‘Mother’s Milk: (Pseudo)-Scientific Discourses on Breastfeeding in Victorian Literature and Culture’


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The next meeting of the Research Group will take place on Wednesday 13 April 2016 at the Lit and Phil Library, Newcastle upon Tyne, between 6.00 pm and 7.30 pm. Dr Jessica Cox, Brunel University London, will present a paper on ‘Mother’s Milk: (Pseudo)-Scientific Discourses on Breastfeeding in Victorian Literature and Culture’.

The issue of breastfeeding tends to provoke heated debate, as demonstrated recently by comments made by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and singer Adele’s angry response. The origins of many of these debates can be found in nineteenth-century discourses on breastfeeding. The benefits and hazards of breastfeeding versus so-called ‘artificial’ feeding, and the advantages and potential dangers of employing a wet nurse attracted strong opinions, from Queen Victoria to Mrs Beeton, as well as in the medical journals and advice books of the day.

This paper explores nineteenth-century writing on breastfeeding. While some of this anticipates contemporary recommendations, much of it has no scientific basis, despite its claim to the contrary. Charles Vine, F.R.C.S., author of Mother and Child: Practical Hints on Nursing, the Management of Children and the Treatment of the Breast (1868) was a strong advocate of maternal breastfeeding, arguing that ‘It was beneficently ordered by the Creator that the child for a certain period after birth should be dependent on the maternal nourishment for its support’. Employing both his own medical training and religious authority to support his argument, Vine’s work demonstrates the difficulty for the Victorian woman in contesting much of the advice which was impressed upon them, sanctioned as it appeared to be by both the medical establishment and religious authorities. The paper examines some of the advice available to the nineteenth-century mother, as well as women’s own attitudes towards and experiences of feeding their infants.

Everyone welcome. Refreshments provided.

For further information please contact Pat Beesley at p.beesley@ncl.ac.uk


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