Maternal imagination: Reconceiving first impressions

Margrit Shildrick

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    The concept of maternal imagination, whereby the disordered thoughts and impressions of pregnant women are used to explain the prevalence of monstrous births, was at its height during the early modern period, albeit it with many prior and subsequent manifestations. Against a more familiar, and enduring, medieval and Renaissance context of supernatural agency at work, the device of MI was seen as a 'naturalistic' model more in keeping with the advent of Enlightenment scientism. Nonetheless, the debate around it was ferocious and indicative more of a masculine anxiety about female desire and generative power than of a concern for impartial explanation. In problematizing a simply descriptive approach to archival material, my purpose is to explore what is at stake in the competing discourses that seem alternately, and even simultaneously, to empower and degrade the place of the mother. What is the unspoken of an historical debate that prefigures our contemporary interest in feminine excess?
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)243-260
    Number of pages18
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2000

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • History

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