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The Black Spider

3.48  ·  Rating details ·  1,626 Ratings  ·  182 Reviews
After one of their own members repeatedly fails to live up to a pact with the Devil, a petty and morally bankrupt village community is terrorized by a succession of deadly black spiders. First published in 1842, this haunting cautionary novella shrewdly dissects the iniquitous social dynamics of rural life through the use of dark satire and realism.
Paperback, 109 pages
Published October 1st 2009 by Oneworld Classics (first published 1842)
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Jun 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Published for spooooky month!

well, that was creepy.

this is a tiny little novella about great big evil.

it starts off all lovely, describing the natural beauty of a remote swiss village. you know the type:

Above the mountains rose the sun, shining in limpid majesty down into a welcome but narrow valley, where it woke to joyous life creatures that had been created to take pleasure in the sunshine of their days.

etc, etc.

but of course, like any good horror novel, this bucolic paradise masks ancient ho
Bill  Kerwin
May 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This short Swiss novel from 1842--a novella really--has much to recommend it. It tells a simple compelling story of how the devil, in the form of a large lethal spider, was allowed to prey upon a peaceful community, twice: first through an actual pact with a proud woman, and much later--after the initial evil had been contained though not eliminated--through a community's complacency and the lack of a healthy respect for evil itself.

The novella's structure, consisting of a frame story and two i
Oct 18, 2013 rated it really liked it

I thought this was incredibly charming and atmospheric, despite the fact that it's essentially the sort of simple religious allegory that normally makes me run a mile. The Christian symbolism is indeed the whole point: the author was a nineteenth-century village pastor who regarded his fiction as a kind of extended sermon. And yet his sense of pacing and the detail of his descriptions just make it such a pleasure to read for all kinds of unexpected reasons.

The bucolic early scenes of life in a t
Karly *The Vampire Ninja, Luminescent Monster & Wendigo Nerd Goddess of Canada (according to The Hulk)*
My final buddy-read for Spooktober, with none other than the lovely Heather!!

Commencing October 28...

(Oh look, a gif to give EVERYONE nightmares - except Synsthesia who loves spiders *shudders*)

3.5 Stars

Black Spider and I got off to a shaky start, there were a few word choices early on that made me seriously question the translator’s comprehension of writing style. However, once I got into the story this fell away and became much better – with the one notable exception of an EXTREME overuse of t
Viv JM
The Black Spider is my second choice for German Literature Month ( It was first published in German in 1842, and was written by a Swiss pastor. The edition I read was translated in 1958 by H.M.Waidson. There is a newer translation available, which is reputed to be much better, though I haven’t read it for comparison.

In many ways, The Black Spider is quite a simple religious allegorical tale, but it does have some genuinely terrifying and horrific moments. T
Oct 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
A cautionary morality tale which will be appreciated by the religious-minded. It's surprising that this 1842 novella feels so modern,maybe cause the elemental struggle between the forces of good & evil has an evergreen,eternal aspect to it.
The quaint,charming village of Emmental,reminded me of the atmosphere in Haneke's The White Ribbon in that how the diabolical is always bubbling below the surface calm.
If you've enjoyed Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown ( Stephen King has called it his favou
Nov 01, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: german, fiction, horror
The spider is an allegory for the decay of morality (or maybe the Black Plague), and Swiss food sounds delicious.

I'd always considered spiders overrated as a symbol of evil, although this might be because I'm from a place so cold that the poisonous ones don't survive. Mosquitoes, on the other hand, are the spawn of Satan.

Dec 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nyrb-classics, swiss
The Devil seals the promise with a kiss. And when the promise is broken, the cheek where he placed his lips starts to burn. A black mound forms. Legs crack out of the skin. And the black spider is loose. An allegory, perhaps; and a crackling good read.
Tim Pendry
I have a general rule that, once I have started to read a book, I must continue with it to the end before I can claim the right to comment on it.

In the case of 'The Black Spider', I was beginning to get depressed by page 20 of this classic early nineteenth century Swiss horror novella. One fifth of the tale gone and I had been treated to a lengthy, rather dull and wholesome account of a christening feast for the child of a prosperous Swiss peasant circa 1842.

