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Maternal impressions: the discourse of maternal imagination in the Eighteenth Century

Maternal impressions: the discourse of maternal imagination in the Eighteenth Century
Maternal impressions: the discourse of maternal imagination in the Eighteenth Century
Maternal imagination is the notion that a pregnant woman could alter the development of her foetus with the power of her thoughts and feelings. At the beginning of the long eighteenth century this notion circulated in both medical and popular understandings of pregnancy, however by the nineteenth century the concept was largely dismissed in the medico-­scientific community. This thesis charts the discursive migration of the concept of maternal imagination in a way that complicates the standard chronology. I argue that the discourse was widely dispersed and played a role in significant cultural debates concerning man-­midwifery, politeness, domestic hierarchy, gender roles, and the philosophy of creative imagination. Exploring the rich interplay of medicine and literature, the thesis examines a range of print material such as newspapers, pamphlets, novels, popular health guides, midwifery treatises and poetry. This broad scope has demonstrated contradictions inherent within the discourse, such as the increasing sense that imagination was at once both creative and destructive. Those who employed the discourse appropriated the concept of maternal imagination to support a range of agendas; to satirise or support man-­midwives, to create distrust or sympathy for women, or to ascribe either authority or culpability to the power of imagination. Metamorphosing through the age of politeness, the culture of sensibility and the related glorification of maternity, the discourse of maternal imagination, rather than diminishing as has often been assumed, reaches an apex in the late eighteenth-­ entury assimilation of its physiological aspects into the language of Romantic creativity. In a duality typical of its complex evolution, the discourse both contributes to the nineteenth-­century view of a fragile female intellect, and to a peculiarly pathological version of the imagination process that could apply to both women and men.
Buckley, Jenifer
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Buckley, Jenifer
55a1156a-5025-4e38-981e-7a2d4eddd7b0
Hanson, Sheila
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Clery, Emma
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Buckley, Jenifer (2014) Maternal impressions: the discourse of maternal imagination in the Eighteenth Century. University of Southampton, Faculty of Humanities, Doctoral Thesis, 327pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

Maternal imagination is the notion that a pregnant woman could alter the development of her foetus with the power of her thoughts and feelings. At the beginning of the long eighteenth century this notion circulated in both medical and popular understandings of pregnancy, however by the nineteenth century the concept was largely dismissed in the medico-­scientific community. This thesis charts the discursive migration of the concept of maternal imagination in a way that complicates the standard chronology. I argue that the discourse was widely dispersed and played a role in significant cultural debates concerning man-­midwifery, politeness, domestic hierarchy, gender roles, and the philosophy of creative imagination. Exploring the rich interplay of medicine and literature, the thesis examines a range of print material such as newspapers, pamphlets, novels, popular health guides, midwifery treatises and poetry. This broad scope has demonstrated contradictions inherent within the discourse, such as the increasing sense that imagination was at once both creative and destructive. Those who employed the discourse appropriated the concept of maternal imagination to support a range of agendas; to satirise or support man-­midwives, to create distrust or sympathy for women, or to ascribe either authority or culpability to the power of imagination. Metamorphosing through the age of politeness, the culture of sensibility and the related glorification of maternity, the discourse of maternal imagination, rather than diminishing as has often been assumed, reaches an apex in the late eighteenth-­ entury assimilation of its physiological aspects into the language of Romantic creativity. In a duality typical of its complex evolution, the discourse both contributes to the nineteenth-­century view of a fragile female intellect, and to a peculiarly pathological version of the imagination process that could apply to both women and men.

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Published date: July 2014
Organisations: University of Southampton, English

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Local EPrints ID: 371689
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/371689
PURE UUID: 7ac76e76-8bc9-4f8d-b6c0-74733e0fd5d8

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Date deposited: 12 Nov 2014 13:51
Last modified: 17 Nov 2017 05:01

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