The Pregnant Eighteenth-Century Actress

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’s post is contributed by Helen Brooks and examines the pregnant eighteenth-century actress.

Writing in 1802 that a woman’s duties as a mother began ‘not only from the birth of her child, but even from the moment of its origin’ Christian Struve voiced the opinion of many an eighteenth-century commentator.[i] Maternal conduct literature often placed as much emphasis on the months preceding the child’s birth as it did on those following it. Women were advised to carefully moderate their levels of physical activity, and to avoid dancing, riding, or even walking. Yet at the same point they were warned of the dangers of idleness, indolence or ‘excessive effeminacy’.[ii] The ‘fatiguing dissipations’ of the bon ton also presented risks, whilst anything which might be described as ‘tumultuous pleasures, violent passions’ or ‘an irregular life’  could all lead to serious harm or miscarriage.[iii]

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