Other than it being listed as one of the Horror: 100 Best Books (Thomas Tessier wrote about it) I can't find any other reference to this on Vault.
And it needs to be on here. Oh yes by gum it does - if not here than on the 'When Animals Attack' thread. In fact it's probably the very first of these, the forerunner, nay the very inspiration behind NIGHT OF THE CRABS and so many other rampant-creatures-eating-humans scenarios. Without THE BLACK SPIDER there may well have been no EAT THEM ALIVE. Just think about that while you read this cover blurb:
"It is a sunny summer Sunday in a remote Swiss village, and a christening is being celebrated at a lovely old farmhouse. One of the guests notes an anomaly in the fabric of the venerable edifice: a blackened post that has been carefully built into a trim new window frame. Thereby hangs a tale, one that, as the wise old grandfather who has lived all his life in the house proceeds to tell it, takes one chilling turn after another, while his audience listens in appalled silence. Featuring a cruelly overbearing lord of the manor and the oppressed villagers who must render him service, an irreverent young woman who will stop at nothing, a mysterious stranger with a red beard and a green hat, and, last but not least, the black spider, the tale is as riveting and appalling today as when Jeremias Gotthelf set it down more than a hundred years ago. The Black Spider can be seen as a parable of evil in the heart or of evil at large in society (Thomas Mann saw it as foretelling the advent of Nazism), or as a vision, anticipating H. P. Lovecraft, of cosmic horror. There’s no question, in any case, that it is unforgettably creepy."
But that's underselling it, oh yes. I would never have thought a book originally written in Swiss German in 1842 would turn out to be a contender for one of my favourites of the year, but if you can get past some scene-setting and quite a bit of sermonising this is a fantastic 'Spider Demons From Hell On the Rampage After Bursting Out of a Girl's Face' novella that definitely shouldn't be read by arachnophobes. Gotthelf even manages a coda that's like the forerunner of modern movie sequels, and we even get the 1842 equivalent of movie taglines in the text:
"The heaviest stone could not crush it! The sharpest axe did not harm it!"
The scenes of the spider attacks are genuinely unnerving, as the ground comes alive with spiders to consume animals and humans alike. And there's a BRILLIANT bit where a knight, planning to save the villagers, ends up with the Black Spider on his head and it bores through his helmet and into his brain, infecting him with a 'fiery madness' that drives him to his death.
The edition I read was a 100 page novella from NYRB. I've no doubt spoiled part of the surprise now, but for the first 50 pages this is a bit plodding, a bit ordinary and a bit, well, 19th century. Then it all goes seriously tits-up mental and you would never think a parson wrote this stuff as the spiders wreak carnage and descriptions of the creatures running across people's faces turning them into a mass of black blistering pustules will cause even the slightest arachnophobe to drop this slim volume and throw up.
Can you tell what a fab Sunday evening I had reading this?
Thanks for this Lord P. Tessier being a favourite of mine, have long been curious about this one, mainly because I find it intriguing that a fellow massive Adverts fan would chose a relatively obscure Gothic gem as his all-time number one.
Peter Haining's Gothic selection, Great British Tales Of Terror, also includes a The Black Spider, this one the work of Anonymous, but, despite throwing in the proverbial kitchen sink - alchemy, anatomical mischief, demonology, body-snatching, murder, infanticide, etc. - it's doubtless the lesser of the two, and doesn't cut it as a bona fide 'When Animals Attack.' On the plus side, the book does include one such early example of the form - M. G. Lewis's impossibly melodramatic and exciting-once-it-gets-going The Anaconda.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.