The pregnant, birthing, and nurturing body is a recurring topos in early modern French literature. Such bodies, often metaphors for issues and anxieties obtaining to the gendered control of social and political institutions, acquired much of their descriptive power from contemporaneous medical and scientific discourse. In this study, Kirk Read brings together literary and medical texts that represent a range of views, from lyric poets, satirists and polemicists, to midwives and surgeons, all of whom explore the popular sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century narratives of birth in France. Although the rhetoric of birthing was widely used, strategies and negotiations depended upon sex and gender; this study considers the male, female, and hermaphroditic experience, offering both an analysis of women's experiences to be sure, but also opening onto the perspectives of non-female birthers and their place in the social and political climate of early modern France. The writers explored include Rabelais, Madeleine and Catherine Des Roches, Louise Boursier, Pierre de Ronsard, Pierre Boaistuau and Jacques Duval. Read also explores the implications of the metaphorical use of reproduction, such as the presentation of literary work as offspring and the poet/mentor relationship as that of a suckling child. Foregrounded in the study are the questions of what it means for women to embrace biological and literary reproduction and how male appropriation of the birthing body influences the mission of creating new literary traditions. Furthermore, by exploring the cases of indeterminate birthing entities and the social anxiety that informs them, Read complicates the binarisms at work in the vexed terrain of sexuality, sex, and gender in this period. Ultimately, Read considers how the narrative of birth produces historical conceptions of identity, authority, and gender.
Kirk D. Read is an Associate Professor of French in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Bates College, USA.
A Yankee Book Peddler UK Core Title for 2011 'This study, which explores a range of birthing bodies, female and male, and analyses striking associations of texts, will be of interest to all those - not just sixteenth- and seventeenth-century scholars - who work on the complexities of sex boundaries and non-normative gender identities.' Wendy Perkins, University of Birmingham, UK 'The richness of the encounters which Read constructs means that his book will appeal not only to those working on early modern France, but to scholars with an interest in historical and contemporary notions of gender and its connections with creativity.' British Journal for the History of Science 'Birthing Bodies is an eclectic, stimulating analysis that unpicks a plethora of associations made with the idea of childhood in early modern France... Read often raises questions in the manner of an enthusiastic class teacher, and some material will certainly be accessible to undergraduate students. Researchers, meanwhile, will find themselves refreshingly challenged to recognize and reconsider the labile properties of the early modern pregnant body and its adjuncts.' Renaissance Quarterly 'Read is clearly knowledgeable, widely read, and politically engaged in his work... a rich collection of materials and ideas to consider.' Bulletin of the History of Medicine 'This study ranges widely over a surprising number of texts of the period and includes extensive references to current gender theory. There are fourteen useful illustrations.' French Studies 'Kirk Read’s fine study contributes to the growing body of work that synthesizes earlier feminist readings of history and letters with more nuanced perspectives on gender and sexuality... Birthing Bodies has been extraordinarily engaging, entertaining, and persuasive.' Sixteenth Century Journal 'Birthing Bodies contributes to both historical and literary studies, pointing out and challenging the binaries of good and bad traditionally ascribed t