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The Headswoman   By: (1859-1932)

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The Headswoman is a fascinating and thought-provoking novel penned by Kenneth Grahame. Set in the late 19th century, the story unfolds in a world where executioners hold a peculiar position in society, tasked with the grim duty of taking lives. Grahame skillfully weaves together a tale that explores themes of justice, morality, and the human condition.

The protagonist, Dominic Jervis, is an Oxford student wrongly convicted of a murder he did not commit. Condemned to death, he faces a grim future until he is granted an unexpected reprieve—an offer to become a headswoman. This unconventional twist of fate raises complex moral questions that serve as the backbone of the narrative.

Jervis's transformation into the headswoman is a riveting journey, taking readers on a rollercoaster of emotions. Grahame's vivid descriptions and meticulous attention to detail bring the world of the executioner to life. The somber atmosphere of the execution yard, the smell of death, and the weighty responsibility carried by the headswoman are all impressively portrayed.

The author masterfully explores the conflicts faced by Jervis as he struggles with his new role. He is torn between his desire for justice and the lives he is tasked with taking. Grahame delves deep into questions of morality, raising provocative ideas about the nature of punishment and the ultimate power of life and death.

One of the most powerful aspects of The Headswoman is its depiction of the female characters. Grahame challenges societal norms by placing the protagonist, Jervis, in the peculiar and traditionally male role of the headswoman. This gender reversal adds an extra layer of complexity to the narrative, allowing for a profound exploration of gender roles and identity.

The pacing of the novel is steady but engaging, with Grahame's rich language and beautiful prose drawing readers in from the first page. Though it may not appeal to those seeking fast-paced action, The Headswoman's strength lies in its ability to provoke thought and generate introspection.

However, the ending of the book may leave some readers dissatisfied. It could be argued that Grahame's deliberate ambiguity is intended to encourage individual interpretation and further contemplation. Nevertheless, some may find themselves yearning for a more conclusive resolution to the complex moral dilemmas presented throughout the story.

In conclusion, The Headswoman is a remarkable novel that challenges societal norms, explores questions of morality, and delves into the deepest recesses of the human psyche. Kenneth Grahame's masterful storytelling and compelling characters make for an unforgettable reading experience. Though it may not be suitable for those seeking a light-hearted read, it is a must-read for anyone interested in thought-provoking literature that pushes the boundaries of conventional storytelling.

First Page:

The Headswoman




[Frontispiece: "Now that we have been properly introduced allow me to apologise"]


By Kenneth Grahame

With Illustrations in Colour and Woodcuts by

Marcia Lane Foster


LONDON John Lane The Bodley Head Limited New York John Lane Company

First Published 1898 Illustrated Edition 1921

Printed In Great Britain by R. Clay & Sons, Ltd., Bungay, Suffolk.

List of Illustrations

"Now That we have been properly introduced allow me to apologise" Frontispiece

Facing page "You see I am Familiar with the Routine.... Good morning, Gentlemen!" 8

"Au revoir, Sir! If you should happen to be in the Market place any Morning" 28

Endeavouring to convey the Tardy Prisoner to the Scaffold 32

"Nay, pardon me, Sweet One, 'twas but a Jest of Mine" 36

But at this point a Hubbub arose at the Foot of the Scaffold 42

"Now, mark my Words, you Miserable Little Bladder o' Lard, see if I don't take this out of your Skin presently" 44

An Invitation arrived, backed by an Escort of Half a dozen very Tall Archers 46

The Headswoman



It was a bland, sunny morning of a mediæval May, an old style May of the most typical quality; and the Council of the little town of St... Continue reading book >>

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