Locating the History of Sexuality in Jean Rhys’s Birth Narratives
This talk considers how the fiction of British-Caribbean author Jean Rhys registers and intervenes in early twentieth century discourses of classed and racialized biological reproduction. Focusing on the depiction of pregnancy and birth in the short story “Learning to be a Mother” (1927) and the novel Good Morning, Midnight (1939), I ask, what do Rhys’s socially precarious characters tell us about the ideological and practical conditions shaping their experience of reproductive healthcare? How do these birth narratives speak to feminist, sexological, and eugenicist debates about birth control, obstetrics, motherhood, and women’s sexuality, taking place in early twentieth century Britain? And how might Rhys’s fictional exploration of the stigmatization of socially precarious gestational people invite a renewed questioning of what we think of when we read the phrase “the history of sexuality”?
This talk explores what the emerging field of waste studies, along with queer theory and ecofeminism, can contribute to better understanding the gendered dimensions of conceptions of waste in early modern Netherlandish art and literature. Emerging genre imagery (so-called “scenes of daily life”) created for the sixteenth-century Antwerp art market included representations of brothels, of quack doctors at work, and of peasants, with stereotypical archetypes like the vuile bruid (dirty bride). Early genre paintings such as Jan Sanders van Hemessen’s Crying Bride—a misogynistic image of an older woman pretending to be young and virginal and a version of the vuile bruid type—position women’s bodies as sites of generation and waste. Inspired by Susan Morrison’s proposal of studying wasteways as a counterpart to foodways, this talk pays particular attention to sixteenth-century genre depictions of sex workers and of older women as they relate to period ideas about abundance, scarcity, and waste, especially regarding health and disease. I read against the grain of the visual tradition’s stereotypical operations in order to recuperate waste as an at times creative material in early modern Netherlandish culture, with disruptive and even playful potential.