‘The Beggarwoman Of Locarno’ by Heinrich von Kleist


The Beggarwoman Of Locarno by Heinrich von Kleist, 1810

The magic trick:

Writing a horror story around a basic sin/punishment schism

So much of the horror genre, be it literature or film, is based on morality. People commit sins, and then they get punished for those sins – usually in the form of ghosts, goblins and other scary things.

“Beggarwoman” follows that model to a T. I guess this story helped establish that model, actually. It’s very old. But it’s a very good model.

In “Beggarwoman,” you get the double pleasure of being scared by the beggarwoman’s ghost and relishing the justice done in the Marquis’s demise. And that’s quite a trick on Kleist’s part.

The selection:

But imagine their horror when, in the middle of the night, the nobleman, pale and distracted, entered their room, solemnly assuring them that his room was haunted by something which was not visible, but which sounded as if somebody lying on straw in one corner of the room got up and slowly and feebly but with distinct steps crossed the room to lie down moaning and groaning behind the stove.

The Marquis, horrified, he did not himself know why, laughed with forced merriment at the nobleman and said he would get up at once and keep him company for the rest of the night in the haunted room. But the nobleman begged to be allowed to spend the rest of the night in another room, and when the morning came he ordered his horses to be brought round, bade farewell, and departed.


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