Field, Corinne. “BREAST-FEEDING, SEXUAL PLEASURE, AND WOMEN’S RIGHTS: MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT’S VINDICATION.” Critical Matrix, vol. 9, no. 2, Princeton University, Program in the Study of Women and Gender, Dec. 1995, p. 25, http://search.proquest.com/docview/89070870/.
In this article, Field discusses and dissects Mary Wollstonecraft’s argument for female equality in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by means of historical, political, biographical, and cultural contexts concerning maternity. In understanding Wollstonecraft’s text as a response to Enlightenment ideas on women’s bodies and their inferior position to male counterparts, Field notes that Vindication, addressed more specifically to Rousseau, employs the act of breastfeeding as evidence for women’s education and independence rather than against it. Flipping Rousseau’s argument over, Wollstonecraft refers to the anti-wet nurse campaign as reason women are meant to be more than sexual objects in the role as mother and also suggests that “men’s desire turned women into sexual objects for male consumption, but this male-defined sexuality could not be natural because it prevented women from being good mothers.” Aside from establishing the female breast as the location of female independence and agency, Field also speculates on Wollstonecraft’s rationale of rejecting coquetry for “rational affection” as a reaction to her own witnessing of the unpleasant interactions between her parents. Ending the article, Field acknowledges the irony between Wollstonecraft’s idea that nature granted pregnant women and mothers a status above a mere sexual object and her untimely death after complications during giving birth and also the irony of her argument regarding the female breast and how it is seemingly counter-revolutionary to feminism, particularly modern feminism.
“The Maternal Aliment: Feeding Daughters in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft.” Spilling the Beans: Eating, Cooking, Reading and Writing in British Women’s Fiction, 1770-1830, Manchester University Press, 2013.
In this rather lengthy chapter, issues of consumption and (re)production regarding the mother’s body in both socio-historical and literary contexts are the main concentration. The change of culture relating to breastfeeding and pregnancy shifted according to literary discourse. Taking, for example, William Buchan, a popular obstetrician who wrote books on pregnancy and maternity and who expressed the opinion that a mother was more than a woman who birthed a child, is one of many influential writers of these handbooks. These handbooks sought to instruct women on how to conduct themselves during pregnancy and childbirth to adhere to the “ideal” status. The chapter continues with this eighteenth-century idea on mothers as both consumers and producers in relation to Mary Wollstonecraft’s texts, where mothers also exist in the contexts of food and nutrition (in the sense of both food and instruction). When milk is no longer needed or available, the mother’s writing becomes its substitute nutrients, particularly to girls. Within Wollstonecraft’s texts, images of food reflect the quality of mothering they receive.
Raisanen, Elizabeth. Childbirth and Confinement: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Politics of Pregnancy. eScholarship, Mar. 2011, http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/18p0x4r5.
Raisanen draws a parallel connection between the events or possible events in Maria and the choices Mary Wollstonecraft made regarding her own time giving birth. Beginning with the latter, Raisanen notes the puerperal fever Wollstonecraft developed after one male physician, with unwashed hands, extracted the placenta still lodged within her. Although Wollstonecraft had and much preferred a midwife, she did not have as much of an influence in the room as the obstetrician. Of course, as Raisanen acknowledges, was a current issue of the time, as female practitioners were not well received, and “a male physician was now deemed necessary to interpret the female body.” Although Maria is an unfinished work, Raisanen argues that its treatment of pregnancy and childbirth is one example of women writers’ expressing against the lack of influence eighteenth-century women possess. Maria is confined within a miserable marriage, pregnancy, and a madhouse while also stifled under the laws which subjects her and her child to the husband. Reflecting on the fragments of Maria, Raisanen concentrates on the suicide scenario, in which Jemima guides Maria back from the act during her second pregnancy. This, Raisanen assumes, is Wollstonecraft choosing female company and authority over her own body.
While this text is much shorter than the others and admittedly not as insightful, it may be useful in considering how much Wollstonecraft’s pregnancy influenced or would have influenced the ending of Maria. I believe this may be helpful to consider how she was received, since her contemporaries and some other earlier scholars have been known to hold Wollstonecraft’s texts up against her biography.