The Midnight Washerwoman and Other Tales of Lower Brittany

    Edited and translated by
  • Michael Wilson

Twenty-nine Breton tales, as told over a series of long winter nights, featuring an ingenious miller, a Jerusalem-bound ant, a mad dash at midnight, and more


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Jan 16, 2024
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In the late nineteenth century, the folklorist François-Marie Luzel spent countless winter evenings listening to stories told by his neighbors, local Breton farmers and villagers. At these social gatherings, known as veillées, Luzel recorded the tales in unusual detail, capturing a storytelling tradition that is now almost forgotten. The Midnight Washerwoman and Other Tales of Lower Brittany collects twenty-nine stories gathered by Luzel, many translated into English for the first time. The tales are presented in a series of five imaginary veillées, giving readers a unique opportunity to listen in on a long-ago winter’s night of storytelling.

Some of the stories mix the apparently supernatural with the everyday—as in the title tale, when a mysteriously nocturnal washerwoman causes three handsome lads to flee so quickly they lose their clogs in the process. Others invite listeners to root for the underdog, as when a simple miller outwits a powerful seigneur. Another tale must have been greeted with raucous laughter as it recounts an ascending ladder of obstacles—from a mouse to a cat to a man to God (or the Devil) himself—confronted by a traveling ant. Michael Wilson, the volume’s editor and translator, provides a substantive introduction that discusses Luzel’s work and the significance of Breton storytelling.