In October 1726, Mary Toft was found to have given birth to 17 rabbits in Godalming, Surrey
Karen Harvey, Professor of Cultural History, University of Birmingham presents an illustrated lecture about the case of Mary Toft and the huge social and cultural changes in English society it reveals, based on extensive new archival research done for her new book, The Imposteress Rabbit Breeder.
Harvey situates the rabbit-births within the troubled community of Godalming and the women who remained close to Mary Toft as the case unfolded. She explores the motivations of the medics who examined her, considering why the case attracted the attention of the King and powerful men in government, and follows the case through the criminal justice system.
Against the backdrop of an incendiary political culture, 1726 was a time when traditional social hierarchies were shaken, relationships between men and women were redrawn, and knowledge of the body was remade. In reconstructing Mary's physical, social and mental world, Karen Harvey allows us to reflect critically on our own ideas about pregnancy, reproduction and the body through the lens of the past.
Karen Harvey is Professor of Cultural History at the University of Birmingham. She studied at the University of Manchester and Royal Holloway, University of London. She is the author of several books on 18th-century Britain, including The Little Republic Masculinity and Domestic Authority in Eighteenth-Century Britain (OUP, 2012) and Reading Sex in the Eighteenth Century Bodies and Gender in English Erotic Culture (CUP, 2008).
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