The Horrors of Childhood – What Inspired “The Housekeeper”
by Kat Hutchson
In my first draft of this blog post, I wanted to write that there were few things that terrified me during my childhood but then I had to reconsider. There was the domovoy, the toilet monster from the X files, the fear of being kidnaped, the instability of a looming war with Chechnya on the borders of Caucasus – although it was a mere nervous feeling that crept into the mind of everyone, even children that were not quite ready to grasp the actual impact. It was a ghost, another monster that hid under your bed.
Although most of this fear faded away and with it the physical memory, some parts are still not quite vivid. I find it impressive how events that might look more traumatic to the outside eye only left behind a movie scene without a clear emotional response while other less striking events still feel more close to home.
My story “The Housekeeper” was inspired by a saying that had terrified me most of my childhood and had effectively stopped me from begging my parents to ever go home early. If you asked your parents to go home, you received the answer that there is a domovoy who is drying his legs and will strangle you.
The Russian version of this sounds far more poetic due the rhyme sushit – dries- and sadushit – strangles – at the end of the sentence. Although the poetic aspect doesn’t make it less terrifying if you ask me.
In my research I wanted to explore the origins of the proverb but unfortunately I was unable to find any clue. I know that it was passed on from my grandmother to my mother – and that it hadn’t terrified her as much as it had me. Some sources mention that it was part of a children’s song and that there might be a version where the domovoy dries his shoes instead of his legs.
The concept of the story draws from the definition of the Fantastic as a state where the reader as well as the protagonist are uncertain if the events actually happened. There is no way of telling if the protagonist purely imagined them or if something supernatural took place. Based on Tzvetan Todorov’s definition of the Fantastic in Introduction à la littérature fantastique there are two ways to interpret such events: as the fantastic uncanny or fantastic marvelous. While the uncanny has a rational explanation such as an illusion, the marvelous defines the events as real.
In case of “The Housekeeper” the Fantastic is tied to the traumatic. The divorce of the protagonist’s parents, separation from the father, moving to a new environment could all be considered as the culprit for his physical symptoms and experiences. The subjectivity of the events, the passing of time and the memories of a child do not allow for a simple decision if the Fantastic is marvelous or uncanny. They seem real to the protagonist but his visits to the psychiatrist suggest a rational explanation. To confirm one or the other would negate the state of the Fantastic.
I guess, you’ll have to read for yourself and form your own opinion.
Kat Hutchson was born in Kislovodsk, a Russian spa city located between the Black and Caspian Seas. As a child she fell into the fountain of the Narzan Gallery and started writing shortly after. The magic powers of the Narzan contributed to her trying various forms of writing including slam poetry, academic publishing and poetry, and led to her finally finding her current home in the weird and the fantastic. Kat holds two master’s degrees (in Comparative Literature and Scandinavian Studies) from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, Germany, where she currently lives. Follow Kat on Twitter where she is @HutchsonKat or check out her blog www.KatHutchson.wordpress.com
Photo Credits with links