Short Story: The New Mother by Lucy Clifford

anyhowstoriesmor00clifiala_0036I gave The New Mother by Lucy Clifford a whirl after reading about it in this Guardian article. Yikes, is it ever the stuff of childhood nightmares. It’s a surreal story with lots of weird oddities that are twice as creepy by being unexplainable. Like, who is the girl with the pear drum? The devil? And the guy following her with the dogs at the end. Wha? Then there is the new mother herself with her glowing glass eyes and wooden tail. Wooden tail, y’all! (I just turned Southern, apparently.)

This story dates back to the days when parents would scare the beejebus out of their kids in order to keep them in line. Imagine a mother reading this and saying, “The end… Now you know what happens to naughty children. Have sweet dreams, children.” Aw, the good old days.

Anyhow… here’s the run down. Two perfectly nice children encounter a girl with a pear drum (a guitar-like instrument). She tempts them into becoming “naughty” by dangling the chance of seeing the tiny people she has hidden inside the pear drum over them. Only naughty children can see them. So the kids go home and become progressively bad over several days, making their mother crazy. She threatens to leave them, but they wouldn’t be alone for long- the New Mother will come. The kids decide to take their chances and keep misbehaving. I think you can figure out what happens.

The New Mother comes from an 1882 collection called Anyhow Stories (moral and otherwise); the moral being don’t be bad or your parents will leave you in the hands of monsters.



  1. I was such a goody-two-shoes as a kid I would have been like, "Whew, I didn't see the tiny people!"

  2. That does sound rather scary, and a lot easier to read as an adult. It's weird they started as nice children, it's more usual for it to be bad children later learning from mistakes.

  3. I've been meaning to read this ever since Neil Gaiman said somewhere that this story had helped inspire Coraline. That was years and years ago, so I can't believe I still haven't! *clicks the link*

  4. Oh, that it a creepy bit of story-telling. I'm not a parent, but I'm not sure it's a bad thing for kids to be a little scared or creeped-out. Then again, one of my earlier reading memories involves illustrated Poe books. I might not be the best person to judge. ;) Thanks for blogging this, I wouldn't have found it otherwise.


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