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  • 2018oystonphd

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Reproducing death: nineteenth-century discourses of obstetric and neonatal death

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2018
Number of pages304
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Setting in dialogue a range of texts from fiction and diaries to medical journals and letters, from histories and statistics to poetry, this interdisciplinary thesis examines how various discourses between the years 1817-1899 represent, misrepresent, or fail to represent maternal and infant deaths associated with pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.
Addressing where their rhetoric, narratives, characterisations, epistemologies, ideologies, and values intersect and diverge, the thesis locates some particularly strong cultural hegemonies that persist across otherwise differing discourses and epistemologies and, where discourses diverge or conflict, considers what cultural issues and debates these differences inform.
Part I focuses on maternal mortality in childbed: Chapter One analyses the representation of mothers dying during or shortly after childbirth, focusing particularly on the emotional aspects of fear and sentiment, as well as the silencing and objectification of the dead and dying mother. Chapter Two examines narratives of blame relating to the death of the mother. Part II considers foetal and infant mortality, including miscarriage, abortion, stillbirth, and infanticide. Chapter Three analyses the cultural silencing of infant deaths, which is even more extreme than the silencing of maternal deaths, whilst Chapter Four builds on this analysis to examine the discourses of value that legitimate narratives of sacrifice regarding infant death.
The thesis finds that discourses on maternal and infant death inform and are informed by other kinds of discourses on religion, morality, affect, body/mind relations, sexuality, gender, class, education, and race. It pays particular attention to paradoxical discourses of childbearing in nineteenth-century texts—the elevation of motherhood and the silencing of the processes that produce it, the tension between childbirth as an agent of life and of death, the cultural value of children and the destruction of unwanted babies and, perhaps most striking of all, the paradox that such ubiquitous discourses simultaneously silence and screen pregnancy, birth, the postpartum period, and related deaths from the reader.