The Emotions of Motherhood: Love, Culture, and Poverty in Victorian Britain

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Abstract

Is maternal love biologically determined and independent of class and culture, or is it fluid and changeable, shaped by the social context within which individuals find themselves? Recent work on the history of emotions has encouraged us to regard not simply the outward cultural configurations of human emotion as mutable and changeable, but also the actual emotions themselves. Yet so deeply rooted is the Western belief that mothers’ love for their children is natural and innate that scholars have struggled to envisage parental love in the past as differing significantly from that in the present. Looking at working-class mothers in Victorian Britain, this article argues that the very different norms and values surrounding motherhood in this historical context did indeed create a different range of emotional experiences. It also, however, seeks to deepen our understanding of why emotions take the precise forms they do. By shifting focus away from the social elites who form the mainstay of most emotions history, this article offers new insights into the ways in which societies construct and experience their emotional norms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-85
Number of pages26
JournalAmerican Historical Review
Volume123
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018

Keywords

  • autobiography
  • emotions
  • gender
  • life-writing
  • motherhood

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