Thoughts on “The Virgin Mary’s Child”

by crfricke

“The Virgin Mary’s Child” is a Bluebeard tale, with an ominous figure who forbids a young woman to open the door, while simultaneously handing her the keys to do it. Punishment lies in store for the woman when she succumbs to her temptation and curiosity, but what is punished is not exactly a character flaw—it’s an inevitability. In “The Virgin Mary’s Child,” the punisher is not a heinous, murderous husband, but the blessed Mother. “Bluebeard” is a horror story, and “The Virgin Mary’s Child” is a morality tale, for once the girl confesses, after many years, that opened the forbidden door, Mary restores her speech and her family.

But what’s most interesting about “The Virgin Mary’s Child” is not the figure of Mary as divine judge and jury, but what the girl sees behind the 13th door:

“Suddenly the door sprang open, and there she saw the Holy Trinity sitting in fire and splendor. She stood still for a while and looked at everything in amazement. The she touched the light just a little with her finger, and the finger turned golden.”

The girl is cast into a wilderness for lying to Mary about opening the door, and also for disobeying Mary’s orders not to open it in the first place—but what has she seen? In some ways, “The Virgin Mary’s Child” is also like the story of the Garden of Eden, and many writers have had a bone to pick with that one as well. If the girl’s sin is that she was haughty enough to look on God, or curious to know what God looked like, then is she being punished for pride? So that’s where the prompt was for me: what did the girl understand about what she saw? What did she see? And after all that, was the wilderness punishment, or freedom?

Read my writing response here, and feel free to add your own freewrite in the comments. And read the full tale as translated by D.L. Ashlimann, available at Pitt.edu.

Illustration by Heinrich Lefler and Joseph Urban

Illustration by Heinrich Lefler and Joseph Urban

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