Wednesday, January 08, 2003

The Free Wheeling Widow - Mathieu of Boulogne

As soon as her husband is in his coffin, a wife's only thought day and night is to catch another husband. She observes convention by weeping, but after three days can't wait to be remarried. If her children wish to claim their share of the goods and money they have inherited from their father, there's not one of them who doesn't pay dearly for it. She disagrees with everything they say, argues, and is good at reproaching them, saying "I would already be married if it were not for your objections, for this has already happened to me three or four times. Now I'm having to dispute with you; what wretched progeny I have borne." Then she curses the fruits of her womb and tells them that despite their objections, without delay or further procrastination, she will marry one of her suitors, who will protect her rights for her. And she is so eager to marry that she takes a husband who brings about her ruin: who spends and squanders her money, an unbridled spendthrift, who will not be restrained as long as she still has something in the loft. He leaves her with neither a penny nor halfpenny, neither land, vineyard, nor house which he hasn't sold; everything has been spent. Then, when she sees how she has been used, she complains to her children and weeps for her first husband. Such tears, may God help me, with which women reproach their most recent husbands are an indictment against the heat of their loins. Their frivolity does not excuse them.

I don't think there is a more foolish woman than a widow all dolled up; she doesn't think of herself as past it, she often transforms and changes her appearance, adopting different hairstyles. She paints her face, rearranges her hair, wears make-up, adorns herself. One moment she is willing, the next she isn't; now she's friendly, now hostile; first she quarrels with one person then with another, praising one to the skies and piling scorn on another. And if ever out of habit many men waste their time with her, she is still too dissolute, abandoning the flower for the flames. In this way she proves to be naive and foolish, resembling the dung-beetle, which leaves the perfume of the flowers to follow in the wake of carts, wallowing in horse shit. And just like the she-wolf on heat, that always takes the worst male as her mate, so the widow always chooses badly.

Alas, things used to be different. A wife used to lament her husband's death and remain in mourning for a full year. Now she waits no more than three days; you'd be hard pressed to find anyone waiting longer! For as soon as her first husband slips into everlasting sleep and has been disposed of in the ground, his wife begins to wage war, refusing to give up until she has found another man to stuff her tights again, for she is incapable of remaining alone. And I don't believe for a moment that she will wear black clothes to encourage mourning. Instead she will don a silk dress to indicate her joy. This is no more nor less than a disgrace. There is no bridle nor halter that could ever restrain her. She is forever coming and going; no man would ever be able to confine her to her room or to her house. She wants to be seen everywhere, so driven is she by her ardour. The burning lust of widows is an affront to decency; they creep and climb on to rooftops just like the frogs of Egypt; they are not interested in beds or couches unless there is a man with them. Who would have thought they would be like this? Saint Acaire preferred to be the protector of madmen and the insane rather than to be responsible for widows. Anyone who looks into the matter knows that he was right, for these women are mad and know no bounds and so he didn't wish to be their patron. Widows are a base and immoral lot, while a madman in chains can do no harm.

Previous Mathieu of Boulogne Index Next