Publication details [#6578]

Kennedy, Katherine A. 2000. Suckling the romantic: British romantic writers and the maternal breast. New Brunswick, N.J.. 212 pp.


At the end of the eighteenth century, the English body politic had lactating breasts; due to shifting social, political, and artistic ideologies, maternal breastfeeding regained popularity at the end of the Enlightenment. This dissertation explores the shift to the nursing mother from the nursing other, and then examines how women writers in the next literary generation use the trope of maternal lactation. Mary Robinson, known famously as Perdita from her joint roles as actress and as George IV's first mistress, and uses her maternal breast in her Memoirs to sanitize her reputation and her writings. Though she previously engages the word "breast" as a suggestive synecdoche for her own scandalous body and relationships in order to it sell her poetry, she recasts her breast as maternal in an attempt to redeem herself. Mary Wollstonecraft employs images of maternal lactation to promote her deeply held belief that men and women should act as equal partners within the home, society, and the polity. Wollstonecraft's philosophy of the importance of lactation stems from her intricately interwoven personal and political life, and maternal breastfeeding emerges as the imaginary site where female equality and triumph are achieved. Jane Austen, daughter of a minister and member of the gentry, uses the trope of lactation in a manner both circumspect and exciting as she explores female sexuality and the maternal in an ambivalent and nuanced way. Though female sexuality and the lactating breast are infrequent and hidden metaphors in Austen's texts, they escape both the patriarchal confines of Austen's society as well as the formal constraints of Austen's otherwise carefully constructed novels. Female sexuality, especially the breast, is one slippage point in Austen's novels, an irreducible site of problem and possibility. The final chapter of this dissertation explores the domestication of women, which occurred in new and socially significant ways at the end of the Romantic era. In order to create this new domestic confinement, the breast - a too potent and malleable image for women and women's power - was confined not only to the lying-in chamber but also restricted in literary and political discourse. (Katherine Kennedy)