Attending the birth of a nation
This dissertation explores the intersections between maternal discourses and political discourses during the long eighteenth century with a focus on understanding how the relationship between these discourses helped to form a British national identity. I argue that not only did political discourse influence maternal discourse by focusing on technological and progress in the field of obstetrics, but discourse surrounding the maternal body also influenced Britain's body politic. A desire for scientific understanding during the Enlightenment resulted in more careful dissection of maternal bodies and subsequent publication of medical texts which included the emerging anatomical information. Political debates surrounding midwifery instruments like the obstetric forceps led to shifts within the field of obstetrics resulting in the displacement of female midwives in favor of medical men. The maternal breast was also a component of the ideal maternal body that came under increased surveillance during the eighteenth century with heated conflict about the dangers and benefits of maternal breastfeeding. Beyond the maternal body, the maternal ideal continued as an impossible standard for British mothers who must concern themselves with a complex and constantly changing set of ideal patterns of behavior designed to maximize the potential for each new British citizen they produced. The eighteenth-century was a time of progress and technological advances which, when coupled with the emerging national identity, found its gaze intensely trained on the role of maternity in the nation.
British and Irish literature;
0593: British and Irish literature