The change in popular consolation literature over two centuries
Centuries of Solace
Expressions of Maternal Grief in Popular Literature
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Wendy Simonds and Barbara Katz Rothman
Since the late 1970s, the grief of women who experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of an infant has been an increasingly visible topic in mainstream American publications. Wendy Simonds and Barbara Katz Rothman look to 19th-century women's magazines and later to confession magazines to explore the antecedents of modern writings on maternal grief and the information they convey about women from each time period. This is the first book that analyzes popular consolation literature as it changed over two centuries. The authors include a large selection of the writings that they view as social records that recognize and legitimize women's experience.
Women's magazines of the last century, such as Godey's Lady's Book and Petersen's, ran numerous poems, stories, and essays in which middle-class women writers shared their grief through symbolic language and Christian evangelism. Expressions of maternal grief vanished from mainstream publications as they became increasingly secularized but reappeared in the early 20th century in True Story, the first "pulp" confessional. Marketed to working-class women, these stories and the numerous letters from readers printed in each issue attest to a community of women trying to help each other through difficult life experiences.
As women gain power in the "public" world, maternal grief is again a valid subject for mass market magazines. Modern publications, such as Glamour magazine, urge contemporary readers to join self-help groups where they will find emotional catharsis and permission to grieve. Centuries of Solace makes possible a more complete understanding of the changing social meaning of motherhood in America.
"Simonds and Katz Rothman have uncovered for us from the past very moving accounts by mothers whose babies had died. In doing so, they shed important light on contemporary discussions of grief and loss. The words of these mothers, form both working and middle classes, touch us and teach us about the universality of grief, as well as about the realities of loss which every woman experiences."
Part I: Introduction
Part II: The Mother's Lament: Nineteenth-Century Consolation Literature
Part III: Confessions of Loss: Maternal Grief in True Story
Part IV: The Demand for Solace: Contemporary Maternal Consolation Literature
Part IV: On Maternal Grief and Public Policy
Wendy Simonds is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Emory University.
Barbara Katz Rothman is Professor of Sociology at Baruch College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.
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