Russian Fairy Tales | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in October 2018 with all known ATU Classifications.

Bad Wife, The

But instead of giving mere extracts from any more of the numerous stories to which the fruitful subject of woman's caprice has given rise, we will quote a couple of such tales at length. The first is the Russian variant of a story which has a long family tree, with ramifications extending over a great part of the world. Dr. Benfey has devoted to it no less than sixteen pages of his introduction to the Panchatantra, [1] tracing it from its original Indian home, and its subsequent abode in Persia, into almost every European land.


A BAD wife lived on the worst of terms with her husband, and never paid any attention to what he said. If her husband told her to get up early, she would lie in bed three days at a stretch; if he wanted her to go to sleep, she couldn't think of sleeping. When her husband asked her to make pancakes, she would say: "You thief, you don't deserve a pancake!"

                 If he said:

                 "Don't make any pancakes, wife, if I don't deserve them," she would cook a two-gallon pot full, and say,

                 "Eat away, you thief, till they're all gone!"

                 "Now then, wife," perhaps he would say, "I feel quite sorry for you; don't go toiling and moiling, and don't go out to the hay cutting."

                 "No, no, you thief!" she would reply, "I shall go, and do you follow after me!"

                 One day, after having had his trouble and bother with her he went into the forest to look for berries and distract his grief, and he came to where there was a currant bush, and in the middle of that bush he saw a bottomless pit. He looked at it for some time and considered, "Why should I live in torment with a bad wife? can't I put her into that pit? can't I teach her a good lesson?"

                 So when he came home, he said:

                 "Wife, don't go into the woods for berries."

                 "Yes, you bugbear, I shall go!"

                 "I've found a currant bush; don't pick it."

                 "Yes I will; I shall go and pick it clean; but I won't give you a single currant!"

                 The husband went out, his wife with him. He came to the currant bush, and his wife jumped into it, crying out at the top her voice:

                 "Don't you come into the bush, you thief, or I'll kill you!"

                 And so she got into the middle of the bush, and went flop into the bottomless pit.

                 The husband returned home joyfully, and remained there three days; on the fourth day he went to see how things were going on. Taking a long cord, he let it down into the pit, and out from thence he pulled a little demon. Frightened out of his wits, he was going to throw the imp back again into the pit, but it shrieked aloud, and earnestly entreated him, saying:

                 "Don't send me back again, O peasant! let me go out into the world! A bad wife has come, and absolutely devoured us all, pinching us, and biting us--we're utterly worn out with it. I'll do you a good turn, if you will."

                 So the peasant let him go free--at large in Holy Russia. Then the imp said:

                 "Now then, peasant, come along with me to the town of Vologda. I'll take to tormenting people, and you shall cure them."

                 Well, the imp went to where there were merchant's wives and merchant's daughters; and when they were possessed by him, they fell ill and went crazy. Then the peasant would go to a house where there was illness of this kind, and, as soon as he entered, out would go the enemy; then there would be blessing in the house, and everyone would suppose that the peasant was a doctor indeed, and would give him money, and treat him to pies. And so the peasant gained an incalculable sum of money. At last the demon said:

                 "You've plenty now, peasant; arn't you content? I'm going now to enter into the Boyar's daughter. Mind you don't go curing her. If you do, I shall eat you."

                 The Boyar's daughter fell ill, and went so crazy that she wanted to eat people. The Boyar ordered his people to find out the peasant--(that is to say) to look for such and such a physician. The peasant came, entered the house, and told Boyar to make all the townspeople, and the carriages with coachmen, stand in the street outside. Moreover, he gave orders that all the coachmen should crack their whips and cry at the top of their voices: "The Bad Wife has come! the Bad Wife has come!" and then he went into the inner room. As soon as he entered it, the demon rushed at him crying, "What do you mean, Russian? what have you come here for? I'll eat you!"

                 "What do you mean?" said the peasant, "why I didn't come here to turn you out. I came, out of pity to you, to say that the Bad Wife has come here."

                 The Demon rushed to the window, stared with all his eyes, and heard everyone shouting at the top of his voice the words, "The Bad Wife!"

                 "Peasant," cries the Demon, "wherever can I take refuge?"

                 "Run back into the pit. She won't go there any more."

                 The Demon went back to the pit--and to the Bad Wife too.

                 In return for his services, the Boyar conferred a rich guerdon on the peasant, giving him his daughter to wife, and presenting him with half his property.

                 But the Bad Wife sits to this day in the pit--in Tartarus. [3]



[1] "Panchatantra," 1859, vol. i. § 212, pp. 519-524. I gladly avail myself of this opportunity of gratefully acknowledging my obligations to Dr. Benfey's invaluable work.

[2] Afanasief, i. No. 9. Written down in the Novgorod Government. Its dialect renders it somewhat difficult to read.

[3] This story is known to the Finns, but with them the Russian Demon, (chortenok = a little chort or devil), has become the Plague. In the original Indian story the demon is one which had formerly lived in a Brahman's house, but had been frightened away by his cantankerous wife. In the Servian version (Karajich, No. 37), the opening consists of the "Scissors-story," to which allusion has already been made. The vixen falls into a hole which she does not see, so bent is she on controverting her husband.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Bad Wife, The
Tale Author/Editor: Ralston, William Ralston Shedden
Book Title: Russian Fairy Tales
Book Author/Editor: Ralston, William Ralston Shedden
Publisher: Hurst & Co.
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1873
Country of Origin: Russia
Classification: unclassified

Next Tale
Golovikha, The

Back to Top