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He Just Can’t Stand the Thought of Being Forgotten

Thursday, September 5, 2019 - 07:00

Once again, this article takes women’s lives and makes them all about the men. It feels like there are entirely too many articles in this collection that fall in that category. The genre of “widow portraits” in early modern England are a testament to men’s anxiety that maybe--just-maybe--their wives aren’t quite as in love with them as they seem.

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Full citation: 

Levy, Allison. 2003. “Good Grief: Widow Portraiture and Masculine Anxiety in Early Modern England” in The Single Woman in Medieval and Early Modern England: Her Life and Representation, ed. by Laurel Amtower and Dorothea Kehler. Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Tempe. ISBN 0-06698-306-6

Publication summary: 

A collection of articles on the general topic of how single women are represented in history and literature in medieval and early modern England. Not all of the articles are clearly relevant to the LHMP but I have included all the contents.

Good Grief

This article concerns the visual genre of “widow portraits” created as a symbolic representation of the widow’s status and a depiction of her mourning. These were not typically painted at the widow’s direction after her husband’s death, but rather were commissioned by the living husband to ensure that he was properly mourned...at least symbolically. Ironically, in some cases, they represent women who predeceased their husbands. Thus, they are not representations of the woman herself as an individual, but as defined in relation to her marriage and her husband. The paintings represent men’s anxieties that their wives would not mourn them, but would see widowhood as freedom and a desired state--a sentiment reprseented in popular literature of the time. The article is fascinating, but has very little relevance to the Project.

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