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The Black Spider (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – October 8, 2013


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"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
 
The Black Spider was a horror story of its day, written by a Swiss pastor, Albert Bitzius, under the pseudonym of Jeremias Gotthelf. What distinguishes it from, say, the horror stories of Gotthelf’s contemporary, Edgar Allan Poe, is that Gotthelf firmly believed in the reality of the demon he created.... Gotthelf’s talent is to make his horror credible by the simplicity of his style and the acuteness of his psychological perception, particularly of the herd instinct among the villagers. His story is a homily, showing how the everyday moral weaknesses of men and women give an opening to the spirit of evil. Christine’s sin is not just in flirting with the Devil, but in thinking that she knows best.” —Piers Paul Read, The Times (London)
 
“Jeremias Gotthelf: with him I’m just like the woman in Heinrich Pestalozzi’s novel Lienhard und Gertrud who says ‘Your priest has driven me out of church!’ ” —Robert Walser
 
“Perhaps the psychological theories of Freud and Jung and the nightmare fantasies of Kafka had to be absorbed before the European imagination was ready for Gotthelf’s The Black Spider.” —Herbert Waidson, author of Jeremias Gotthelf: An Introduction to the Swiss Novelist
 
“Gotthelf’s writings are the utterance of the earnest life within and around him. He entered into the great mountain temple of nature, following within the veil such great high-priests as Wordsworth and Novalis. He is a true poet when he tells us in hushed voice of the hill-side storm, the relentless avalanche, the devastating torrent; or leads us rejoicing through the jubilant spring woods and grateful autumn fields. But his deepest interest lay in the human life which surrounded him, which spoke to him daily in dirge or psalm.” —The British Quarterly Review (1863)

About the Author

Jeremias Gotthelf, the pen name of Albert Bitzius (1797–1854), was a Swiss pastor and the author of novels, novellas, short stories, and nonfiction, who used his writing to communicate his reformist concerns in the field of education and with regard to the plight of the poor. After the success of his first novel, Der Bauernspiegel oder Lebensgeschichte des Jeremias Gotthelf: Von ihm selbst beschrieben (The Peasants’ Mirror; or, The Life History of Jeremias Gotthelf: Described by Himself; 1836) the author adopted the name of the story’s protagonist. Among his major works to have appeared in English translation are The Black Spider; Ulric, the Farm Servant; and The Story of an Alpine Valley.
 
Susan Bernofsky is the translator of six books by Robert Walser as well as works by Jenny Erpenbeck, Yoko Tawada, Hermann Hesse, Gregor von Rezzori, and others. The current chair of the PEN Translation Committee, she teaches at the Writing Program at Columbia University, where she is director of the Graduate Translation Program, and is at work on a biography of Walser.
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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 120 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; Reprint edition (October 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590176685
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590176689
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #532,830 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By convergingnow on November 5, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Undeniably creepy, the imagery in this story will stay with you long after you put it down. The theological implications are even more terrifying than the monstrous spider.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 22, 2014
Format: Paperback
The shades of night were falling fast,
The rain was falling faster,
When through an Alpine village passed
An Alpine village pastor.

Sorry, I couldn't resist! This opening quatrain of AE Housman's marvelous parody of Longfellow's "Excelsior" popped to my mind unbidden at one point in Jeremias Gotthelf's 1842 novella, when the Alpine pastor (or rather priest) is indeed on his way through the Swiss village to save the villagers from the Devil, ravaging the community in the form of a black spider. Though Gotthelf (real name Albert Bitzius) was himself a pastor, and deadly serious in his vision of the battle between Good and Evil. Really, there are only two reactions to such high-mindedness: to laugh and to admire. I did both, and my admiration is considerable.

