Trickster Wives and Maids

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 1741

D. L. Ashliman

© 1999-2022


  1. The Woman Who Humored Her Lover at Her Husband's Expense (1001 Nights).

  2. Clever Gretel (Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).

  3. Clever Molly (Jamaica).

  4. The Good Husband and the Bad Wife (India).

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The Woman Who Humored Her Lover at Her Husband's Expense

1001 Nights

There was a man in Cairo, and he had a wife who never stopped boasting of her gentle blood, her obedience, her docility, and her fear of the Lord. Now she happened to have in the house a pair of fatted geese, and she also had a lover whom she kept in the background.

One day the lover came to visit her and seeing beside her the plump birds, he felt his appetite sharpened by them, so he said to her, "My dear, you must cook these two geese with the best of stuffing so that we may make merry over them, for my mind is set upon eating goose flesh."

She said, "That is easily done, my darling. I will slaughter them and stuff them, and you can take them home with you and eat them, and my pimp of a husband shall neither taste of them nor even smell them."

"How can you do that?" he asked.

She answered, "I will serve him a trick, and then give the geese to you, for no one is dearer to me than you are, and my pandering mate shall not get a single bite."

Upon this agreement the lover went away.

When her husband returned that evening she said to him, "How can you call yourself a man when you never invite anyone to your house? People surely will talk about you, saying that you are a miser and know nothing of generosity."

"Woman," he said, "I can easily do this. Tomorrow morning I will buy meat and rice which you can cook for our dinner or supper, and I will invite one of my friends."

She said to him, "No, instead of that buy a pound of mincemeat, then slaughter the two geese, and I will stuff them and fry them. Nothing is more savory than that to offer guests."

He said, "I will do so for sure!"

Early the next morning he slaughtered the geese, then went forth and bought a pound of meat, which he minced, plus rice and hot spices, and everything else that would be required.

He carried these home to his wife, saying, "Finish your cooking before midday when I will bring my guest," and he went away.

She cleaned out the geese, stuffed them with minced meat and a portion of rice and almonds and raisins, and fried them until they were well cooked; after which she sent for her lover. Upon his arrival they made merry together, then she gave him the geese, and he left her.

At noon her husband came home accompanied by a friend.

She admitted them, asking, "Why have you brought only one man? Go back out and fetch two or three more."

"Good," he said, and went off to do as she had asked.

Then the woman accosted the guest, crying out, "Oh the pity of it! By Allah, you are lost, and what a shame that you have no children."

Now when the man heard these words he was struck with fear, and exclaimed, "Woman, what are you saying?"

She replied, "In truth, my husband brought you here with the intention of gelding you to a castrato. I pity you, whether you live or die."

Hearing this, the guest rushed out the door, just as the husband was returning with two more friends.

The wife met him at the entrance, and said to him, "O man! Why did you bring home a fellow who is a thief and a ne'er-do-well?"

"How so?" he asked.

She answered, "The man stole the two geese and ran away."

Hearing this, the husband went out and caught sight of the guest running off.

He shouted to him, "Come back! Come back! At least give me one, and you can keep the other."

The man cried in reply, "If you catch me you'll take both of them!"

The housemaster meant the two geese, but the man who was running away thought only of himself, saying to himself, "He means that he will take only one of my testes and leave me the other."

So the guest kept running, with the husband following after him. Unable to catch him, he returned to his guests, and served them a simple meal of bread and such.

All the while the woman kept blaming him and nagging about the matter of the geese, which she said his friend had carried off, but which in truth she had given to her lover.

Clever Gretel

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

There was a cook whose name was Gretel. She wore shoes with red heels, and whenever she went out she would turn this way and that way, and was very cheerful, and thought, "You are a beautiful girl!" Then after returning home, because she was so happy, she drank a swallow of wine, and the wine gave her an appetite, so she tasted the best of what she had cooked, until she was quite full, and then said, "The cook has to know how the food tastes."

