peasants tell tales

by Roderick

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of The Great Cat Massacre by Robert Darnton. It is his rendering of a tale “more or less as it was told around firesides in peasant cottages during long winter evenings in eighteenth-century France.”

Once a little girl was told by her mother to bring some bread and milk to her grandmother. As the girl was walking through the forest, a wolf came up to her and asked where she was going.

“To grandmother’s house,” she replied.
“Which path are you taking, the path of the pins or the path of the needles?”
“The path of the needles.”

So the wolf took the path of the pins and arrived first at the house. He killed grandmother, poured her blood into a bottle, sliced her flesh onto a platter. Then he got into her nightclothes and waited in bed.

“Knock, knock.”
“Come in, my dear.”
“Hello, grandmother. I”ve brought you some bread and milk.”
“Have something yourself, my dear. There is meat and wine in the pantry.”

So the little girl ate what was offered; and as she did, a little cat said, “Slut! To eat the flesh and drink the blood of your grandmother!”

Then the wolf said, “Undress and get into bed with me.”

“Where shall I put my apron?”
“Throw it in the fire; you won’t need it any more.”

For each garment – bodice, skirt, petticoat, stockings – the girl asked the same question; and each time the wolf answered, “Throw it on the fire; you won’t need it any more.”

When the girl got in bed, she said, “Oh, grandmother! How hairy you are!”

“It’s to keep me warmer, my dear.”
“Oh, grandmother! What big shoulders you have!”
“It’s for better carrying firewood, my dear.”
“Oh, grandmother! What long nails you have!”
“It’s for scratching myself better, my dear.”
“Oh, grandmother! What big teeth you have!”
“It’s for eating you better, my dear.”

And he ate her.

I should say that this conveys at least some meaning regarding the condition of peasant life in 18th century France. At any rate, I hereby endorse HIST 395 as a cool class.

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