1st Edition

Menstruation and Procreation in Early Modern France

By Cathy McClive Copyright 2015

    Early modern bodies, particularly menstruating and pregnant bodies, were not stable signifiers. Menstruation and Procreation in Early Modern France presents the first full-length discussion of menstruation and its uncertain connections with embodied sex, gender and reproduction in early modern France. Attitudes to menstruation are explored in three inter-linked arenas: medicine, moral theology and law across the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Drawing on a wide range of diverse sources, including court records and private documents, the author uses case studies to explore the relationship between the exceptional corporeality of individuals and attempts to construct menstrual norms, reflecting on how early modern individuals, lay or otherwise, grappled with the enigma of menstruation. She analyzes how early modern men and women accounted for the function, recurrence and appearance of menstruation, from its role in maintaining health to the link between other physiological and bodily processes, including those found in both male and female bodies. She questions the assumption that menstruation was exclusively associated with women by the second half of the eighteenth century, arguing that whilst sex-related, menstruation was not sex-specific even at the turn of the nineteenth. Menstruation remains a contentious topic today. This book is not, therefore, simply a study of periods in early modern France, but is also of necessity an exploration about the nature and constitution of historical evidence, particularly bodily evidence and how historians use this evidence. It raises important questions about the concept of certainty and about the value of observation, testimony, expertise, the nature of language and the construction of bodily truths - about the body as witness and the body as evidence.

    Contents: Introduction: blood, menses and the myth of ’menstrual misogyny’; Leviticus and the problem of sex during genital fluxes; Menstruation, conception and the timely use of marriage; ’I await my rules which do not arrive’: menstrual regularity and irregular menstruation; Detecting and proving pregnancy; Menstrual time and the moons of pregnancy; Bleeding hermaphrodites and menstruating men; Conclusions; Select bibliography; Index.


    Cathy McClive is Lecturer in Early Modern European History at Durham University, UK.

    '... a highly original and important book which illustrates clearly how legal sources can be used creatively alongside medical accounts and diaries, letters and other sources to answer questions about gender. The focus on menstruation is an excellent corrective to the focus on structure rather than on function that characterises the work of Laqueur and his followers, and relates to a wider interest in the role of the fluid body in pre-modern thinking.' - Professor Helen King, The Open University, UK

    'McClive’s account calls into question the prevailing scholarship on menstruation and gender difference in early modern Europe. Her book offers an important contribution to our understanding of the meanings of menstruation and its implications in terms of embodied identity...Thoroughly researched and clearly written, McClive’s book will be appreciated most by early modern historians of medicine and the body.' - Claire Cage, University of South Alabama, Bulletin of the History of Medicine