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By Clare Hanson (auth.)

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Extra resources for A Cultural History of Pregnancy: Pregnancy, Medicine and Culture, 1750–2000

Sample text

Montgomery claims that at the autopsy putrid matter was discovered, which did suggest disease. It is impossible to determine whether Southcott was in fact suffering from organic disease (for example, a tumour or fibroid growth) or whether hers was a case of what we would now call hysterical pregnancy. The case became notorious and inspired much satirical comment, not only at the expense of Southcott but also at that of the clergymen and doctors who had supported her case. Thomas Rowlandson's cartoon 'A Medical Inspection: or Miracles Will Never Cease' is particularly instructive.

The narrative perspective, foregrounding the other characters' perception of Adeline as virtuous when she is thought to be married and vicious as soon as the truth is discovered, poses the question of the relationship between inherent or natural virtue and religious doctrine. Must Adeline's failure to marry be considered an absolute sin? It foregrounds, too, the pernicious effects of prejudice: as Adeline herself puts it: 'Because an idle ceremony has not been muttered over me at the altar, I am liable to be thought a woman of vicious inclinations, and to be exposed to the most daring insults' (p.

103) and Alexander Hamilton classes fainting and 'nervous or hysteric fits' among the disorders of pregnancy (p. 117). Martha Mears is the only writer who attempts to counter such negative views of irritability. In her determinedly upbeat Candid Advice to the Fair Sex, she describes pregnancy in glowing terms as a state of healthful fruition and takes issue with the very term 'irritability', asking: Is woman the only part of animated nature, whose powers are said to be weakened when she wants most to exert them; and who must pass, as it were, through the shades of death, to give life and nutriment to another being?

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