Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
“Deliver Me: Pregnancy, Birth, and the Body in the British Novel, 1900-1950” explores three ways British novels engage with the rise of the “culture of pregnancy,” an extreme interest in reproduction occurring during the modernist movement. This culture of pregnancy was intimately facilitated by the joint explosion of dailies and periodicals and the rise of “experts,” ranging from doctors presiding over the birthing chamber to self-help books dictating how women should control their birth-giving.
In response to this culture of pregnancy, some modernist writers portray the feminine reproductive body as a suffering entity that can be saved by an alignment with traditionally-coded masculine aspects of the mind. Analyzing Virginia Woolf's Orlando (1928), A Room of One's Own (1929), and Three Guineas (1938); Enid Bagnold's The Squire(1938); and Naomi Mitchison's We Have Been Warned (1936), I argue that these writers encoded a “bloodless” model of reproduction in their texts, injecting the feminine body with a healthy dose of masculinity by wresting reproductive processes out of the physical domain and relocating them in the mental.
The second dominant literary response to the culture of pregnancy was concerned with the burgeoning presence of “improper” births by racialized women. Texts like Voyage in the Dark (1934) and Good Morning, Midnight (1939) by Jean Rhys, and Spleen (1930) by Olive Moore are thus highly engaged in issues of reproductive power(lessness) at the intersections of race, class, and cultural displacement.
Finally, the third response occurs in science fiction texts that seek to ameliorate the transgressive female body by repairing it via the masculine scientific gaze. Charlotte Haldane's Man's World (1926), Susan Ertz's Woman Alive (1936), Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1937), and Katharine Burdekin's Swastika Night (1937) portray scientific reproduction as a critical project to rescue humanity from the female body, rooted as it is in uncontrollable fluctuations.
These modernist novels imagine alternative worlds, yet they remain worlds in which the female reproductive problem is at the center. For these reasons, pregnancy in modernism must be reconceptualized as a primary modality of modernism itself and a central tenet of the movement.
Kingsley, Erin Michelle, "Deliver Me: Pregnancy, Birth, and the Body in the British Novel, 1900-1950" (2014). English Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 54.