The Little Maid at the Door by Mary Wilkins Freeman (1892) Women In Horror
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror October 22, 2013
Witches’ winds are blowing in Salem. Listen to their haughty chants; watch for their spells and conjures. We love bewitching stories at this time of year, don’t we? Reading is such a seduction with atmospherics, mysterious characters we can’t resist, or a plot that thickens at every moment so we have to keep turning the pages. In the story I give you today, The Little Maid at the Door, the prose hits tenderly. The little maid at the door elicits a deep power in the heart. Mary Wilkins Freeman writes a historical fiction of family life, of witches in Salem, and the “disease of the mind” when partridges or squirrels might be demons in disguise. Not to mention the witches’ “yellow birds.” Freeman was known to write stories of rural domestic life in New England with penetrating supernaturalism. Her prose grabs you with anxious stirring. Read it softly and savor each image because this story is probably one of her best for describing life in Salem when “the leaves came out and the flowers bloomed in vain for the people in and about Salem village.”
“JOSEPH BAYLEY and his wife Ann came riding down from Salem village.”
The two are within a half a mile of the old Proctor house, known to be “full of devils.” As if that weren’t enough, the entire Proctor family was just arrested and jailed for witchcraft. Ann and Joseph, fearful of what evil hides within the woods there, intend to drive their horse fast and furiously down the road passed the Proctor house when they see a cursed glossy black beast. Terrified, Joseph speeds up, but Ann catches another sight … a little maid at the front door of the Proctor house. And here we meet little Abigail Proctor, abandoned child with a corn cob poppet (doll). Is she a witch too, like her mother, father, brother, and sister? With the excuse of dropping her shoe, Ann convinces Joseph to stop their horse so that she may engage the sad child at the door.
Author Mary Wilkins Freeman had volumes of her short stories and novels published, many stories in the prestigious Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. She was the first recipient of the William Dean Howells Medal for Distinction in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her writing had a direct influence on readers because of her themes of rebellions of spinsters and the oppressive confines of 19th-century married life.
Read the full text at The Literary Gothic http://www.litgothic.com/Texts/little_maid.html
Here’s a little bonus for you. Mary Wilkins wrote a play about the Salem witch trials, Giles Cory, Yeoman. What a read this is! Poor Giles is condemned to die crushed between two stones. At Gutenberg.org http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17960/17960-h/17960-h.htm
You might also enjoy Freeman’s very spooky tale The Shadows on the Wall: three sisters and a mysterious death, here at EastOfTheWeb. Librivox has a narration (26 minutes) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMXbGUG1AUs
Are you into listening to radio plays? At ScribblingWomen.org Freeman’s short story Louisa was adapted into a very entertaining radio play about a young woman who resists the pressures of contemporary marriage. Listen to Louisa here: http://www.scribblingwomen.org/mflouisafeature.htm Scroll down on that screen and you’ll find more fiction adapted into radio plays by a number of women writers: Willa Cather, Kate Chopin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edith Wharton, and more (and not just horror stories).
Good gosh, I couldn’t stop! This author has so much to offer us. Do drop me a comment if you’ve enjoyed discovering Mary Wilkins Freeman’s fiction.
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