Werewolf Wednesday: “The Hand of the Were-Wolf” (1841)

The World of Fashion was a publication that ran from 1824 to 1879 and included fiction alongside its coverage of clothing. In an 1841 edition of the magazine we find an anonymous story called “The Hand of the Were-Wolf”, which opens with a short history of the werewolf legend, traced dubiously to Chaldea:

The term Were-Wolf has probably descended to us from the Chaldeans, and other pastoral nations, who were obliged to live continually on the defensive against the wolves that followed their flocks; and the terror inspired by these animals favored the nocturnal depredations of unprincipled individuals, who availed themselves of a disguise, as a wolf, to perpetrate mischief of all kinds.

The story takes us to the French village of Ryans, where a local family — the Gordes — are believed by superstitious villagers to be werewolves. The inescapable prejudice takes its toll on the Gordes, who are forced to live in poverty and squalor. One by one they die of disease; the sole survivor is Simon Gorde, who wishes that he really were a lycanthrope:

“Ah! would that I were the Wolf they say I am; I would revenge the injuries that are heaped upon me. But no! I would not eat their flesh, or drink their blood. I would pursue, and torment them; the unfeeling wretches who allowed my family to die–my father, mother, sisters, all! Why have I not the power to transform myself into a Wolf, if my fathers did so; at least I should find carrion, and I should not perish with hunger.”

While burning his scant household belongings to keep warm, Simon comes across an old leather trunk that belonged to his ancestors. Inside is a wolf costume made from sheepskin. Struck by inspiration, he dons the outfit and goes on a rampage until a local butcher, Claude Lovey, who cuts off his hand. But Simon gets the last laugh: Claude is driven to his death by his superstitious fear of the werewolf, and Simon ends up marrying the butcher’s widow, Fauchon — the only member of the community to take pity on him.

If this synopsis sounds familiar, then chances are you’ve read Sutherland Menzies’ “Hugues, the Wer-Wolf” which was published three years earlier. Truth be told, “The Hand of the Were-Wolf” is no more than a pirated version of Menzies’ story, not so much rewritten as paraphrased. For example, compare the scene where Simon finds the werewolf costume…

Simon drew back startled from this discovery–so opportune, that it appeared the effect of sorcery; then recovering his surprise, he drew forth this strange disguise, which, either from neglect, or long service, was much deteriorated. As he examined it he recollected the manu stories that he had listened to from his grandfather; tales which he, as a child, had laughed at; but which he remembered had always made his mother look grave. A struggle between tenderness and revenge arose in his mind, and as he silently continued to examine this criminal inheritance, many wild projects presented themselves to his imagination.

…to its counterpart in the Menzies story:

Hugues started backwards, terrified at his discovery — so opportune, that it seemed to him the work of sorcery; then, on recovering from his surprise, he drew forth one by one the several pieces of this strange envelope, which had evidently seen some service, and from long neglect had become somewhat damaged. Then rushed confusedly upon his mind the marvellous recitals made him by his grandfather, as he nursed him upon his knees during earliest childhood; tales, during the narration of which his mother wept silently, as he laughed heartily. In his mind there was a mingled strife of feelings and purposes alike undefinable. He continued his silent examination of this criminal heritage, and by degrees his imagination grew bewildered with vague and extravagant projects.

The author’s main changes to the source text are shifting the location from England to France (more exotic, perhaps?), removing the historical context (presumably so that the reader wouldn’t be bored by footnotes) and changing the heroine from a butcher’s niece to a butcher’s wife (turning the antagonistic butcher into a romantic rival, thereby increasing the drama).

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