Thursday’s Tale: The Dead Mother

A Mother
A Mother by Gely Korzhev-Chuvelyov, 1955

Today’s rather creepy story comes from Russia. “The Dead Mother” was retold by W. R. S. Ralston in his Russian Fairy Tales. I’m having trouble finding a date for the original printing of the book, but from what I can tell, it was probably in the late 1800s.

The story is quite short. A happily married couple have a baby, but soon after it is born the mother dies. The father is of course terribly sad and hires an old woman to help him take care of the baby. During the day, the baby only cries and cries, and wouldn’t eat anything. At night, though, it slept peacefully. The old woman wonders why the baby is so quite at night, and decides to stay up to find out what is going on. At midnight, she hears someone enter the  room and go up to the crib, then the baby quiets. For three nights, the old woman hears the same thing, and she finally tells the father, who gathers the family together. They decide to stay up that night and wait for whoever it is. At midnight, they hear the sounds of someone entering the house and going up to the crib. The family allows a candle to shine on the visitor. “They looked, and saw the dead mother, in the very same clothes in which she had been buried, on her knees besides the cradle, over which she bent as she suckled the babe at her dead breast.” The moment the light shines, the dead mother leaves the house without saying a word, and when the family checks on the baby, the baby’s dead, too.

Not a story for children, that image of the dead mother is just disturbing, as is the baby dying once the mother is discovered. It’s definitely a magical story, but not in a good way. I guess it does dramatize the effect the dead can still have on the living.

You can read the story on-line in a couple of places, including The Project Gutenberg.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.

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