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False Widow

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Maple: [tearfully] This year, I lost my dear husband Edgar.
Edgar: [offscreen] Quit telling everyone I'm dead!
Maple: [sobbing] Sometimes, I can still hear his voice!

A woman who falsely claims widowhood. Usually to avoid the stigma of having a child with no husband, to escape a loveless marriage, to play on people's pity for widows, or (in locations where this is an issue) to be able to live independently without her being placed under the authority of a male relative. The colloquial term "grass widow", which properly means a married woman who lives away from her husband, is often used as a euphemism in this context.

Can be depicted as a Wicked Widow or a Wonderful Widow, depending on the circumstances.


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    Comic Books 
  • In a bizarre twist on this trope, Victor Mancha of the Runaways comic books thinks that his dad was a marine who died in the first Gulf War. It turns out that he never had a dad in the traditional sense at all—Victor is a cyborg created by the evil robot Ultron using his mother's DNA.

    Film — Animated 
  • When he's looking to adopt the girls in Despicable Me Gru claims to be a widower dentist. Leads to some hilarity when he quickly comes up with the name "Debbie" for his alleged wife and later asks "Who?" when the head of the orphanage references her later in the conversation before quickly correcting himself.

    Film — Live Action 
  • In The Baby, we're set up to believe that Ann Gentry's husband is dead from an accident. However, at the end of the movie, we find out that he survived, but due to said accident, his mental capacities have been reduced to that of an infant's.
  • Inverted in Bounce: Gwyneth Paltrow's character is a widow but claims to be divorced because she was sick of people pitying her. Since, in her words, "everyone is divorced these days", they don't pity her as much when she tells that lie.
  • This trope is found in the 1968 Film Buona Sera Mrs Campbell, which was the inspiration for the plot of the Mamma Mia! musical. Carla, who is unsure which of three GIs is the father of her baby, instead uses the name "Mrs. Campbell" (taken from the soup tins), and pretends to be the widow of the fictitious Eddie Campbell to avoid the stigma of having a baby out of wedlock.
  • A sequence in Enola Holmes has the title character getting information by disguising herself as a widow, and she explains to the audience that people will automatically feel uneasy around widows, and thus be more likely to help her to get rid of her, and Victorian social mores meant that no one would dare ask an apparent widow about her husband's death. She's only sixteen but lies that she's twenty-two, to make having been married a little more plausible.
  • Inverted in the movie Mr Belvedere Goes To College. A young woman (Shirley Temple!) who really is a widow still hides the fact that she has a son because she's afraid everyone would think her story was bogus and she'd be expelled from college.
  • Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood is a male version, to explain where his "son" came from and present himself as a respectable family man to prospective clients. The truth is that he adopted the son of a deceased employee.

