with nothing to round them.

Very much a book of two halves, the beautifully observed christening (which has no function in the narrative) and a straightforward folk tale of devilry.

June 2012; 109 pages

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