The Grass Widow’s Tale– The Seventh Felse Novel

The Grass Widow’s Tale– The Seventh Felse Novel October 11, 2015


The Free Dictionary online (by Farlex accessed 8-27-15) gives us an interesting history for the term grass widow. It says the following—
The phrase “Grass widow is first recorded in 1528, and originally referred to an unmarried woman who has lived with one or more men, a discarded mistress, or a woman who has borne a child out of wedlock. The grass in grass widow seems to have originally made reference to the makeshift bed of grass or hay (as opposed to a real bed with a mattress and sheets) on which a woman might lie with her lover before he rises and abandons her—leaving her a widow, so to speak, in the grass. Throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, grass and the color green in general had sexual connotations, in allusion to the green stains left on clothing after rolling in the grass. (The lyrics of the 16th-century song Greensleeves, for example, give voice to the sufferings of an abandoned lover.)

“By the middle of the 19th century, however, grass widow had come to refer mainly to a wife whose husband is temporarily absent or one who is living apart from her husband. In colonial India, for example, it was used of British women who, during the hot season, went off to enjoy the cool of the hills while their husbands were stuck at their jobs in the heat of the plains. Although the reason for the change in meaning is not known with any certainty, people may have interpreted the grass in grass widow as equivalent to pasture, as in the expression out to pasture. Nowadays, the term grass widow can also refer to a wife who has separated from her husband and to a divorced woman.”

It is of course in the latter sense that Ellis Peters uses the phrase in her splendid seventh novel in her series of the Felse murder mysteries. In terms of being a page turner, this is the best one of the series so far. I quite literally couldn’t put it down. Peters does not overwhelm the reader in this novel with her powers of vivid description. It is a plot driven tale, and the action begins very early when, in essence, Bunty Felse is basically kidnapped. In fact this novel (which like most of them is only about 200 pages) could have been called Bunty’s tale, as George barely figures in it, and Dominic shows up for no more of a cameo than Stan Lee in the Marvel movies.

Another possible title for this one could be Bunty’s Mid-Life Crisis. What sets the story in motion is in fact Bunty feeling like she is just the extension or completion of the men in her life (her husband and her son), but can hardly tell who she might be in and of herself. So, when her son is away at college, and her husband off to London on a police case, she decides to go walking, wanders into a pub, and meets another lonely or lost soul– named Luke Tennant. This novel is in many ways ahead of its time, in questioning the role of women in traditional British society, and is interesting in and of itself, as it pursues a woman’s point of view in the whole story. One wonders how much of Edith Pargeter one finally gets a full glimpse of in Bunty, who in the previous 3-4 novels in the series hardly appears at all.

This novel is an excellent study in how to build suspense in a shorter novels. Not many writers, even excellent writers, know how to keep feeding the reader more information, but in such bit sized portions that one is constantly wanting more and more, and so must keep reading. And of course the thing is with all these sorts of novels whether its a Sherlock Holmes mystery or a P.D. James mystery or an Ellis Peters mystery is that ‘the devil is in the details’ or better said, the clues are in small telltale signs in the novel. This is absolutely the case in this novel. If you are the kind of person who sort of skims over the surface of one’s mystery novels, you’re likely to miss the clues, and the misleading non-clues along the way. This novel also involves a good deal of irony, because in the end Bunty solves a case her husband had been pursuing, quite by accident.

The novel is also a good reminder that when you go through a personal crisis, especially one that involves a death, you come out the other side a different person. Bunty comes out of her ordeal a wholer person, a person more sure of who she really is.

The number seven of course is the Biblical number for perfection. This novel is the best of the series so far and will be hard to top.

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