Confinement by Jessica Cox
Confinement by Jessica Cox* – The Hidden History of Maternal Bodies in Nineteenth-Century Britain – is such an interesting book. I’ve read about sexuality in Victorian Britain, but this book is dedicated to childbirth. The author is a mother of three, and she makes a few comparisons between her experience with that of Victorian women, some very different, others not so much.
She talks about all pregnancy related issues, not only childbirth. For instance, she covers topics such as fertility, infant mortality, breastfeeding, abortions, miscarriage, loss and dealing with the pain of loosing a child, even about postnatal PTSD. She uses a lot of primary sources, like diaries and letters, besides published work of fiction. She blends the primary sources with the text beautifully and only uses the relevant parts without reproducing in full letters and so on, so the flow is not interrupted.
Another thing I liked a lot in this book is that she covers the royal family, aristocracy, and wealthy middle-classes. But she found primary sources to tell the stories of women who gave birth in workhouses or were poor. That’s impressive because there aren’t too many of those. Of course, the wealthy were literate and had the opportunity to write their feelings in diaries and letters, which were preserved. The poor people were illiterate (even if it’s just functional illiteracy) and even if they wrote something down, it’s less likely that those kind of sources were kept to be seen and read today.
The book is structured on themes and many families, like the Dickens, the Gaskwells, the royal family, are mentioned in all chapters. It just shows how similar was the experience for all in Victorian times when it came to pregnancy and having children. Also, the big inequalities between the poor and the rich also showed how different the situation was for families.
While the subject might seem niche, I think this book could be found enjoyable by many.
Confinement by Jessica Cox
Details about the picture: a Victorian cup, of course
My rating: 5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: yes
Published by: The History Press
Year it was published: 2023
Genre(s): History – Victorian
About the author: Dr Jessica Cox is an academic in the Department of Arts and Humanities at Brunel University, London, where she teaches and researches nineteenth-century literature and culture. She has authored books on Charlotte Bronte and Victorian and contemporary popular fiction.
Website & Social Media Links: thehistorypress
*I was sent a copy of Confinement by Jessica Cox for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own.