Academic journal article Folklore

Legend and Life: Examples from the Biographies of 'A'ishah Bint Abi Bakr, Mary Carleton, and Friedrich Salomo Krauss

Academic journal article Folklore

Legend and Life: Examples from the Biographies of 'A'ishah Bint Abi Bakr, Mary Carleton, and Friedrich Salomo Krauss

Article excerpt

Abstract

Contemporary legends correspond to the concerns of our times. It is a well-known fact, however, that many of them are updatings of older stories. Here three antecedents of contemporary legends are discussed. The widespread legend of "The Wife Left by the Roadside" is paralleled by an episode from the life of Muhammad's favourite wife, 'A'ishah. While the modern legend is often used to ridicule women, 'A'ishah's adventure gave rise to slander and political intrigues. An antecedent for a legend that may be called "Expensive Tickets" is found among the exploits of the so-called "German Princess," a famous seventeenth-century swindler and thief. It is a good example of how legends are developed and modified over time. Finally, an episode from the life of the nineteenth-century Austrian folklorist Friedrich Salomo Krauss, told by himself as a means of self-excuse and self-stylisation, is considered in the light of the folklore of disease.

**********

A journalist recently asked me what the blind spots in contemporary legend research were, and I replied that one of them concerned trying to understand the processes of spontaneous creativity as a public response to scandals, sensational news, catastrophes or other events of far-reaching consequences. On the other hand, the search for antecedents of so-called modern legends is still ongoing. As we all know, what would appear to be new creations are by no means always new stories, but often represent updatings of older ones. Here I wish to discuss three early parallels of contemporary legends that belong, respectively, to the history of religion, [1] the history of crime, and the history of our own field, folk narrative research.

"The Wife Left by the Roadside"

Many contemporary legends seem to be bound up with modern life-styles and modern life conditions. One of these is "The Wife Left by the Roadside," [2] a well-known story that recurs in the popular press. In its most common form, it tells that a woman who is travelling with her husband returns from the toilet to find that he has inadvertently driven on without her. The tale has undergone a couple of changes since it first made its appearance in contemporary lore in 1957 (Burger 1993, 95), and it is possible that some of the versions are based on real events. It is mainly anecdotal in character and male collectors often take delight in evoking the image of an abandoned helpless woman, naked, or in her nightdress. This legend type is paralleled by an episode from the life of Muhammad's favourite wife, 'A'ishah. Especially striking are the similarities of the 'A'ishah story with a group of variants such as the one collected from an oral source by Gillian Bennett in 1981:

   This is very funny, but this is absolutely true. It was my aunty's
   neighbour who we knew very well. This just reminded me--"Someone's
   wife left at the roadside during a vacation journey." They went
   on a caravan holiday. It, it was a long time ago, because I
   believe nowadays you're not allowed to sleep in a caravan while
   you're driving it. But in those days there was no law about it. I
   should say it's twenty to twenty-five years ago, and, er, they
   were coming home from Wales. It was late at night and she was
   tired. Her husband said, "Oh, I'll drive. You go and sleep."

   So she went in the caravan, got undressed and put herself to bed,
   and they had been driving about half an hour. She wasn't settled,
   and the car stopped, and she looked through the window. She saw
   her husband get out and go in the field [laughs], so she wanted to
   go in the field as well. She got out and, um, didn't tell him
   because he had gone by the side of the road and she went behind a
   tree or something, and he came back jolly quick and got in the car
   and drove off, and she'd just gone behind this tree. So she sort
   of ran out in her nightdress and shouted him, but off he went
   [laughs]. … 
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.