Julie Kipp. Romanticism, Maternity, and the Body Politic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN: 0521814553. Price: US$70.[Record]

  • Linda L. Reesman

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  • Linda L. Reesman
    City University of New York

Encouraged by social norms the female has long identified herself through her ability to reproduce. Social and economic conditions have sanctioned a woman’s selfhood on the basis of her production of offspring. The role of mother as a place of reproduction also serves to provide literature with a common thread that binds the reader to the text much like the child forms an inseparable bond with its mother. With an emphasis on the individual that arises in Romantic literature and ideology, mothers are depicted as naturally good mothers or unnaturally bad mothers subject to gothic distortions of the monstrous mother, all of whom have been treated as expressions of motherhood in Romantic texts. Fluctuations in maternal care along with new medical theories and a rising pressure on the legal system to ensure the rights of the mother-child relationship evidence the growing desire for women to legitimize their identities or selves in late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century society. Julie Kipp’s undertaking of the idealization of motherhood during this period is both appropriate and timely as she examines the trials mothers experienced in fiction and life in her attempt to show that the mother figure was a national interest. In her recent publication Romanticism, Maternity, and the Body Politic, Kipp reveals the complexities of motherhood as well as the complicated process of locating an extraordinarily universal and timeless theme in a particular historical moment. Linking the Romantic history of motherhood to political interests and crises along with period theories on breastfeeding and educating children would itself require substantial textual space; however, Kipp’s explorations on these subjects weave in and out of feminist theories as well as eighteenth-century topics on economics, education, philosophy, politics, and literature primarily concerned with Romantic mothers. Unfortunately, her attempt to enrich the scholarship on maternal nature and body serves to confuse the reader as her overly ambitious approach compresses too many ideological facets into a confining textual space. Her broad approach emphasizes the sweeping influences on motherhood but also obscures her central concern to locate and historicize maternity within the politics and literature of the period. Kipp more successfully illustrates the necessity to re-evaluate the nature of the maternal as it transforms and is transformed by the changing principles that accentuate Enlightenment values. Enlightenment and Romantic themes and discourses extend into each other with the apparent intention of the writer to blur lines of distinction previously established among literary critics. Kipp invokes David Simpson’s explanation that as the genre of literature was becoming “non-theoretical and immethodical. . . in its imprecisions,” it was also becoming “increasingly assimilated to a feminized identity” (19). This perspective on feminizing literary works explains Kipp’s attempt to rely on a body of theoretical ideologies that support the tensions produced during this period rather than seek to identify the literature she examines as submissions of established values distinguished by ardent reason and excessive emotion. Kipp argues, “Maternity hence proves a particularly useful category through which to examine the intersections, rather than the sharp distinctions between Enlightenment and Romantic themes and discourses” (18-19). As she accomplishes her task “to muddy these distinctions,” Kipp falls prey to a somewhat faulty premise of analysis that appears to break down pertinent dialogue that she could have used instead as a springboard for new interpretations of the maternal nature. Other attempts to historicize the role of mother are accomplished through an analysis of gender and social values of good and bad mothering, physical spaces of the maternal body, socio-political and economic conditions shaping and envisioning “the mother” through views of “self” as mother, and through texts of the late …