Widowhoood is one of those facets of historical experience that I can’t really grok. Widows throughout pre-modern history have been subject to such a weird mix of fear and acceptance, left a socially precarious position but also one in which they have more freedom than married women. Biblical examples would be Ruth and Judith; historical ones can be traced through land and tax records. Laurence Fontaine argued in a recent issue of Esprit that widows in France had more access to markets:

Dans la France de l’Ancien Régime, le droit des femmes évoluait selon leur statut social et les phases de leur cycle de vie ; les veuves étant, par exemple, plus libres que les femmes mariées qui restaient soumises à l’autorité des maris. Toutefois, la charge qui leur incombait de s’occuper et de nourrir la famille leur a donné un accès au marché.

What I can’t figure out is how much this peculiarly, perversely privileged position of widows was general, how much just a situation which enabled a few personally strong widows to run with it, while the majority ended up in much more difficult circumstances, practically and socially.

[as is probably obvious, this is mainly a marker for a topic I find interesting, but which has presumably already been the subject of multiple books, and which I don’t anticipate having anything new to say about]

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