Writing became a form of therapy for Christine de Pizan following the death of her husband when she was 25 years old. Her efforts to expel the pain of widowhood through lyric ultimately resulted in the formation of a distinct style based on the recurring subject matter. However, rather than simply describing the sorrows that are often experienced as a result of becoming a widow, de Pizan offers structured perspectives from a consistently female perspective and even provides advice on the treatment of widows by other members of the greater feminine society. Additionally, the message is extended to widows from all social classes through a focus on challenges of the situation that apply to women of all economic statuses. The first issue is the indifference of men to the plight of a widow. This is compounded by the stress of the many pieces of paperwork and lawsuits that will be brought upon the widow in response to their husband’s remaining debts and dealings. The third key challenge faced by all widows according to de Pizan is the evil gossip that will fuel unfair criticisms and judgements of those who have lost their partner. The author offers several pieces of advice that are meant to help women to protect themselves from the negative effects associated with the three primary trials of widowhood. In response to apparent cold-heartedness from others it is suggested that widows turn to God, focus on being a kind person to others, and if all else fails to sequester themselves from those who seek to cause harm. These approaches are also meant to help widows avoid lawsuits and criticisms that could ultimately ruin their lives.
While de Pizan’s pieces of advice for widows were likely helpful in the time of their conception, they appear to be too dated to have practical implications for widowed women in developed contemporary societies. Similar challenges still exist in the form of gossip, paperwork, and a lack of empathy, but the standing of females in most modern regions has risen to a level that is no longer compatible with the environment in which the advice was developed. It is true that women are still unfairly treated as the lesser sex on an almost universal basis, but the degree of disparity based on sex in lawful and other judgements has been substantially decreased throughout modern systems. The threat of lawsuits and similar demands are thus less pressing on widows than had been the case in de Pizan’s especially repressed time period. However, it is still true that legal matters must be taken care of following the death of a spouse, and this applies as much to a widower as a widow. Unfortunately de Pizan’s advice is useless to both sexes under current law systems as these matters cannot simply be avoided through kindness or by going into hiding. Neither sex would be faced with the same legal threats today that would have existed when this work was written and so there is no need to be concerned with having no representation or acknowledgement as human beings.
The above relates to the situation for widows in most developed countries, but there are still many cultures in which females find themselves in circumstances that are sadly similar to those faced by de Pizan. It is possible that the advice offered in this piece would have some relevance to current widows in such cultures, though there would certainly be limitations specific to the sociocultural environment that would also need consideration. For example, the spiritual beliefs of a culture may overrule any constructed principles of law, requiring the advice to be reframed within the spiritual perspective so that it can counter the challenge at the most appropriate and impactful level.