All too often, childbirth in early modern England was associated with fear, suffering and death, and this melancholy preoccupation weighed heavily on the seventeenth-century mind. This landmark study examines John Milton's life and work, uncovering evidence of the poet's engagement with maternal mortality and the dilemmas it presented. Drawing on both literary scholarship and historical research, Louis Schwartz provides important readings of Milton's poetry, including Paradise Lost, as well as a wide-ranging survey of the medical practices and religious beliefs that surrounded the perils of childbirth. The reader is granted a richer understanding of how seventeenth-century society struggled to come to terms with its fears, and how one of its most important poets gave voice to that struggle.
Introduction; Part I. Behind the Veil: Childbirth and the Nature of Obstetric Anxiety in Early Modern England: 1. 'Exquisitt torment' and 'infinitt grace': maternal suffering and the rites of childbirth; 2. When things went wrong: maternal mortality and obstetric anxiety; 3. Religious frameworks; Part II. 'Scarce-Well-Lighted Flame': The Representation of Maternal Mortality in Milton's Early Poetry: 4. 'Too much conceaving': Milton's 'On Shakespear'; 5. 'Tears of perfect moan': Milton and the Marchioness of Winchester; 6. 'Farr above in spangled sheen': A Mask and its epilogue; Part III. Conscious Terrors: The Problem of Maternal Mortality in Milton's Later Poetry: 7. The wide wound and the veil: Sonnet 23 and the birth of Eve; 8. 'Conscious terrors' and the 'Promised Seed': seventeenth-century obstetrics and the allegory of sin and death; 9. The 'Womb of waters' and the 'Abortive Gulph': on the reproductive imagery of Milton's cosmos.
Childbirth in seventeenth-century England was associated with fear, suffering and death, and this melancholy preoccupation found its most articulate expression in John Milton's poetry. This landmark 2009 study examines the impact of maternal mortality on Milton's life and work, and provides important readings of his major poems, including Paradise Lost.
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