Sharing its name with tale by Brothers Grimm, The Robber Bridegroom was noted short story writer Eudora Welty’s first novel, published in 1942. A mélange of myth and legend with generous allusions to tales both fairy-based and folk-based, Welty referred to the result as a “Fairy Tale of the Natchez Trace” and in the process produced a distinctly American narrative in which Mike Fink and Davy Crockett share the same creative universe as Rumpelstiltskin and Cinderella.
Set in Mississippi in the days when characters like Mike Fink rule the mighty Big Muddy, Welty’s novel is the story of Jamie Lockhart, the bandit who becomes the title character when he abducts beautiful daughter of the man whose life he has saved. The abduction quickly transforms into a seduction as Lockhart eventually succeeds in making himself groom to Rosamond Musgrove’s bride. From there the story takes as many thematic turns as it does narrative twists. Many of the characters are charitably described as ambiguous; in some cases they are one thing on the face of it, but quite another on a deeper level. And certain characters—like Rosamond’s stepmother Salome—co-exist on the novel’s wide canvas of allusions on multiple planes. Salome manifests a distinct connection to her Biblical namesake while also embodying fairy tale qualities associated with stepmothers and even reaching to symbolic levels normally reserved for male characters that reach far back into scripture before the appearance of the dance of the seven veils.
The Robber Bridegroom was very well received by critics and public alike and was held in especially high regard by that other famous literary genius from Mississippi, William Faulkner. In 1975, a stage musical adaptation of The Robber Bridegroom premiered on Broadway with Kevin Kline originating the title role.