Untenanted lives: involuntary childlessness in nineteenth-century America

Chaffe, Morwenna (2017) Untenanted lives: involuntary childlessness in nineteenth-century America. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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    As the expectation for married women to become mothers took on a new importance in
    nineteenth-century America, the relationship between mother and child was constantly exalted
    not only in the abundance of prescriptive literature, but also by the medical profession. The
    discourses of true womanhood and motherhood expressed by physicians and social
    commentators dictated much of the culturally condoned behaviour and everyday life of middleclass
    women. This thesis asks how involuntarily childless women embodied their roles in
    society as the ideal of true womanhood became so strongly characterised by motherhood.
    Through an interdisciplinary methodology that combines the analysis of archival sources with
    readings of fictional texts, memoirs and biographies, embedded within histories of a variety of
    social phenomena – nineteenth-century gynaecology, invalidism, mourning, adoption, and
    divorce – this thesis provides a socio-cultural analysis of gender and intimacy in late
    nineteenth-century America. It also examines the various means by which childless women
    filled their lives, carving out alternative means of existence in a socially prescribed
    environment of parenthood.
    The involuntarily childless women considered in this thesis found ways to tenant their lives in
    the absence of longed-for children. From theatrical performance to adoption, education to art,
    and from the strengthening of marital relations to their demise, this thesis explores the actions
    these women took in their marriages to negotiate their identities as childless individuals in a
    culture of motherhood.

    Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
    Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
    Depositing User: Katie Miller
    Date Deposited: 30 Mar 2017 15:48
    Last Modified: 30 Mar 2017 15:48
    URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/63137

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