- Pregnant Fictions: Childbirth and the Fairy Tale in Early-Modern France
Pregnant Fictions offers a fascinating look at the intersections of medical discourse and fairy tales in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France. Delving into the realms of midwifery, fertility, embryological theory, sexual and nutritional sex-selection practices, pregnancy cravings, cesarean sections, and maternal markings, Holly Tucker illuminates a space of intersecting social and narrative practices. That space is, for Tucker, both conflictual and gendered, with fairy tales seen as sites in which a predominantly female body of authors explored and resisted prevailing male obstetrical practices and embryological theories. Pregnant Fictions looks at the ways in which early-modern fairy tales intersected with and challenged dominant discourses on the body. Within the network of intertextual references that forms the fabric of Pregnant Fictions, lies [End Page 323] a portrait of competing male and female discourses on the body and a celebration of women's challenges to male authority.
Pregnant Fictions sets conception and childbirth at the core of human experience, looking at the myriad of ways in which the reproductive body becomes shared by different cultural discourses. Chapter 1 opens the work in some real and bizarre stories of the womb, offering opportunities to revise the boundaries between salon fictions and academic sciences. The scene of Queen Marie-Thérèse's demand in 1681 to examine the womb of the dissected cadaver of a young pregnant woman who had died suddenly, sets the stage for a discussion of the early-modern fascination with reproductive anatomy and the imbrication of "fact-finding and fiction-making" (19). Tucker follows reports of post-term pregnancies and petrified fetuses, paying particular attention to the tales surrounding the pregnancies of two women, Colombe Chatri in 1582 and Marguerite Mathieu in 1678. The chapter contains a useful chart of the various textual and illustrative sources of stories and embellishments that added material, in the case of Chatri, for more than a hundred years. Comparing variants in Le Mercure galant (targeting an audience of salon women) and Le Journal des Sçavans, Tucker looks at the ways in which salon and academic worlds collided and merged.
Chapter 2 posits the central thesis of the book, that the fairy-tale tradition that began with Mme d'Aulnoy and was continued and developed by Bernard, Murat, Lhéritier, La Force, and others reveals a female-centered response to prevailing embryological theory. Tucker looks at the diverse ways in which women writers may have gained knowledge of obstetrical practice and academic medical theory, including a mix of personal experience, family, social, and salon connections to members of the medical and scientific community, and popular sources of obstetrical practice and knowledge. She gives an overview of the interactions of women authors with members of the medical and scientific elite, tracing the association of the women authors with the Academia dei Ricovrati of Padua, which had a strong interest in the biological sciences. Mademoiselle Bernard was related to the natural philosopher Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle, Lhéritier was the niece of both the academician Charles Perrault and the doctor Claude Perrault. D'Aulnoy, La Force, Murat, and Bernard were also members of the Marquise de Lambert's salon, which was frequented by male members of the Académie des Sciences. Tucker also suggests popular sources of reproductive knowledge, such as the Observations diverses by the midwife Louise Bourgeois. While sure and direct influences are difficult to prove, the chapter situates the women within multiple avenues of access to medical and philosophical thought.
In chapter 3, Tucker looks at fertility in the tales and the role of fairies as facilitators of conception, focusing on the triadic relation among fairies, witches, [End Page 324] and midwives. A quick overview of ancient yet enduring superstitions traces interesting links among the works of Pliny and Ovid, the Malleus Maleficarum, and fairy tales. It indicates fertile terrain that others will surely want to continue to explore. Particularly good in this chapter is Tucker's illustration that the objects...