Read CHAPTER XXXVIII of Her Royal Highness Woman, free online book, by Max O'Rell, on


Women do have grievances-Various specimens of widows-The jolly widow-The inconsolate widow-The plump widow-Marriageable widows-Mourning and black-Last wills and testaments-How long should a widow mourn her husband?-’You should have seen me yesterday!’

Mothers-in-law are for ever a target for men’s sarcasms. Stepmothers are supposed to be the embodiment of everything that is mean. On the other hand, I have never heard fathers-in-law turned into ridicule, and stepfathers are invariably painted by novelists as unselfish, devoted men who come to the rescue of widows, and help them to bring up their children in comfort and happiness.

Poor women do have grievances, and no mistake!

And the widows-oh, the widows! Now, what have they done that they should be the butts for the jokes that are made at their expense? Why should they provoke the sarcasms and excite the scorn of men instead of their pity or, at all events, their kind sympathy?

If a widow’s grief is great and she wears the deepest mourning, she is called an ‘inconsolable, desolate widow,’ and people smile, saying with a sneer: ‘She will soon be cured.’ If she bears up bravely and well, she is called a ‘jolly widow,’ and people say: ‘She is already better.’ If she remains amiable and attractive, she is immediately baptized a ‘wily widow,’ and if her good constitution is such that even her sorrows and worries do not make her get thin, but the contrary, she is called a ‘plump widow,’ and people wink. And all the time the widower escapes scot-free. Men respect his sadness, are prepared to write odes about him if he remain faithful to the memory of his wife, and send him hearty congratulations if he remarry. Never a smile; no sarcasm, no scorn!

What awful cowards men are! And what surpasses me is that, as a rule, women are to be found who join them in all the jovial remarks that are passed on widows.

However, widows are not altogether without their revenge. They get many advantages. They have the best of young girls in the matrimonial market. The most-courted woman in the world is the rich young widow. She has a fascination that very few unmarried women possess, and many men prefer her. Why? Don’t ask me. Widows know the world, have experience in dealing with men. There are teachers, destitute of patience, who prefer advanced pupils to beginners. Mere laziness, my dear friends, nothing else!

Men are so conceited, too! If they were not, how would they dare marry a widow and constantly run the risk of being found far less loving, pleasant, and attractive than number one was? It is true that if, after a quarrel, a man’s wife should exclaim, ’How I do regret my first husband!’ he would have a chance to cure her of that expression, by remarking quietly: ’My dear, you will never regret him as much as I do!’ But all this does not suggest to the mind a happy condition of matrimonial affairs.

Widows are less marriageable in England than in other countries, for this reason: that their husbands, in their wills, almost invariably stipulate that they leave so much to their wives on the condition that they will not remarry. If they do, they forfeit everything. Of course, to a certain extent, I understand that a man does not feel anxious to know that if, by his industry and carefulness, he has succeeded in amassing a plump little fortune, Smith, Brown, or Robinson will one day enjoy it in the company of his wife. Still, why not? What does it matter? If his wife has been good to him and she is still young when he dies, why should he condemn her to solitude for the rest of her days? What good does it do to him, when he is under the grass, to have his wife lonely and miserable? If I were a woman ever so fond of my husband, I would so much resent that stipulation that I would tear his will in pieces and marry the first respectable and attractive man who sought my hand.

Compared to the Englishman who makes such a will, how I admire that Frenchman who penned the following one: ’I leave to my dear wife, for her sole and absolute use, everything I possess and everything I may become possessed of. She may remain a widow or remarry, just as she pleases. I am not afraid of competition!’ I cannot help thinking that this is the proper way to treat a woman who has been a true friend to you, the partaker of your pleasures, of your joys and sorrows, and that, on leaving her, you may as well pay her the compliment of taking it for granted that she will know what is best for her and act accordingly.

In France, a widow wears deep mourning for her husband during a year, and half mourning during another year. Many a French widow wears mourning during her lifetime. For that matter, there is no country in the world where mourning is worn so long as in France, in the provinces especially, where half the population is in black for somebody or other. This outside show of grief may be exaggerated, for real mourning is worn in the heart, not in the clothes; yet if a French widow in a small provincial town should shorten her widow’s veil by an inch, people would say: ’If she never cared for her husband, she might have the decency not to advertise the fact and fish already for another!’ And you have to conform to the usages of a country, especially when you live in one which, like provincial France, is built of glass houses.

How long should a widow mourn the loss of her husband?

Two days after the funeral of her husband, a young widow received the visit of a friend, who remarked, on seeing the sadness engraven on her face:

‘Poor dear! how sad, how haggard you look!’

‘Ah, dear, that’s nothing,’ sighed the young widow; ’you should have seen me yesterday!’

As a rule husbands are mourned as long as they deserve.

And so are we all.