But 'Jeremias Gotthelf' knows what h
Scott Rhee
A classic in horror literature (first published in 1842), "The Black Spider" still manages to provoke dread in readers. While rather bombastic, this review (written in 2013) pretty much sums up some of my issues with religion, faith, and belief. It's perhaps odd and ironic that horror fiction can elicit strong spiritual and faith responses in me, but I've always found it to be true. Then again, horror stories have always been some of the most moralistic and religiously pedantic stories. Just loo ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
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!

Quote from the book:

"Christine t
Nancy Oakes
Very tough book to give a star-rating to, but if I must, lets say a 3.75 rating not rounded up.

Not that there are spoilers here, because there aren't, but if you're settling in to read this book, you may want to be able to form your own ideas about what you're reading, so wait until you've finished it yourself before reading what I've written. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm going to mark the rest of this review as "SPOILER ALERT" so no one can be pissed if they think I've ruined thing
Greg Brozeit
Jeremias Gotthelf’s writing had profound influence on a young Friedrich Dürrenmatt. In a high school essay cited by his biographer, Peter Rüedi, Dürrenmatt wrote,
„Dieser Mann war ein DICHTER. / Es war ein berühmter Dichter, das heißt ein zwar noch nicht bekannter Poet, der aber die besten Aussichten hatte dass, gesetzt der Fall, wenn man sein Gesammelte Werke im Jahre 3399 in einem Kehrichtkübel finden würde, er doch noch unter den Gelehrten jener fernen Zeiten Ansehen und Bedeutung finden würde
Heather *live on coffee and flowers*
Buddy read with the spookalicious Karly.


Everyone knows you don't agree to anything with the devil. The only time that worked out was in a Charlie Daniels song, and Bedazzled (but Brendan Fraser had to go through a lot of crap first, so there). The people in this story are God-fearing enough to know that, but circumstances being what they were, shit happened. (It was the knights' fault. Those stupid asshole knights wanting their stupid
Jim Coughenour
I'm tempted to say that the best thing about The Black Spider is its cover in the new NYRB edition. Originally published in 1842 by the Swiss pastor Jeremias Gotthelf and translated several times into English, this classic horror story was one of Thomas Mann's favorite tales (and played a role in the composition of Doctor Faustus). For me, it was a bit flat despite its bizarre arachno-theology. But however mechanistic its plot, the framing device of the fiction held my attention all the way thro ...more
Dec 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
A novella-length piece written by a Swiss pastor in 1842 that initially seems to serve more as a religious parable than anything unlikely choice as a Top 100 Horror selection, one would think. And yet, there it is, Jeremias Gotthelf's "The Black Spider" (or, as it was titled in its original German, "Die schwarze Spinne"), holding pride of place in Jones & Newman's excellent overview volume "Horror: 100 Best Books." In his article in that volume, author Thomas Tessier refers to the ...more
Rabbit {Paint me like one of your 19th century gothic heroines!}
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ray Smiley
Oct 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jeremias Gotthelf was a Swiss pastor with an obvious Old Testament view of hellfire and damnation. His vision of Satan is truly skin-crawling. I cheered for the spider as it decimated the village! Go black spider, go! (It was a serious book, I'm not a very serious reviewer)
Nov 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nyrb
This review is based on NYRB edition translated by Susan Bernofsky.

What a fantastic little Halloween read. This story, written before 1842 when it was first translated into English, is a combination of "The Devil and Daniel Webster" and "Arachnophobia". It begins with a christening feast in which one of the guests notices an unusual post in the host's home and questions the "grandfather" about it.

The grandfather reluctantly assents and tells a tale that begins six centuries earlier when there w
Diane S ☔
First time that I am the first person to rate this novella. A story about cruel knights, their peasants and the devil. There is also a headstrong female, one of the wives who thinks she can trick the devil. Who do you think won? Oh and if you hate spiders this book will probably give you nightmares.
This novella took me four days to read, which makes no sense because it really is not that long. In less-busy days, it's the sort of thing I should have been able to polish off in one sitting, but life has not been that great to me lately, so it took a bit longer than necessary.

And as a result, I think, I had trouble connecting with the story.

Written in the mid-19th-century, it's that typical sort of allegorical good vs eveeil thing that comes up a lot in literature of its time. During a christe
Charles Dee Mitchell
Above the mountains rose the sun, shining in limpid majesty down into a welcoming but narrow valley where it woke to joyous life creatures that had been created to take pleasure in the sunshine of their days.

