Literary representations of maternity in the eighteenth century
The primary concern of this thesis is the representation, in the eighteenth century, of mothers' bodies. It is also concerned with the treatment of domestic duties which were supposed a consequence of a woman's very nature. Throughout the first seven decades of the century, medical men and virtuosi demonstrated particular interest in the nature of physicality, and especially in women's bodies, pregnancy, and childbirth. 1 will be testing out a widely-held view that dissection and new anatomical findings regarding women's bodies produced a new idealisation of motherhood, and that this was immediately translated into lay-medical and related discourse, and was thus firmly established in middle-class culture by the end of the century. The relationship between primary medical and lay-medical literature raises several questions: my work asks whether lay-medical literature mirrored medical writing, and whether there was a direct translation of material from one to the other. Lay-medical texts for women are especially interesting. They offer an insight into precisely what examples of female nature and correspondingly 'natural' behaviour were intended for women readers. Representations of maternity in specific forms of writing which rely heavily upon women for subject matter are further extended in the second half of this study. 1 have focussed upon two genres, conduct literature and narrative fiction. Neither is conventionally associated with medical or lay-medical discourse, yet both have significant links with these. Conduct literature and narrative fiction have much to offer in this attempt to recover what women were being taught about their bodies and roles; both were concerned with what the body displays externally, and with corresponding ideas of 'naturalness'. Conduct literature for women was enjoying a period of growth and change, and has obvious, direct links with medical texts. Narrative fiction also had important links with medical writing, and 1 will describe these. The dissemination of medical representations of the maternal body was a process which contributed to a contradictory cultural sense of female identity.