Book proposal and call for abstracts/chapters on literary/dramatic widowhood

deadline for submissions: 
May 5, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
Katarzyna Bronk, PhD, Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland
contact email: 

Call for abstracts on literary/dramatic widowhood

“[O]ld Maid and musty Widows are like the plague shun’d of by all men…” So says Doll Pacify from Margaret Cavendish’s Bell in campo (1660). Her fellow servant, Nell Careless, replies: “a man cannot intimately love a Widow, because he will be a Cuckold, as being made one by her dead Husband, and so live in Adultry…” (Bell, V.25).

Cavendish was one of the most outspoken women of her times, nowadays seen as a protons insist writer, yet Bell in campo only offers two options for the state of widowhood. Her husband-less women either suffer severe punishment for reawakened (sexual) desire, as seen in the elderly widow, Madam Passionate, or perpetual mourning (glorifying the memory of the deceased husband) and death as exemplified by Madame Jantil. Whilst the play obviously discourages the former behaviour, it equally, when read carefully, does not condone the latter behaviour either, even though the younger widow presents some form of poetic release, creating the sites of memory dedicated to the husband.

In contrast to Cavendish’s two options of female widowhood, literary and dramatic widowers have enjoyed a much better fate than women, or simply more freedom. In actual life, as Margaret Pelling’s “Finding widowers: Men without women in English towns before 1700” suggests, “’widower’ seems, in spite of its derivation, entirely to lack the burden of attributes attached to ‘widow’: dependency, sexual avidity or availability, sexual experience, isolation, and the kind of malice associated with witchcraft” (Pelling in Cavallo and Warner 1999: 43). One can, however, argue with her attribution of fiery sexual drive to older women only; after all comedies are peopled with widowers who chase after young (and very young) maidens, boasting of their strong sexual libido. The ‘sin’ of giving in to their passions is common to both sexes in literary and dramatic pieces, although indeed there is more stigma attached to the sexually active widow.

What a husband-less woman can and, more importantly, cannot do has been seriously debated on or negotiated in political, social, religious and cultural/literary discourse at least since the early Church Fathers’ writings on postnuptial life. Though not as straightforward as, for example, Catholic and Puritan writers (see conduct texts), lessons on female widowhood became a subtext or leitmotif of many pieces of literature, and this is what the present collection wishes to explore. We invite you to send abstracts on topics related to the proper/expected and improper/rebellious performances and perceptions of widowhood (also comparative papers on widowers) as shown in BRITISH literature across all literary and historical periods. While all types of literature are of initial interest, we are particularly inviting propositions on DRAMA and its representations of widows and their fate.

We invite abstracts (max 500 words) on various shades of widowhood. Interested authors are kindly asked to send their abstracts by 5th May 2017 to dr Katarzyna Bronk ( and If accepted by the editors, selected abstracts will be collated into a thematic collection and proposed to a publisher. Upon acceptance by the publisher, the authors will be asked to write full versions of their papers.