A Cultural History of Pregnancy: Pregnancy, Medicine and by Clare Hanson (auth.)

By Clare Hanson (auth.)

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Additional info for A Cultural History of Pregnancy: Pregnancy, Medicine and Culture, 1750–2000

Example text

Mary Wollstonecraft's Maria explores such a situation through the character of the servant Jemima, born into abject poverty and effectively raped by her master when she is sixteen years old. Her emotions when she discovers she is pregnant are complex: she feels 'a mixed sensation of despair and tenderness', knowing that a child labelled a bastard must be 'an object of the greatest compassion' (p. 83). Attacked by her mistress and thrown out, Jemima eventually turns to abortion. Because her story is told in the first person, Wollstonecraft is able to offer a rare glimpse of a woman's feelings as the movements of the child in her body cease.

However, a consideration of the theme of maternal responsibility as it is explored in the novel shows that Opie, like Wollstonecraft, was prepared to engage critically with the social framework which conditioned women's feelings. The plot turns on a young woman who fails to realise that her mother's 'freethinking' beliefs are purely theoretical. When she naively Advice to the Fair Sex 31 puts her mother's ideas into practice, living openly with the young philosopher Glenmurray, whose books she has read and whose ideas she has imbibed, she is, un surprisingly, rejected by both her mother and society.

This takes us back to the epistemological problems posed by pregnancy. Mears wishes to fold the experience and knowledge of pregnancy back into the subjectivity of the mother because such maternal authority shores up, by extension, that of her female attendants. 26 A Cultural History o{Preg/la/lcy Mears' polemical purpose is clear when she writes that it is 'the moderns' (Le. male practitioners) who deny any mysterious consent between the mother and the foetlls, because it cannot be explained on mechanical principles.

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