, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 101-115

Between Science and Nature: Interpreting Lactation Failure in Elizabeth von Arnim's The Pastor's Wife

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Abstract

Interpreting a scene of lactation failure allows us to represent breast-feeding as a contested social practice. This essay reads a novelistic scene of lactation failure in the context of the decline of breast-feeding in the twentieth century. The protagonist's ignorance of the “female” experiences of pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation is an effect of her objectification within the opposition between “science” and “nature.” “Unnatural” as a woman because she is a “natural” individual, the “pastor's wife” exemplifies the dilemmas of breast-feeding as a biosocial practice of maternity in a technological society which features the breakdown of traditional female networks in which knowledge about maternity and breast-feeding are circulated.