Readers are right to feel they are being set up by this opening sentence. Jeremias Gotthelf’s The Black Spider is one of the great horror tales of the nineteenth century. He maintains his bucolic tone for the third of his novella. There is to be a baptism this day. A feast must be prepared,
This was a really quick and enjoyable read, with surprisingly horrific imagery for a novella published in 1842. Despite it's inventive gruesomeness, along with what is obviously a very good translation, I can't rate it higher than 3 stars, because it's much more of a morality parable than a proper novella--and a really heavy-handed one at times. This is not terribly surprising, given that the author was a pastor, as well as a member of the school of early German gothic that was inspired by the t ...more
Jun 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: horror, read-in-2014
First, this translation is excellent, especially the descriptions. When I saw how old the work was, I wondered if I could scrounge up a free translation, but I'm glad I held out for this new one.

Second... this is creeeeepy. It opens with a long description of the preparations for a christening and it all seems rather idyllic. And then the internal narrative begins. Time for grandpa to give you nightmares. Gahh... in fact, it did give me a nightmare last night, which makes me want to bump this u
Brian Berrett
Sep 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A solid four stars for this book. I loved the creepiness. It is about good versus evil but no spoiler here for how it ends. A great read for Halloween time! Also, I'm not a big fan of spiders and am even less so now.

The book is short so you can get through it fairly quickly. It is also a very enjoyable read. Just hope you aren't reading it late at night and happen to see a spider approaching.
Apr 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: germany
Jaja, die Gemütlichkeit des Biedermeiers: Das Böse platzt einer Bäuerin in Form schwarzer Spinnen aus dem Gesicht, bis diese selbst zur Spinne wird, und der heuchlerischen, gotteslästerlichen Dorfbevölkerung stirbt das Vieh weg. Zum Glück gibt es aber eine devote Mutter und einen Typen namens Christian (klar), die es mit dem Bösen aufnehmen. Das Verrückte ist, dass diese moralinsaure Horror-Story sehr atmosphärisch, stimmungsvoll und gruselig ausgestaltet ist und deshalb einfach unglaublich viel ...more
Oct 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Here's a thought. In your time reading scary fiction (assuming scary fiction is your bag), how many reviews, articles, blurbs and other fluff pieces do you think you've read that warn against a story that'll make you go phobic?

"Do not read Y if you're frightened of X", as the cliché goes, X here being malleable enough to fit almost any real-world inducer of irrational terror. It's not only a cliché, but an entirely pointless injunction to boot - what horror reader will be warned off by the promi
Oct 29, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: horror
This one is a hard one to talk about because it's so...convoluted?

Okay simple breakdown, it can't really be spoilers at this point. But if you don't want spoilers just skip this one.

-Asshole lord tells suffering peasants to plant a bunch of trees because he says so.
-Planting all these trees is going to take away from their time and energy to grow food.
-Therefore, they're going to starve to death.
-Devil shows up, he says he will help them in exchange for an unbaptized baby.
-The deal is sealed
Feb 10, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I feel like the spirit of the story is captured so well, it reads like sitting at the feet of an old Swiss man telling tales of the Devil after a big meal.
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NYRB Classics: October 2013: The Black Spider 44 55 Feb 11, 2014 05:15PM  
NYRB Classics: The Black Spider, by Jeremias Gotthelf 1 6 Oct 18, 2013 03:38PM  
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He was born at Murten, where his father was pastor. In 1804 the home was moved to Utzenstorf, a village in the Bernese Emmental. Here young Bitzius grew up, receiving his early education and consorting with the boys of the village, as well as helping his father to cultivate his glebe. In 1812 he went to complete his education at Bern. He was a founding member of the Student Society Zofingia, the s ...more
More about Jeremias Gotthelf...
“Hard by the church stood the public house; so often the two are closely conjoined, honorably sharing both joys and sorrows.” 4 likes
“And now Christine felt as if her face was bursting open and glowing coals were being birthed from it, quickening into life and swarming across her face and all her limbs, and everything within her face had sprung to life, a fiery swarming all across her body. In the lightning’s pallid glow she saw, long-legged and venomous, innumerable black spiderlings scurrying down her limbs and out into the night, and as they vanished they were followed, long-legged and venomous, by innumerable others.” 2 likes
More quotes…