Events Calendar
Mar 26
18:00 - 19:00
Centre for Modern European Literature Postgraduate Seminar
Centre for Modern European Literature Postgraduate Seminar
Beatrice Fagan, Katharina Kalinowski

Beatrice Fagan (University of Kent), 'Medical and Literary Perspectives on the Changing Discourses of Maternity in Late Nineteenth-Century France'

Abstract: The depopulation crisis in late-nineteenth century France prompted politicians, moralists and medical professionals to attempt to influence practices and discourses concerning maternity with a view to increasing the birth rate and reducing the exceptionally-high infant mortality rate. Increased emphasis on the role of the mother and a re-assessment of maternal care are reflected in the proliferation of medical documents on that topic released in the late nineteenth century, particularly those aimed directly at mothers.

This paper will examine two particular aspects of maternity that were targeted: the practice of breast-feeding and the use of wet-nurses. The use of a wet-nurse often required the travel or displacement of an individual. The wealthier classes would pay for a nurse 'sur lieu', requiring the nurse to leave her own baby behind. Conversely, the poorer classes would send their child to a wet-nurse in the countryside, where it would often be breast-fed alongside its 'frère du lait'. A large quantity of previously unexplored medical texts engage with these practices and highlight the dangers and health risks involved for the mother, her baby and the wet-nurse, whilst encouraging mothers to breast-feed their own offspring instead.

In particular, this paper will discuss the displacement of babies and women involved in the wet-nursing industry, the reciprocal movement between countryside and city that entailed and the social implications of providing a substitute mother. This theme will be explored through literary representations of the wet-nursing industry, in particular Émile Zola's Fécondité (1899), alongside contemporary medical documents. The paper will also question whether there is a discursive displacement taking place in Zola's novel and literary texts, whereby traditional maternal discourses are replaced by a new discourse on motherhood, advocated by populationists.

Katharina Kalinowski (University of Kent), 'Trans-lating Nature: The Art of Ecopoetry'Abstract: Against the backdrop of a global ecological crisis, the attempt to poetically immerse in the beauty of nature must be decelerated by the plastic carpet covering it: pure nature, in its Romantic idea, does no longer exist. The contemporary literary movement dubbed ecopoetry is therefore opening up critical conversations with a sphere that has been irrevocably transformed by humans. At the edge of mankind and nonhuman nature, ecopoetry seeks to weave tensions between anthropocentrism/biocentrism, nature/culture, or self/other into its textures. By doing so, it clashes not only against borders of the human language, but also against borders of the human skin: We don't speak tree, shell, or whale, and whilst trying to give a voice to the unknown, the ecopoetic act is shaped by multiple power dynamics. In order to gain deeper insights into the underlying intra- and extratextual conflicts, I propose to frame ecopoetry as a form of translation. Equally rooted in the desire to "carry over" and accommodate the foreign, translation inherently implies a violating, yet simultaneously invaluable communicative capacity. The concept of an "ecotranslation" will thus help to underpin ecopoetry as a transformative instrument with the potential to reimagine the exploitative relationship between human and nature, eventually contributing to a heightened environmental awareness.


Seminar Room 4,
Templeman Library,
University of Kent,
United Kingdom


Open to all,

Contact: Clemence Ardin


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Last Updated: 10/01/2012