In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • (Re)Productive Thinking
  • Mary Lindemann
Lisa Forman Cody , Birthing the Nation: Sex, Science, and the Conception of Eighteenth-Century Britons. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Pp. xx, 353. $145.00.
Eve Keller , Generating Bodies and Gendered Selves: The Rhetoric of Reproduction in Early Modern England. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007. Pp. xi, 248. $30.00.

Few metaphors have been as fruitful as that of reproduction. Phrases like the "birth of a nation," "the birth pains" of literary creation, the "travails" of parties, politics, and social groups, or even "social and cultural reproduction" in a more abstract sense now form an unquestioned part of our linguistic and mental heritage. Lisa Forman Cody and Eve Keller, in thinking (re)productively about major historical developments, help explain why such expressions and images are so familiar. While there is significant overlap in their sources, they nonetheless differ in what they draw from these sources, how they embed them in broader historical and intellectual currents, and in their basic conclusions. More important, both authors track bigger game. Keller is interested in identity and self (and especially in the development of a modern "gendered selfhood" that privileges the male). She shows how the "bio-medical texts of the early modern period" (14) shaped the dominant, modern "asymmetrical sense of the self that identifies the male with persons and the female with the womb" (70), thus leading to the "modern transcendence of the masculine mind" (159). Cody tackles an equally large subject: the birth of the nation, in this case the origins of the modern British state. Cody argues that by the nineteenth century and "in myriad ways . . . sex and birth were central to Britons' understanding of human identities, social institutions, cultures, and the natural world." Indeed, much like Keller, she insists that "some of the key intellectual frame works of the modern age hinged on the centrality of reproduction" [End Page 423] (302). Both authors rely heavily on medical texts, and in both books midwifery, or rather man-midwifery, plays a central role, although Cody is more catholic in her use of sources by analyzing pamphlets, iconography, political diatribes, and popular voices. Cody, like Keller, discusses the growing sense that men were viewed as more objective and their methods more "closely allied" (82–83) to truth. She admits that much of her evidence supports the standard historiographic position that men developed a "predominantly objective authority" over women's bodies and nature alike and used "anatomical evidence to prove their fundamental, oppositional difference from women" (303–4). They thereby justified the exclusion of women from full citizenship. Yet, Cody also differs with much historiography in crafting a more subtle vision of the effect of medical and intellectual shifts: medical and midwifery literature also stimulated a new idea of masculinity and of fatherhood and helped create the "sentimental, deeply invested husband" (306).

Taken together, the two books span a period of approximately three hundred to three hundred and fifty years, with some significant overlap from about 1650 to roughly 1730. Keller begins with Galen, but moves quickly to sixteenth-century England; Cody focuses mostly on the eighteenth century. Their approaches, however, differ. Cody's orientation is that of the social and cultural historian with a strong interest in politics. She thus harkens to popular voices as well as academic ones. Keller, a professor of English, focuses more singlemindedly on texts; indeed she structures her volume around several main argumentative points, each illuminated by "one touchstone text" (15).

Keller's foundational texts are many. She begins with Helkiah Crooke's Micrographia: A Description of the Body of Man (1615), then continues with books of "practical physic for women" (including John Sadler, The Sicke Woman's Private Looking-Glasse [1636]), William Harvey's famous De generatione animalium (1651), the embryological reports of Theodore Kerckring in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, and, finally, ends with a series of "case histories from the birthing room," by analyzing, among others, the writings of the London surgeon and man-midwife Edmund Chapman and the midwife Jane Sharp. Early modern reworkings of Galenism initiated the process of creating an "asymmetrical sense of the self" that, at least according to Keller, still persists...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 423-426
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.