Looking especially at widows of master craftsmen in early modern Paris, this study provides analysis of the social and cultural structures that shaped widows' lives as well as their day-to-day experiences. Janine Lanza examines widows in early modern Paris at every social and economic level, beginning with the late sixteenth century when changes in royal law curtailed the movement of property within families up to the time of the French Revolution. The glimpses she gives us of widows running businesses, debating remarriage, and negotiating marriage contracts offer precious insights into the daily lives of women in this period. Lanza shows that understanding widows dramatically alters our understanding of gender, not only in terms of how it was lived in this period but also how historians can use this idea as a category of analysis. Her study also engages the historiographical issue of business and entrepreneurship, particularly women's participation in the world of work; and explicitly examines the place of the law in the lived experience of the early modern period. How did widowed women use their newly acquired legal emancipation? How did they handle their emotional loss? How did their roles in their families and their communities change? How did they remain financially solvent without a man in the house? How did they make decisions that had always been made by the men around them? These questions all touch upon the experience of widows and on the ways women related to prevalent structures and ideologies in this society. Lanza's study of these women, the ways they were represented and how they experienced their widowhood, challenges many historical assumptions about women and their roles with respect to the law, the family, and economic activity.
Janine M. Lanza is Assistant Professor of History at Wayne State University, USA.
'Based on painstaking and original archival research, Lanza has uncovered rare and precious documents regarding widows' lives; she offers new and significant conclusions that challenge the dogmas established by a previous generation of women's and family historians. One of the real strengths of the book is its focus on women of the artisanal classes, rather than the elite or literary widows who have attracted most historians' attention ... a well-written, exciting, and highly original study.' Clare Crowston, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA ’Professor Lanza has written a careful and scholarly study, set in the wider context of arguments about the improvement or decline of women’s status in the period. It will form a useful part of further investigations into the world from a woman’s perspective.’ Parergon ’Although Lanza draws on the work of social and women’s historians of eighteenth century France (such as Arlette Farge, Darrel Hafter, Clare Haru Crowston, and Cynthia Truant), there is to my knowledge no general work in English or French that examines the experience of the widows of guild masters with Lanza’s attention to detail. Specialists in eighteenth-century women’s history and labor history will benefit greatly from her findings.’ H-France Reviews 'Because the study can speak to so many audiences and is composed in a straightforward and thoughtful manner, the book should be included on graduate reading lists and on all university library shelves.' Sixteenth Century Journal