Like the toast, the Houdan hen is another symbol in “Sredni Vashtar” of something pleasurable and lively that the soul-crushingly middle-class Mrs. De Ropp is intent on getting rid of. While the toast is a sensory pleasure, the Houdan hen represents the pleasures of the imagination and is the canvas onto which Conradin paints one of his most elaborate fantasies. While the Houdan hen doesn’t become part of the cult of Sredni Vashtar (a pagan religion Conradin invents that stands in direct opposition to Mrs. De Ropp’s stodgy church-going), Conradin makes it clear that the hen is not like Mrs. De Ropp. Conradin decides the hen is an Anabaptist, and while Conradin doesn’t know what that means, he hopes it’s not something respectable like his cousin. (Anabaptists are a Christian religious movement that broke away from the mainline Christian religions dominant in much of Europe at the time, so Conradin’s choice, while humorously uniformed, is actually fairly accurate.) Ultimately, what pushes Conradin from privately detesting his cousin to actively praying for her downfall is the moment when Mrs. De Ropp secretly sells the Houdan hen and informs him about it the next day. Mrs. De Ropp tries to extinguish what the Houdan hen represents—the imagination and the rebelliousness—and while she’s successful at first, her death at the hands of Sredni Vashtar suggests that her attempts to repress Conradin’s imagination have literally come back to bite her.
Houdan Hen Quotes in Sredni Vashtar
The Houdan hen was never drawn into the cult of Sredni Vashtar. Conradin had long ago settled that she was an Anabaptist. He did not pretend to have the remotest knowledge as to what an Anabaptist was, but he privately hoped that it was dashing and not very respectable. Mrs De Ropp was the ground plan on which he based and detested all respectability.