  • The topic was discussed in one of the Anne of Green Gables books. In one of those "out of the mouths of babes" situations, a schoolgirl expresses the desire to be a widow. Consider that this is the nineteenth century, where divorce is practically unknown and being unmarried is socially unacceptable. A widow gets the best of both worlds.
  • Pharinet in The Chronicles of Magravandias claims widowhood even though there's no solid proof her husband is dead. It serves the practical purpose of letting her move out of her husband's house and back with her own family, which she always wanted.
  • Vianne in The Girl With No Shadow changes her name and pretends to be a widow to explain the existence of her two children.
  • Maxi in the novel Ill Take Manhattan by Judith Krantz decides that it's much cooler to be a widow than a teenage divorcee, and fakes being a widow (runs around in black, sighing tragically, what have you) instead. In her defense, she was 19 and way dumb for it.
  • In The Lark and the Wren by Mercedes Lackey, Rune's mother wore a wedding ring and claimed that her nonexistent husband had been a muleteer killed by bandits in order to cover up the illegitimacy of Rune's birth. Other than the husband and wife that owned the inn she worked at, none of the villagers believed this story, especially when Stara acted like a 'loose woman' outside the inn.
  • The Merchant Princes Series: In The Hidden Family, Miriam's forged papers in New Britain establish her as a widow returning from the Empire, because women in New Britain are usually the property of a father or husband. As an adult widow, she is considered a competent adult and able to contract on her own behalf.
  • In Monstrous Regiment, Shufti, a fairly timid young woman who hates violence, spent the book disguised as a soldier, searching for her sweetheart who also signed up and left her pregnant, a dangerous situation to be in in the religiously oppressive Borogravia. At the end of the book, when the army has tracked down her sweetheart and presents him to her, Shufti feigns not recognizing him and insists that her sweetheart must have been killed in action. The Borogravian Government invokes the trope, offering to quickly and quietly arrange "a marriage certificate, a ring, and a widow's pension", but she turns them down, marking her Character Development into a more confident person who can stand on her own.
  • Constance MacKenzie in Peyton Place. She moves away from her small town and has an affair with a married man, who dies shortly after impregnating her with their illegitimate daughter, Allison. Forced by the circumstances to return to said small town, Constance takes the dead lover's name and pretends to be his widow, even altering Allison's birth certificate by one year to make her appear legitimate. Allison has a Heroic BSoD after learning the truth (and finding the corpse of her best friend's mother hanging in her bedroom closet).
  • In The Point Of Murder by Margaret Yorke, Kate poses as a widow under a false name to protect the privacy of her married boyfriend during weekends away together.
  • In Repeat It Today With Tears by Anne Peile, Susie's mother did this after having two children in the space of a few years with a man she never married. Susie explains that her mother regretted they were born in the 1950s, thus she couldn't use the excuse of her husband dying in World War II.
  • In Scarlett, Scarlett claims this after Rhett divorces her to avoid any scandal regarding her pregnancy.
  • Fawn at the beginning of The Sharing Knife by Lois McMaster Bujold claims to be a "grass widow" to explain why she is pregnant and alone. Dag delicately inquires if she knows what a grass widow is. Fawn had thought it meant a woman recently widowed; it really meant a woman in her exact situation, never married but claiming to be widowed in order to escape the stigma of unwed pregnancy.
    It seemed she'd told the truth despite herself.
  • One of the earliest examples is Helen Graham from Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. She's escaping a horrible marriage.
  • In The Twilight Saga, Esme claimed to be a war widow when she settled in a new town after escaping from her abusive husband, since she was pregnant at the time.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A very strange case occurs in The Andy Griffith Show, wherein a man leaves his wife to escape their awful wedded life, at which point she claims to the entirety of Mayberry that he was run over by a car while out of town and holds a funeral for him. This makes it awkward when the live man returns a few years later.
  • Belgravia: When Anne and Sophia Trenchard went to the country so Sophia could give birth to her child in secret, they pretended to be a Waterloo widow and her mother. It turns out that Sophia actually was a widow when papers about her secret marriage to Viscount Bellasis are found.
  • Call the Midwife: Phyllis is crushed to learn that a "widower" who's courting her actually has a living wife. He explains that he looks after his wife, but her dementia has progressed to the point that she doesn't recognize or even acknowledge him anymore. Although Phyllis eventually forgives him the deception, she decides that they're Better as Friends.
  • In an episode of Carniv├ále, Sophie pretends to be a widow in order to get into bed with a random stranger in town.
  • Inverted in Charmed (1998): Phoebe actually is Cole's widow, but because he had to be killed to get rid of the demon possessing him, she has to pretend he simply ran away and went missing. The fact that he comes Back from the Dead allows her to just divorce him.
  • In Coronation Street, Ashley Peacock gets annoyed when Bev Unwin starts saying she was his father Fred's widow. She technically is, since they were going to be married, but he died the day of the wedding and actually collapsed at the house of another woman.
  • A male version in an episode of CSI: Miami had the Villains of the week being a group of con artists posing as a widower and his two children (actually a 30 something married couple) murdering a man in order to use his wife as a means to get into a yacht club and steal gold from another of its members.
  • Ethel Parks, one of the housemaids from Downton Abbey, uses this to explain away the child she had by one of the officers convalescing at Downton (who is actually dead, but was never her husband). This is easier than usual, as the child was born in 1918: both the War and the Spanish Influenza provided convenient causes of death for the father. Ethel chooses to claim flu, as it saves her the trouble of explaining why she doesn't get a war widow's pension.
  • Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman:
    • Referred to when Marjorie (one of Quinn's sisters) snaps that she wishes she WAS a widow, "At least then I'd get some respect! Instead, everyone sniggers that I wasn't woman enough to hold onto him!", referring to the cheating husband who abandoned her.
    • The pilot movie gives us Widow Cooper, whose husband abandoned her and their children. The townsfolk call her widow out of respect.
  • Male example in Scrubs. Elliot starts making out with a married patient after his response to where his wife is is "she's not with us". Turns out the wife is very much alive, and "not with us" meant not in the building. When Elliot insists he tell her the truth, the wife goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge directed only at her, rather than the husband who let her think she was dead to hook up with her.
  • In Supernatural, after Sam gets involved with Amelia Richardson, he finds out her husband did not really die in the war, but in this case Amelia really believed her husband was dead.


    Web Original 
  • Played for Drama in Alice Isn't Dead, as, at a loss to explain her wife Alice's sudden disappearance, and unable to conceive that she might've been left, the Character Narrator initially assumes (admittedly without evidence) that Alice is dead. She's so unshakeable in this belief that she attends grief support groups, right up until she sees her wife on TV.

    Western Animation 
  • A gender-flipped example in Duckman, where King Chicken laments about the tragic loss of his wife and how he's had to raise a child by himself while also plotting against Duckman in an attempt to placate Bernice, with whom he's been having an affair. Unfortunately for him, his still-living wife speaks up right in the middle of his (made up) sob story.
  • Inverted in King of the Hill: when Bobby sees his grandfather holding a photo of a Japanese woman, he claims that it's the wife of someone he killed in World War II and that he got the picture from Robbing the Dead. It turns out she's actually a nurse with whom he had an affair before being forced to return to the States. (And yeah, she did have his child, though Cotton doesn't realize that yet.)
  • On South Park Mrs. Garrison claims that Mr. Garrison is dead when trying to date Richard Dawkins. In actuality, she is Mr. Garrison.