The Fern Evening

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Typographic rustic ISBN: 9788496428003

La velada del helecho or El donativo del diablo was published in the Semanario Pintoresco Español, between June and July 1849. It is set in the Gruyère region, which today is part of the canton of Fribourg.
Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda reworks a folkloric tradition from Switzerland, a country she never visited. Given the impossibility of having access to the living oral tradition, so dear to the Romantics, the author laments in the opening paragraph of The Evening of the Fern, not to be able to “preserve all the magic of its simplicity”, nor to tell it “by the fire of the fireplace, on a cold and prolonged December night”, much less to do so appropriating “the tone, the gesture and the inflections of voice with which they must be enhanced in the mouths of the rustic inhabitants of those mountains”.
The Fern Evening is a novella divided into seven parts. This legend is told in a story of disgruntled love and hidden identity, and is used as a deception to get the necessary conditions to be met so that the bride and groom can marry.
The protagonists of this story are Ida, daughter of the rich cattle rancher Juan Bautista Keller, and the orphan Arnold Kessman, page of the Count of Montsalvens, who because of his poverty is not accepted as Ida’s husband by the girl’s father.
The direct source consulted by the author could be the Dictionnaire géographique, statistique et historique du canton de Fribourg (1832) by Franz Kuenlin, where we find a reference to the custom of protecting the fern. The core of the legend is of an undoubted folkloric origin since it contains elements of wide diffusion in Europe, and the idea that the fern has special powers on the night of San Juan and protects against Satan.
Surely the brother of Doña Gertrudis heard or read in his travels the legend around which La velada del fern was built.
However, the accuracy, although not without errors, of the geographical and historical data is surely due to the author’s readings.

I
In taking up the pen to write this simple legend of past times, it is not concealed from me the impossibility in which I find myself of preserving all the magic of its simplicity, and of lending it that lively interest with which it would undoubtedly be received by the benevolent readers (to whom I dedicate it), if instead of presenting it today in the common forms of the novel, He could make his verbal revelation to them by the fireplace on a cold and long December night; but above all, if I were given to transport them at a stroke to the country in which the facts that I am going to refer to you were verified, and to appropriate for my part the tone, the gesture and the inflections of voice with which they must be enhanced in the mouths of the rustic inhabitants of those mountains. I will not be deterred, however, in view of the disadvantages of my position, and the story whose name serves as the heading to these lines will come out of my pen as it came to my ears in the accents of a young traveler, who, touching me very closely by the bonds of blood, will no doubt forgive me for having decided to entrust it to the black press, naked of the charm with which her expression clothed her.
It was the eve of the day on which the Church solemnizes the faute nativity of the precursor of the Messiah. The sun was to set behind the majestic peaks of Moléson and Jomman (in English Jaman’s Tooth), magnificent branches of the Alps in the western part of Switzerland, and the small and picturesque village of Neirivue, located some distance from the banks of the Sarine River in the canton of Fribourg, presented on that afternoon the spectacle of an unusual movement among its peaceful inhabitants. The cause, however, was none other than to be invited a part of them, which at the time of our history did not reach two hundred, to spend the evening in the house of the rich cattleman Juan Bautista Keller, owner of the largest and most beautiful Chalet (or farmhouse) of those who knew each other in Neirivue, which celebrated in it every year, in the company of his friends, the night preceding the feast of his glorious patron.
The old men of the country, who could testify to the antiquity of the custom of solemnizing the said evening with a joyful evening, came joyfully to take part in the feast of the splendid Keller, who in such circumstances placed at the disposal of his guests the most exquisite products of his cheese factory, and the best wines of Bern and Freiburg. The waiters, for their part, did not waste the opportunity to go to relax a little of the fatigues of their daily tasks, encouraged in addition, each of them with the flattering hope of deserving the joy of dancing with the young Ida Keller, who was not only one of the richest heiresses of the place, but also the most bet and gentle maiden of all those who could be found in many leagues around. In spite of this, the daughter of John the Baptist was so modest and so kind that her companions loved her wholeheartedly, and they were also very ready to go and congratulate her on her father’s saint, dressing for such a plausible reason with her Sunday finery.

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