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Topic: Pregnancy in Literature

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Subject: Pregnancy in Literature
Date Posted: 10/8/2009 5:36 PM ET
Member Since: 8/11/2009
Posts: 11
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I'm brainstorming for a college paper dealing with society's view of pregnancy through time and I wanted to know if there are any good classics that I could read that deal with the subject (even obliquely). Thank you for any suggestions!

Date Posted: 10/8/2009 6:27 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
Posts: 1,427
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Ronni:  The book is not a 'classic' but, while reading The Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks, I found a couple of instances of "confinements" in the English village in the plague year of 1666, the setting of the novel.   After the villagers murder the old 'witch' and her niece-apprentice, thinking them to blame for bringing the plague, the village is left without anyone to serve as midwife.  The young woman conscripted into serving in that capacity encounters a "breech birth" the first time she is called upon.  The only thing that saves the day is that she has assisted her ewes in birthing their lambs so she knows a bit about the process. 

Later in the novel she is called to the home of an "older" woman who has been in labor for two to three days and has been hemorrhaging alarmingly.  Finally, her  family, in desperation, had summoned a "barber-surgeon" (remember, this was the 1600s)and he rides in, takes a look at the agonized woman and declares her case hopeless and rides away again.  Our heroine, the neophyte mid-wife, comes in, staunches the bleeding, gives the woman herbal remedies to help her strength and to counter some of the blood loss, and lots of TLC, and manages to save the baby AND the (fortyish?) mother.   What makes the big problem for the family is the fact that it was the woman's extramarital affair that led to the pregnancy.  She knew she must hide its birth from her husband, and get rid of the baby somehow.

I was intrigued enough to get The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants from the public library here and look up comfrey, and nettle tea, etc.  You might be surprised at the number of times that enhancing female fertility is touted as a property of this or that herb! 

In The Forsyte Saga, by John Galsworthy, there is a female character who is bound and determined NOT to get pregnant by her husband.  She persistently uses a douche after each conjugal  instance. (It's unclear whether they knew anything about the optimum time for conception, between menstrual periods, back then.)  At any rate, the instances are at the husband's insistence.  ( I think The Forsyte Saga might be considered a "classic ".)

Last Edited on: 10/8/09 6:31 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Rick B. (bup) - ,
Date Posted: 10/9/2009 9:43 AM ET
Member Since: 11/2/2007
Posts: 2,625
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Adam Bede and Anna Karenina for nineteenth century Europe.

Main Street for the US about 90 years ago.

There's a little book called The Scarlet Letter that deals with it obliquely...

Umm...A Farewell to Arms - WWI.

Last Edited on: 10/9/09 9:47 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 10/9/2009 12:40 PM ET
Member Since: 1/30/2009
Posts: 5,696
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The short story The Yellow Wallpaper might be useful.   Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe for the late 17th/early 18th centuries.

Date Posted: 10/9/2009 1:07 PM ET
Member Since: 8/11/2009
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Wow caviglia! The Yellow Wallpaper is actually what helped inspire the paper topic!

And these are a bunch of great suggestions - thanks so much!

Date Posted: 10/9/2009 7:29 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
Posts: 1,427
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One more-----if your references don't have to be from British and/or American (or at least from Anglophone) literature.  In Knut Hamsun's novel The Growth of the Soil,  the pioneering farmer out in a remore area of Norway thinks he has "captured" himself a drudge whom he won't have to pay a wage to, in the person of a woman he gets pregnant.  But she is not having any of that scheme, so she does away with the child.....drowns it in a creek or river, I seem to remember.  Hamsun was a Nobel Prize for Literature back  in the 20s. 

Date Posted: 10/9/2009 11:32 PM ET
Member Since: 4/4/2009
Posts: 9,544
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Just offhand, I can contribute two. In one of the very greatest tragedies, The Duchess of Malfi, by John Webster, the duchess becomes pregnant. Her brother, the Duke, hires perhaps the baddest of the bad guys, one Bosola, to find out if, indeed, she is. And when he affirms her to be, the Duke has Bosola kill his sister.

And there is Tess of The D' Ubervilles.

Date Posted: 10/17/2009 7:22 AM ET
Member Since: 11/28/2007
Posts: 5,544
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Both Scarlett and Melanie become pregant in Gone With the Wind.