Tragedies of Pregnancy: Representation of Pregnancy in the Plays of German Writer Friedrich Hebbel (1813-1863)

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. This month we have PoP Director Leanne Calvert talking about men and sexuality in the 18th Century.

Staging a play about illegitimate pregnancy was a huge scandal in the German society of the 1840s as the stories of Friedrich Hebbel’s play Judith and Maria Magdalena show. Before his debut text Judith could even be staged in July 1840, it had to be edited. The defloration scene, which can even be read as a rape, in the third act as well as Judith’s fear of being pregnant with Holoferne’s child at the end of the play were removed for the premiere. A similar situation happened to one of his other plays: Maria Magdalena – which I would like to focus on. Even though the play was finished in 1843, it was not shown on a public stage until March 1846. Again, the scandal of the pregnant heroine prevented the staging, as Auguste Crelinger, actress at the Königliches Hoftheater in Berlin wrote in a letter to Hebbel: “On Sunday I received a letter from Madame Crelinger about Maria Magdalena. There is once again nothing. I am a very talented person, have thoughts, language, what do I know what all else, but, but – – the heroine is pregnant, and this is an insurmountable source of offence.”[1]

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The issue of maternal and child mortality: the German sense of the tragic

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. This week, Associate Director of the POP Network writes about the ways 18th century art reflects cultural attitudes toward pregnancy and medical intervention in birthing rooms.

Death during childbirth did not respect age or social class; it occurred more often than recently married women liked to think about. The same could be said of child mortality: if a child survived childbirth the perils of the diseases of early life awaited. In the German Territories of the Holy Roman Empire, the promotion of large families was central to the process of recovery after the Thirty Years’ War. Especially in rural communities this was seen as central to economic recovery even though it was a risk for the mother. This was a social belief supported by state policy, academic publications, and popular literature that would continue well into the 19th Century. .

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Review of Adam Kay, This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor (Picador, 2017)

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. This week, Sara Read reviews a new memoir by Adam Kay. 

This book is record of life on the wards for a newly qualified doctor in the first decade of the twenty-first century. When it came time to specialise the author Adam Kay decided upon obstetrics and gynaecology, and so the memoir provides a doctor’s eye view of the path from junior doctor to senior registrar helping women deliver babies. It deals with many matter-of-fact details of delivery that are sometimes glossed over even in antenatal classes, such as that most women will open their bowels during delivery due to pressure and that it is to be expected.

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