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A baby born to an unwed mother causes a break with her family. A former love resurfaces. Women suffer with postpartum depression and hysteria. Women from different circumstances find a common bond through motherhood.
The Lady of Milkweed Manor sounds like a novel that could take place in 2008, but it in fact is set in the early 1800s in England. If you like Jane Austen, you will probably like Julie Klassen’s first novel. Even if you don’t like Jane Austen, I think this is worth a read. I enjoyed every page. The subject matter is interesting, the unfolding of the plot is suspenseful, and the writing that tells the story is seamless.
One compelling element of the plot centers around the manor where Charlotte is sent for her “laying in.” Many of the unwed mothers also ends up serving as wet nurses for the more upper-crust women who have recently given birth. Author Julie Klassen answers some questions about this practice:
Your main character finds herself in a very unexpected situation. What is that?
Charlotte, who begins as a proper, respected vicar’s daughter, finds herself working in one of the world’s oldest professions–not as a prostitute–but as a wet nurse. Remember Moses’ mother in the Old Testament? Well, in the 1700s and 1800s, it was common practice to hire a woman to nurse your infant for you. I read one quote that said, “Human milk was the most frequently advertised commodity in the eighteenth century.”
Why was this so common? It seems like such a foreign idea to most of us now.
Several reasons. Medical thought at the time was that mother’s first milk was not good for infants. Beyond that, nursing put a real pinch on social obligations. As I remember all too well from raising m own boys, nursing puts a woman on a very short leash! Fortunately, medical and public opinion toward nursing began to change in the 19th century and maternal breastfeeding became much more common, though I understand that in some South American countries–and in Hollywood–wet nurses are still used.
Read more about the author and the book, including reading more about her research at her website julieklassen.com.
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If you won, you should have an email from me asking for your address. If you didn’t win, you can click through the link to order your own copy.
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