…is reviewed by reader Laura Freeburn over at her blog. It’s called The Black Spider. Here is a taste of the review:
And why not do evil that good may come? – as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. (Romans 3:8)
Die schwarze Spinne is an unsettling tale that dramatizes the terrible consequences of moral cowardice. The author, Swiss pastor Albert Bitzius (1797-1854), wrote under the pious pen name of Jeremias Gotthelf.
I’d been meaning to read it for a while – to be honest, ever since I bought it at a bookstore in Bern 15 years ago – and finally got around to it thanks to the New York Review of Books sale, which was offering Susan Bernofsky’s English translation. I read it side-by-side with the original, which means that I let her do the heavy lifting where nineteenth-century Swiss peasant vocab was concerned, but also that I can assure you her translation is both accurate and well-written. English-speaking readers will have no trouble getting caught up in the action – it doesn’t have that stilted, “translated” feel.
It gets off to a slow start, with a framing story about some hardy Emmental folk celebrating a baptism. This portrait of a well-ordered society provides an essential foil to the central tale of horror, in which medieval peasants, desperate to fulfill their brutal landlord’s impossible demands, make a deal with the devil – hoping, as always, to avoid paying the price, which in this case is an unbaptized baby.
But the payment comes due and most of them resign themselves, callously calculating the value of one life compared to the whole community, or the insignificance of their individual contribution to the crime.
What they end up with after a few turns of the plot is a plague of spiders from Hell. The arachnid host eventually conglomerates into one giant, glowering embodiment of evil that terrorizes the villagers, killing more of them each day with its fiery bite. It might just be possible to capture the spider and trap it somewhere, but anyone brave enough to do so is certain to die in the process.
If you are interested in reading the book, you can get it in English:
…or in the original Deutsch: