The Unseemly Old Lady

Brecht, Bertolt

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine
  • Date of entry: Nov-29-2000


Much to the disapproval of her children, a newly-widowed seventy-two year old woman decides to continue living independently and spends her time in disreputable behavior like going to the cinema alone, visiting insalubrious parts of town, eating at inns, and going to the races. She befriends a middle-aged cobbler (who is also, scandalously, a Social Democrat) and a young "feeble-minded" kitchen maid, and she stops visiting her husband's grave. One of her sons assumes she must be sick and wants to call the doctor. Without consulting her children, she mortgages her large house and apparently gives the money to her cobbler.

The narrator (her grandchild) observes that she has lived two lives: the first as dutiful daughter, wife, and mother, and the second "as Mrs. B, an unattached person without responsibilities." She dies suddenly, without illness, and the grandchild describes a photograph taken of her corpse after death: she has the face of one who "had savoured to the full the long years of servitude and the short years of freedom and consumed the bread of life to the last crumb."


This brief tale presents a woman who approaches her widowhood as a new beginning. She rejects the self-sacrifice and diminishment traditionally expected of the aged and bereaved; instead, she redefines herself. As her grandchild puts it, "she appeared to have finished with family life and to be treading new paths now in the evening of her days."

Brecht economically presents society's expectations of the aged and then shows us an alternative: a woman who does not rebel in order to shock, and is not unreasonable or demented, but simply chooses to see herself as an individual who has autonomy over her own life until the moment of her death.


Translated by Yvonne Kapp.

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Short Stories



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