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An Old Theme that’s New Again

Sunday, September 8, 2019 - 12:30

In this study of the legal and social context of infanticide concerns, I found a lot of interesting connections with modern discourse around abortion. It becomes clear that the law and the patriarchal establishment wasn’t really so much concerned with the lives of the women and fetuses involved, but with controlling and punishing women’s bodies for stepping outside the prescribed paradigms. Unmarried women whose newborn died (or was stillborn) were automatically presumed to have committed infanticide and needed to provide positive evidence that they had anticipated and prepared for a live birth. (E.g., by hiring a midwife, by preparing clothing and supplies for the child, etc.) In contrast, married women whose newborn died or was stillborn were automatically presumed to have desired the child, and in order to make an accusation of infanticide, one needed to present positive evidence for the act. Although this article isn’t relevant to the LHMP, it’s quite fascinating and informative.

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Full citation: 

Staub, Susan C. 2003. “’News from the Dead’: The Strange Story of a Woman Who Gave Birth, Was Executed, and Was Resurrected as a Virgin” in The Single Woman in Medieval and Early Modern England: Her Life and Representation, ed. by Laurel Amtower and Dorothea Kehler. Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Tempe. ISBN 0-06698-306-6

Publication summary: 

A collection of articles on the general topic of how single women are represented in history and literature in medieval and early modern England. Not all of the articles are clearly relevant to the LHMP but I have included all the contents.

News from the Dead

This article examines the social and legal background of a sensationalized “marvel tale” about an unmarried woman hanged for murdering her newborh child and then discovered to be still alive. The article largely centers on attitudes towards infanticide, especially of children born outside marriage. There isn’t much that’s relevant to the Project.

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