I'm working my way through an enviable stack of books from Cambridge University Press on your behalf and may be at it sometime.It's a chore but someone's got to do it and yes, need you ask, I'm scribbling all over them, everywhere.
I'm drawn, like Kiera Knightley to a fountain, towards books with titles like Literature and Medicine in Nineteenth Century Britain From Mary Shelley to George Eliot and Death and the Mother From Dickens to Freud, Victorian Fiction and the Anxiety of Origins.
It's sad I know and it normally stops there because these are usually very expensive books, too expensive to buy unseen and sadly not in the possession of Devon Libraries either. So I drool over the titles and dream on about the uncharted waters that still lie out there for me and the nineteenth century novel.These are the titles rarely mentioned unless you've been given a reading list for a degree or similar and they seem like a very well-kept secret to me.
However Cambridge University Press have sent me a stack to assuage my longing and just to see if I can flag them up for ordinary readers like me and thee, so I'm in a sort of state of advanced literary nirvana.
Despite that rather scary title with its mention of Freud and anxiety of origins, Death and the Mother by Carolyn Dever has me jaw on floor with observations that for some reason have just never occurred to me before. My copy already riddled with underlinings and marginalia because yes, the Victorian ideal of the family and in particular motherhood is readily and easily identified, but why had it never really dawned on me before that just about every Victorian novel written is motherless in some form or another?
Incapacitated, abandoning or dead mothers proliferate and Carolyn Dever digs up all the dead mother plots and rakes them over in spectacular fashion.The first chapter, entitled The Lady Vanishes, grabbed my attention immediately.Fictional maternal mortality far in excess of actual Victorian maternal mortality apparently
"it is far more dangerous to give birth in a fictional world than in any region, under any conditions, within any social class in Victorian Britain."
The stall is set out and what follows makes fascinating reading.Each chapter prefaced by a contemporaneous and actual medical account of a nineteenth century birth or associated event before plunging into seemingly scary and pretentious subjects like Psychoanalytic Cannabilism.
Now I don't profess to be an expert on any of it but that chapter was riveting and I was heartened to see mention of dear old Winnicott's theory of the "good-enough mother", a line oft-quoted in the health visiting sphere.
I did see mention of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak on one page so I quickly turned it over for fear of loss of confidence, because really these books are supposed to be for the big guns aren't they? The MA / phD'ites out there, the thesis and dissertation writers but actually I find they are fine for you and me too.
Though I also suspect books like this are there for other academics to pick scholarly holes in too, I'm really impressed with how much I've understood and discovered from Death and the Mother already and there are great chapters on The Woman in White, Bleak House and Daniel Deronda to come so I'm quite excited, especially as I've chosen Bleak House as my Dickens of a Read for this Christmas and I'm already on a slow but steady read of Daniel Deronda.
In Bleak House of course we have a special case, in fact we apparently get three dead mother plots for the price of one as Carolyn Dever highlights the fact that Esther Summerson "loses" her mother not once but three times in the novel.
More about my Dickens of a Read when the sleigh bells start in earnest and I've got the dgr troika out of mothballs, but if anyone feels like joining me in a Bleak House read over the Festive season to help keep me on task I'd be more than grateful. I'm a known disaster with Dickens and so it'll be a minor miracle if I get past the halfway stage, but I do keep trying, year on year and perhaps the thought of the Carolyn Dever analysis will keep me on track.
I know I know, don't tell me, it's a heinous crime, you all adore Dickens, Bleak House is his best book, the opening paragraph is his best, but I struggle with him, I really do. The Tinker meanwhile has read most of them several time over.
Meanwhile I'm on the look out for Victorian novels where the mother lives and suddenly I can hardly think of any can you?