Deborah Yaffe

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Jane Austen and babies: not so perfect together

By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 11 2014 01:00PM

Jane Austen, I think it’s fair to say, was not one to coo sentimentally over babies. She did not wax eloquent about the radiance of pregnant women and the miracle of new life.


On the contrary. Here she is at twenty-two: “Mrs. Hall, of Sherborne, was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, owing to a fright. I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband.” (Letter of 10/27/1798)


And at thirty-two, commenting on the pregnancy of a Mrs. Tilson: “Poor woman! how can she be honestly breeding again?" (10/1/1808). And at forty-one, discussing the birth of Mrs. Deedes’ eighteenth (!) child: "I would recommend to her and Mr. D. the simple regimen of separate rooms." (2/20/1817)


And a month later, discussing the probable third pregnancy of her niece Anna, married less than two and a half years: “Anna has not a chance of escape . . . . Poor Animal, she will be worn out before she is thirty.-I am very sorry for her.” (3/23/1817)


And thus I found myself chortling inwardly when I happened across this latest example of inapposite Austen appopriation: the Jane Austen baby shower.


Yes, the tea sandwiches and homemade onesies and popcorn cake are all charming. I’m sure this was a labor of love (even if the blog post was sponsored by a card company.) But still: I don’t think I’d pick Jane Austen as my patron saint of birthing babies.




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