chapter  4
26 Pages

Mothers and Children

In nineteenth-century Europe, motherhood was the pinnacle of a woman’slife. It confirmed her virtue and her fulfilment. Motherhood was expected of a married woman, and failure to conceive was almost always deemed a female problem. The childless woman was a figure to be pitied. Amongst the Russian peasantry it was noted that ‘barrenness for the peasant woman is a most painful situation . . . it often constitutes a source of moral humiliation . . . deprives her finally of the joy of having children through whom alone a mother can firmly implant herself in the family of her husband and can be guaranteed consolation and comfort in her old age.’1 Throughout Europe, childless women were encouraged to find work caring for children – as a governess or a nursery maid – in supposed compensation.2 Motherhood ensured integration into female networks, it guaranteed status, and it was seen as security for the future.