Home  »  Volume III: English RENASCENCE AND REFORMATION  »  § 5. Widow Edith

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

V. The Progress of Social Literature in Tudor Times

§ 5. Widow Edith

Sometimes the career of the ale-house adventuress throws light on the different types of society, as in the Widow Edith. In twelve “mery gestys” this ingenious personage imposes on all classes by appearing to be in temporary distress and announcing that she is a lady of considerable wealth. The tale was evidently written to please the commons, and it is full of the character drawing they love. Edith lodges with poor people and we see something of their homely cheer and good nature. She encounters a doctor of divinity who holds forth on the covetousness of men and most willingly absolves her when he hears of her wealth. She meets two pilgrims; the satirist discloses their weakness, which is not love of money but vainglorying in good works, so Edith attempts suicide and gives them the satisfaction of saving her. The career of the adventuress leads her into the households of great men, where the head servants fall in love with her alleged fortune. There are admirable touches of character in the scene in which the earl of Arundel’s yeomen escort her to her home and improve the occasion by courting her wealth. The tract purports to be the disclosure of an adventuress actually alive; but the author is far more interested in the humour and dramatic interest of his narrative and has borrowed largely, in treatment and spirit, from the jest-books. Each of Edith’s victims has his own individuality, which is developed by action as well as by appropriate speeches. There is true narrative power in the succession of events which, in the case of each imposture, lead up to a disillusionment.