One day her master said to her, "Gretel, this evening a guest is coming. Prepare two chickens for me, the best way that you can."

"Yes indeed, my lord," answered Gretel. She killed the chickens, scalded them, plucked them, stuck them on the spit, and then, as evening approached, put them over the fire to roast. The chickens began to brown, and were nearly done, but the guest had not yet arrived. Gretel called to her master, "If the guest doesn't come, I'll have to take the chickens from the fire. And it will be a crying shame if they're not eaten soon, because they're at their juicy best right now."

The master answered, "You're right. I'll run and fetch the guest myself."

As soon as the master had turned his back, Gretel set the spit and the chickens aside and thought, "Standing here by the fire has made me sweaty and thirsty. Who knows when they will be back. I'll just run down into the cellar and take a swallow. So she ran down, lifted a jug to her lips, "God bless you, Gretel!" and took a healthy drink. "Wine belongs together," she said to herself. It's not good to keep it apart." Then she went back upstairs and placed the chickens over the fire again, basted them with butter, and cheerfully turned the spit. Because the roasting chicken smelled so good, she thought, "It could be lacking something. I'd better taste it!" She tested them with her fingers, and said, "My, these chickens are good! It's a sin and a shame that they won't be eaten at once!"

She ran to the window, to see if her master and his guest were arriving, but she saw no one. Returning to the chickens, she said, "That one wing is burning. I'd better just eat it." So she cut it off and ate it, and it tasted so good, and when she had finished it, she thought, "I'd better eat the other one too, or the master will see that something is missing." When both wings had been eaten, she once again looked for her master, but could not see him. Then it occurred to her, "who knows, perhaps they've gone somewhere else and aren't coming here at all." Then she said, "Well, Gretel, be of good cheer! The one has already been cut into. Have another drink and eat the rest of it. When it's gone, you can rest! Why should this gift of God go to waste?"

So she ran to the cellar once again, downed a noble drink, and finished off the first chicken with pleasure. When it was gone, and still the master had not yet returned, she looked at the other chicken and said, "Where the one is, the other should follow. The two belong together. What is right for the one, can't be wrong for the other. I believe that if I have another drink, it will do me no harm." So she took another drink, and sent the second chicken running after the first one.

Just as she was making the most of it, her master returned, calling out, "Gretel, hurry up, the guest is right behind me."

"Yes, master, I'm getting it ready," answered Gretel. The master saw that the table was set, and he picked up the large knife that he wanted to carve the chickens with, and stood in the hallway sharpening it.

The guest arrived and knocked politely on the door. Gretel ran to see who it was, and when she saw that it was the guest, she held a finger before her mouth, and said, "Be quiet! Hurry and get away from here. If my master catches you, you'll be sorry. Yes, he invited you for an evening meal, but all he really wants is to cut off both of your ears. Listen, he's sharpening his knife for it right now."

The guest heard the whetting and ran down the steps as fast as he could. Then Gretel, who was not a bit lazy, ran to her master, crying, "Just what kind of a guest did you invite?"

"What do you mean, Gretel?"

"Why," she said, "he took both of the chickens off the platter, just as I was about to carry them out, and then ran away with them."

"Now that's a fine tune!" said the master, feeling sorry about the loss of the good chickens. "At the least, he could have left one of them, so I would have something to eat." He called out to him to stop, but the guest pretended not to hear. Therefore he ran after him, the knife still in his hand, shouting, "Just one! Just one!" But the guest thought that he wanted him to give up just one of his ears, so he ran as though there were a fire burning beneath him, in order to get home with both ears.

Clever Molly May


Once Anansi went out to invite a friend to dinner. Little Molly May was his servant, so he left her to roast a turkey for dinner. Anansi filled the wine-jug, laid the table, put on his frock coat and his top hat, took his walking-stick and went out for his friend. Molly May roasted the turkey.

