The Devil’s Mother-In-Law

Old woman with distaff jpg Large

I’m still working on my hummingbird legends, but in the meantime I thought I’d share this charming tale with you. I found it in a fun 1921 collection called Devil’s Stories: An Anthology by Maximilian J. Rudwin. He intended this work to be the first volume in a series of collections of devil-related literature. Alas, the rest of the volumes never came to be.

The author of “The Devil’s Mother-in-Law” is one Fernán Caballero, the pseudonym of Swiss-born, Spanish-residing Cecilia Francisca Josefa Böhl de Faber, Marchioness de Arco-Hermoso. “The Devil’s Mother-in-Law” is originally from her 1859 Cuentos y poesias populares Andaluces (Popular Andalucian Stories and Poetry), translated into English as Spanish Fairy Tales in 1881. As Rudwin says, “in her stories we find perhaps the purest expression of mediaevalism in modern times.”

The first part of this story is a tart little tale of a peppery widow, Mother Holofernes, whose daughter Panfila gets engaged to the Devil. We get a little hint of the author’s quite conservative outlook — the devil betrays himself by his unseemly democratic attitude towards laborers and peasants — but I enjoy the humor. When Panfila complains about her mother’s strict hold on her, we get this exchange:

[Panfila] “…Why should I not think of getting married?”

“What are you saying? You get married, you fool! not while I live!”

“Why were you married, madam? and my grandmother? and my great grandmother?”

“Nicely I have been repaid for it, by you, you sauce-box! And understand me, that if I chose to get married, and your grandmother also, and your great grandmother also, I do not intend that you shall marry; nor my granddaughter, nor my great granddaughter! Do you hear me?”

Um, yeah, Mom — I don’t think that will work out quite how you want, either…

The remainder of the tale is full of familiar motifs: demon in a bottle (a la The Arabian Nights), the miracle-working doctor (AT 332 “Godfather Death”), and a great little bit about scaring the devil away (Aarne-Thompson-Uther motif K2325 — I won’t spoil it).

You can read the story here at Project Gutenberg. Check out Rudwin’s notes on the story, too.


Image: Old Woman with Distaff, Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1642). Source: WikiArt

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