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Desperately Funny: Victorian Widows and the Comical Misfortunes of Husband Hunting

Muller, N (2020) Desperately Funny: Victorian Widows and the Comical Misfortunes of Husband Hunting. Journal of Gender Studies, 29 (8). pp. 926-936. ISSN 0958-9236

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The widow was a much-satirised figure throughout the Victorian era, but humour has rarely featured in studies concerned with the period’s attitudes towards women and death. Widows, whose behaviour and dress were subject to many a rule, found themselves the focus of a wealth of jests and jibes that simultaneously highlighted and attempted to mitigate and police widowed women’s exceptional position in Victorian society. This article considers some of the most common comical types of widows in Victorian popular culture in jokes, novels, comic songs, and sketches. I argue that it is in the realm of laughter in general, and in the comical iterations of the widow in particular, that we find some of the period’s most revealing engagements with the contradictions and ambiguities of middle-class notions of womanhood, femininity, and female sexuality. From unashamed cackles of hilarity to sniggers of discomfort and sneers of disapproval, humour allowed for an exploration of the moral conflicts borne out of the widow’s identity as a woman who had once fulfilled her duty as a wife but could transgress and threaten the relational confines of normative femininity and the nuclear family.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of Gender Studies on 11 Sep 2020 available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/0.1080/09589236.2020.1819777
Uncontrolled Keywords: 1608 Sociology
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Divisions: Humanities & Social Science
Publisher: Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Date Deposited: 07 Sep 2020 08:56
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2022 00:50
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/13580
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