[Fenella has found herself in a traditional village on May Day]
Hearing a sound which did not come from the streams, she turned round to find a tall man standing a few yards behind her. He was so twined about with leafy branches that little of him was visible except his face, his hands and his shoes. Staring at him, Fenella saw that the branches were woven in and out of a sort of basketwork cage made of green withies… He was the traditional Jack-in-the-green.
observations: The first half of this book is quite wonderful, perhaps the best Mitchell I have read. Fenella stops for lunch while passing through a village ‘on Mayering Eve’, but then her car won’t start and she is trapped there for 24 hours or so, while the villagers will be having their mysterious, secret, and very long-lasting May Day celebrations, combined for extra joy this year with a funeral. As she retires to her bedroom, she is warned by the pub landlady ‘whatever happens don’t you open that door to nobody’. She wonders if the staff are being bucolic or impudent; people make mysterious but meaningless remarks such as ‘time passes when you be out of the swim of it.’ There is some impudent/bucolic speculation about Fenella’s status – ‘if maiden ’er be. Didn’t seem so very sure of it’ – and a sweeping declaration that there are never many older virgins in the village, and as proof of the respectability of the younger women: ‘they always marry as soon as there is a baby on the way.’ It’s all very Wicker Man.
The whole thing is done with matching attention to conviction and irony – I kept thinking it would make an absolutely terrific lavish film. Fenella escapes from the village unharmed, but puzzled by many things that have happened, and very interested in the young man above.
Mrs Bradley (Mitchell’s series detective and Fenella’s great-aunt) comes to investigate and then nothing much seems to happen till suddenly the solution to a rather dull mystery is announced, to nobody’s great surprise. But it is a nice short book, and well worth reading for the first half.
And there is a mention of ‘mafficking yokels’ – mafficking is a word I found in the dictionary years ago, but have never seen used before: it means to celebrate in a rambunctious way in the manner of people celebrating the Relief of Mafeking in 1900, obviously a benchmark in noisy exuberance. We should all resolve to use this word more.
The dancing women are part of a May Day pageant at Oregon State University.
The Green Man picture is by Lauren Raine and is from Wikimedia Commons. In fact the character in the book probably looked like a cross between the mask above and some of the dancers mentioned in this entry, as he has blackened his face and hands with soot.
From that entry (well worth a look anyway, and full of folk customs and costumes), this is a member of the Pig Dyke Molly, at the Sidmouth Festival in 2012. The photo is used here with the very kind permission of the photographer Richard Powell. You can see more of his work here.