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Inventing Maternity

Inventing Maternity: Politics, Science, and Literature, 1650-1865

Susan C. Greenfield
Carol Barash
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Inventing Maternity
    Book Description:

    Not until the eighteenth century was the image of the tender, full-time mother invented. This image retains its power today. Inventing Maternity demonstrates that, despite its association with an increasingly standardized set of values, motherhood remained contested terrain. Drawing on feminist, cultural, and postcolonial theory, Inventing Maternity surveys a wide range of sources--medical texts, political tracts, religious doctrine, poems, novels, slave narratives, conduct books, and cookbooks. The first half of the volume, covering the mid-seventeenth to the late eighteenth centuries, considers central debates about fetal development, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and childbearing. The second half, covering the late eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries, charts a historical shift to the regulation of reproduction as maternity is increasingly associated with infanticide, population control, poverty, and colonial, national, and racial instability. In her introduction, Greenfield provides a historical overview of early modern interpretations of maternity. She concludes with a consideration of their impact on current debates about reproductive rights and technologies, child custody, and the cycles of poverty.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5898-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-33)
    Susan C. Greenfield

    This volume springs from the scholarly consensus that the idealization of the full-time mother was an early modern development. Many have argued that it was not until the eighteenth century that woman’s social purpose was defined in terms of the bearing, nurturing, and educating of children. This was when the still powerful image of the tender mother took root.Inventing Maternityexamines the various ways the early modern mother was represented in Great Britain and America between 1650 and 1865. One of the premises of the volume is that even as motherhood evoked an increasingly standardized set of values, the...

  5. 1 Making Up for Losses: The Workings of Gender in William Harvey’s de Generatione animalium
    (pp. 34-56)
    Eve Keller

    By repeated dissection of hen and deer in the 1630s and 1640s, William Harvey determined—as it turns out, erroneously—that there is no mass, either of mixed semina or of male semen and female menstrual blood, to be found in the uterus after intercourse. Althoughde Generatione animalium[Anatomical exercises on the generation of animals] is famous for much else, it seems fairly clear that Harvey considered this experimental discovery momentous, because it unambiguously demonstrated to him that his predecessors, who all assumed the existence of some postcoital mass, had drawn “erroneous and hasty conclusions” about the origins of...

  6. 2 “Such Is My Bond”: Maternity and Economy in Anne Bradstreet’s Writing
    (pp. 57-85)
    Kimberly Latta

    Blending economic, domestic, and theological imagery, Anne Bradstreet (1612-72) painstakingly investigated the nature of her “bonds”—her debts, duties, and loving connections to her mother, father, husband, children, and God. Since Protestant poets commonly represented spiritual realities through everyday worldly figures, Bradstreet’s elaborate conceits of binding investments and obligations conventionally expressed the widespread belief in an overwhelming human debt to God.¹ As Robert Daly has observed, Anne Bradstreet “was concerned with figuration, not as a verbal trick the limitations of which gave her opportunity to display her ingenuity, but as a basic principle operative in her perceived universe. She lived...

  7. 3 Aborting the “Mother Plot”: Politics and Generation in Absalom and Achitophel
    (pp. 86-110)
    Susan C. Greenfield

    John Dryden’sAbsalom and Achitophel(1682) is a royalist allegory about the English Exclusion Crisis. It draws an analogy between Absalom’s rebellion against King David in 2 Samuel and contemporary conflicts concerning Charles II and the Earl of Shaftesbury, the Whig leader who sought to exclude Charles’s Catholic brother, James II, from succession by encouraging Charles’s illegitimate Protestant son, the Duke of Monmouth, to claim the throne instead. In the poem, King David represents the notoriously philandering Charles II, Absalom is his rebellious son, Monmouth, and Achitophel is the Earl of Shaftesbury.

    Although many critics have pointed to the poem’s...

  8. 4 The Pregnant Imagination, Women’s Bodies, and Fetal Rights
    (pp. 111-137)
    Julia Epstein

    The essay that follows was written in 1994 and appeared in theYale Journal of Law and the Humanities7 (winter 1995): 198-211. Its statistics reflect its date of publication, although no substantial change has occurred since then to make me rethink the arguments detailed here. The project I undertook after completing this one was, I thought at first, wholly unrelated. I began to collaborate with a colleague at the Temple University School of Law, Jane B. Baron, on a study involving the uses legal scholars have made of narrative theory. The law, many assert, turns on the recounting of...

