Motherhood in Literature and Culture: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from Europe

Motherhood remains a complex and contested issue in feminist research as well as public discussion. This interdisciplinary volume explores cultural representations of motherhood in various contemporary European contexts, including France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Spain, and the UK, and considers how such representations affect the ways in which different individuals and groups negotiate motherhood as both institution and lived experience. It has a particular focus on literature, but ialso includes essays that examine representations of motherhood in philosophy, art, social policy, and film. The book's driving contention is that, through intersecting with other fields and disciplines, literature and culture, and the study of literature and culture, have an important role to play in nuancing dialogues around motherhood, by offering challenging insights and imaginative responses to complex problems and experiences. This is demonstrated throughout the volume, which covers a range of topics including: discursive and visual depictions of pregnancy and birth; the impact of new reproductive technologies on changing family configurations; the relationship between motherhood and citizenship; the shaping of policy imperatives regarding mothering and disability; and the difficult realities of miscarriage, child death, violence, and infanticide. The collection expands and complicates hegemonic notions of motherhood, as the authors map and analyse shifting conceptions of maternal subjectivity and embodiment, explore some of the constraining and/or enabling contexts in which mothering takes place, and ask searching questions about what it means to be a ‘mother’ in Europe today. It will be of interest not only to those working in gender, women's and feminist studies, but also to scholars in literary and cultural studies, and those researching in sociology, criminology, politics, psychology, medical ethics, midwifery, and related fields.

Lisa Baraitser, Foreword; Gill Rye, Victoria Browne, Adalgisa Giorgio, Emily Jeremiah, and Abigail Lee Six, Introduction
Part I: Pregnancy and Birth
Susannah Sweetman, Birth Fear and the Subjugation of Women’s Strength: Towards a Broader Conceptualization of Femininity in Birth; Victoria Browne, The Temporalities of Pregnancy: On Contingency, Loss, and Waiting; Emily Blewitt,  An (Un)familiar Story: Exploring Ultrasound Poems by Contemporary British Women Writers; Valerie Worth-Stylianou, Birthing Tales and Collective Memory in Recent French Fiction; Christine Battersby, Natality, Materiality, Maternity: The Sublime and the Grotesque in Contemporary Sculpture
Part II: Generation and Relation 
Gabriele Griffin, Erasing Mother, Seeking Father: Biotechnological Interventions, Anxieties over Motherhood, and Donor Offspring’s Narratives of Self; Gill Rye, Mums or Dads? Lesbian Mothers in France; Signe Howell, The Kinning of the Transnationally Adopted Child in Contemporary Norway; Katherine Stone, Ties That Bind in Tanja Dückers’s Novel Himmelskörper: History, Memory, and Making Sense of Motherhood in Twenty-First-Century Germany; Adalgisa Giorgio, Matrixial Creativity and the Wit(h)nessing of Trauma: Reconnecting Mothers and Daughters in Marosia Castaldi’s Novel Dentro le mie mani le tue: Tetralogia di Nightwater
Part III: Experience and Affect
Justyna Wierzchowska, Publicizing Vulnerability: Motherhood and Affect in Joanna Rajkowska’s Post-2011 Art; Harriet Clarke, Present and Obscured: Disabled Women as Mothers in Social Policy; Abigail Lee-Six, Nuria C. Botey’s Short Story ‘Viviendo con el tío Roy’: Motherhood and Risk Assessment under Duress; Emily Jeremiah, Broken Nights, Shattered Selves: Maternal Ambivalence and the Ethics of Interruption in Sarah Moss’s Novel Night Waking; Claudia Karagoz, Uncertain Mothers: Maternal Ambivalence in Alina Marazzi’s Film Tutto parla di te; Ruth Cain: ‘How to Say Hello to the Sea’: Literary Perspectives on Medico-Legal Narratives of Maternal Filicide
Part IV: Reflections
Gayle Letherby, To Be or Not To Be (a Mother): Telling Academic and Personal Stories of Mothers and Others; Ana Luisa Amaral, Last Will and Testament: Potatoes, Love, and Poetry
List of Contributors; Index

For further details, see:

A small cluster of articles drawn from the third workshop of the Motherhood in Post-1968 European Literature Network – Changing Models of Motherhood – is published in the online, peer-reviewed journal, Studies in the Maternal 5.2 (2013).

