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Not until the eighteenth century was the image of the tender, full-time mother invented. This image retains its power today. Inventing Maternity demonstrates that, despite its association with an increasingly standardized set of values, motherhood remained contested terrain. Drawing on feminist, cultural, and postcolonial theory, Inventing Maternity surveys a wide range of sources--medical texts, political tracts, religious doctrine, poems, novels, slave narratives, conduct books, and cookbooks. The first half of the volume, covering the mid-seventeenth to the late eighteenth centuries, considers central debates about fetal development, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and childbearing. The second half, covering the late eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries, charts a historical shift to the regulation of reproduction as maternity is increasingly associated with infanticide, population control, poverty, and colonial, national, and racial instability. In her introduction, Greenfield provides a historical overview of early modern interpretations of maternity. She concludes with a consideration of their impact on current debates about reproductive rights and technologies, child custody, and the cycles of poverty.

Honorable Mention for collaborative work from the Society for Early Modern Women

Susan C. Greenfield is associate professor of English at Fordham University. Carol Barash is the author of English Women's Poetry, 1649-1714 and co-editor of Major Women Writers of Seventeenth-Century England.

"These essays offer fresh and vigorous arguments for the challenges maternal roles present to social values."—Choice

"It is extremely difficult to capture and convey the complex richness of this volume. Taken together, the constitutive essays offer a historical analysis of the making of modern maternity that is sure to appeal to a wide variety of readers."—Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering

"Makes a timely and valuable contribution to the current scholarly conversation concerning maternity, reproduction, and the gendered body in which histories of imaginative narrative are profitably understood in conjunction with theories of gender, sexuality, race, and class."—Julia Stern

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Motherhood, History of motherhood, Motherhood in literature


Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Inventing Maternity: Politics, Science, and Literature, 1650-1865
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