The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf, translated by Susan Bernofsky / ISBN 9781590176689 / 120-page paperback from New York Review of Books Classics
An NYRB Classics Original
"Gotthelf spins his horrifying tale patiently, serenely, with full confidence, it seems, that it will be strong enough to bear all the allegorical weight he can load on it. His confidence is justified. The Black Spider is scary as hell, and the evil it portrays with such apparent simplicity seems, in the end, a more complex phenomenon than we might have thought….He does something only the best horror writers, and the best preachers, can do: he puts the fear of God in you." —Terrence Rafferty, The New York Times Book Review
“There is scarcely a work in world literature that I admire more.” —Thomas Mann
It is a sunny summer Sunday in a remote Swiss village, and a christening is being celebrated at a lovely old farmhouse. One of the guests notes an anomaly in the fabric of the venerable edifice: a blackened post that has been carefully built into a trim new window frame. Thereby hangs a tale, one that, as the wise old grandfather who has lived all his life in the house proceeds to tell it, takes one chilling turn after another, while his audience listens in appalled silence. Featuring a cruelly overbearing lord of the manor and the oppressed villagers who must render him service, an irreverent young woman who will stop at nothing, a mysterious stranger with a red beard and a green hat, and, last but not least, the black spider, the tale is as riveting and appalling today as when Jeremias Gotthelf set it down more than a hundred years ago. The Black Spider can be seen as a parable of evil in the heart or of evil at large in society (Thomas Mann saw it as foretelling the advent of Nazism), or as a vision, anticipating H. P. Lovecraft, of cosmic horror. There’s no question, in any case, that it is unforgettably creepy.