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Milton and Maternal Mortality


  • Page extent: 282 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.6 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 821.4
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: n/a
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Milton, John,--1608-1674--Criticism and interpretation
    • Mortality in literature
    • Mothers--Mortality--Great Britain--History--17th century

Library of Congress Record

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 (ISBN-13: 9780521896382)

Manufactured on demand: supplied direct from the printer

$103.00 (C)

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.

Prize Winner

James Holly Hanford Book Award from the Milton Society of America 2010 - Winner


"Schwartz has a deep knowledge of critical history as well as of Milton's works … the close readings here are compelling. They bring out the strangeness of images and episodes such as Eve's creation and the birth of violent hounds after Sin and Death's incestuous union."
Elizabeth Scott-Baumann, Times Literary Supplement

"[Schwartz] has indeed chosen a dauntingly complex project, but here it is, tenaciously and convincingly executed … he pieces together a carefully evocative account of the ritual-magical female subculture that enclosed and concealed the mysteries of the birth chamber, that curtained, candlelit space at the heart of the house from which men were consistently excluded … For taking the argument ever further beyond the old received image of Milton the misogynist, Schwartz earns his place alongside Diane McColley, James Grantham Turner, and William Kerrigan. Our understanding has been enlarged, and that's a fine achievement."
Geoffrey Wall, The Cambridge Quarterly,

"Louis Schwartz has written a book that usefully examines a much neglected aspect of Milton’s authorial and biographical persona, his unusual attention to female suffering in childbirth and its too often disastrous consequences."
Catherine Gimelli Martin, The University of Memphis

"Carefully written, richly detailed, and ultimately persuasive, Milton and Maternal Mortality offers a new way of thinking about the familiar problem of Milton and women, one that moves beyond discussions of prelapsarian Eve towards an appreciation of the development of Milton’s thought."
Paula McQuade, DePaul University

"Schwartz is to be highly commended for drawing back the curtain, not only on the reproductive drama of the seventeenth-century birthing chamber but also on Milton's rich and varied life-long poetic engagement with it."
Karen Bollerman, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching

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