Sarah Knott: ‘Mother: An Unconventional History’


After a long break, the #StoryPast virtual reading group is back.

At 1pm (GMT) on 12th September, we will be discussing Sarah Knott’s new book Mother: An Unconventional History.

To join, simply head over to the #StoryPast hashtag on 12th September. If you’ve already read it and want to start the conversation early, we will also be hosting blog posts on the book in the run up to 12th September.

What was mothering like in the past?

When acclaimed historian Sarah Knott became pregnant, she asked herself this question. But accounts of motherhood are hard to find. For centuries, historians have concerned themselves with wars, politics and revolutions, not the everyday details of carrying and caring for a baby. Much to do with becoming a mother, past or present, is lost or forgotten.

Using the arc of her own experience, from miscarriage to the birth and early babyhood of her two children, Sarah Knott explores the ever-changing habits and experiences of motherhood across the ages. Drawing on a disparate collection of fascinating material – interrupted letters, hastily written diary entries, a line from a court record or a figure in a painting – Mother vividly brings to life the lost stories of ordinary women.

From the labour pains felt by a South Carolina field slave to the triumphant 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 remarkable tales of mothering create a moving depiction of an endlessly various human experience.

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