Thursday, November 5, 2015

American Horror Story follows in the footsteps of Hungarian folklore

Another creepy thing we did before it was cool.

I have been watching the new season of American Horror Story (Hotel), and couldn't help but notice a trope that was eerily familiar... And right after that, I realized how weird it is to say out loud to my friends that a lady furiously scrubbing bloodied bed sheets "reminds me of high school."

Context. Is everything.

There is a trope in the tradition of Hungarian folk ballads known as "the woman who murdered her husband" (yeah, we are a cheerful bunch). The most recognizable image of these stories is the guilty woman trying to scrub the blood out of her sheets. In some versions she had killed her husband herself; in others, her lover did. In either case, she is noticed by other people, who ask her where the blood came from. She lies (claiming she accidentally soiled it with chicken blood), but eventually gets arrested and tired for murder.

The most famous iteration of this story is called Ágnes asszony (Mistress Ágnes), and it is a literary ballad written by poet Arany János in 1853. We learn about it in great detail in high school Literature classes, and pretty much everyone is familiar with at least the opening verse, describing the woman washing bloody sheets. In this version, she is allowed to go free at the end of the trial, mostly because the judges realize she has already gone mad. She goes back to the stream to keep washing the sheets day and night until they are left in tatters.

You can read the full English translation of the ballad here.

Maybe we should start a Hungarian Horror Story series.
Maybe that will be my A to Z theme next year.

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