The Murderess was first published in 1902 (this translation by Peter Levi appeared in 1983), and is widely acknowledged to be the masterpiece of Greek novelist Alexandros Papadiamantis. It is a sad and simple story that mingles elements of folk tale, realism and romanticism. An elderly peasant woman called Janis Frankissa (but more often referred to in the narrative as Frankojannou, or Old Hadoula) lies awake in her married daughter’s house on the island of Skiathos, where she is tending to her sickly newborn granddaughter. She thinks back over a gruelling life (‘she had never done anything except serving others’), reflecting on the lot of women in Greek society and the pressure placed on the families of poor women by the need to come up with a dowry. As the night wears on, she begins to think that it might be better for everyone if her granddaughter were to die from her illness. If the child survives, it will only be ‘to be tortured and to torture us’. By the time dawn arrives and the child seems capable of making a recovery, Frankissa is almost delirious with lack of sleep. Even if the novel had been given a different title, we would know from its earliest pages where it was heading; nevertheless, the murder itself, described with calm and simplicity, is horrifying when it comes:
She kept her fingers there a long time. Then she withdrew them from the little mouth, which had ceased to breathe, and pulled at the baby’s throat, and squeezed it for a few minutes.