A Cultural History of Pregnancy: Pregnancy, Medicine and by Clare Hanson (auth.)

By Clare Hanson (auth.)

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Soon after she becomes pregnant, she discovers that he has been encouraging another man to have an affair with her in the hope of securing a necessary loan. She resolves to leave, but in order to keep this resolution Wollstonecraft suggests, significantly, that she has to 'disengage' mind and body, as though to act as a rational creature 30 A Cultural History o(l'reSllllllC)' were incompatible with pregnant embodiment. After her successful escape, however, mind and body collapse back into each other, with the result that she begins to fear for the child who is coterminous with her body and who will, she assumes, be affected by her state of mind: My mind, during the few past days, seemed, as it were, disengaged from my body; but, now the struggle was over, I felt very forcibly the effect which perturbation of spirits produces on a woman in my situation.

89). By far the most influential discussion of illegitimacy among the poorer classes was William Hunter's essay on infanticide, published four years before Maria in 1794. The essay was written in defence of women who were, in Hunter's view, often falsely accused of infanticide. Rather like Woolf's Three Guilleas, it is framed as an expanded response to a letter, here from a country magistrate seeking Hunter's advice in defending a girl accused of infanticide. H On the one hand, he marshals detailed physiological and pathological information to support his argument for the difficulty of establishing whether or not a child has been stillborn.

The idea that a pregnant woman's imagination could affect her unborn child, creating marks and deformities, was a longstanding folk belief which, as Philip Wilson has shown, was taken up into medical discourse in the eighteenth centuryY In 1727 James Blondel published anonymously a pamphlet titled 'The Strength of Imagination in Pregnant Women Examined', which sought to refute the idea on rational grounds. Blondel argued that, while it was undoubtedly true that physical accidents or emotional distress could bring on miscarriage, many women suffered such events without any adverse effect: similarly, many mothers of marked or deformed children had experienced entirely calm and peaceful pregnancies.

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