Transitional Bleeding in Early Modern England
Sara Read is a literary historian at Loughborough University. Her expertise is in the cultural and literary representations of the reproductive female body in early modern England. She co-edits the history of medicine blog earlymodernmedicine.com. She is the author of several books, most recently, The Gossips' Choice, her debut novel which is founded in her research specialisms.
The physiology of menstruation might be timeless, but the experience of female reproductive bleeding (from menarche, to menopause) is mediated through different cultural norms at any given time. So, for example, in early modern England, many considered that the onset of menstruation marked a girl’s transition to young womanhood, and postpartum bleeding signified a change to motherhood. Medical debates covering expectations about the regularity of the cycle, the reasons for absent or excessive bleeding, or indeed the theories about why women could expect to bleed at all were heated in early modern England. This lecture will outline the most common medical theories, describe the many words and circumlocutions early moderns used to describe menstruation, and discuss prevailing cultural expectations about this event.