A history book but not as we know it. After Sarah Knott gave birth she looked back into the past to explore what mothering looked like. The acclaimed historian couldn’t help herself after she became pregnant, but consider not only the history of mothering but also different cultures of mothering. These however are not things considered worth documenting. Not wars, politics and revolutions, and the research for this book must have been extensive. But you could conclude that mothering is one everyday aspect of life that is often forgotten or dismissed.
Using the arc of her own experience, from miscarriage to the birth and early babyhood of her two children, this writer investigates how things have progressed over the years in mothering across the ages, to a time now where motherhood is not simply a given and is often questioned. Using a notably disparate collection of material, Mother laments the importance of the culture and everyday activity, vividly outlining the stories of ordinary women.
From the pain felt by a South Carolina field slave to the beaming smile of a royal mistress pregnant with a king’s first son; from a 1950s suburban housewife to a working-class East Ender taking her baby to the factory; from a pioneer with eight children to a 1970s feminist debating whether to have any; these beguiling tales of the oft-considered humdrum task of mothering opens the door to question human priorities and also add historical context and a rich cultural sphere to mothering.
She dives in and explores the topic from many angles, settings and cultures, as well as making the writing accessible, and certainly as far from off-putting as possible for a tome on the history of mothering. And for some who is not a mother, and not quite sure on whether it’s for me, she had me hooked and interested in the anthropological aspects of this book. Concluding the book with how she presently views mothering,“a defence of caring under late capitalism,” there is a disheartening tone at the end of this book on the change in mothering. Her own relativity to this topic adds emotion and empathy to the text, injecting feeling into this book, which is a realisation of a topic not so widely documented. It’s a political act in itself to write such a book, never mind the concluding statement.
Mother is out now, published by Penguin Books.