Seeing that it looked so nice and charming, she thought that she would take a piece; so she did, and it tasted so nice she took another piece. That tasted so nice she took a next piece and a sip of the wine, and she sipped and tasted till at last she had eaten up the whole turkey and drunk the whole of the wine.

She saw the master coming; so she ran in swift haste, took up the bones, fixed them nicely in the dish, covered the dish, and carried it and laid it on the table.

When the master came, he sent the visitor into the house and said to Molly May, "Hullo, deh! everyt'ing all right?"

She said, "Yes, sah! all is right."

So the master took up the carving-knife and went outside to sharpen it. Molly ran inside and told the visitor that the master was sharpening the knife to cut off one of his hands; the visitor in swift haste left the house.

Then Molly went outside and told the master that the visitor had eaten all the turkey and drunk the wine. The master ran through one door and, seeing all the bones on the table, went through the other.

The visitor was running for his life and Anansi went running after him, calling "Leave one! leave one!"

He meant leave one (side of) the turkey, but the visitor thought he meant one of his hands, so he ran for his life.

The Good Husband and the Bad Wife


In a remote village there lived a Brahman whose good nature and charitable disposition were proverbial. Equally proverbial also were the ill nature and uncharitable disposition of the Brahmani, his wife. But as Paramêsvara (God) had joined them in matrimony, they had to live together as husband and wife, though their temperaments were so incompatible. Every day the Brahman had a taste of his wife's ill temper, and if any other Brahman was invited to dinner by him, his wife, somehow or other, would manage to drive him away.

One fine summer morning a rather stupid Brahman friend of his came to visit our hero and was at once invited to dinner. He told his wife to have dinner ready earlier than usual, and went off to the river to bathe. His friend, not feeling very well that day, wanted a hot bath at the house, and so did not follow him to the river, but remained sitting in the outer verandah. If any other guest had come, the wife would have accused him of greediness to his face and sent him away, but this visitor seemed to be a special friend of her lord, so she did not like to say anything; but she devised a plan to make him go away of his own accord.

She proceeded to smear the ground before her husband's friend with cow dung, and placed in the midst of it a long pestle, supporting one end of it against the wall. She next approached the pestle most solemnly and performed worship (pûjâ) to it. The guest did not in the least understand what she was doing, and respectfully asked her what it all meant.

"This is what is called pestle worship," she replied. "I do it as a daily duty, and this pestle is intended to break the head of some human being in honor of a goddess, whose feet are most devoutly worshipped by my husband. Every day as soon as he returns from his bath in the river, he takes this pestle, which I am ordered to keep ready for him before his return, and with it breaks the head of any human being whom he has managed to get hold of by inviting him to a meal. This is his tribute (dakshinâ) to the goddess; today you are the victim."

The guest was much alarmed.

"What! break the head of a guest! I at any rate shall not be deceived today," thought he, and prepared to run away.

The Brahman's wife appeared to sympathize with his sad plight, and said, "Really, I do pity you. But there is one thing you can do now to save yourself. If you go out by the front door and walk down the street my husband may follow you, so you had better go out by the back door."

To this plan the guest most thankfully agreed, and hastily ran off by the back door.

Almost immediately our hero returned from his bath, but before he could arrive his wife had cleaned up the place she had prepared for the pestle worship, and when the Brahman, not finding his friend in the house, inquired of her as to what had become of him, she said in seeming anger, "The greedy brute! he wanted me to give him this pestle -- this very pestle which I brought forty years ago as a dowry from my mother's house, and when I refused he ran away by the back yard in haste."

But her kind-hearted lord observed that he would rather lose the pestle than his guest, even though it was a part of his wife's dowry, and more than forty years old. So he ran off with the pestle in his hand after his friend, crying out, "Oh Brahman! Oh Brahman! Stop please, and take the pestle."

But the story told by the old woman now seemed all the more true to the guest when he saw her husband running after him, and so he said, "You and your pestle may go where you please. Never more will you catch me in your house," and ran away.

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Revised January 27, 2022.