Researching and writing about puritan poet Anne Bradstreet

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Why Can’t You Be Like the Virgin Mary?"

Just a quick note on my current research on Ms. Bradstreet. I’m still reading and notating “Domesticall Duties,” the 17th-century marriage and family manual. It is very helpful for understanding just how marriage relationships worked. I’ve finished the lengthly “instructions for wives” section and am going through the almost-as-long “instructions for husbands" section.

I learned today that one common gripe that women had was that their husbands would get cheap on them during pregnancy and childbirth, even to the extremity of not wanting to provide a nice room for them to give birth in. [In the seventeenth century and through most of history, women gave birth at home or perhaps a midwife’s home; they did not go to the hospital.] And here’s the ultimate retort to the wife who wants to give birth in the cosy room at the midwife’s place rather than in her own drafty chamber: “Cannot my wife be brought to bed in a room without a chimney as well as the virgin Mary? Why should my wife need more things than she did?”

Now just how does a mother-to-be compete with the Virgin Mary?

Pastor Gouge rightly calls this an “inhumane and more than barbarous unkindness[.]” He has lots of cheerful things to say about both men’s and women’s attitudes and actions. Once I finish notating this tome (I’m on page 167 of 400 pages), I’ll talk more about how the opposing genders were supposed to get along with each other in that day, and how they actually did.

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