Short Story #139: The Courageous Hunchback Woman by Honore de Balzac

Title:  The Courageous Hunchback Woman

Author:  Honore de Balzac


Great French Short Stories edited by M. E. Speare.  The World Publishing Company, 1943A doctor and a woman friend go up into a hay loft to listen in on a group of lower-class men and women doing work and chatting.  They want to do this as they find it amusing to hear the stories that are told by this group. They marvel at the different people and the exchanges that occur.  One of the people below begin telling a story of the hunchback woman.

While traveling, she resigns herself to asking to stay at a house she doesn't feel comfortable about.  She is offered a room but in the middle of the night she is awoken by two men with knives.  They kill a man within the house.  As they are leaving, they find the woman who is pretending to sleep.  They talk about killing her and feeding her to the pigs, but the woman continues to pretend to sleep, betraying no hint of the truth.  They leave and in the morning, she leaves without saying anything.  In leaving, she moves slowly and as she would regularly would even though she wants to run.  Shortly on her way, she runs into the murderers who ask her questions.  She continues to pretend she knows nothing and acts casually.  When she gets home and starts cooking, the head of the murdered man appears above her frying pan demanding her to avenge him.  This is followed by the ghost of the same man showing up at the door and again, demanding retribution.  Finally, the woman listens and goes to the local judge to inform him of what had occurred.  The story ends explaining that from then onward, they produced the greatest hemp (they were hemp-growers) and that the woman even gave birth to a boy who became a great lord.  


I found this to be one of funner stories in the collection.  It had a bit of horror to it and a bit of fantasy.  It did fall part with the outer story of the doctor listening in.  I am often disappointed when the inner story doesn't somehow come back to the outer story.  That the woman was courageous for pretending to be ignorant of what the men did and then needing to be taunted by a ghost in order to do what was right tells us more about de Balzac's view of women (or the culture's view) of women and their expectations.  

Short Story #139 out of 365
Rating:  3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  5/17/2014
Source:  Great French Short Stories edited by M. E. Speare.  The World Publishing Company, 1943.  You can find this story and others in this anthology at this resource. 

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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