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By Clare Hanson (auth.)
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Extra resources for A Cultural History of Pregnancy: Pregnancy, Medicine and Culture, 1750–2000
117). Martha Mears is the only writer who attempts to counter such negative views of irritability. In her determinedly upbeat Candid Advice to the Fair Sex, she describes pregnancy in glowing terms as a state of healthful fruition and takes issue with the very term 'irritability', asking: Is woman the only part of animated nature, whose powers are said to be weakened when she wants most to exert them; and who must pass, as it were, through the shades of death, to give life and nutriment to another being?
She writes, 'no attitude could give her ease; and in restless pain of mind and body she moved from one posture to another, till growing more and more hysterical, her sister could with difficulty keep her on the bed at all, and for some time was fearful of being constrained to call for assistance' (p. 159). The term 'hysterical' is Advice to the Fair Sex 37 significant. It is used here in the context of the new science of neurology and the understanding associated with it of the body as a network of nerves and fibres, vibrating with impressions and sensations.
I have, in fact, been very much indisposed for a few days past, and the notion that I was tormenting, or perhaps killing, a poor little animal, about whom I am grown anxious and tender, now I feel it alive, made me worse. 22 Three days later, referring to the fact that she had allowed herself to be upset by Imlay's coldness to her, she wrote that she had been 'seriously alarmed and angry with myself, dreading continually the fatal consequence of my folly' (p. 245). As the violence of her language suggests, Wollstonecraft feels herself almost a murderer: her initial distress over Imlay is compounded by the fear that her emotional reactions may be damaging her child.
A Cultural History of Pregnancy: Pregnancy, Medicine and Culture, 1750–2000 by Clare Hanson (auth.)