Audrey II Originated in Ancient Egypt: A Quick Review of "The Mummy's Curse" by Louisa May Alcott
I’m just going to say what we’re all thinking, Louisa May Alcott is only known for Little Women. Outside of Little Women and Little Men, I probably couldn’t name any of her other works. Sorry not sorry, I just don’t read many transcendentalist authors.
This is where I say anthologies are the greatest things to ever exist; especially the ones you find at bookstores that are on sale for under ten bucks. In one of these anthologies I discovered a quick little story by Miss Alcott: “Lost in a Pyramid” or, as it is sometimes called, “The Mummy’s Curse.”
Published in 1869, this short story follows two young lovers, cousins by the names of Paul and Evelyn. First of all, ewwwwww. Don’t marry your cousin; that shit is nasty. Secondly, Paul is either an archeologist or adventurer of some sort. Alcott doesn’t make it clear if he’s an actual archeologist or a student or a historian or just one of those rich people who considers their self an archeologist because they had money to hire people to do all the hard work. That last possibility is the most likely as that’s what the rich did back in the late 1800’s.
Sorry, it’s just time for me to go off on a tangent that’s not super connected to the story. I don’t think I’ve done that in awhile so I hope you all enjoyed it because I certainly have.
I’m also going to spoil the entirety of this short story; again, I'm not sorry. It’ll take you all of five to ten minutes to read this story so leave and go read it very quickly then come back if you don't want to be spoiled.
Anyway, Evelyn comes across a gold box that Paul brought back from Egypt. As he recounts the tale of how he came across this box, Evelyn becomes entranced by what she finds inside. Inside are three crimson seeds. Neither Paul nor Evelyn are familiar with the seeds and she wants to begin growing them to see what blooms. Paul is adamant about Evelyn not planting these seeds. As it turns out, this box was found buried with the body of a sorceress. Also on the body was a note that claimed those who disturbed her resting place and body would fall victim to her final curse: death by plant.
Alas this death is not brought on by Audrey II, nor do Paul or Evelyn know that this “curse” will be specifically brought by these seeds. Paul has an inkling that nothing good could come from what he brought back, but his fiancé doesn’t care.
As it turns out, both parties take one of the seeds to cultivate in secret. The goal of this is to have a mysterious bloom for Evelyn to wear on her wedding day/find out what these seeds will grow. She cultivates hers in secret by herself while Paul sends his away to his friend Professor Niles who was on the trip with our “intrepid” protagonist.
Things go to shit on the pair’s wedding day. Both flowers bloomed! Evelyn is wearing hers on her dress! The good professor is wearing his in his lapel as he attends a botany conference to discover the identity of this mysterious plant. Except it turns out that what blooms is one of the most potent poisons in the world.
With a snake like bloom, the stark white flower drains the life of whoever grows it. On the last day of the grower’s life, they receive an energy burst that lasts till the evening. They’ll become tired, pale, and begin to feel weak to the point of passing out. The life slowly drains out of them until they are no more.
I love the second half of this story. I love that there aren’t any supernatural elements to this curse. I wouldn’t have been mad had there been a walking mummy or haunting of some sort, but I like that Alcott kept the curse as something physical.
I can one hundred percent also write a research paper on how this is a transcendentalist horror story. Alcott kept with the transcendentalist aspect of literature with her inclusion of the divinity of nature. Nature in this case is a thing that can kill, and it can kill brutally. Nature is not something to be messed with. In this story, it is something that can bring beauty to an area but that beauty comes at a very high cost.
This is perhaps my favorite transcendentalist story.
Although, that’s not saying much given my dislike for literature of this era. I also really dislike the first half of this story. In my fairly long summary of this text, I did not mention anything about what the Professor and Paul did while they were in the tomb where he discovered the gold box.
Paul and Professor Niles are basically searching for treasure in an Egyptian tomb. The Professor at least claims to be there in the name of discovery, I still don’t know why Paul is there in the first place, but they pretty much just want glory. And they don’t care what they do in the tomb.
First of all, they get lost in this tomb so they decide to start a fire out of a wooden sarcophagus they stumble across. That’s a big yikes. That's a big no no. I don’t care that these two were lost and were using the fire to signal their guide to where they were. You don’t light someone’s final resting place on fire.
It only gets worse from here as not only do these two men begin unwrapping the corpse that they removed from the sarcophagus. They’re doing this to discover take the coins, amulets, and the other items the ancient Egyptians included during the embalming process that were believed to grant the deceased safe passage into the afterlife.
It was a typical practice during the Victorian era from the rich to unwrap Egyptian mummies for the items contained in the wrappings. It was typically for this to do be done as the highlight of a lavish party. This was an absolutely disgusting practice. And while I understand this was common place at the time, having to read about it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
Unwrapping the body is still not as horrendous as what they ultimately do to the corpse. They burn it. The wood they have for the fire is far too brittle so it burns extremely quick. The only way these two think they can be found is to keep this fire going and the only thing left to burn is unfortunately the mummy.
Honestly, Paul and Professor Niles deserve what happens to them after this incident. Evelyn doesn’t deserve to die, but Paul certainly deserves all the pain that comes afterwards. The Sorceress certainly gets the final laugh in the end. She deserves a lot more respect than she was given by these two men. In life she likely had that respect as her resting place was never raided by thieves during the time in which she lived.
She makes a great anti-hero in this story. I don’t think she was buried with these seeds because she wanted others to die, I think she did so because she wanted to rest in peace for all eternity. Her vengeance is only brought on when her body and burial place are ransacked. She’s the best character in this story hands down. Without speaking or even being alive, she’s the only one with any type of layers or dimension; everyone else is a fairly static asshole.
While this story has many moments that are a disgusting by product of the time, “The Mummy’s Curse” is certainly a read that shouldn’t be overlooked. Louisa May Alcott may be most known for Little Women but she wrote many other books and short stories during her career. Plus, “The Mummy’s Curse” is such a different vibe from all her other stories. She focused mainly on life up in New England yet here she is writing a horror story about an Egyptian mummy. I’d say this one is worth a read just for the dynamic Sorceress alone; and she’s not even in the story for more than a minute.
This isn’t a horror story that relies on the supernatural. It’s not a psychological horror story either. This is a horror story where nature plays the role of both protagonist and antagonist. And that’s not something one sees often.