This story, by one of Europe’s most skilful practitioners of the art of short fiction, has now been translated into English for the first time. Zose, a beautiful, diligent and innocent peasant girl, works as a maid in the service of a wealthy country estate. Courted by the local young men and resistant to the attentions of her master, who forces himself upon her, she is in fact wholly in love with Tofylis, the huntsman. But Tofylis’s good looks and practised seduction manoeuvres have blinded her to his brutishness and faux sophistication. This simple tale from 1897 is made deeply complex by Zemaite’s acute, compassionate eye and ear for the lives of the lower classes in Lithuania at the time. As a depiction of patriarchal attitudes, coercive control and the limited options facing poor women, it has remarkable contemporary resonance.
ZEMAITE (1845-1921) is the pen name of Julija Beniuseviciute- Zymantiene, who was born to Lithuanian gentry in Samogitia, in the country's northwest. She had no formal education but was widely read, and began writing late in life. Her subjects were the serfs and peasants of the Lowlands, about whom she wrote in their own lively vernacular. She was an early feminist and a passionate advocate for the rights of the dispossessed in Lithuania, Russia and the United States, where she lived for some years before returning to her homeland at the very end of her life.