As I said recently about the Peirine Press, I would also pick up almost anything published by New York Review Books if it looked intriguing, and here the 18th-century cover of a woman's face split to show the skull beneath, complete with colonizing spider, both attracted and repelled me. The clincher was the translator's name: Susan Bernofsky, who has done such wonderful work with Jenny Erpenbeck, not to mention Robert Walser, Hermann Hesse, and Franz Kafka. But her skills are not confined to modernist authors. How perfectly she captures the pastoral perfectionism of the opening section, the verbal equivalent of German Nazarene painting: "From the forest's gilded edge the blackbird trilled its aubade while the amorous quail intoned monotonous Minnelieder from amid the flowers sparkling in the dew-bespangled grass, and high above the dark firs, lusty crows danced nuptial roundelays or else cawed tender lullabies above the thorny little beds of their unfledged chicks.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Cheshire on March 23, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Spoilers. You are warned.

No question that this is a violent, terrible, yet entertaining, story! Written in 1842, and despite reflecting attitudes common to the era about women and class, it is as scary and horrific and disgusting as any modern horror novel! Baby sacrifices! Large man-eating venomous spiders! Earthquakes! Ominous lightening and thunder storms! Evil, dissipated sadistic aristocrats! Impoverished tortured serfs! Vicious servants! Pervasive smell of sulfur! Priests in combat!

"Christine tried to comfort herself, saying it was nothing, it would soon go away; but the pain did not let up, and imperceptibly the speck grew, and soon everyone could see it and asked about the black dot on her face. No one thought much of it, but their words were like barbs driven into her heart, awakening the heavy thoughts once more, and again and again she was forced to remember that this was the very spot where the green man had kissed her, and that the same burning pain that had flashed through all her limbs at the moment of the kiss now burned and gnawed at her without respite. Sleep abandoned her, and everything she ate tasted of fire. Agitated, she went here, went there, seeking comfort and finding none, for the pain continued to sharpen, and the black dot grew larger and blacker, isolated dark streaks radiated from it, and at the edge of the spot that was closest to her mouth a bump had risen."

Cue the dark music of lost souls screaming....

Soooooooo. Grandfather decides to tell dark stories of damnation after a beautiful baptism. Why not, right? Strike while everyone is relaxed and happy and dressed up.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By K. Kennedy on June 4, 2014
Format: Paperback
"The Black Spider" by Jeremias Gotthelf is a classic, gothic-style morality tale of a village in Switzerland several centuries ago. It contains all the religious overtones and class structures that you would expect of the period, and really boils down to the ancient "good v. evil" struggle in mankind. This is a short work, but it is engaging and has a good story (and moral) to tell, which it does quite well. It is a solid book--far more so than much of the junk being written in the horror genre in recent years.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Adrienne on February 2, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book needs an excellent movie direct to draw out the horrifying visual effects. The book has a classic gothic feel, like the early Dracula and Wolfman movies, an overdone use of outdated special effects that makes you want to laugh and scream at the same time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 29, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A terrific read from the 19th century, well worth the few hours it takes to get through it. If you don't like your stories with an undertone of Christianity this might not be for you, but I felt it added to the story, not took from it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By john the book guy on March 14, 2014
Format: Paperback
I thoroughly enjoyed this odd book. Yes, it is written from a moralistic and religious point of view, but I think that makes it a better story,. The author seems to have believed that such horrors could occur.
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Well, *that* was creepy.

Thank goodness, this is a novella--I was tired on turning the book so the cover faced downward, for my own benefit and my kids.

THE BLACK SPIDER by German writer Jeremias Gotthelf is such a horror and perhaps ahead of it's time--originally published in 1842--the book has much religious allegory about the evil in the world and a Christian theme of wanting to much, bartering with the devil, etc. but it could also takes on a flavor of Knights of the Round Table/Sword in the Stone and could even have something to do with the host of Christ. Again, back to that Christian allegory--which makes sense, Gotthelf was a minister and perhaps his work was an extension of his sermons on evil forces and guilt. Still, he his pacing is superb at times (slow at times, but that could just be due to the literary expectations of the nineteenth century). His imagery is stunning--the good *and* the bad--from the bucolic Swiss countryside to the scrabbling spider.

Overall, I liked this book and would give it a total rating of 4.5 stars, losing a half-star because I wanted the book to be a little more active/engaging than it was...as it stands, it's an omnipressent narrator who handles a frame story quite well.
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