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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Abstract

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 14:48
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2020 00:38
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/63137
DOI:

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