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Literary Gestations: Giving Birth to Writing, 1722-1831


This study employs a feminist theoretical lens in order to correct the commonplace critical notion that male Romantic poets embraced the metaphors of gestation and birth for their literary productions. By tracing the development of obstetric medicine and copyright law in eighteenth-century England, I demonstrate the ways in which eighteenth-century and Romantic male authors (including Samuel Richardson, Tobias Smollett, Laurence Sterne, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Percy Shelley) denied autonomy and speech to their pregnant characters and rejected maternal metaphors for writing because they wished to posit a transcendent male mind that was fundamentally different from--and superior to--women's gross embodiment. I also examine Eliza Haywood, an eighteenth-century novelist who wrote extensively about pregnancy but who nevertheless resisted a maternal authorial identity. By contrast, the female Romantic authors I examine in this study--most notably Charlotte Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft, Eliza Fenwick, Amelia Opie, Anna Letitia Barbauld, Isabella Kelly, Jane Cave, and Mary Shelley--celebrated both maternity and maternal metaphors for authorship because motherhood and authorship, embodiment and intellect, were not mutually exclusive for them. In short, mothering and writing were congruent activities for female, but not for male, Romantic writers.

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