Saturday, May 2, 2009

Welcome to my blog

Having completed my research and a research paper on the topic of infanticide in Early modern England, there are quite a few things that I've learned. There are also quite a few resources that are listed throughout this blog so that anyone interested in this topic will be able to find them and review them. Hopefully this blog site will provide some helpful information for future researchers. Overall the most interesting things that I've learned throughout my research relate to some of the more unfortunate stereotypes surrounding women of the period and some of the obstacles that they might have faced.

Women who were not wealthy often worked as servants in other households before getting married and the age of marriage for most girls of this class was relatively late compared to common thought. Most servant women married around the age of twenty-six. I also learned that female servants were extremely vulnerable to sexual advances from their masters. The fact that the stereotypes of the period categorized women as either sexualized and wanton or chaste and virginal demonstrates how community members relied solely on reputation to determine the true value of the average early modern woman. This period in history also reflected an extreme reliance on the family unit as a parallel to the government. Therefore servants belonged to their masters and wives belonged to their husbands. The husband was the king of the house and was not to be defied. Women who stepped out of line in any way were portrayed as monstous and unnatural. Women who defied their husbands were shrews, homerebels, or housetraitors. Women who could not be categorized or who lacked domestic rule were often portrayed as witches, and women who became sexualized within society were characterized as whores.

One of the most interesting aspects of this type of thought process relates to the topic of infanticide. If a woman was raped by her master and could not prove rape, she would be labeled as a whore, especially if her pregancy was discovered. This would ruin her reputation and her marriage potential, and cause her to become an outcast within the community. Few people would want to associate with a woman who had such a reputation. At the same time, if a woman in this position were to try to conceal her pregnancy and was discovered, she could face charges of infanticide under the Act of 1627, because the law associated concealment of pregnancy with the intent to murder the baby. Regardless of how she became pregnant, an unwed mother was condemned to some type of punishment. This is by far the most interesting aspect of infanticide as far as I'm concerned.

Another interesting aspect of my research is the treatment of married women. At the beginning of the semester I addressed this issue and found that there were no laws to protect married women from the wrath of their husbands unless they were actually murdered. The church and community were meant to handle this aspect of marriage and they only intervened when the beatings or altercations became a public nuisance. Most often church or community involvement resulted in shaming rituals which were used to embarrass and punish the guilty party. Pamphlets from the period addressed issues such as infanticide, petty treason, and petty tyranny. Petty treason was the charge that murderous wives faced and this charge resulted in the same punishment as high treason; both resulted in the execution of the guilty party. This yet again demonstrates the parallel between the hierarchy of the home and the hieracrchy of the government. Petty tyrrany was the charge that murderous husbands faced, and this charge is comparable to a simple murder charge. All of these facts help to reveal the truth about how women were oppressed, stereotyped, and kept in place by early modern society.

Another extremely interesting aspect of my research reveals the fact that unwed mothers and married women were characterized differently even after committing the same crime. The motive for infanticide committed by an unwed woman was universally accepted as an effort to hide her shame. On the other hand, married women who committed infanticide were thought to be controlled by the devil or corrupted in some way. This reflects the views of unwed mothers during the period. It was assumed that unwed mothers were sexually promiscuous deviants.

Hopefully some of the resources listed below will be helpful to those who find this blog interesting.

"A True and Perfect Relation of a most Horrid and Bloody Murther"
London: 1686
EEBO (Early English Books Online)

"A Pittilesse Mother"
London: 1616
EEBO (Early English Books Online)

"The Murderous Midwife, with her Roasted Punishment"
London: 1673
EEBO (Early English Books Online)

"Deeds against Nature and monsters by kinde"
EEBO (Early English Books Online)

Amussen, Susan Dwyer. “Elizabeth I and Alice Balstone: Gender, Class, and the ExceptionalWoman in Early Modern England.” Attending to Women in Early Modern England. Ed. Betty S. Travitsky and Adele F. Seef. Newark, NJ: U of Delaware P., 1994.

Bothelo, Keith M. "Maternal Memory and Murder in Early-Seventeenth Century England."SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900. 48.1 (2008). 113-130. Project Muse.

Dolan, Frances E. "The Subordinate('s) Plot: Petty Treason and the Forms of Domestic Rebellion." Shakespeare Quarterly 60.3 (1992): 317-340. JSTOR. 3 March 2009

"Anno vicesimo primo Jacobi Regis, &c. an act to prevent the destroying and murthering of
bastard children." City of London. Printed by Samuel Roycroft. 1680. EEBO.
ASU Library, Boone, NC. 11 March 2009.

Brewer, Thomas. “The Bloudy Mother.” Nature’s Cruel Stepdames: Murderous Women in the
Street Literature of Seventeenth Century England. Ed. Susan C. Staub. Pittsburgh, PA:
Duquesne U.P., 2005. 240-255.

Dolan, Frances, E. Dangerous Familiars: representations of domestic crime in England, 1550-
1700. Itaca: Cornell U.P., 1994.

Eales, Jacqueline. Women in early modern England, 1550-1700. London: UCL Press, 1998.

Gowing, Laura. “Secret Births and Infanticide in Seventeenth-Century England.” Past and
Present. 156 (1997): 87-115. JSTOR. ASU Library, Boone, NC. 1 April 2009.

Shakespeare, William. Cymbeline.

Sharpe, J.A. and J.R. Dickinson. “Infanticide in Early Modern England: the Court of Great
Sessions at Chester, 1650-1800.” Infanticide: Historical Perspectives on Child Murder
and Concealment 1550-2000. Ed. Mark Jackson. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2002.

Staub, Susan C. Nature’s Cruel Stepdames: Murderous Women in the Street Literature of
Seventeenth Century England. Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne U.P., 2005.

No comments:

Post a Comment