Front cover of Pregnancy in the Victorian Novel by Livia Arndal Woods, featuring a picture of an anatomical cross-section of a fetus within a pregnant woman's body.

Pregnancy in the Victorian Novel

Livia Arndal Woods

194 pp. 6 x 9
Pub Date: September, 2023

Subjects: Victorian Studies
Literary Studies, 19th-Century
Literary Studies, British & Irish

order Hardcover $69.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-1553-1
Order PDF ebook$49.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-8313-4

Runner-Up, 2023 Victorian Popular Fiction Association First Book Prize

Pregnancy in the Victorian Novel is an innovative literary study that not only offers the first full-length monograph on the subject but also poses an intervention in the field of Victorian studies by proposing a methodology based on ‘somatic reading.’ … An excellent addition to the libraries of literary scholars specializing in the Victorian novel, the book also will appeal to interdisciplinary scholars with interests in fields beyond nineteenth-century studies, including medical humanities and the history of medicine, critical race theory, and feminist and women’s and gender studies.” —Emily Cline, H-Sci-Med-Tech

“In centering bodily experience both as a topic of interest to Victorians and as an underemphasized aspect of reading, Pregnancy in the Victorian Novel contributes to the turn toward a more personal voice in literary scholarship. Insightful and persuasive.” —Pamela K. Gilbert, author of Victorian Skin: Surface, Self, History

“Not simply a thematic analysis of pregnancy, Pregnancy in the Victorian Novel is both meticulously researched and inspiring in its integration of literary representation and lived experience. Woods shows us how much is at stake in representing women’s bodies.” —Megan Ward, author of Seeming Human: Artificial Intelligence and Victorian Realist Character

In Pregnancy in the Victorian Novel—the first book-length study of the topic—Livia Arndal Woods traces the connections between literary treatments of pregnancy and the medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth occurring over the long nineteenth century. Woods uses the problem of pregnancy in the Victorian novel (in which pregnancy is treated modestly as a rule and only rarely as an embodied experience) to advocate for “somatic reading,” a practice attuned to impressions of the body on the page and in our own messy lived experiences.

Examining works by Emily Brontë, Charlotte Mary Yonge, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy and others, Woods considers instances of pregnancy that are tied to representations of immodesty, poverty, and medical diagnosis. These representations, Woods argues, should be understood in the arc of Anglo-American modernity and its aftershocks, connecting backward to early modern witch trials and forward to the criminalization of women for pregnancy outcomes in twenty-first-century America. Ultimately, she makes the case that by clearing space for the personal and anecdotal in scholarship, somatic reading helps us analyze with uncertainty rather than against it and allows for richer and more relevant textual interpretation.

Author photo

Livia Arndal Woods is Associate Professor of English at University of Illinois at Springfield.



An Introduction     Somatic Reading
One     Judgment
Two     Sympathy
An Interlude    Sensation
Three   Diagnosis
Four    Impression
A Very Short Conclusion       The Very Long Nineteenth Century

Works Cited

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