Article ID: CBB000770501

Imagining the Pain and Peril of Seventeenth-Century Childbirth: Travail and Deliverance in the Making of an Early Modern World (2003)


This article takes as its starting point a remarkable account of childbirth in the memoirs of a seventeenth-century Yorkshire gentlewoman, Alice Thornton. Her representation of the agony of her labour exemplifies the key structuring motif of her memoirs as a whole: the `providentialist' pairing of danger and deliverance. The article aims to relate this passage to that textual context and to the broader cultural and social contours of Alice Thornton's world. Alice succeeded in giving eloquent words to the experience of extreme physical pain. Her words speak to us down the centuries, immediate and compelling. But this utterly personal, corporeal experience is culturally mediated. In order to understand her suffering, Alice Thornton drew on contemporary `discourses of martyrdom', where pain could be understood as a test of faith and endurance from which she emerged strengthened, purified, reaffirmed, by God. Alice was pious and dutiful: her sense of duty and her faith motivated her to write, to record for posterity the proofs of God's power and mercy. But her writings, recording her perils and deliverances, also became the proofs of her virtue, a source of godly authority as well as identity.

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Authors & Contributors
Read, Kirk D.
Banks, Amanda Carson
McClive, Cathy
Homei, Aya
Tucker, Holly
Schlumbohm, Jürgen
Social History of Medicine
Medical History
Histoire des Sciences Médicales
Journal of Medical Biography
University Press of Mississippi
Wayne State University Press
Ashgate Publishing
State University of New York Press
University of Michigan
Obstetrics and pregnancy
Nurse midwives
Personal narratives
Medicine and gender
Smellie, William
Madden, Thomas More
United States
Puerto Rico
17th century
19th century
18th century
16th century
20th century
20th century, late
Universität Göttingen

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