The cluster comprises: Browne, Victoria: ‘Oedipus Interrupted: Introduction to a special cluster on “Changing Models of Motherhood”’; Lee Six, Abigail: ‘Changing Models of Motherhood? Hideous Progeny and Mother-Blame in Ana García-Siñeriz, Esas mujeres rubias (2011) [Those Blonde Women]’; Carlshamre, Katarina, ‘Helper and Obstacle: The Image of the Father in Four Swedish Mother-Narrated Novels of the Early 21st Century: Myrén, Nordin, Sandberg and Sveland’. Also, appearing in the same issue is Cain, Ruth: ‘“This growing genetic disaster”: Obesogenic Mothers, the Obesity “Epidemic” and the Persistence of Eugenics’, based on her paper presented at the Network’s conference in October 2013.

A special section of Women’s Studies International Forum 52 (September-October 2015) has been published, entitled ‘Mothering and Migration: Interdisciplinary Dialogues, European Perspectives and International Contexts’, edited by Anastasia Christou (Middlesex),  Adalgisa Giorgio (Bath) and Gill Rye (IMLR).  The contributions are partly drawn from the fourth workshop of the Motherhood in post-1968 European Literature Network on ‘Mothering and Migration’, held on 26 April 2013.

Contents: Anastasia Christou, Adalgisa Giorgio and Gill Rye: 'Mothering and Migration: Interdisciplinary Dialogues, European Perspectives and International Contexts. Introduction' (pp. 49-52); Adalgisa Giorgio: 'The Italian Family, Motherhood and Italianness in New Zealand: The Case of the Italian Community of Wellington' (pp. 53-62); Elizabeth Pilar Challinor: 'In Dialogue with Self and the World: Cape Verdean Migrant Pregnancy in Portugal' (pp. 63-70); Anastasia Christou and Domna Michail: 'Migrating Motherhood and Gendering Exile: Eastern European Women Narrate Migrancy and Homing' (pp. 71-81); Eglė Kačkutė: 'Mothering in a Foreign Language: Silent and/or Multilingual Mothers in Dalia Staponkutė's The Silence of the Mothers' (pp. 82-91); Ana Souza: 'Motherhood in Migration: A Focus on Family Language Planning' (pp. 92-98); Letizia Mencarini: 'Afterword: A Demographic Perspective' (pp. 99-100).

A special issue of Religion and Gender 6.1 (2016) has been published, entitled Motherhood, Religions and Spirituality, edited by Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor (Coventry) and Gill Rye (IMLR). The contents are partly drawn from the fifth workshop of the funded 'Motherhood in post-1968 European Literature' Network on 'Motherhood, Religions and Spirituality', held on 28 June 2013. The Contents are available on open-access at

Contents: Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor and Gill Rye, ‘Introduction: Motherhood, Religions and Spirituality’ (1-8); Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor, ‘Motherhood as Constructed by Us: Muslim Women’s Negotiations from a Space That Is Their Own’ (9-28); Pauline Eaton, ‘Rosie Carpe and the Virgin Mary: Modelling Modern Motherhood’ (29-46); Sarah-Jane Page, ‘Altruism and Sacrifice: Anglican Priests Managing “Intensive” Priesthood and Motherhood’ (47-63); Dawn Llewellyn, ‘Maternal Silences: Motherhood and Voluntary Childlessness in Contemporary Christianity’ (64-79); Angela Davis, ‘“I Want Them to Learn about Israel and the Holidays”: Jewish Israeli Mothers in Early Twenty-First Century Britain’ (80-94); Anna Fedele, ‘“Holistic Mothers” or “Bad Mothers”? Challenging Biomedical Models of the Body in Portugal’ (95-111); Rachel Jones (Afterword), ‘Giving Voice: The Contested Sites of Motherhood, Religion and Spirituality’ (112-117).

A special section, entitled Mothering and Work in Italy in the Twenty-First Century: Culture and Society, edited by Adalgisa Giorgio (Bath), has been published in the Journal of Romance Studies 15.3 (2016). The contents are partly drawn from the second workshop of the AHRC-funded 'Motherhood in post-1968 European Literature' Network on 'Mothering and Work: Employment Trends and Rights', held on 26 October 2012.

Contents: Adalgisa Giorgio, ‘Motherhood and Work in Italy: A Socio-Cultural Perspective’, pp. 1-21; Carmen Covito, ‘Tempo parziale’ (short story), pp. 22-26; Carmen Covito, ‘Part Time’, trans. Adalgisa Giorgio and Gill Rye, pp. 27-32; Monica Jansen, ‘Carmen Covito’s ‘Tempo parziale’: Mothering and Work in Italy in a Nutshell’, pp. 33-48; Sonia Bertolini, Rosy Musumeci, Manuela Naldini and Paola Maria Torrioni, ‘Working Women in Transition to Motherhood in Italy’, pp. 49-70.