The Politics of Motherhood: British Writing and Culture, 1680-1760

The definition of maternal ideal developed in the 18th century included such criteria as

“all-engrossing tenderness, long term maternal breast feeding, personal supervision and education of young children, complete physical restriction to domestic space, absence of sexual desire, withdrawal from productive labor”.

This is according to author and literary scholar Toni Bowers in her book “The Politics of Motherhood: British Writing and Culture, 1680 -1760”. The book uses a stunning array of art, including plays, novels, songs, paintings, and even social propaganda, to illustrate motherhood and the maternal ideal.

In this way, she successfully demonstrates how the changing definition of motherhood reflects the political and economic conflicts of the times. She shows how popular representations of mothers codified and enforced a model of motherhood, removed from participation in the public world, and presented other ideals as monstrous.

Addressing broader social and cultural issues, and drawing radical comparisons between past and present, Bowers argues that Western culture continues to be limited by committing to maternal ideals established in the 18th century.

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