Friday, June 9, 2017

We Begin at the Beginning

David Copperfield starts his story by entitling the first chapter, “I am born.”  Simple enough, from his point of view.  But think about his poor young mother, sitting alone “…by the fire…and very doubtful of ever coming alive out of the trial that was before her….”  This detail is a tiny drop in the ocean of David’s narrative, but Clara’s fears would have been great indeed, and quite justifiable.  Consider the statistics on maternal mortality from this 2006 article from the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine:
British Maternal Mortality in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries

According to one of the tables, in 1860, 58 mothers in 1,000 died, of such things as puerperal fever, hemorrhage, and convulsions.

At least Clara was attended by a ‘doctor;’ it would be interesting to know whether this was one of those newfangled man-midwives, as discussed by London’s Science Museum:

Alas, no mention is made of Clara having the advantage of chloroform for anesthetic that Queen Victoria enjoyed when giving birth to her 8th and 9th babies, in 1853 and 1857.  The British Library shares Dr. James Simpson’s paper on his pioneering the use of chloroform as an anesthetic in childbirth here:

And if all of this nitty-gritty is interesting to you, be sure to check out one of my favorites from 2016:


  1. I found it interesting that the doctor (male, of course) spent most of the labor and delivery time in the parlor, uncomfortably sitting with the imposing Miss Trotwood and only being called into the delivery room at odd intervals to check progress. It seems Peggotty and an unnamed nurse did most of the attending.

  2. Interesting, but perhaps not surprising...In his defense, I did see that (I believe on the Science Museum page) that the man-midwife was supposed to work without looking at the woman's body, so I'm not sure how useful he was anyway.