In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sexual Reproduction

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Pregnancy and Childbirth in Victorian Literature
  • Breastfeeding and Childcare in Victorian Literature
  • Menstruation in Victorian Literature
  • Miscarriage and Stillbirth in Victorian Literature
  • Abortion in Victorian Literature
  • Venereal Disease in Victorian Literature
  • Infertility in Victorian Literature
  • Maternity in Victorian Literature
  • Infanticide and Puerperal Insanity in Victorian Literature
  • Eugenics in Victorian Literature

Victorian Literature Sexual Reproduction
Doreen Thierauf
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 June 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0213


With the rise of academic second-wave feminism in the 1970s and 1980s, interest in Victorian reproduction, including issues of pregnancy, childbirth, and maternity, exploded. Where earlier second-wave literary scholarship on Victorian reproductive issues relied on psychoanalytic methods—which tend to read intimate relationships symbolically and are less invested in historical framing—the field’s historical turn has by now produced a vast archive of deeply contextualized scholarship which is itself dwarfed by available archival documents and literary works still waiting to be mined. At present, literary scholarship tends to trail historians’ inquiries by a decade or two, and scholars interested in matters of reproduction in Victorian literature should be prepared to encounter mature corpora of excellent historiography and sprawling untapped archives, both online and physical. To provide a sense of the vastness of this terrain, this bibliography dedicates much space to primary and historical sources as these are indispensable for navigating the field. Besides foci on pregnancy, birth, and childrearing, each of the three sections of this entry includes subsections on obstetrics and gynecology; contraception, Neo-Malthusianism, and eugenics; miscarriage, abortion, and infanticide; as well as venereal disease and infertility. Since the 1990s, both historical and literary scholarship have widened their scope to include non-white, poor, and colonial experiences, but the field is still dominated by a focus on middle-class white women in England. More nuanced inquiries into fatherhood, queer parentage, and non-European locales are urgently needed.

Primary Sources

Extant scholarship on Victorian reproduction covers a wide array of topics owing to voluminous medical, legal, and periodicals archives. Primary sources listed below have been grouped in accordance with the most commonly pursued research foci to date. First, Pregnancy and Childrearing Advice Literature covers prominent works targeting both general and professional audiences, some of which overlap with primary works on Contraception and Malthusian Literature. The section on Obstetrics and Midwifery Manuals features examples of notable manuals for professional practitioners. Sections on Venereal Disease, Criminalization of Abortion, and Primary Sources: Infanticide also consist of professional and legal writings, many of which found wide popular circulation.

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