Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and Other Symbols of Power

Thank you, Adrian Wilson, thank you. This historian of early modern England and New England Patriots linebacker has written a book just for me. Because I have always wondered, "How did male obstetric practice eclipse female midwifery?" and then, there, on the (clearance) shelf, I saw it: The Making of Man-midwifery: Childbirth in England, 1660-1770. "Why did women desert the traditional midwife? How was it that a domain of female control became instead a region of male medical practice? Why did a torrent of criticisms directed against 'men-midwives- fall upon deaf ears?" Why? Spoiler: Adrian Wilson posits that the move towards women employing man-midwives came from a split in the collective female culture. As women's literacy doubled and doubled again between 1680 and 1750, and England, London especially became richer and labor more specialized, the new, educated gentlewoman had time for leisure and keeping up the Joneses. Previously, midwives had been the educated leaders in the female community, but with the change in the female upper-class, hiring a man-midwife held a certain cache.

The other part of the story, the one that takes up ninety percent of The Making of Man-midwifery is that professional men of a physic or surgical persuasion became skilled enough at midwifery to attend normal births. Before about 1720, midwives attended nearly all births, and male surgeons were summoned only to emergencies, usually after labor had progressed for four days or so, and craniotomy was needed to save the mother. So men were only called in the direst of emergencies and only delivered a dead child.

This changed with four generations of a family called Chamberlen who possessed secret instruments to effect the delivery of a live child in a difficult birth. Hugh Chamberlen II, the last of his line, sold one of the rumored Chamberlen instruments, the forceps, to a few Tory colleagues. Meanwhile, Dutch physician Hendrik van Deventer developed a theory of midwifery involving pressure on the coccyx and uterine obliquity. In England, Deventerian man-midwives were mostly associated with the Court Whigs. The early man-midwives William Giffard, Sir Richard Manningham, William Smellie, William Hunter: their careers have been plucked out of obscurity and will return there. In three hundred years, if someone mentions in a book that Dr. Hinck practiced at the Minneapolis location of the Bloomington-Lake Clinic until it burned down and he transferred to Edina, will that be interesting? No. The only interesting thing is that two major buildings burned down within a block of each other in slightly over a year. What's going on with that? The Making of Man-Midwifery has filled my head with yet more obscure ideas and useless facts. I can only imagine they might come in handy if I were ever to win free tickets to a Vikings v. Patriots game at the new fucking stadium. I might wait at the exit where the Patriots load onto the team bus until I see Adrian Wilson, and I might say, "Adrian Wilson! Adrian Wilson! Do you think that the late publication of the vectis and its association with Country Whigs might have led to its relative obscurity in obstetric practice?" and Adrian Wilson might be so surprised that someone else was on his wavelength that he would look at me like he had no idea what I was talking about.

A vectis is a shoehorn for baby heads.

In books that you might read, I strongly recommend A Mad,Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller because it is so flipping good. The audiobook performance is fantastic, and the book is deliciously good, even though the back cover makes it look preposterous. Vicky does pose nude for her art class, but it's because all her classmates already had their turn. A girl from her finishing school is sneaking and spying, however, and Vicky is sent back to England in disgrace. Her parents give her the choice between reputation repair or a lonely spinsterhood with Aunt Maud. Vicky's parents are nouveau riche, slightly gauche and insecure. Agreeing to as many tea parties and charitable works as needs be to undo her shame, while secretly working on an application to the Royal College of Arts, Vicky takes her sketchbook to Parliament to get in some life-drawing of the Suffragists protesting outside. She manages to sketch a bit while a young woman chained to the railings chides her for not being a Suffragist full stop, and not scarpering because the police are coming right now, seriously, right now! Go! Vicky is a naive, impetuous girl with a talent for drawing and a willingness to suffer for her art, but not much else at first. All the characters in A Mad, Wicked Folly are deeply drawn, even her rich fiancee Edmund; a lesser author would have made him Cal from Titanic, but he's presented as an interesting jock. All the Pankhursts make appearances, and I cried a little because of what the Suffragists endured in prison so that we could have rights. A Mad, Wicked Folly is like a grown-up version of my favorite book Wishing for Tomorrow, a sequel to The Little Princess. There's a part where Lavinia, the top pupil, tells Miss Minchin, the cruel schoolmistress, that the gentleman next door is very interested in the education of young women and Miss Minchin puts her hand to her temple and privately remembers growing up in a time when no one she knew was interested in the education of young women whatsoever.

I read I Am Half-Sick of Shadows because of the title, which it did not live up to. Alan Bradley is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie guy, and I do talk smack about mystery novels, and cozies particularly, all the time, and I will continue to do so. Flavia de Luce is a precocious eleven-year-old with a flare for chemistry who lives in a crumbling manor house with her bratty sisters and her stamp-collecting father, very I Capture the Castle. It would all be well and good if Flavia got into some age-appropriate japes or pestered her siblings, but, no, there has to be a murder.

A feature film is to be shot at Buckshaw, and a film crew arrives, one of whom will be the murderer and one the murderee. Flavia finds the body and nearly solves the mystery by consulting a general-interest reference book and questioning her spinster aunt, who happened to be a spy during the war and knew the victim from spy club or whatever. Flavia puts the murder aside to work on her other project, trapping Father Christmas in sticky goo, but the murderer(s) solve the mystery for her by attacking her on an icy rooftop. Eh. The murdering characters were so inconsequential that I'd forgotten who they were when they turned up on that roof with some convoluted motive about whose lover got to star in which pre-war movie. Are they really murderers, or was it the little girl who pushed them off a roof? The one who's found four bodies in her recent past? The one who left a thimbleful of arsenic in the butter dish at the beginning of the book? Which is the more likely story?

In conclusion, The Kids of the Polk Street School: In the Dinosaur's Paw was a lovely break in the long history book I've been slogging through at work. Drake Evans, former classmate of the held-back-a-grade Richard Best (Beast), runs after Beast yelling, "I'm going to get you!" when they're walking to school, and ruins his snow fort. Before Christmas break, Ms. Rooney told everyone to bring rulers because they're "doing dinosaurs on the first day back," and Beast, whose study habits are such as to repeat second grade, forgets and marvels when a ruler appears in his desk, after which circumstances lead him to believe that he is in possession of a magic dinosaur ruler, which he uses to wish harm on Drake Evans. Another book from the fantastic series by Patricia Reilly Giff that reminds you of all the angst and pathos of childhood.

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