  9. 5 “A Point of Conscience”: Breastfeeding and Maternal Authority in Pamela, Part 2
    (pp. 138-158)
    Toni Bowers

    Pamela’s outraged description of her husband’s domestic tyranny signals the onset of the first conflict in her married life and introduces the reader to a crucial episode in the sequel to Richardson’s phenomenally popular first novel. Part 1 ofPamela(1740) had been occupied with the violent sexual pursuit of a young servant girl by her wealthy and more experienced master; that pursuit ended, disturbingly for some readers, with the sudden repentance of the master, Mr. B., who condescends at last to marry the girl he had hoped to rape. Part 2 (1741) follows Pamela and Mr. B. into their...

  10. 6 Mary Wollstonecraft: Styles of Radical Maternity
    (pp. 159-172)
    Claudia L. Johnson

    I would like to frame this discussion of Mary Wollstoneeraft and the politics of the maternal body with a tableau that figures an extraordinary personal drama unfolding against the backdrop of an equally extraordinary national drama. Having journeyed to France to observe a revolution in which she had placed so much hope, Mary Wollstoneeraft met and fell in love with Gilbert Imlay, scion of the new American republic, and someone Wollstoneeraft looked upon as a sort of natural man, uncorrupted by European affectations and decadence. Needless to say, the enlightened pair never considered seeking any higher sanction to their union...

  11. 7 Maria Edgeworth and the Politics of Consumption: Eating, Breastfeeding, and the Irish Wet Nurse in Ennui
    (pp. 173-192)
    Julie Costello

    “The difficulty [facing the enlightened landlord in Ireland] is to relieve present misery, without creating more in the future,” claims the good agent, Mr. M’Leod, in Maria Edgeworth’sEnnui(1809).¹ In the face of spiraling Irish hunger during the 1830s and ’40s, Edgeworth would feel this difficulty acutely herself in the years before her death in 1849. Hunger was a problem that she associated explicitly with her own divided (or doubled) responsibility (as the daughter of a wealthy Anglo-Irish landlord)² to regulate not only the material but the spiritual consumption of those beneath her—to feed the bodies as well...

  12. 8 Reproductive Urges: Literacy, Sexuality, and Eighteenth-Century Englishness
    (pp. 193-214)
    Anita Levy

    As its starting point, this essay takes the period in eighteenth-century England when the power of words changed profoundly and writing took on unprecedented authority in a field of symbolic practices. With cultural meaning no longer legitimated and stabilized through its intimate association with monarchy or church, Raymond Williams, Michel Foucault, and others argue, it could be determined in other arenas and serve other interests.¹ There is evidence to suggest that the ability to read and write vernacular English effectively produced communities, on both sides of the Atlantic, who shared interests and affiliations, whose power and increase in numbers depended...

  13. 9 Infanticide and the Boundaries of Culture from Hume to Arnold
    (pp. 215-237)
    Josephine McDonagh

    Although recent critical work has had much to say about the masculine usurpation of maternal culture asthecharacteristic Romantic metaphor for the creative process, comparatively little attention has been spared for the Romantics’ less insistent and yet more menacing use of the figure of the woman who kills her child.¹ Blake’s Proverb of the Devil inThe Marriage of Heaven and Hell(1798), “Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires,” and Wordsworth’s ballad, “The Thorn” (1798), in which the poetic intensity is achieved by the never confirmed possibility that Martha Raymayhave killed her...

  14. 10 “Happy Shall He Be, That Taketh and Dasheth Thy Little Ones against the Stones”: Infanticide in Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans
    (pp. 238-251)
    Mary Chapman

    Cotton Mather’s 1702 narration of the massacre of Hannah Dustan’s family provides one of the earliest accounts of infanticide in the New World: “On March 15, 1697, the Salvages made a Descent upon the Skirts of Haverhill…. The Nurse trying to Escape, with the New-born Infant, fell into the Hands of the Formidable Salvages; and those furious Tawnies coming into the house, bid poor Dustan rise …; but e’er they had gone many Steps, they dash’d out the Brains of the Infant, against a Tree.”¹

    Similar reports of white children massacred by Native Americans recur in both autobiographical captivity narratives...

  15. 11 Reforming the Body: “Experience” and the Architecture of Imagination in Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
    (pp. 252-266)
    Ann Gelder

    The sentimentalist paradigm for Harriet Jacobs’s 1861 slave narrative,Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, is the story of a chaste young woman heroically fending off—or tragically falling victim to—a villainous man’s sexual advances. Jacobs’s rhetorical problem with this paradigm, however, is that the domestic ideology behind literary sentimentalism equates a woman’s sexual morality (chastity for unmarried women, maternity for those who are married) with her credibility. Jacobs has failed to adhere to these standards, and this is precisely her point: slavery should be condemned because it makes conventional morality impossible, as she herself exemplifies. Yet...

  16. Contributors
    (pp. 267-268)
  17. Index
    (pp. 269-276)