Quick Index Board Index Home FAQ Site Map
|A possible answer
Written by LindyS
(2/10/2003 6:16 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Breast-feeding, penned by Linden
] Come to think of it, perhaps Mrs Austen was unusual in suckling her babies herself in those days. I thought that it was all that Rousseau back-to-nature movement that encouraged gentlewomen to breastfeed, and that was somewhat later. Do we see Mrs Austen as a premature Rousseauist?
Amanda Vickery in "The Gentleman's Daughter" examines this issue in detail, looking at a specific cohort of genteel women in Northern England from around 1730 to 1820. She says that while "growing expectations that the ideal mother would breast-feed her own baby" can be found, wet-nursing, artificial feeding, and breast-feeding were all looked upon as acceptable alternatives during this period, largely up to the choice of the mother. The supposed or actual contraceptive effect was one reason cited for choosing to suckle one's own child.
At least one of the women Vickery studied sent her children away to be nursed, as did Mrs. Austen. One of her sons was nursed away for 15 months. Whatever this did to the children, it apparently did not diminish maternal affection -- when one of her daughters came home for a visit at 5 months of age, the mother unexpectedly decided not to part with her again: "Debby has been at Home these two months. Her Pappa says nothing about her going, so I shall not..."
Jane Austen's Life & Times is maintained by JulieW with WebBBS 3.21.