Mr Fox

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This tale (published in 1790) is the English equivalent to ‘The Robber Bridegroom’ in the Grimms' collection and, more remotely, to Perrault's ‘Bluebeard’. A certain Lady Mary was wooed by a Mr Fox, and one day went alone to visit his house. It was empty, but she went in and passed through several doorways, over which was written: ‘Be bold, but not too bold’. But she opened the doors, and found a room full of blood and bones. At that moment Mr Fox returned home, dragging a girl with him; as she gripped the bannisters he cut off her hand, and then killed her. Lady Mary, who had been hiding, managed to escape unnoticed, taking the fallen hand with her. Next time Mr Fox came to dine with her family, she said she wanted to tell a dream she had had, and began describing her visit to his house. At each stage, Mr Fox tried to stop her, saying:It is not so, nor it was not so,And God forbid it should be so!

But she went on telling her ‘dream’, and when she spoke of the hand, and he denied it in the same words, she produced it in front of everyone, saying:But it is so, and it was so,And here's the hand I have to show!

Whereupon the guests drew their swords, and instantly cut Mr Fox into a thousand pieces.

A Gypsy named Eva Gray told a leisurely, carefully detailed version of ‘Mr Fox’ to the collector W. H. Thompson at Grimsby in 1914, calling the villain ‘Dr Forster’. A related story, recorded in some 19th-century collections of local folklore, tells how a girl agrees to meet her lover in some lonely place but arrives early and hides by climbing a tree; to her horror, when he does come he has a spade, and starts digging a grave. So she stays hidden, and later denounces him for planning to murder her.

‘Mr Fox’ is in Jacobs, 1894/1968: 92–4; Briggs, 1970–1: A. ii. 446–50;Philip, 1992: 158–62. ‘The Cellar of Blood’/‘Dr Forster’ is in Briggs, 1970–1: A. i. 214–16 and ii. 390 (abridged);and in Philip, 1992: 166–86 (full text).

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